Monthly Archives: December 2023

The 1954 London Year Book

The Evening News published two London Year Books, one for 1953 and the other for 1954. I cannot find year books for any other years, so I assume it was for just these two.

I wrote about the 1953 edition in this post, and for today’s post, on the eve of 2024, a review of the 1954 edition, taking a look at what London was like 70 years ago, key events of the previous year, and expectations for the coming year.

In very many ways, London has changed significantly in the past 70 years, but much else remains the same. In 1954, the city was still recovering from the ravages of the Second World War, a process that would take the following two decades. The Docks were still a major source of trade and employment with the Thames still a busy transport route.

The City of London was a major financial centre, and in 1954 there was no indication at all that the Isle of Dogs would become a rival financial centre (although in 2023, some companies are planning to move back to the City).

The population of London was very slowly recovering from the low levels seen as a result of migrations out during and immediately after the war.

The cover of the Evening News Year Book for 1954:

The year book is a densely packed little book about the city, claiming to have 10,000 facts about London within its 192 pages.

The 1954 edition starts with a review of 1953, with the heading “A Glorious London Year”, with, as in 2023, the main event of the year being a Coronation, which the book introduces with:

“‘What fun they had in 1953’. So, I feel, will your grandchildren exclaim when they turn over the pictures you have pasted in the big book, or listen to play-backs of newsreels and the famous films. But we know that it was more than fun. it was a flame that warmed and lit the island in that wet spring and summer.”

Although the Coronation was a highlight, there had been a number of tragic events in the previous couple of years, including in 1952, a major train accident at Harrow and Wealdstone Station:

This happened on the 8th of October, when “the Perth to Euston express smashed into a local train standing at Harrow and Wealdstone Station. Seconds later, the Euston to Liverpool Express ploughed into the wreckage. Altogether 111 people died.”

The accident apparently remains the worst peacetime accident on the British rail network. The following British Movietone newsreel provides a view of just how bad the crash was:

The other significant tragedy of 1953 was the flooding of January 1953, when “On the night of 31st January, nature dealt a savage blow along the East Coast – and London, too suffered. Here are the occupants of houses in Mary Street, West Ham, salvaging their property after flooding”.

The following newsreel provides an overview of the level of devastation caused by the floods across England, the Netherlands and Belgium:

The Year Book included a section on “Excavating Ancient London”. The 1950s were a time of significant archaeological discoveries across London, with so many areas opened up for excavation following wartime bombing.

Many of these digs were led by Professor W.F. Grimes, who was Director of the Museum of London, and it was Grimes who wrote the pages in the Year Book on excavating London, starting with:

Almost every year adds to the quota of new discoveries to the store of raw materials upon which the early history of London must be built. Many of these are chance finds, due to accidents of one sort or another; but interesting as they may be, they do not tell the expert anything like as much as finds which have been the outcome of carefully-controlled scientific excavations.”

Grimes features two significant sites excavated during 1953. The first was the discovery of Roman mosaic floors in what would have been large houses along the banks of the Walbrook river. The second was at St. Bride’s, Fleet Street, where “discoveries have shed light upon the Roman period, the Anglo-Saxon period and the Middle Ages”.

The following photo shows “the excavations at St. Bride’s, Fleet Street, there can be seen in the distance, at right angles to the outside of the east wall, the first trace of the foundation of a Roman building. During excavations inside the church isolated pieces of tessellated pavement were found from time to time”:

And “the Roman stone foundation which was discovered running underneath the east end of St. Bride’s church”:

Grimes finished his section in the Year Book with “It is gratifying to record the enlightened intention of the Vicar and Churchwardens to undertake the expensive task of preserving these features in their rebuilt church for the benefit of future generations of Londoner’s”.

They truly did do a magnificent job with both preserving and displaying these historic features, as I discovered in this post on the church of St. Bride’s.

Another section in the 1954 Year Book looked at the Airports of London.

In the early 1950s, air traffic was gradually increasing, and London was served by seven airports, and the following table shows the 1952 traffic volumes at these airports (at the time, Heathrow had not taken on the name by which it is currently known, and was then called simply London Airport):

Remarkable when you compare the passengers handled figures that Gatwick and Stansted are now the second and third major airports serving London.

The London Airport / Heathrow was starting to become the major airport that it is today. The Year Book recorded that in the past three years, traffic at the London Airport had more than doubled.

The infrastructure of the airport was also developing with the new access tunnel having been recently completed:

The Year Book reported that the access tunnel was part of a development scheme which was due for completion in 1960 and would cost around £6,700,000 and that by completion of this work, the airport would handle 3,250,000 passengers a year.

That expectation of 3.25 million compares to a pre-pandemic high figure of 80.9 million passengers in 2019.

Whilst the London Airport was developing as a place of international trade and transport, the River Thames was still London’s major route for trade, and the Year Book recorded that the following docks were busy, and administered by the Port of London Authority:

London Docks, St. Katherine Docks, East India Dock, West India Docks, South-West India Dock, Millwall Docks, Royal Victoria Dock, Royal Albert Dock, king George V. Dock, Tilbury Docks, Surrey Commercial Docks.

The Year Book introduced the Port of London, by: “The Port of London comprises 69 miles of the River Thames from the estuary to the landward limit of its tidal waters at Teddington, and five great dock systems which are situated within 26 miles of the tideway between Tilbury, some 24 miles inland from the sea, and Tower Bridge”.

In the early 1950s, the total volume of trade through the London dock system was still higher than pre-war figures, as illustrated by the following figures:

  • 1939: Total Tons – 41,662,063
  • 1952: Total Tons – 49,193,517
  • 1953: Total Tons – 48,284,513

The size and complexity of the London dock system was remarkable. The following photo shows the bascule bridge at the King George V Dock which opens to allow a ship to enter the dock. The view is taken from the entrance lock, showing the dock in the background:

In 1954, the Inland Waterways were still an important part of the transport of goods to and from London, and then to the wider world. A section on the inland waterways shows just how interconnected the system was:

“The Inland Waterways controlled by the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive within the Greater London Area are the former Grand Union Canal and the Lee and Stort Navigation.

These waterways commence amidst London’s dockland and are, therefore, conveniently situated in relation to the Port’s world shipping activities. The principal routes are; London to the Midlands (Grand Union Canal); London to Hertford and Bishop’s Stortford (Rivers Lee and Stort). The route from London to the Midlands has two important junctions with the River Thames, one at Regent’s Canal Dock and the other at Brentford.

Regent’s Canal Dock, situated on the north side of the river at Limehouse, and approached by a sea lock 60ft wide, can accommodate ships of 300ft length. It has a waterway area of about 11 acres and is well equipped for dealing with coal and general merchandise.

From Regent’s Canal Dock goods are shipped by through-water route from London to the interior of Belgium, Holland, France, Switzerland, Canada, America, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, thus linking England’s waterways with the other great canal systems of the world.”

Although the inland waterways network had been competing with the railways for the best part of a century, in the 1950s it was still carrying a significant amount of trade, with 3,068,000 tones carried in 1952 across the network of the Regent’s Canal, River Lee and the Grand Union Canal.

I doubt whether those working across this network and in the London docks could have foreseen the coming widespread use of the Container as a means of shipping goods, along with the rapid increase in the size of ships that would soon render the London Docks redundant

In the following 30 years after the 1954 Year Book, all the docks, with the exception of Tilbury, would close, resulting in a fundamental change in the relationship between London and the Thames.

The Year Book includes no indication that this would be the future of the docks, rather it gives impressive descriptions of the dock systems and the volume of trade through the Port of London:

Tucked away in a corner of a page in the section on the Thames, there is a reference to a new infrastructure project that would become part of the most dominant transport method across the country, with the “Proposed Thames Tunnel”, which would become the first tunnel of what is now the twin tunnels and the bridge of the Dartford Crossing:

Although the proposed Thames tunnel would be a future method of crossing the river, other methods were in use, which are still in use today, such as the Woolwich Free Ferry:

The Woolwich Free Ferry had opened in 1889, and in 1954 was operated by four vessels of the type shown in the above photo, named, John Benn, John Squires, Gordon Crooks and Will Crooks. The vessel shown in the above photo is the Will Crooks.

Whilst the Thames supported the majority of London’s trade and industry, it was also a threat to the City, as the 1953 floods had so tragically demonstrated.

Although the 1953 flood was exceptional, London had suffered many minor flooding events, and newspapers hold very many records of these over the previous couple of hundred years.

Water would often break the embankment defences, as shown in the following photo, with the caption: “Firemen dragging kerb-stones to buttress the Embankment wall as water comes up at Lambeth Bridge during a Thames flood”:

The 1953 flood, along with the many minor floods, would lead to the construction of the Thames Barrier with the Thames Barrier and Flood Protection Act 1972 enabling the construction of the barrier which became operational in 1982.

Between the sections on the Thames, and a brief section on new arrivals at London Zoo, the Year Book included a London Diary, detailing the dates of major events in the city during 1954:

There may not have been too much interest in the 1954 Association Football Cup Final (now known as the FA Cup), as there were no London clubs involved. In the 1954 final, West Bromwich Albion beat Preston North End 3-2.

The Year Book includes a table titled “The Londoner At Work”, which includes a list of the types of work and professions, along with an estimate of the numbers employed in each:

Again, the table shows how London has changed in the last 70 years, with the types of job, and the numbers employed, very different today. At the time of the Year Book, the third highest number of employees, worked in Engineering, Shipbuilding and Electrical Goods. I do not know the equivalent number today, but it must be a very small number when compared to 1954.

Then and Now photos have always been popular, and the 1954 Year Book included a number, showing how London has changed over the years.

The first is of Regent Street, where the caption to these two photos reads “Apart from the traffic, Regent Street has apparently changed but little – but look again. The buildings are different, and the street at the end seen in the upper picture taken in the 1890s is now gone”:

Followed by “The top picture shows the Strand, only 43 years ago. Bush House was not yet built, but a space has been cleared. Posters on the island site inform us that ‘Sweet Nell of Old Drury’ would be running at the New Theatre. Today, only the building on the left, and St. Mary’s church remain”:

And finally “Selling off, premises coming down, says the notice on the shop in Camberwell in 1889. And down came the building, to make way for a theatre. Here, at the Triangle, Camberwell, was built the Empire Theatre in 1894. Today, that too has gone, and a modern cinema takes its place”:

The Odeon Cinema shown in the above photo was opened in 1939, however it closed as a cinema in 1975, with periods of temporary alternative use, along with being empty, until it was finally demolished in 1993. The site is now occupied by a Nando’s and flats. London keeps changing.

