Category Archives: London History

King Edward VII Memorial Park, Shadwell Fish Market, Explorers And Pubs

When I started this post, it was going to be a brief mid-week post about a bowling green in the King Edward VII Memorial Park, Shadwell, East London, sandwiched between the River Thames and the very busy road that is now called The Highway. Instead, it has turned into a much longer post as I discovered more about the area, and what was here before.

One of my favourite walks is from the Isle of Dogs to central London. There are so many different routes, all through interesting and historic places. A couple of routes are along the Thames path, or along the Highway. Both routes take you past the King Edward VII Memorial Park and it was here that I found a scene, more expected within a leafy suburb than in Shadwell.

Last November I walked through the park and found the rather impressive bowling green. I am not sure if it is still in use, the grass, although still very flat and green, does not look perfect.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The pavilion at the far end:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

It appears to be used as a store room:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The site was used by the Shadwell Bowls Club. The last reference I can find to the club is in the Tower Hamlets King Edward Memorial Park Management Plan January 2008, when the club was listed as active. In the 2016 Masterplan for the park, the site of the bowling green is shown as tennis courts, so the green may not be here for much longer.

Looking back over the green, with the well-kept hedge running around the edge and the wooden boarding around the side of the green, it is not hard to imagine a game of bowls in this most unlikely of places:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The following map shows the location of the King Edward VII Memorial Park. Just to the north east of the Shadwell Basin and between the Highway and the River Thames. The map shows a road crossing the park, however this is the Rotherhithe Tunnel, so instead of running across the surface of the park, it is some 50 feet below.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

After the death of King Edward VII in May 1910, a memorial committee was formed to identify suitable memorials to the king. One of the proposals put forward was the creation of a public park in east London, on land partly owned by the City Corporation.

Terms were agreed for the transfer of the land to the council, funding was put in place and on the 23rd December 1911, the East London Observer recorded that the plan for the King Edward VII Memorial Park was approved by the City Corporation, the London County Council and the Memorial Committee, and that “unless anything unforeseen occurs, it will become an accomplished fact in a very short time”.

Unfortunately, there was an unforeseen event, the First War which delayed completion of the park until 1922 when it was finally opened by King George V on the 26th June.

The park is a good example of Edwardian design. A terrace runs the full length of the park along the Highway. In the centre of the terrace is a monument to King Edward VII, with steps leading down to the large open area which runs down to the river walkway.

There were clear benefits of the park to the residents of east London at the time of planning. It would provide the only large area of public riverside access between Tower Bridge and the Isle of Dogs and it was the only public park in Stepney.

Over the years, the park has included glasshouses, a bandstand and children’s playground.

The following photo shows the pathway through the centre of the park from the river up to the monument on the terrace. There was a bronze medallion depicting King Edward VII on the centre of the monument, however this was apparently stolen some years ago.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

On the wall at the rear of the monument, between the terrace and the Highway is the following plaque:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

It reads:

“The King Edward, Memorial London Committee, of which Colonel the Right Honourable Sir Vezey Strong KCVO, Lord Mayor 1910 – 1911 was chairman acquired the freehold of this site for the purpose of a public park out of funds voluntarily subscribed. The Corporation of the City of London who were the owners generously cooperated with the subscribers in thus perpetuating the memory of King Edward VII”

The view along the terrace to the east:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The view along the terrace to the west. The church steeple is that of St. Paul’s Shadwell.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The view down from behind the monument towards the river. When the park was opened, the view of the river was open. It must have been a fantastic place to watch the shipping on the river.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

At the river end of the central walkway is one of the four shafts down to the Rotherhithe tunnel. Originally this provided pedestrian access to the tunnel as well as ventilation, so it was possible to walk along the river, down the shaft and under the Thames and emerge on the opposite side of the river.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

There is some lovely London County Council design detail in the building surrounding the shaft. The open windows have metal grills and within the centre of each grill are the letters LCC.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

It was possible to walk along the river without entering the park, however this is one of the construction sites for the Thames Tideway project to build a new sewer and provide the capacity to take the overflow which currently runs into the Thames. The site at the King Edward VII Memorial Park will be used to intercept the existing local combined sewer overflow, and when complete will provide an extension to the park out into the river, which will cover the construction site.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

There are many accounts of the popularity of the park after it opened. Newspaper reports call the park a “green lung” in east London and during the summer the park was full with children of all ages.