The Year Book included a “Know Your London” section, with a picture quiz of buildings and objects from across the city. Answers will be at the end of the post.

Although the Year Book contains a very large amount of data about London, some of it is partial and does not show a complete picture.

The Year Book includes the following table about passenger numbers at the main London railway termini. The numbers are of Originating Passengers, passengers who began their journey at the station, so does not show the overall number of passengers.

Presumably, to get an estimate of the total number of passengers I could double the figures in the table, as those who depart from the station may well return, and this would certainly apply to the large number of commuters, which I assume is what the Season Tickets figure covers.

Despite the gaps in the above figures, it does show that Waterloo was the busiest station by originating passengers in 1951, a position it would hold in overall passenger numbers for the following decades.

Any guide to London would need to include a map of the Underground network, and the 1954 Year Book included such a map:

The Victoria and Jubilee lines had yet to be built, and the Embankment Station is shown as Charing Cross, with Charing Cross Station shown as Trafalgar Square.

The Year Book has a vast amount of individual facts and figures, and it is interesting to compare with the same figures of today, however where comparisons are made, I have not had time to confirm the method of measurement is the same, but these figures do give an indication of change and of overall numbers, for example:

  • London had a total of 80,683 hospital beds (compared to 20,746 today)
  • The London Fire Brigade attended to 20,328 calls (I cannot find equivalent data, but in 2022 the LFB responded to 125,392 incidents, comprising 19,298 fires, 46,479 special services and 59,415 false alarms)
  • The London Electricity Board was still changing over customer supplies from legacy DC and non-standard AC supplies to get all consumers on to the standard 230volt supply we use today
  • In 1952, 8,307,345 telegrams had been sent
  • There were 1,845,078 telephones in London
  • 15,209 telephonists connected calls where automatic calls could not be made
  • In 1952, 2,684,248,580 letters and packets had been posted, of which 99,294,832 had been sent at Christmas
  • The City of London Police had 633 officers at the end of 1952, compared to 1,007 today
  • The Metropolitan Police had 16,399 officers at the end of 1952, whilst today there are 34,184 officers (excluding community support and special officers)
  • There were 121,411 registered aliens across London in 1952, the largest population coming from Germany which numbered 10,721
  • There were 1,121 missing persons reported in 1952 with 35 cases outstanding at the end of the year
  • During 1952, 15,684 stray dogs came into the hands of the Police and were sent to Dog’s Homes
  • 570 people had been killed on London’s roads in 1952
  • There were 4,020 taxi-drivers licensed by the Metropolitan Police
  • The daily average of water supplied to consumers across London was 325,090,000 gallons, and the average consumption per head was 49.44 gallons, compared to 144.4 litres (31.76 gallons) per head in 2021/22 (I assume the higher number in the early 1950s was down to the amount of industry in London, which the city does not have today)

As with the 1953 edition, the London Year Book for 1954 is a fascinating snapshot of the city.

As far as I know, these books were only published for 1953 and 1954. I would love to be wrong, and find other editions.

Much equivalent information is made available online today, however whilst today there is the ability to provide much more detailed and granular levels of data, frequently a headline figure is obscured by the amount of detail available.

Information is also often scattered across various organisations as responsibilities for services has been devolved across both the public and private sectors.

A annual Year Book would be a brilliant summary of the state of London.

And with that review of 1954, can I wish you a very happy 2024, and close with the answers to the picture quiz from seventy years ago:

  • A. St. John’s Gate, Clerkenwell
  • B. Grasshopper on top of the Royal Exchange
  • C. Senate House, London University
  • D. Calendar Clock, Hampton Court
  • E. Middle Temple Lane, leading up to Fleet Street
  • F. London Stone, in the wall of St. Swithin’s church opposite Cannon Street Station
  • G. Kenwood House
  • H. Guldhall, City of London
  • I. Figure of Britannia on top of Somerset House
  • J. St. Ethelburga’s Church, Bishopsgate
  • K. Southwark Cathedral
  • L. One-man police station in Trafalgar Square. the lamp is from H.M.S. Victory
  • M. The tower of Middle Temple Hall, surmounted by the Agnus Dei of the Temple

Regarding the one-man police station in Trafalgar Square and the lamp coming from H.M.S. Victory, I have never found any firm evidence for this, so whilst it may be true, it may also be one of those myths that gets retold about the city.

The Vulgar Tongue and Provincial Words

An extra post this weekend, following up on the post a couple of weeks ago on Captain Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue which was first published in 1785; a fascinating little book that really bring to life the language that would have been heard on the streets of London in the 18th century.

This week I am covering words starting with the letters N to Z, and as with the first post covering A to M, there is the same focus on crime and punishment, and the challenges of everyday life.

There are words and phrases that are still in use today, many others have been redundant for a very long time.

There are also early examples of how we communicate today, with “gentlemen’s visiting cards” showing an early use of the type of text abbreviation used today with text and Whatsapp messaging (see P.P.C and D.I.O).

It was not just the vulgar tongue of London that Grose collected, he also published “A Glossary of Provincial and Local Words used in England” – a collection of words used across the country and show a very different focus than the vulgar tongue with an emphasis on agriculture, the weather and rural life, my favourite being AQUABOB which I will be using should we get any really cold weather this winter.

So, starting with the letter N from Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, we find some people that you would not want to meet on the streets of London:

NATTY LADS – Young thieves or pickpockets.

NAVY OFFICE – The Fleet prison. Commander of the Fleet; the warden of the Fleet prison.

Confined in the Fleet Prison, from “A Rake’s Progress” by Hogarth © The Trustees of the British Museum):

NECK STAMPER – The boy who collects the pots belonging to an alehouse, sent out with beer to private houses.

NEW DROP – The scaffold used at Newgate for hanging criminals; which dropping down, leaves them suspended. By this improvement, the use of that vulgar vehicle, a cart, is entirely left off.

NICKNACKS – Toys, baubles or curiosities.

NIGHTMAN – One whose business is to empty the necessary houses in London, which is always done in the night.

NYP SHOP – The Peacock in Gray’s Inn Lane, where Burton ale is sold in nyps.

NIPPER – A cut-purse; so called by one Wotton who in the year 1585 kept an academy for the education and perfection of pickpockets and cut-purses; his second school was near Billingsgate, London. As in the dress of ancient times many people wore their purses at their girdles, cutting them was a branch of the light fingered art, which is now lost, though the name remains.

OAR – To put in one’s oar; to intermeddle, or give an opinion unasked; as, to be sure, you must put in your oar.

OLD HAND – Knowing or expert in any business.

OLD HARRY – A composition used by the vintners to adulterate their wines, also the nick name for the devil.

OLD NICK – The Devil.

ORGAN – A pipe. Will you cock your organ? will you smoke your pipe?

OTTOMISED – To be ottomised; to be dissected. You’ll be scragged, ottomised, and grin in a glass case; you’ll be hanged, anatomised, and your skeleton kept in a glass case at Surgeons Hall.

OVERSEER – A man standing in the pillory, is, from his elevated situation, said to be made an overseer.

OWL – To catch the; a trick practiced upon ignorant country boobies, who are decoyed into a barn under pretence of catching an owl, where, after divers preliminaries, the joke ends in their having a pail of water poured upon their heads.

OWL IN AN IVY BUSH – He looks like an owl in an ivy bush; frequently said of a person with a large frizzled wig, or a woman whose hair is dressed a-la-blowse.

OWLERS – Those who smuggle wool over to France.

P.P.C. – An inscription on the visiting cards of our modern fine gentleman, signifying that they have called pour prendre conge, i.e. ‘to take leave’. This has of late been ridiculed by cards inscribed D.I.O. i.e.’ Damme, I’m off’.

PADDINGTON FAIR DAY – An execution day, Tyburn being in the parish of Paddington. To dance the Paddington frisk; to be hanged.

PALL – A companion. One who generally accompanies another, or who commit robberies together.

PANNIER MAN – A servant belonging to the Temple and Gray’s Inn, whose office is to announce dinner. This in the Temple is done by blowing a horn, and in Gray’s Inn proclaiming the word Manger, Manger, Manger, in each of the three courts.

PARSON – A guide post, hand or finger post by the road for directing travelers: compared to a parson, because like him, it sets people in the right way.

I discovered the Guide Post shown in the photo below, which dates from 1686 and includes a pointing hand at Wroxton, from my post On The Road To Stratford-Upon-Avon

PECKISH – Hungry

PETER GUNNERE – will kill all the birds that died last summer. A piece of wit commonly thrown out at a person walking through a street or village near London, with a gun in his hand.

PETTICOAT HOLD – One who has an estate during his wife’s life, called the apron-string hold.

PETTICOAT PENSIONER – One kept by a woman for secret services.

PIGEONS – Sharpers, who, during the drawing of the lottery, wait ready mounted near Guildhall, and, as soon as the first two or three numbers are drawn, which they receive from a confederate on a card, ride with them full speed to some distant insurance office, where there is another of the gang, commonly a decent looking woman, who takes care to be at the office before the hour of drawing; to her he secretly gives the numbers, which she insures for a considerable sum.

PIMP – A male procurer, or cock bawd; also a small fagot used about London for lighting fires, named from introducing the fire to the coals.

The following print from 1771 is a satire on gullible youths and dishonest prostitutes. The women on the left is picking the man’s pockets, and behind the curtain is the pimp. To emphasize the story being told, the picture on the wall behind the three at the table is of a sheep being fleeced © The Trustees of the British Museum).

PISS POT HALL – near Hackney, built by a potter chiefly out of the profits of chamber pots.

PISS-PROUD – Having a false erection. That old fellow thought he had an erection, but his _______ was only piss-proud; said of any old fellow who marries a young wife.

PITT’S PICTURE – A window stopt up on the inside, to save the tax imposed in that gentleman’s administration.

PURL – Ale in which wormwood has been infused, or ale and bitters drunk warm.

QUEEN STREET – A man governed by his wife, is said to live in Queen Street, or at the sign of the Queen’s Head.

QUEER BIRDS – Rogues relieved from prison, and returned to their old trade.

QUEER PLUNGERS – Cheats who throw themselves into the water, in order that they may be taken up by their accomplices, who carry them to one of the houses appointed by the Humane Society for the recovery of drowned persons; and the supposed drowned persons, pretending he was driven to that great extremity by great necessity, is also frequently sent away with a contribution in his pocket.

QUICK AND NIMBLE – More like a bear than a squirrel. Jeeringly said to any one moving sluggishly on a business errand that requires dispatch.


RAINY DAY – To lay up something for a rainy day; to provide against a time of necessity of distress.

RANTALLION – One whose scrotum is so relaxed as to be longer than his penis, i.e. whose shot pouch is longer than the barrel of his piece.

RAREE SHEW MEN – Poor Savoyards, who subsist by showing the magic lantern and marmots about London.

RIDING ST. GEORGE – The woman uppermost in the amorous congress, that is, the dragon upon St. George. This is said the way to get a bishop.

RIGMAROLE – Roundabout, nonsensical. He told a long rigmarole story.

RING – Money procured by begging; beggars so called it from its ringing when thrown to them. Also a circle formed for boxers, wrestlers, and cudgel-players, by a man styled Vinegar; who, with his hat before his eyes, goes round the circle, striking at random with his whip to prevent the populace from crowding in.


ROUGH – To lie rough; to lie all night in one’s clothes; called also roughing it. Likewise to sleep on the bare deck of a ship, when the person is commonly advised to choose the softest plank.

ROUND ABOUT – An instrument used in house-breaking. This instrument has not been long in use. It will cut a round piece about five inches in diameter out of a shutter or door.

RUFFLERS – The first rank of criminals; also notorious rogues pretending to be maimed soldiers or sailors.

RUNNING STATIONERS – Hawker of newspapers, trials and dying speeches.

RUSSIAN COFFEE HOUSE – The Brown Bear in Bow-street, Covent Garden, a house of call for thief-takers and runners of the Bow street justices.

SANDWICH – Ham, dried tongue, or some other salted meat cut thin and put between two slices of bread and butter; said to be a favourite morsel with the Earl of Sandwich.

SCAMP – A highwayman. Royal Scamp; a highwayman who robs civilly. Royal foot scamp; a footpad who behaves in like manner.

A Scamp in action © The Trustees of the British Museum):

1894 06 11 79 Maclain the Highwayman robbing Lord Eglington Anon P&D

SCOURERS – Riotous bucks, who amuse themselves with breaking windows, beating the watch, and assaulting every person they meet; called scouring the streets.

SHARK – A sharper; perhaps from his preying upon anyone he can lay hold of. Also a custom-house officer, or tide-waiter. Sharks; the first order of pickpockets. Bow-street term, 1785.

SHOOT THE CAT – To vomit from excess of liquor; called also catting.

SHOPLIFTER – One that steals whilst pretending to purchase goods in a shop.

SHY COCK – One who keeps within doors for fear of bailiffs.

SILVER LACED – Replete with lice. The cove’s kickseys are silver laced; the fellow’s breeches are covered with lice.

SIMPLES – Physical herbs; also follies. He must go to Battersea, to be cut for the simples – Battersea is a place famous for its garden grounds

SNAP DRAGON – A Christmas gambol; raisins and almonds being put into a bowl of brandy, and the candles extinguished, the spirit is set on fire, and the company scrambles for the raisins.

STARVE’EM, ROB’EM AND CHEAT’EM – Stroud, Rochester and Chatham; so called by sailors, and not without good reason.

SUGAR SOPS – Toasted bread, soaked in ale, sweetened with sugar, and grated nutmeg; it is eaten with cheese.

SUNNY BANK – A good fire in winter.

SURVEYOR OF THE HIGHWAYS – One reeling drunk

THIEF TAKER – Fellows who associate with all kinds of villains, in order to betray them, when they have committed any of those crimes which entitle the persons taking them to a handsome reward, called blood money. It is the business of these thief takers to furnish subjects for a handsome execution, at the end of every sessions.

The thief-taker Stephen Macdaniel, 1756 © The Trustees of the British Museum):

THIMBLE – A watch. the swell flashes a rum thimble; the gentleman sports a fine watch.

THREE-PENNY UPRIGHT – A retailer of love, who, for the sum mentioned, dispenses her favours standing against a wall.

THREE THREADS – Half common ale, mixed with stale and double beer.

TILBURY – Sixpence; so called from its formerly being the fare for crossing from Gravesend to Tilbury fort.

TWITTER – All in a twitter; in a fright. Twittering is also the note of some small birds such as the robin &c.

TWO TO ONE SHOP – A pawnbroker’s; alluding to the three blue balls, the sign of that trade; or perhaps to its being two to one that the goods pledged are never redeemed.

The three balls of a pawnbroker’s can be seen in this Hogarth print “Beer Street” from 1751. The drawing shows the collapsing house of “N Pinch Pawn Broker”, and looking at the people shown in the view, one can imagine how the phrases listed in Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue were part of normal street language.

UPPING BLOCK – Steps for mounting a horse. he sits like a toad on a jossing block; said of one who sits ungracefully on horseback

UPSTARTS – Persons lately raised to honours and riches from mean stations.

VAULTING SCHOOL – A bawdy-house; also an academy where vaulting and other manly exercises are taught.

WAITS – Musicians of the lower order, who in most towns play under the windows of the chief inhabitants at midnight, a short time before Christmas, for which they collect a Christmas-box from house to house. They are said to derive their name of waits from being always in waiting to celebrate weddings and other joyous events happening in the district.

WATER SNEAKSMAN – A man who steals from ships or craft on the river.

WATERPAD – One that robs ships on the River Thames

WESTMINSTER WEDDING – A match between a whore and a rogue.

WHETSTONE PARK – A lane between Holborn and Lincoln’s Inn Fields, formerly famed for being the resort of women of the town.

WIBLING’S WITCH – The four of clubs: from one James Wibling, who in the reign of King James I, grew rich by private gaming and was commonly observed to have that card, and never to lose a game but when he had it not.

WINDOW PEEPER – A collector of the window tax.

XANTIPPE – The name of Socrates’s wife; now used to signify a shrew or scolding wife.

YARMOUTH PYE – A pye made of herrings highly spiced, which the city of Norwich is by charter bound to present annually to the King.

ZNEES – Frost or Frozen, Zueesy weather; frosty weather.

A Glossary of Provincial and Local Words used in England

Francis Grose also published “A Glossary of Provincial and Local Words used in England”, and the words and phrases in this publication are very different to those in his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

Whilst those in the Vulgar Tongue have a number of common themes such as crime and punishment, prostitution, sexual relations, and general street life, those in Provincial and Local Words have mainly agricultural and rural meanings.

It is though impossible to know whether there was any bias in Grose’s collection of words and phrases. Was he looking for words that confirmed the worst of city life for his dictionary of the vulgar tongue, whilst looking for words that confirmed the rural nature of the countryside?

The two books do show the split between City and Country life which was still very marked in the 18th century, and would change significantly during the 19th century with the rapid expansion of industry and migration to the city by very large numbers of those who had lived in the countryside.

Examples from “A Glossary of Provincial and Local Words used in England”, include:

AQUABOB – An icicle

BARSON – A horse’s collar

BERRY – to berry, to thresh out corn

CANDLING – a supper given in some parts by landlords of ale houses to their customers on the Eve of Candlemas-day; part of it is a pie, thence called a CANDLING-PIE

CUSHETS – Wild pigeons

DALLOP – A patch of ground among corn that has escaped the plough; also tufts of corn where dung-heaps have long laid

ERRISH – A stubble field

FEATHERING – Binding a hedge

FLIGGURS – Young birds, just fledged.

GIBBET – A great cudgel, such as are thrown at trees, to beat down fruit.

HOPPER-CAKE – a seed cake with plums in it, with which the farmers treat their servants when seed-time is finished.

IMP – to rob, or disposes a person.

JACK – half a pint.

KING HARRY – A goldfinch

LEASTY WEATHER – dull, wet, dirty.

MAWKIN – a bunch of rags used for cleansing the oven.

NEB or NIB – the nose, also the beak of a bird.

NOON-SCAPE – the time when labourers rest after dinner.

OLD LAND – ground that had laid long untilled, and just ploughed up.

PINGSWILL – a boil

QUAKLED – almost choked, or suffocated.

RANDLE BAWK – an iron gibbet in a chimney, to hang the pot-hooks on.

SEEING-GLASS – a mirror, or looking glass.

TWITTER – to tremble. This is a word of general use. My heart twitters; I am all of a twitter. To TWITTER thread or yarn, is to spin it uneven; generally used also in this sense.

URCHIN – a hedgehog

VELLING – ploughing up the turf, or upper surface of the ground, to lay in heaps to burn.

WARPING – turning a river on land to obtain the mud for manure when it recedes.

YEAVELING – evening.

ZINNILA – a son-in-law

Francis Grose left a wonderful collection of words and phrases in use in the city and country during the late 18th century. The importance of these words is that they provide an insight into life at the time,

I did wonder how many of these terms were invented by those providing them to Grose, however I have found very many of them in newspapers from the 18th and 19th centuries, confirming their use in the way described by Grose.

For example, the first reference I could find of the term SNAP DRAGON dated from 1738, and in the Bristol Mercury dated the 30th of December 1889, there is a feature on Christmas customs, and the following is included:

“SNAP DRAGON – With regards to Christmas fare, snap dragon is a very ancient favourite, although I think it is dying out. A number of raisins are deposited in a shallow disk or bowl, and brandy is poured over them and ignited. The fun is to snatch a raisin through the flames. To this there is such a song as:

Here he comes with flaming bowl, Don’t he mean to take his toll; Snip snap dragon,

Take care you don’t take too much, Be not greedy in your clutch, Snip snap dragon.

Although Grose collected all these words and phrases in the second part of the 18th century, many of them must have had some considerable age, particularly those of the Provincial and Local words as I suspect words in use in the city changed more frequently than those in the countryside..

Both of Grose’s publications help to bring to life the everyday experience of the late 18th century, and provide a very valuable record.

London – Captured in Music Videos

If the WordPress YouTube Block works there should be several videos embedded in this post. I am not sure if they will show in the emailed version of this post. If not, go to the home page by clicking here to view the post.

One of the problems with using the Internet whilst working on the computer is the risk of being distracted. Often whilst researching and writing a post, if I am looking at online resources such as old newspapers or library materials, I will find a new subject completely different to what I should be concentrating on.