During the hot August of 1933, access to the river from the park was very popular:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The following photo dated 1946 from Britain from Above shows the park at lower left. Note the round access shaft to the Rotherhithe tunnel. In the photo the shaft has no roof. The original glass roof was removed in the 1930s to improve ventilation. The current roof was installed in 2007.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The King Edward VII Memorial Park is interesting enough, however I wanted to find out more about the site before the park was built.

The 1895 Ordnance Survey map provides a detailed view of the site, and I have marked the boundaries of the park by the red lines to show exactly the area covered.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

There were some fascinating features. In the lower right section of the park, was the Shadwell Fish Market – I will come onto this location later in the post along with the adjacent refrigeration works.

Above the fish market is Garth Street. The public house (PH) shown in Garth Street was the King of Prussia. I cannot find too much about the pub apart from the usual newspaper reports of auctions and inquests being held at the pub, however there were a number of reports of a disastrous fire which destroyed the pub on the 14th November 1890. Two small children, Agnes Pass aged seven and Elizabeth Pass aged two died in the fire which started in the bar and spread rapidly through the pub. The location of the pub today is just in front of the eastern terrace, about half way along.

Interesting that in the map, there are urinals shown directly in front of the pub – a very convenient location.

To the left of centre of the park can be found a large building identified as an Oil Works. The left hand part of this building is covering part of the bowling green.

One of the streets in the lower right is called Labour In Vain Street, an interesting street name which could also be found in a couple of other London locations.

In 1895 the Rotherhithe Tunnel had not yet been built (it was constructed between the years 1904 and 1908), so the access shaft does not feature in the map. It would be built over the riverside half of the Kent and Essex Wharf building.

The main feature in the map is the Shadwell Fish Market. This was a short-lived alternative to Billingsgate Fish Market.

In the 19th century there were a number of proposals to relocate Billingsgate Fish Market. It had a relatively short frontage to the river and was located in a very crowded part of London with limited space to expand.

Shadwell was put forward as an alternative location. In September 1868, the Tower Hamlets and East End Local Advertiser reported on the petition put forward by the Board of Works for the Limehouse District to campaign for the Shadwell Fish Market. The petition put forward a number of reasons why Shadwell was the right place to relocate Billingsgate:

  1. That it is the nearest site to the city of London, abutting upon the river for the purposes of a fish market;
  2. That an area of land upwards of seven acres in extent could be obtained upon very reasonable terms;
  3. That by means of a short branch of railway to be constructed, communications can be made with every railway from London north and south of the Thames.
  4. That by means of the Commercial-road and Back-road (recently renamed Cable-street) and other thoroughfares, convenient approaches exist to the proposed site of the market from all parts of London;
  5. That in consequence of the bend in the river at Shadwell, which forms a bay, ample accommodation exists for the mooring of vessels engaged in the fishing trade, without interfering with the navigation of the river;
  6. That easy communication can be made with the south side of the Thames by means of a steam ferry, which would also be available for ordinary traffic, and which to a large extent would prevent the overcrowding of the traffic in the City, especially over London-bridge;
  7. That there is no other site on the River Thames which presents so many advantages as that proposed at Shadwell;
  8. That the establishment of a fish market at Shadwell would be a great boon to the whole of the East-end of London;
  9. That should Billingsgate-market be removed, the fish salesmen are in favour of the market being established at Shadwell.

A very compelling case, however there were a number of vested interests in the continuation of the fish market at Billingsgate and no progress was made with approval for a fish market at Shadwell.

However the issue never went away, and in 1884 a company was formed to “give effect to the London Riverside Fish Market Act of 1882”.  The company had “on its Board of Directors, three of the best known and most popular men in the East of London – men who taken a considerable interest in the welfare of the people of the district, and have embarked in this enterprise, feeling assured not only of its value to the public, but with confidence that it will prove a commercial success.”

The Directors of the company were Mr. E.R. Cook, Mr. Spencer Charrington, Mr. T.H. Bryant, Mr. E. Hart and Mr. Robert Hewett.

Robert Hewett was a member of the Hewett family who owned the Short Blue Fishing Fleet and was keen to leave Billingsgate due to the lack of space. He would transfer his fleet of ships from Billingsgate to Shadwell.