YouTube is another terrible distraction. I often have a music playlist running in the background, but then start looking at the videos, and London spotting has been a way of trying to justify this distraction.

I know it is an age thing, but the period from around 1976 to the late 1980s were definitely one of the most creative periods. I started to see bands whilst still at school, with the first being the Canterbury band Caravan back in May 1974. Incredibly they are still going and we saw them last year at the Union Chapel in Islington.

My first big concert was seeing Yes at Queens Park Rangers Loftus Road stadium back in 1975. Since then, it has been so many bands at so many venues, and many are still touring today, and so far next year, Squeeze and Human League are booked.

Whilst music films / videos had been around for many years, from the late 1970s they became almost an essential media format to go with any band or song aiming to make an impression.

Many of these had an element filmed in London, and they show not just a band, but also a city as they both were around 40 years ago.

So for today’s Christmas Eve post, a brief selection of videos with views of London, in no particular order, starting with one which by chance I saw being filmed.

Altered Images – Happy Birthday (1981)

I was in Blackfriars when this was filmed, and saw the external sequence of the video which had a table set up for a birthday party between the road and rail bridges at Blackfriars. The video was made 42 years ago, and the tree at the opposite side of the river is in the video and can still be seen today.

The Clash – London Calling (1979)

The video to go with London Calling was recorded on a dark and wet night on a boat or pier on the south bank of the river next to the Albert Bridge:

The Specials – Ghost Town (1981)

A brilliant song which is really evocative of the early 1980s. There are shots of the City, around the Bank of England, the towers in the Barbican, and along London Wall, with much of the video being shot in east London around the docks, and through the Rotherhithe Tunnel. The video features Terry Hall who sadly died a year ago in December 2022.

Ultravox – Vienna (1980 / 1981)

Whilst much of the video was shot in Vienna, early parts of the video were shot in Covent Garden, for example starting at 52 seconds you can see St. Paul’s, Covent Garden in the background:

Dexys Midnight Runners – Come On Eileen (1982)

The video was filmed around Kennington. The shop at the beginning of the video is number 151 on the corner of Brook Drive and Hayles Street. The pub in the background starting at 1 minute 32 seconds is the old Two Eagles on the corner of Austral Street and Brook Drive. The pub is now flats.

Katrina & The Waves – Walking On Sunshine (1985)

Much of the video for this song was filmed in east London, in the old warehouses in and along Wapping High Street and Wapping Wall. There is a segment in the video which starts at 39 seconds, which features in my Wapping walk, where the band are in St. John’s Churchyard by Wapping High Street.

The Human League – Love Action (1981)

The church used in this video was St Saviour’s in Warwick Avenue, and the main entrance to the church on Warrington Crescent can be seen starting at 1 minute, 4 seconds. The entrance looks almost exactly the same today.

I cannot work out where the flats were. Apparently in south London and almost certainly long demolished.

Human League – (Keep Feeling) Fascination (1983)

The house that has been painted orange in this video was part of an estate that would soon be demolished. The house was at the corner of First Avenue and Third Avenue in Plaistow, east London. The scenes of the band playing were recorded in a studio.

Whilst the houses in the video have long been demolished, the street layout is today the same, and for nerdy location spotting, the large BT manhole cover in the pavement at the corner can just be seen in the video and is still on the pavement today.

Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls (1984)

This video starts off in Wentworth Street in east London and ends in Leicester Square with a number of locations used throughout the video including Waterloo Station, with the old W.H. Smith shop featuring.

Depeche Mode – Just Can’t Get Enough (1981)

The external scenes in this video almost look like an after thought. Whilst nearly all the video is filmed in a studio, there are a couple of “blink and you miss it” moments when there are shots on the South Bank. The first at 1 minute 42 seconds, in the Undercroft with Hungerford Bridge just visible in the background, and at 2 minutes 58 seconds, the stairs that were at the Belvedere Road side of the Royal Festival Hall, with the windows of the old Down Stream building of Shell Centre in the back ground.

The Communards – Don’t Leave Me This Way (1986)

At the very start of this video there are shots around Battersea Power Station, an area that looks very different today:

ABC – When Smokey Sings (1987)

As with many other videos, this one solved the problem of what do you do with a long instrumental section at the start of the track, by driving around London, before the video heads to the studio for the rest of the track.

The Stranglers – Strange Little Girl (1982)

Strange Little Girl by the Stranglers by contrast was all filmed on the streets of London, starting at Liverpool Street Station before the rest of the video being mainly around Cambridge Circus and Leicester Square.

Queen – A Kind of Magic (1986)

Queen were one of the more innovative bands at using video, and it probably helped that they had sufficient budget to create these, although the video for Bohemian Rhapsody was probably a gamble at the time, but turned out to be one of the more remarkable of this new type of media.

Queen’s A Kind of Magic was filmed in the Playhouse Theatre, which is tucked in between Charing Cross Station and Craven Street / Northumberland Avenue.

The theatre was derelict at the time, having closed as a BBC studio in 1976. I was working across the river on the South Bank in the 1980s and saw a fire at the theatre at one point, although I do not think it caused too much damage.

The theatre was also at risked of demolition, however a year after Queen filmed in the theatre, it was restored and reopened, and is still a working theatre today.

The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony (1997)

Whilst my preferred period is from 1976 to the late 1980s, there is obviously much brilliant music both before and after. One example that makes use of London’s streets is Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve.

Almost the whole of the video is Richard Ashcroft walking along Hoxton Street, bumping into people as he goes. The video starts off on the corner of Hoxton Street and Falkirk Street, and he walks north along the eastern side of the street. The Golden Fried Chicken in 1997 is now Hoxton Chicken and Pizza.

At 58 seconds into the video you can see Shenfield Street, which I wrote about in this post (got to get at least one link in to one of my posts).

Fat Les – Vindaloo (1998)

Fat Les was a band put together by Keith Allen, Alex James of Blur and artist Damien Hirst. Vindaloo was created as the unofficial song for the 1998 World Cup.

The video was a brilliant parody of Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony, also filmed along Hoxton Street, and starting at the same junction with Falkirk Street.

Unlike the Verve’s video, where Ashcroft walks alone for the majority of the video, in Vindaloo, a large group quickly forms, with Keith Allen playing a prominent role. The group is good for a bit of people spotting.

Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltry – Going Back Home (2014)

Wilko Johnson (of the brilliant Dr. Feelgood) and Roger Daltry of the Who released an album with the same name in 2014.

The video that went with the title track is a really clever combination of old and new film of both Johnson and Daltry, but also from the 1970s with some scenes which I find very familiar.

The video includes scenes of the elevated section of the M4 in west London, the old Shell Haven refinery at Canvey Island (where Dr. Feelgood originally formed), along with Southend including the Kursaal.

There is a brilliant 1975 film of a Dr. Feelgood concert at the Kursaal at this link, which starts of with some aerial film from the end of Southend pier down to the Kursaal.

Wilko Johnson sadly died in November 2022.

The Divine Comedy – National Express (1999)

The Human League video used a street before demolition. The Divine Comedy used a hospital shortly before demolition for the video to go with National Express.

The video was filmed in the old Joyce Green Hospital in Dartford, Kent (which hopefully is close enough to greater London to be included in this post):

The Kinks – Come Dancing (1982)

Come Dancing by the Kinks was also filmed at site which has since been demolished, with the Ilford Palais being used for the dance hall shots.

Many of the external shots were filmed around Hornsey, where Ray Davies had a studio. Starting at 53 seconds is the shop Keevans, which was on the corner of Hillfield Avenue and the High Street. The shop is now a hair and beauty salon, but the building to the left in Hillfield Avenue is recognisable due to the distinct decoration around the windows and doors.

Cathy Dennis – Waterloo Sunset (1997)

Cathy Dennis did a rather good version of the Kinks song Waterloo Sunset, and in the video to go with the song, she is being driven around London in a black cab, with old and current scenes of London in the background. The video has a twist at the end when the cab driver is revealed.

Blur – Parklife (1994)

The video for this song was mainly filmed on the Greenwich Peninsula.

The terrace of houses that feature in the video are next to the Pilot pub (see my post here about the pub and the terrace). The video was made before the Millennium / O2 Dome was built and in the background we can see some of the area, including one of the old gas holders.

Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (2007)

Many of the street scenes in this video with Amy Winehouse are in Stoke Newington, with the cemetery shots being set in Abney Park Cemetery. A brilliant song by an artist who died far too young.

Lily Allen – LDN (2006)

This is a brilliant song and video. The video follows Lily Allen walking through the streets of London as the words and song contrast both positive and negative views of the city.

The following words from the song “When you look with your eyes everything seems nice, But if you look twice you can see it’s all lies.” are a lesson for how to walk around the streets of London. Not necessarily in a negative way, but to see what is really happening, what is driving change, and the problems that London has, as does any large, complex city (the song starts at 42 seconds).

Ray Davies and Chrissie Hynde – Postcard from London

To end on a suitable video, this is Postcard from London by Ray Davies of the Kinks and includes Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. The track was a Christmas charity single by Davies and has scenes of Christmas in London.

That is just a brief sample of the many music videos that have featured London in one way or another. Just another way in which the city has featured in popular culture.

And with that selection of some of the songs that distract me when I am trying to work at the computer, it just leaves me to wish you a very happy Christmas, however you celebrate (or not), and a peaceful few days between Christmas and the New Year.

Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

In my last couple of posts, I have used an example from Captain Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. This is a book I have had for a while, but only just looked through it again in the last month to find some quotes relevant to the subjects of the last couple of weeks.

The book is a fascinating record of street language of the 18th and early 19th centuries, and was collected by Grose during night walks across London, to drinking dens, along the docks, meeting with the crews of ships arriving in the Thames, from criminals and by listening to the conversations he heard across the London streets.

His book was published in 1785, and it was later republished in an expanded form in 1811 as a Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Witt and Pickpocket Eloquence.

Captain Francis Grose was born in 1731 to a father who had arrived from Switzerland and had set up a jewelry business in London. His mother was from London. He served in the army, from where the title Captain came, and also studied art, however his real interest seems to have been the history of the country in its many forms.

In retirement from the Army, he became a serious antiquarian, and published a six volume set of Antiquities of England and Wales between 1773 and 1787. Two years later he followed up with a two volume set of the Antiquities of Scotland.

Captain Francis Grose © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Captain Francis Grose the antiquarian

His Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was put together based on the phrases he heard on the streets, in pubs, the docks, on ships, and from anywhere where those who were not members of so called “polite society” would congregate.

In 1755, a few decades before the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was published, Samuel Johnson had published his Dictionary of the English Language. This was an important and groundbreaking work, and Captain Grose’s dictionary is in many ways equally important, capturing the “vulgar” language and phrases that would not appear in Johnson’s dictionary.

The phrases in the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue tell us of the life of those who were poor, who practiced criminality, in tough professions such as the naval and on crews on merchant ships.

Certain themes run through the phrases in the dictionary. Crime and execution being one, prostitution and sexual relations between men and women being another main theme.

Grose, the Antiquarian © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Captain Francis Grose the antiquarian

Many of the phrases recorded in the dictionary are incredibly crude, and it would be interesting to know if all the phrases are genuine, or whether some of those who provided phrases for Grose, made some up to see what they could get away with, and whether they could fool the antiquarian who had come looking for the vulgar language of the working and criminal classes.

There is a wonderful scene in the TV series Blackadder, the episode featuring Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, when Johnson claims his dictionary is a complete record of the English language, Blackadder starts making up random, meaningless words. You can watch the extract from the programme by clicking here. I can imagine the same scene when Grose was recording entries for his dictionary.

Whilst the majority of the phrases in the dictionary are no longer heard, many still are, for example HUSH MONEY and MUD LARK, although Mud Lark now applies to those who search the foreshore for interest rather than necessity, to try and make some money, as was the case in the 18th century.

Some words described in the dictionary are still in use today, but with a wider meaning. The word HEDGE was in the dictionary, and today is still in use mainly in the financial markets as a risk management approach to avoid losses. The 18th century description by Grose explains in a couple of sentences how this complex financial method works.

Some phrases in Grose’s dictionary come up in surprising places today. The Bruce Willis film Die Hard seems now to be a Christmas film (and yes, it is on Channel 4 on Saturday 23rd December at 9pm). DIE HARD was not a term made up for the name of the film, it was in use in the 18th century, and although slightly different, you can see why the term was chosen for the name of the film.

You had to be careful how you used some phrases as those such as GOOD MAN had a very different meaning depending on where you were in London when you used it. Descriptions such as BUG-HUNTER and MITE provide an idea of living conditions in 18th century London.

So thanks to Captain Grose, here are a selection of the words and phrases from his dictionary, between the letters A to M.

They tell of life on the London streets, who you might meet, the tricks used by the criminal classes, punishments, places across the city, societies, and general day to day life.

I have left out the most vulgar, but you should get an idea from the following, starting with:

AFFIDAVIT MEN – Knights of the post, or false witnesses, said to attend Westminster Hall, and other courts of justice, ready to swear any thing for hire.

ANGLERS FOR FARTHINGS – Begging out of a prison window with a cap, or box, let down at the end of a long string.

ARK RUFFIANS – Rogues who, in conjunction with watermen, robbed, and sometimes murdered, on the water, by picking a quarrel with the passengers in a boat, boarding it, plundering, stripping, and throwing them overboard.

BARBER’S CHAIR – She is as common as a barber’s chair, in which a whole parish sit to be trimmed; said of a prostitute.

BARREL FEVER – He died of the barrel fever; he killed himself by drinking.

BEARD SPLITTER – A man much given to wenching.

BEGGAR MAKER – A publican, or ale-house keeper.

BERMUDAS – A cant name for certain places in London, privileged against arrest, like the Mint in Southwark.

BETWATTLED – Surprised, confounded, out of one’s senses.

BILLINGSGATE LANQUAGE – Foul language, or abuse. Billingsgate is the market where the fish women assemble to purchase fish; and where, in the dealings and disputes, they are somewhat apt to leave decency and good manners a little on the left hand.

BOARDING SCHOOL – Bridewell, Newgate, or any other prison, or house of correction

BOW-WOW SHOP – A salesman’s shop in Monmouth Street; so called because the servant barks. and the master bites.

BUG-HUNTER – An upholsterer.

BULK AND FILE – Two pickpockets; the bulk jostles the party to be robbed, and the file does the business.

BUM BOAT – A boat attending ships to retail greens, drams, &c. commonly rowed by a woman; a kind of floating chandler’s shop.

BURN CRUST – A jocular name for a baker.

CATERWAULING – Going out in the night in search of intrigues, like a cat in the gutters.

CHEAPSIDE – He came at it by way of Cheapside; he gave little or nothing for it, he bought it cheap.

CHELSEA – A village near London, famous for the military hospital. To get Chelsea; to obtain the benefit of that hospital. Dear Chelsea, by God! an exclamation uttered by a grenadier at Fontenoy, on having his leg carried away by a cannon-ball.

CHURCHYARD COUGH – A cough that is likely to terminate in death.

CIT – A citizen of London


CLINK – A place in the Borough of Southwark, formerly privileged from arrests; and inhabited by lawless vagabonds of every denomination, called, from the place of their residence, clinkers. Also a gaol, from the clinking of the prisoners’ chains or fetters; he is gone to clink.

COLLEGE – Newgate, or any other prison. New College; the Royal Exchange. King’s College; the King’s Bench prison. He has been educated at the steel and took his last degree at college; he has received his education at the house of correction, and was hanged at Newgate.

CONTRA DANCE – A dance where the dancers of the different sexes stand opposite each other, instead of side by side, as in the minuet, rigadoon, lourve, &c. and now corruptly called a country dance.

COVENIENT – A mistress.

COVENT, or CONVENT GARDEN, vulgarly called COMMON GARDEN. Anciently, the garden belonging to a dissolved monastery; now famous for being the chief market in London for fruit, flowers, and herbs. The theatres are situated near it. In its environs are many brothels, and not long ago, the lodgings of the second order of ladies of easy virtue were either there, or in the purlieus of Drury Lane.


COVENT GARDEN AGUE – The venereal disease. He broke his shins against Covent Garden rails; he caught the venereal disorder.

COVENT GARDEN NUN – A prostitute.

DINING ROOM POST – A mode of stealing in houses that let lodgings, by rogues pretending to be postmen, who send up sham letters to the lodgers, and whilst waiting in the entry for the postage, go into the first room they see open, and rob it.

DIP – to dip for a wig. Formerly in Middle Row, Holborn, wigs of different sorts were, it is said, put into a close-stool box, into which, for three-pence, any one might dip, or thrust in his hand, and take out the first wig he laid hold of; if he was dissatisfied with his prize, he might, on paying threepence, return it and dip again.

DONE UP – Ruined by gaming and extravagence.

DUCK – A lame duck; an Exchange Alley phrase for a stock-jobber, who either cannot or will not pay his losses, or differences, in which case he is said to ‘waddle out of the alley’, as he cannot appear there again till his debts are settled and paid; should he attempt it, he would be hustled out by the fraternity.

DUFFERS – Cheats who ply in different parts of the town, particularly about Water Lane, opposite St. Clement’s church in the Strand, and pretend to deal in smuggled goods, stopping all country people, or such as they think they can impose on, which they frequently do, by selling them Spitalfields goods at double their current price.

DUTCH FEAST – Where the entertainer gets drunk before his guest.

DIE HARD – To die hard, is to show no signs of fear or contrition at the gallows; not to whiddle or squeak. This advice is frequently given to felons going to suffer the law, by their old comrades, anxious for the honour of the gang.

ESSEX LION – A calf; Essex being famous for calves, and chiefly supplying the London markets.

ESSEX STILE – A ditch; a great part of Essex is low marshy ground, in which there are more ditches than stiles.

FAGGER – A little boy put in at a window to rob the house.

FANCY MAN – A man kept by a lady for secret services.

FINISH – The finish; a small coffee-house in Covent Garden market, opposite Russell Street, open very early in the morning, and therefore resorted to by debauchees shut out of every other house. It is also called Carpenter’s coffee house.

FLY-BY-NIGHT – You old fly-by-night; an ancient term of reproach to an old woman, signifying that she was a witch and alluding to the nocturnal excursion, who were supposed to fly abroad to meetings, mounted on brooms.

FOUNDLING – A child dropped in the streets, and found, and educated at the parish expense.

Image of the Foundling Hospital established in 1739 by Thomas Coram to provide a home for foundlings © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

FOUSIL – The name of a public house, where the Eccentrics assemble in May’s Buildings, St. Martin’s Lane.

FREE AND EASY JOHNS – A society which meet at the Hole in the Wall, Fleet Street, to tipple porter, and sing bawdry.

GALIMAUFREY – A hodgepodge made up of the remnants and scraps of the larder.

GILE’S or ST. GILE’S BREED – Fat, ragged, and saucy; Newton and Dyot Streets, the grand headquarters of most of the thieves and pickpockets about London, are in St. Giles’s.

Part of the Rookery, St Giles by John Wykeham Archer © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

GO SHOP – The Queen’s Head in Duke’s Court, Bow Street, Covent Garden; frequented by the under players; where gin and water was sold in three-halfpenny bowls, called Goes; the gin was called Arrack.

GOLD FINDER – One whose employment is to empty necessary houses; called also a tom-turd-man, and night-man; the latter, from that business being always performed in the night.

GOOD MAN – A word of various imports, according to the place where it is spoken: in the city it means a rich man; at Hockley in the Hole, or St. Giles’s, an expert boxer, at a bagmo in Covent Garden, a vigorous fornicator; at an alehouse of tavern, one who loves his pot or bottle; and sometimes, though but rarely, a virtuous man.

GREENWICH BARBERS – Retailers of sand from the pits at and about Greenwich in Kent; perhaps they are styled barbers, from their constant shaving the sand banks.

GREENWICH GOOSE – A pensioner of Greenwich Hospital.

GRUB STREET – A street near Moorfields, formerly the supposed habitation of many persons who wrote for the book sellers; hence a Grub-street writer means a hackney author, who manufactures books for the booksellers.

HEDGE – To make a hedge; to secure a bet, or wager, laid on one side, by taking the odds on the other, so that, let what will happen, a certain gain is secured, or hedged in, by the person who takes this precaution, who is then said to be on velvet.

HELL – A taylor’s repository for his stolen goods, called cabbage. little Hell; a small dark covered passage, leading from London Wall to Bell Alley.