Work progressed on the construction of the market and at a ceremony to mark the pile driving, the local MP, Mr Samuel Morley, “confidently communicated to the assembled company the burning desire of the Home Secretary to find remunerative labour for the unemployed in East London. Mr Morley is now in a position to inform that the fish market at Shadwell will afford employment to many working men”.

Shares in the fish market company were advertised in the East London Local Advertiser and “those of the East London public who have not yet practically interested themselves in a scheme which promises so well, the opportunity once more offers itself. Applications for shares should, however, be made without delay.”

The new market opened at the end of 1885 and whilst it appeared to start well, the challenges of attracting business from Billigsgate were already very apparent. The London Daily News reported on the 1st March 1886:

“The new fish market at Shadwell has been going now for about three months, and the fact that a hundred tons of fish can be readily disposed of here every morning indicates pretty satisfactorily that already buyers have begun to find out that the market has at least some advantages over Billingsgate. As regards the supply of this new market, so far as it goes it cannot very well be better. Messrs. Hewett and Co., who are at present practically the only smack owners having to do with it, have 150 vessels out in the North Sea, and a service of steamers plying to and fro between the fleet and the market.”

Interesting how fish were brought in from the north sea fishing boats by a fleet of steamers – a rather efficient method for bringing fish quickly ashore and keeping the fishing boats fishing.

The article indicates the problem that would result in the eventual failure of the Shadwell Fish Market, It was only the Hewett Company that relocated from Billingsgate. None of the other traders could be convinced to move, and there was an extension of the Billingsgate Market which addressed many of the issues with lack of space.

The market continued in business, but Billingsgate continued as the main fish market for London. The Shadwell market was sold to the City of London Corporation in 1904, and in less than a decade later the market closed in preparation for the construction of the King Edward VII Memorial Park.

In total the Shadwell Fish Market had lasted for less than twenty years.

The building adjacent to the fish market was the Linde British Refrigeration Works. A company formed to use the refrigeration technology developed by the German academic Carl von Linde. The Shadwell works were capable of producing 150 tons of ice a day.

Before taking a look at the area just before demolition ready for the new park, we can look back a bit earlier to Rocque’s map of 1746.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The road labelled Upper Shadwell is the Highway. Just below the two LLs of Shadwell can be seen Dean Street, this was the original Garth Street. Shadwell Dock Stairs can be seen under the W of Lower Shadwell and to the right is Coal Stairs which was lost with the development of the fish market.

To the right of Coal Stairs is Lower Stone Stairs. By 1895 these had changed name to Bell Wharf Stairs.

The map illustrates how in 1746 the area between the Highway and the river was already densely populated.

To see if there are any photos of the area, I check on the London Metropolitan Archives, Collage site and found a number of photos of the streets prior to, and during demolition. These are shown below and I have marked the location from where the photos were taken on the 1895 map.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Site 1: Looking up towards the High Street (the Highway) along Broad Bridge. The building on the left is the Oil Works and residential houses are on the right. Note the steps leading up to the High Street, confirming that the high difference between the Highway and the main body of the park has always been a feature of the area, and is visible today with the terrace and steps leading down to the main body of the park.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_381_A361.

Site 2: This photo was taken to the south of Leading Street and is looking across to the steps leading up to Glamis Road, a road that is still there today. The church of St. Paul’s Shadwell is in the background.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_392_82_1222

Site 3: This photo was taken from the High Street (Highway) hence the height difference. It is looking down towards the river with the shaft of the Rotherhithe Tunnel one of the few remaining buildings – and the only building still to be found in the area. The remains of the metal framework of the fish market sheds can be seen to the left of the access shaft.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_392_A713

Site 4: This photo was taken in the street Middle Shadwell (the buildings being already demolished) looking down towards a terrace of houses remaining on Pope’s Hill. the buildings in the background are Number 56 and 57 Warehouse of the Shadwell New Basin on the opposite side of Glamis Road.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_396_A495

Site 5: This photo is taken looking up Bell Wharf Stairs from the Thames foreshore. The sheds of the Shadwell Fish Market are on the left. The building on the right is the remains of the pub the Coal Meters Arms.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0638_A363