HIGHGATE – Sworn at Highgate; a ridiculous custom formerly prevailed at the public houses in Highgate, to administer a ludicrous oath to all travelers of the middling rank who stopped there. The party was sworn in a pair of horns, fastened on a stick, the substance of the oath was never to kiss the maid when he could kiss the mistress, never to drink small beer when he could get strong, with many other injunctions of the like kind; to all which was added the saving grace of ‘unless you like it best’. the person administering the oath was always to be called father by the juror; and he, in return, was to style him son, under the penalty of a bottle.

Swearing on the horns at Highgate © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

HOLBORN HILL – To ride backwards up Holborn Hill; to go to the gallows; the way to Tyburn, the place of execution for criminals condemned in London, was up that hill. Criminals going to suffer always ride backwards, as some conceive to increase the ignominy, but more probably to prevent them from being shocked with a distant view of the gallows; as in amputations, surgeons conceal the instruments with which they are going to operate. The last execution at Tyburn, and consequently of this procession, was in the year 1784, since when criminals have been executed near Newgate.

Being taken along Holborn Hill to Tyburn © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

HOOF – To beat the hoof; to travel on foot. he hoofed it or beat the hoof every step of the way from Chester to London.

HUSH MONEY – Money given to hush up or conceal a robbery, theft, or any other offence, or to take off the evidence from appearing against a criminal.

IMPOST TAKERS – Usurers who attend the gaming-tables, and lend money at great premiums.

IRON – Money in general. To polish the king’s irons with one’s eyebrows – to look out of grated or prison windows.

ISLAND – He drank out of the bottle till he saw the island; the island is the rising bottom of the wine bottle, which appears like an island in the centre, before the bottle is quite empty.

JACK ADAMS – A fool. Jack Adam’s parish; Clerkenwell

JARVIS – A Hackney coachman

JOSKIN – A countryman. The dropcove maced the Joskin of twenty quid means The ring dropper cheated the countryman of twenty guineas.

TO KEEP IT UP – To prolong a debauch. We kept it up finely last night; metaphor drawn from the game of shuttlecock.

KEEPING CULLY – One who keeps a mistress, as he supposes, for his own use, but really for that of the public.

KICKS – Breeches. A high kick; the top of the fashion. It is all in the kick; it is the present mode. Tip us your kicks, we’ll have them as well as your lour; pull of your breeches, for we must have them as well as your money.

KIDNAPPER – Originally one who stole or decoyed children or apprentices from their parents or masters, to send them to the colonies; also called spiriting, but now used for all recruiting crimps for the king’s troops, or those of the East India company; and agents for indenting servants for the plantations, &c.

KNIGHT OF THE ROAD – A highwayman.

KNIGHT OF THE WHIP – A coachman.

KNOCK ME DOWN – Strong ale or beer.

KNOT – A crew, gang, or fraternity. He has tied a knot with his tongue, that he cannot untie with his teeth; i.e. he is married.

LACED MUTTON – A prostitute.

LADYBIRDS – Light or lewd women.

LAG FEVER – A term of ridicule applied to men who being under sentence of transportation, pretend illness, to avoid being sent from gaol to the hulks.

LAVENDER – Laid up in lavender; pawned.


LAYSTALL – A dunghill about London, one which the soil brought from the necessary houses is emptied, or, in more technical terms, where the old gold collected at weddings by the Tom turd man is stored.

LIKENESS – A phrase used by thieves when the officers or turnkeys are examining their countenance. As the traps are taking our likeness; the officers are attentively observing us.


LITTLE EASE – A small dark cell in Guildhall, London, where disorderly apprentices are confined by the city chamberlain: it is called Little Ease from its being so low that a lad cannot stand upright in it.

LUMPERS – Persons who contract to unload ships; also thieves who lurk about wharfs to pilfer goods from shops, lighters &c.

LUSH – Strong beer.

MACCARONI – An Italian pasta made of flour and eggs. Also a fop; which name arose from a club called the Maccaroni Club, instituted by some of the most dressy travelled gentlemen about town, who led the fashions; whence a man foppishly dressed, was supposed a member of that club, and by contraction styled a Maccaroni.

MAN OF THE TOWN – A rake, a debauchee.

MEN OF KENT – Men born east of the river Medway, who are said to have met the Conqueror in a body, each carrying a green bough in his hand, the whole appearing like a moving wood; and thereby obtaining a confirmation of their ancient privileges. the inhabitants of Kent are divided into Kentish men and men of Kent. Also a society held at the Fountain Tavern, Bartholomew Lane, A.D. 1743.

MINOR CLERGY – Young chimney sweepers.

MISCHIEF – A man loaded with mischief, i.e. a man with his wife on his back.

MITE – A nick name for a cheesemonger; from the small insect of that name found in cheese.

MOBILITY – The mob; a sort of opposite to nobility.

MONEY DROPPERS – Cheats who drop money, which they pretend to find just before some country lad; and by way of giving him a share of their good luck, entice him into a public house, where they and their confederates cheat or rob him of what money he has about him.

MOON CURSER – A link-boy; link-boys are said to curse the moon, because it renders their assistance unnecessary; these gentry, frequently, under colour of lighting passengers over kennels, or through dark passages, assist in robbing them.

MUD LARK – A fellow who goes about the water side picking up coals, nails, or other articles in the mud.


I hope that gives you an idea of the contents of Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, and the colourful language that was once heard across the streets of London.

I will explore letters N to Z in a future post.

St Bride’s Tavern, Bridewell Place, Prison and Palace

In 2020 I wrote a couple of posts on City of London pubs. It was in the middle of the Covid pandemic, and between a couple of lock downs I walked a very quiet City of London, photographing all the old pubs. A project based on what I have learnt from exploring all my father’s photos – it is the ordinary that changes so quickly, and we seldom notice trends or significant changes until they have happened.

Since that post, just three years ago, three pubs have closed. The White Swan in Fetter Lane has been demolished, the Tipperary in Fleet Street has been closed for some time and it is doubtful if it will reopen, and the latest pub to close is the St. Bride’s Tavern in Bridewell Place, which I photographed a couple of weeks ago:

St. Bride's Tavern

It was not down to a post pandemic lack of trade, or any financial problems with the pub, it was that the owner of the property would not let the pub renew the lease in January 2023, so the pub closed on Friday the 23rd of December 2022.

The owner of the land plans to strip back the office block to the right of the pub in the above photo, demolish the pub, and rebuild the building on the right with a new extension where the St. Bride’s Tavern is now located. to create a much large office block.

There was a well supported application to the City of London Environment Department to nominate the St. Bride’s Tavern as an Asset of Community Value, however this did not work, and closure went ahead.

With the trend of recent years for greater working from home, and a general decline in the need for office space, I really do wonder why establishments such as the St. Bride’s Tavern need to be demolished to create new office space.

The City of London was also planning to pivot more towards heritage, culture, arts and tourism as a response to post pandemic working, and retaining pubs would align with this strategy, however the City is being reasonably successful in tempting businesses to move back to the City from Canary Wharf as companies such as HSBC let go of large office space in the Isle of Dogs, in favour of smaller offices in the City.

An image of the new development can be seen on the website of the company that secured planning approval for the development. Click here to see the news item.

The image at top left shows the smaller extension of the new development to the rear of the main building on New Bridge Street, and the details of the development include the statement that there will be a “re-provided public house at ground-floor and part-basement level”, however a pub as part of the ground floor and basement of a modern office block just does not have the character and attraction of a dedicated building.

The building in which the St. Bride’s Tavern was located is not particularly attractive. A post-war development, which does have a rather unusual central bay of windows that runs up to include the second floor. This always looked good in the evening when the bay windows were lit.

The following photo shows St. Bride’s Tavern when it was open back in 2020:

St. Bride's Tavern

Decoration at the top of the bay windows:

St. Bride's Tavern

The pub sign has been removed, however I did photograph the sign back in 2020, which showed the tower of the church after which the pub was named:

St. Bride's Tavern

The pub is a post war building as the pre-war buildings on the site had been damaged during the war.

I am not sure that the site of the pub today is the original site of the pub as in the 1894 Ordnance Survey map it was not marked as a Public House and the building on the site appears to have been occupied by a Police Station of the 3rd Division.

Searching through old newspaper reports about the pub and a St. Bride’s Tavern appears to have been in the street behind the current pub – Bride Lane, for example in the Daily News on Saturday October the 19th, 1901, the pub was up for sale: “Freehold ground rent of £100 per annum, exceptionally well secured upon those fully-licensed premises, licensed as the White Boar, but also known as the St. Bride’s Tavern, Bride-lane, Fleet-street”.

Also, in the East London Observer on the 8th of December, 1900, there was a report on the marriage of Charles Seaward who was the Licensed Victualler of the Drum and Monkey pub in Whitecross-street and Miss Clara C. Wilkins, the manageress of the St. Bride’s Tavern, Bride-lane, Ludgate Circus. The wedding took place at St. Bride’s Church and the wedding breakfast was held in the St. Bride’s Tavern, from where the newly married couple would leave, later in the day, for a honeymoon in Brighton.

In the following extract from the 1894 OS map, I have ringed the current site of the St. Bride’s Tavern in red (and not labelled as a public house), and the pub that I believe was the original White Boar / St. Bride’s Tavern in yellow, and in the 1951 revision of the OS map, the pub in Bride Lane is still marked, with the space of the current pub an empty space (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

St. Bride's Tavern

The current St. Bride’s Tavern building does extend all the way between Bridewell Place and Bride Lane, so I suspect that the original pub may have wanted a larger site, and had available the land almost directly opposite, with the new pub still retaining an aspect (although the rear) onto Bride Lane.

If the site of the current pub was also the site of the original, it would have faced onto Bride Lane so could have had that address, but it was not marked as a public house in the OS map.

I have marked the site today of the pub with a red circle in the following map (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

St. Bride's Tavern

The St. Bride’s Tavern is named after the nearby church, as the image on the pub sign confirms, however the pub is in Bridewell Place, which is a very historic name and location.

The name Bridewell originally came from a well between Fleet Street and the Thames, which was dedicated to St. Bride. The name Bridewell was also given to what was described as a “stately and beautiful house” built by Henry VIII in 1522.

London Past and Present, by Henry B. Wheatley (1891) provides the following information: “Built by Henry VIII in the year 1522 for the reception of Charles V of Spain. Charles himself was lodged at Blackfriars, but his nobles in this new built Bridewell, ‘a gallery being made out of the house over the water (the Fleet) and through the wall of the City into the Emperor’s lodgings at the Blackfriars”

The Agas map includes an image of Bridewell, alongside the Fleet and part of which looked onto the Thames. In the 16th century the bank of the river was further in land than the river is today:


The following print from 1818 shows Bridewell Palace as it appeared in 1660 © The Trustees of the British Museum):


We can see what was by the 17th century, the narrow entrance to the Fleet, Bridewell on the left bank and part of Blackfriars on the right.

The print provides the following background: “Bridewell in its original state , was a building of considerable magnitude, as well as grandeur, extending from the banks of the Thames southward, as far north as the present Bride Lane, and having a noble castellated front towards the river, the interior was divided into different squares or courts with cloisters, gardens &c. as represented in the vignette. King Henry VIII built this Palace for the entertainment of the Emperor Charles V, but it retained the dignity of a Royal residence only during the former, being converted into an Hospital by Edward VI who gave it to the City for the maintenance and employment of vagrants and Idle Persons and of Poor Boys uniting it in one cooperation with Bethlem Hospital. A very small part of the original structure now remains.”

So if Henry VIII’s Bridewell extended as far north as Bride Lane, then the St. Bride’s Tavern of today is located inside the very northern edge of the old palace.

London Past and Present, by Henry B. Wheatley (1891) provides the following regarding the change in use of the building: “Bridewell, a manor or house, so called – presented to the City of London by King Edward VI, after an appeal through Mr. Secretary Cecil and a sermon by Bishop Ridley, who begged it of the King as a workhouse for the Poor, and a house of Correction ‘for the strumpet and idle person, for the rioter that consumeth all, and for the vagabond that will abide in no place”.

The problem for the new institution was that the availability of food and lodgings in the workhouse attracted people from across London, and it was “found to be a serious inconvenience. Idle and abandoned people from the outskirts of London and parts adjacent, under colour of seeking an asylum in the new institution, settled in London in great numbers, to the great annoyance of the graver residents.”

A number of children that were housed at Bridewell ended up being transported to the United States following a petition in 1618 from the Virginia Company for 100 children of the streets, who have no homes or anyone to support or provide for them. These children became part of the new colony at Jamestown. 

In response to complaints about the numbers attracted to the institution, the City changed parts of the buildings of the Bridewell into a granary, however in 1666 the original house and precincts were destroyed in the Great Fire.

A new house was built in a “more magnificent and convenient manner than formerly”, and these new buildings, based around two central courtyards, can be seen in the centre of the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map:


In the early 18th century, Bridewell was a place where are “maintained and brought up in the diverse arts and mysteries a considerable number of apprentices”, however “vagrants and strumpets” were still being committed into Bridewell with an average of 421 per year, with a peak of 673 in 1752.

Bridewell took on the role of a prison, and as well as holding a City Magistrates Court, the buildings also had seventy cells for male offenders and thirty for female.

Taking one year, 1743, we can get a view of some of the reasons why Londoners were being taken to Bridewell;

  • Margaret Skylight (a Fortune Teller) was committed to Bridewell for stealing a pair of diamond ear rings
  • On Saturday last a Man was committed to the Bridewell of this City for retailing Spirituous Liquors without a licence
  • Last Wednesday Francis Karver, alias Blind Fanny was committed to Old Bridewell for hawking newspapers, not being duty stamped, contrary to Act of Parliament
  • On Sunday Night last, a Parcel of Link-Men, who generally ply about Temple-Bar, made a sham Quarrel near that place, and got a great number of people together, several of whom had their pockets pick’d, by another Gang of Roques, who mingled with the Crowd, as has been very often practiced. We hear four Rogues have been since committed to Bridewell
  • Yesterday James Williamson was committed to Bridewell by Mr. Alderman Arnold, for attempting to pick the Pocket of one William Burris, last Saturday Night of his Handkerchief; while he was carrying him to the Constable, one of the Gang picked his Pocket of his Watch.

I hope I have the location of all the above correct, as by the early 18th century, the name Bridewell had become a common term for a prison, or place where someone was remanded before being put up before a judge.

In London there was a Bridewell in Clerkenwell and one at Tothill Fields, Westminster, and there were several so called Bridewell’s across the country, including one at Oxford and another at Colchester.

In newspaper reports, the name was often given as Clerkenwell Bridewell or Oxford Bridewell, whereas the original establishment seems to have been referred to as simply Bridewell or Old Bridewell.

The large numbers of apprentices at Bridewell also seem to have caused much trouble in the surrounding area. They were called Bridewell Boys, and also in 1743: “On Thursday Night last about Nine o’clock, as some Bridewell Boys were coming through Shoe-lane, they attacked two women, who ran for refuge into the Salutation Tavern near Field Lane End, the Boys followed them, and to get at them, broke the glasses of the Bar, on which one of them was seized, whereupon the others retired, but soon returned in greater numbers, armed with broomsticks, &c. and demanded their Companion; which being refused, they broke all the Windows, Lamps, and whatever else they could get at; however at length, several of them were secured, and it is hoped will meet with a Punishment due to their Crime.”

Bridewell also makes an appearance in Captain Grose’s “Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence”, or the “1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue”, with the term Flogging Cove, which was used to describe the beadle, or whipper, in Bridewell.

This print dating from 1822 shows part of the quadrangle at Bridewell, with the male prison, part of the female, and the Great Hall. Note the bars over the windows in the central block, and small windows in the block to the left © The Trustees of the British Museum):


The end of Bridewell as a prison came in the 1860s when the City Prison at Holloway was built in 1863, following which, the materials of Bridewell were sold at auction and cleared away by the following year, with the chapel being demolished in 1871.

Bridewell featured in one of the prints by Hogarth in his 1732 series “A Harlot’s Progress”, and in this print we see Moll, the women featured through the series, still in her finery, as she is beating hemp, along with other inmates, under the watchful eye of a warden © The Trustees of the British Museum):


Although Bridewell prison has long gone, the 1805 former offices of the Bridewell Prison / Hospital and entrance from New Bridge Street survives.

I have taken a photo of the building and its associated plaque several times, but cannot find them (if you knows of a cheap and efficient application for sorting and indexing thousands of digital photos, I would be really grateful), however the wonderful Geograph site came to the rescue, and the Grade II* listed building can be seen here, between the traffic lights:


Looking south down New Bridge Street cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Basher Eyre –

The St. Bride’s Tavern will soon be similar to Bridewell – just a memory on the ever changing streets of London.

The development proposals apparently include a pub within the ground floor and basement of the new office block, but this will not be the same as the dedicated pub that currently stands on the site.

Three City of London pubs have now closed since my walk in 2020. How many more over the coming years will suffer the same fate?

Queenhithe – The Original London Dock

The following photo was taken by my father from the south bank of the river, looking across to the north bank, it is where the walkway along the river turns slightly inland to pass under Southwark Bridge:

Queenhithe and the north bank of the River thames

The same view today:

View to the north bank of the River Thames from Bankside

The layout of the place is the same today, with the pillars (although today much more substantial) supporting the building overhead, being in the same place. The building on the left is now a Zizi Italian restaurant, replacing the warehouses and industrial buildings that once lined this stretch of the river.

The view is across to the north bank of the river, where a number of warehouses can be seen. Of these, there is only one building that remains today. That is the large warehouse directly underneath the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The subject of today’s post, is a feature on the north bank, that is just visible in the above photo.

Whilst the warehouses form an almost continuous line along the river, there is one place where the river cuts slightly in land to form a small dock. This can just be seen to the right of the following enlargement from the above photo and is Queenhithe Dock:

North bank of the River Thames

The view across the river today. Queenhithe can just be seen as the indention in the river wall, just to the right of centre. The tall brick building to the left is the warehouse seen below the dome of the cathedral in the above photos:

North bank of the River Thames

A closer view showing Queenhithe Dock. The building at the back of the dock is a recently completed hotel:


Queenhithe’s importance comes from the fact that it is a surviving dock space dating back to the Saxon and Medieval period.

The dock is believed to have been established by King Alfred after he reoccupied the area within the City walls in 886. At that time, it was called Ethelredshythe after King Alfred’s son in law, when it was a place where boats were pulled up on the foreshore with goods being sold from the boats.

The name Queenhithe comes from Queen Matilda, the wife of Henry I, who was granted the taxes generated by trade at the dock. Hithe means a small landing place for ships and boats.

Matilda also had built London’s first public lavatory at the dock, which was available for the “common use of the citizens” of London, and was no doubt built at the dock so the output of the lavatory could flow directly into the river – some things do not change.

Queenhithe is shown in the Agas map (from around the mid 16th century to the early 17th century), with one boat with a sail, and a smaller boat being within the dock:

Agas Map

The map appears to show some open space between the end of the dock and the houses lining Thames Street, and this space was presumably used for holding cargos being moved between the ships on the river and the land, and for conducting sales.

Writing in London Past and Present (1891), Henry Wheatley describes Queenhithe as:

“It was long the rival of Billingsgate and would have retained the monopoly of the wharfage of London had it been below instead of above bridge. In the 13th century it was the usual landing place for wine, wool, hides, corn, firewood, fish and indeed all kinds of commodities then brought by sea to London.”

The dock today is a much smaller part of what was the original dock and trading area. Excavations beneath some of the buildings surrounding the dock have found remains of a Roman quay along with the 9th century shore where trading took place, along with a series of medieval waterfronts, showing how during the medieval period the river wall was gradually being pushed further into the river.

The edge of the dock as it enters the Thames:


Queenhithe is classed as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and is one of the areas along the river where any form of mudlarking or disturbance of the dock or foreshore is prohibited.

The Historic England description of the reason for designating Queenhithe as a Scheduled Ancient Monument provides a good explanation of the importance of the place:

“Quays are structures designed to provide sheltered landing places with sufficient depth of water alongside to accommodate vessels over part of the tidal circle. The features and complexity of quays vary enormously depending partly on their date but also on their situation and exposure, the nature of the underlying geology and alluvium, and the volume and types of trade they need to handle. By their nature, quays also tend to occur in proximity to centres of trade and administrative authority, usually in locations already sheltered to some extent by natural features. Basic elements of quays may include platforms built up and out along a part of the coast or riverside that is naturally deep or artificially dredged, or along an artificial cut forming a small dock on a riverside or coast.