A possible source for the name Coal Meters Arms may be found in the following strange story from John Bull dated the 3rd April 1843:

“Jeremiah John Kelly, the man who entered the lobby of the House of Commons on Friday evening, in a half-mad, half-drunken state, and who was taken into custody by the police, with a carving-knife in his possession, is a person of wayward character and habits., who has given much trouble to the Thames Police Magistrates, and there can be little doubt that he intended to commit an assault on Lord J. Russell, and perpetuate an outrage on that Nobleman. Kelly has made no secret of his intention of attacking Lord John Russell for some time past, and fancies he has some claims on his Lordship for services performed during the last election for the city of London. A few years since Kelly was in business as a licensed victualler, and kept the Coal Meters Arms , in Lower Shadwell, where he also carried on the business of a coal merchant, and an agent for the delivery of colliers in the Pool.”

So perhaps an element of Kelly’s trade was used for the name of the pub.

Site 6: Is at the top of Pope’s Hill where it meets the Highway and is looking back at the remaining terrace houses on the southern side of Middle Shadwell.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_393_A364

There is one final story to be found in the King Edward VII Memorial Park. Next to the Rotherhithe Tunnel entrance shaft is the following plaque:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The plaque was put in place in the year that the park was opened, and records among others, Sir Hugh Willoughby, a 16th century adventurer and explorer. He died in 1554 whilst trying to find a route around the north of Norway to trade with Russia.

The title page to The English Pilot published in 1671 includes a picture of Willoughby in the top panel of the page, standing to the right of centre.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The lower half of the page shows the Pool of London, the original London Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Below this are two figures pouring water into the river, one representing the Thames and the other representing the Medway.

This title page fascinates me. It highlights the connections between London, the River Thames, shipping, navigation and the high seas – a connection that is not so relevant to London today, but was so key in the development of London over the centuries.

And on the subject of connections, this post demonstrates why I love exploring London, in that one small area can have the most fascinating connections with the past and how London has developed over the centuries, and it all started with finding a bowling green in Shadwell.

London Docklands – A 1976 Strategic Plan

There have been numerous studies over the years looking into how London should develop and that detail a vision and proposals for the future that are frequently very different to the past. Many of these proposals get no further than the written page, however it is fascinating to see how London could have developed into a very different city if some of these proposals had been implemented.

In the early 1970s, East London and the London Docklands were suffering from the closure of the docks, loss of industry and employment and the gradual exodus of people. The area had also never fully recovered from the significant damage of wartime bombing.

My posts on the 1973 Architects Journal issue covering East London have explored some of the original issues, and these can also be found in a strategic plan published in 1976 by the Docklands Joint Committee.

I found the 1976 publication documenting the strategic plan in a second-hand bookshop, having been originally from the Planning Resources Centre of Oxford Brookes University.

The front cover provides an indication of the type of change proposed for the London Docklands, from derelict docks and industrial buildings to housing and schools more likely to be found in the suburbs, rather than East London.

London Docklands

The 1970s were a decade of confusion in the development of the London Docklands.

Dock closure had started in 1967 and continued through to 1970 with the closure of the East India, St. Katherine’s, Surrey and London Docks. Although the West India and Millwall Docks would not close until the end of the decade, the future of these historic docks was clear due to their inability to support the rapidly increasing containerisation of goods passing through the docks. Development of docks at Tilbury, Southampton and Felixstowe were the future.

The area covered by the docks, the industries clustered around the docks, and the housing of those who lived and worked in East London was significant, running from Tower Bridge to Beckton where the River Roding entered the Thames.

The Conservative Secretary of State, Peter Walker was clear in his views that the task of development was outside the scope of local government, and as a result a firm of consultants, Travers Morgan were hired to investigate the possibilities for a comprehensive redevelopment of the area.

The proposals put forward by Travers Morgan in their 1973 report proposed a number of possible development scenarios which included office development, housing and even a water park, however their proposals had minimal input from those who still lived and worked in the London Docklands. The Travers Morgan report was opposed by the Trades Unions and local Labour authorities and the Joint Docklands Action Group was setup to coordinate opposition.

Labour took control of the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1973, and in the 1974 General Election, Labour formed a minority government. The Travers Morgan proposals were abandoned.