Urban waterfront structures and their associated deposits provide important information on the trade and communication links of particular periods and on the constructional techniques and organisation involved in the development of waterfronts. Artefacts recovered through excavation and the deposits behind revetments will retain evidence for the commodities which were traded at such sites.

Major redevelopment schemes along the Thames in the past have meant that the site at Queenhithe Dock is a rare survival of a sequence of waterfront constructions dating from the Roman period. The timber quays, revetments and the occupation levels are well preserved as buried features. It will provide evidence for the riverside development of London including archaeological and environmental remains and deposits. These deposits will provide information about the river and riverside environment and, by extension, about the people who lived alongside and have used it. The site is of particular significance as one of the few early medieval docks recorded in London.”

At low water, the full extent of the foreshore within Queenhithe can be seen:


Queenhithe featured in a range of newspaper reports which help to give an idea of what life was like at the dock, and in London. Some examples:

3rd December 1741: “On Friday a wealthy Baker near Bishopsgate Street, was by two Money-Droppers, deluded into a Public House by Queenhithe, and there at Cards tricked out of above £100. Tis strange this stale Cheat should still prevail.”

According to the rather wonderful “The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” by Francis Grose, a Money Dropper was a cheat who would drop some money, and then pretend to find it in front of someone, who he would then entice into a pub to share in his good luck at apparently finding the money.

Once in the pub, the Money Dropper would then cheat or rob the person he had enticed into the pub out of any money they had on them, and with the Baker, it was £100, a considerable sum of money in 1741.

Interesting that in 1741 it was thought that the was a “stale” cheat, so must have been a method employed by cheats for many years before.

The Lord Mayor’s procession (now the Lord Mayor’s show), when the new mayor took office was once a very riotous affair across the City. Crowds, fighting, fatal accidents – all very different to today. A long account of the November 1774 procession included the following reference to Queenhithe: “A man was run over by a coach at Queenhithe, and killed. A boat was overset near Queenhithe Stairs by the Watermen attempting to row passengers nigh enough to see the Lord-Mayor take water, and, it is said, six people were drowned”.

A reference to Queenhithe in 1799 adverts headed “Important Inland Communication” highlights how, in the days before the railways, goods arriving or departing from the river around Queenhithe could transfer goods across the rest of the country.

The advert stated that “The Public are respectfully informed, that Goods are regularly conveyed from Queenhithe, London, to Newbury, and from thence o Andover and Salisbury, and also down the Andover Canal to Southampton, and vice versa”.

It cost 11d (old pence) to send a hundredweight (about 112 pounds or 50kg) to Newbury, 2shillings and 6d to Salisbury and 2shillings to Southampton.

The advert shows how in 1799 there was an integrated transport system to transfer goods between London and surrounding counties and towns, as it also states the company “affords a regular communication with the following market and borough towns, and their respective neighbourhoods: Amesbury, Blandford, Cranborne, Christchurch, Dorchester, Downton, Fordingbridge, Fareham, Gosport, Havant, Kingscleare, Lymington, Mere, Newport, Poole, Portsmouth, Ringwood, Romsey, Shaftesbury, Whitchurch, Wilton, Wimborne and Yarmouth”.

It is often overlooked that the success of London as a trading port and as a commercial centre was only possible because of an interdependent relationship with a complex transport network between London and the rest of the country.

It was no good if people or goods arriving in London could not travel to destinations across the country with reliability and with a reliable timetable and cost.

One of my many unfinished projects is mapping out all the 18th century coach routes out of London. It was a very extensive network, equal in its day to the train network we have today.

As well as a reliable transport network, another important factor in the success of trade along the river was transparency in the pricing of key goods, so a market could develop based on pricing transparency. Here again, Queenhithe featured in many newspaper reports on the previous day’s prices:

“The Price of Flour for Bread at Queenhithe, from 4s, 9d per Bushel, Second Sort from 4s 4d to 4s 8d per Bushel. Windsor Beans £8, 2s per Quarter. Common Ditto £2 per Quarter.”

Sometimes the flour brought up for sale did not always sell as in 1757: “Last week several Mealmen at Queenhithe loaded their barges with the Flour that they had brought up for Sale, and sent it back”.

A “Mealman” was the name given to those who traded in grains and flour.

In the following photo, I am looking across the Thames from the north east corner of the dock:


There was a very similar view in the book Wonderful London, published in the 1920s, which shows lighters moored at the entrance, and inside the dock:


The description that goes with the above photo reads “Old Queenhithe, Once The Principal Dock Of London Port – All that is left of Queenhithe is an indentation in the line of wharves backing onto Upper Thames Street. But this, with Billingsgate, once formed the Port of London. It was called by its present name in the reign of Henry II, but as a dock it is centuries older, for we first hear of it in 899 during Alfred’s reign. To encourage its prosperity taxes were levied on foreign vessels discharging cargo elsewhere in the city. By Stow’s time it had fallen into disuse. It is now used for floating lighters to the surrounding warehouses”.

Queenhythe as a trading dock gradually lost its usefulness as the size of ships increased and the docks grew along the river, both within the City of London, and along the rest of the Thames.

As shown by the Wonderful London photo above, it did continue to be a place where lighters could be moored, with the relatively flat bottom of the dock allowing a lighter to be settled at low water, rather than being moored in the river. Space along the foreshore would have been at a premium during the 18th and 19th centuries, and partly into the 20th.

The Wonderful London photo shows the bed of Queenhithe appearing to be a level layer of mud. Today. the bed of the dock is mainly stone, broken bricks and the other detritus that gets carried along the river.

I suspect that the mud has gone as there is no activity in the dock today, and the lack of moored lighters and shipping along the river has increased the flow of the river, which has led to erosion of the mud.

If you look at the dock today, it gives the appearance that the mud has been cleared, and the incoming tide has pushed some of the old dock surface, and rubbish from the river, up to a pile at the back of the dock. Even an old scooter looks as if it is now becoming part of the buried history along the river:

Rubbish on the foreshore

Along the eastern wall of the dock is the Queenhithe Mosaic, which provides “A timeline displaying the remarkable layers of history from Roman times to Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee”:

Queenhithe Mosaic

The mosaic was design by Tessa Hunkin and Southbank Mosaics created the installation in 2014, and next to the river, it starts with the first Roman invasion:

Queenhithe Mosaic

Then we see the first reference to Queen Matilda and Queenhithe:

Queenhithe Mosaic

And that Queenhithe was London’s Grain Dock, a role it still had in the 18th century:

Queenhithe Mosaic

Other key London events are included such as when St. Paul’s Cathedral was first built in stone, and when London became a Saxon town:

Queenhithe Mosaic

There is then the 19th century “Big Stink” and World War 2 and the Blitz, which damaged so much of the area surrounding Queenhithe:

Queenhithe Mosaic

And finally the Millennium Bridge and the Jubilee. The mosaic is mainly a timeline, although the Thames flows along the length of the mosaic and at the end. as well as covering events in 2012, we also see the river opening out into the estuary, and four turbines from the wind farms that have covered parts of the wider estuary:

Queenhithe Mosaic

Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Queenhithe Dock with a small area of open space at the top of the dock, labelled Queen Hith (earlier references to the dock often spelt the Hith part without an e):

1746 map of Thames Stairs

There are a number of boats which look as if they could be either sailing into, or away from the dock. There are also two sets of stairs. On the right are Queen Hith Stairs, and on the left are Queen Hith Little Stairs.

I can find a number of references to Queenhithe Stairs over the last few centuries. I quoted one earlier in the post with the story of the “boat was overset near Queenhithe Stairs“, when a Waterman was taking people out into the river to see the new Lord Mayor take to the river.

The Port of London Authority listing of all the steps, stairs and landing places on the tidal Thames does not have any reference to these stairs, however, they are still there. Not the nice set of stone steps leading down to a causeway on the foreshore, rather Queenhithe Stairs now consist of a vertical metal set of steps right up against the river wall, with a short set of steps providing access over the river wall as can be seen in the following photo, in exactly the same place as in the 1746 map:

Queenhithe Stairs

Looking over the edge of the river wall, and we can see the vertical steps heading down to the foreshore:

Queenhithe Stairs

There is a high river wall around Queenhithe, an essential bit of infrastructure to keep the surrounding land dry during times of very high tide, and building embankments along the river has been a continuous project in keeping the City of London dry.

I found a mention of Queenhithe Stairs in a reference to building an embankment wall, when in 1856 the London Weekly Chronicle had an article on an Act of Parliament to progress a whole series of infrastructure projects across London, including;

“An embankment along the Middlesex side of the River Thames, which said embankment will commence at or near certain stairs called Queenhithe Stairs, in the parish of St. Michael, Queenhithe, in the city of London, and from thence run in a westerly direction along and in front of the north bank of the river, and terminate on the river bank at or about a point in the parish of Saint Margaret in the City of Westminster, in the county of Middlesex.”

Other parts of the Act included building a railway within the embankment, so this was one of the enabling acts for both creating a new wall along the river and building what has now become the Circle and District underground railway lines along the Embankment.

The embankment as actually built ended at Blackfriars and did not extend to Queenhithe Stairs. The warehouses along the river, with their need for easy access directly onto the river prevented the new embankment being built as far as Queenhithe, but it is one of those “what ifs” with the development of London over the centuries.

From the walkway along the side of the river, there is nothing to be seen of Queenhithe Little Stairs, and I cannot find any written reference to the stairs, however looking across from the south bank of the river, we can see a set of steps vertically up against the river wall in the place shown in Roqcue’s 1746 map:

Thames Stairs

Interesting how there is a rise in the height of the foreshore around the bottom of the steps, and how these stairs survive despite having very little practical use these days, although I suspect that with the height of the river wall, having stairs along the foreshore is a sensible precaution for anyone stranded on the foreshore as the tide comes in, or having fallen in the river, although with the tides in the river, getting to the stairs would be a challenge.

Queenhithe is an interesting survivor, as what survives is the space, rather than any physical structure such as a building, wall, paving, etc. Whilst there are remains of the use of the dock below the surface, Queenhithe’s importance is as a reminder of how the City and the Thames developed and for so many centuries, were interdependent.

Given the level of 19th century rebuilding of the City, I am surprised that Queenhithe survived, and was not replaced by new warehouses, however the dock had already given its name to a Ward, so the importance of the place must have long been clear, and removing the place that was the source of the Ward’s name was probably too much, even for Victorian commercial redevelopment of the City of London.