The Secretary of State for the Environment established the Docklands Joint Committee in January 1974. The objectives of the committee are summarised in the opening paragraph of their report:

“The overall objective of the strategy is: To use the opportunity provided by large areas of London’s Dockland becoming available for development to redress the housing, social, environmental, employment/economic and communications deficiencies of the Docklands area and the parent boroughs and thereby to provide the freedom for similar improvements throughout East and Inner London.”

The committee was comprised of representatives from the GLC and the London boroughs both north and south of the river that came within the overall boundaries of the docks (Newham, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Greenwich and Lewisham). The Government also appointed representatives to the committee and community organisations were represented through the Docklands Forum who had two members on the committee.

The proposals produced by the Docklands Joint Committee were very different to those of the earlier Travers Morgan study. Travers Morgan had identified a future need for office space, along with housing and retail, however the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee focused on what the existing inhabitants required and how their skills could best be used and therefore developed a future based on manufacturing and industry.

Another difference to the earlier Travis Morgan study was in the way that the Docklands Joint Committee aimed to involve and consult the local population of the docklands. Public meetings were arranged, a mobile exhibition of the proposals toured the area, and in the words of the preface to the proposals “every effort will be made to ensure that everyone affected has the chance to know what is being proposed, and why, and to make his or her views known.”

The Strategic Plan as a draft for public consultation was published in March 1976 with a request that comments should be sent by the 30th June 1976.

The plan was very comprehensive including the routing of roads, public transport, industry and housing. Four maps within the plan provided a summary of the Docklands Joint Committee’s recommendations for how land use across the docklands would transform over the coming years.

Docklands Development Phase 1 – Up To 1982

London Docklands

The first phase of docklands development would start to expand established district centres and new housing would be built in Wapping, around the Surrey Docks/Deptford area (expanding the existing Redriff estate) and new housing in the south-east quarter of the Isle of Dogs.

The development of large industrial zones would commence, centred on the Greenwich Peninsula and along the river to Woolwich, the areas around the River Lea and Beckton.

The targets of the district centres were:

  • Wapping could have about 20,000 sq.ft of shopping, centred round a supermarket, together with a health centre, although this might be in temporary accommodation;
  • On the Isle of Dogs the southern centre could have a shopping centre of about 60,000 sq.ft together with a health centre;
  • Surrey Docks could also have roughly 60,000 sq.ft of shopping, centred around a large supermarket together with a health centre;
  • The East Beckton centre could be the furthest developed, with around 60,000 sq.ft of shopping, a secondary school. health centre, and community centre

For transport, short-term improvements would be made to the North Woolwich and East London line along with improvements to bus services and existing roads.

Docklands Development Phase 2 – Up To 1986

The second phase of docklands development continues the work of the first phase with expansion of housing in Wapping and the Isle of Dogs, with substantial new housing in Beckton. The plan proposed that by the end of phase 2 development across the Surrey Docks would be complete.

The plan was rather vague on new transport projects, however by the end of phase 2, the intention that a new underground line from Fenchurch Street Station would have been extended to Custom House. The strategy document described this new underground line as:

“New tube line (River line) – The Docklands Joint Committee have endorsed the proposed route from Fenchurch Street to Custom House but there are two alternative routes from Custom House to Thamesmead, shown dotted, which are to be further examined.”

In the map below, the River line is shown as a line of wide and narrow dashes out to just north of the Royal Victoria Dock. Other diagrams in the report show the two options for extending the route on to Thamesmead, one via Beckton and the other option via Woolwich Arsenal.

London Docklands

Docklands Development Phase 3 – Up To 1990

Phase 3 up to 1990 is where the major changes were implemented and would have resulted in a very different docklands to the area we see today.

Phase 3 included the filling in of the majority of the old docks, with the exception of the Royal Albert and King George V docks. The report does acknowledge that the ability to make these changes is very dependent on the future operations of the Port of London Authority on the Isle of Dogs and the Victoria Dock in Newham. This highlighted one of the key challenges for the Docklands Joint Committee in that they did not own any of the land across the docklands so the implementation of their proposals would be very dependent on large owners such as the Port of London Authority and the availability of significant funding.

Phase 3 aimed to address the lack of open space available to the residents of the Isle of Dogs and Poplar. In the north of the Isle of Dogs there is a new large area of green which the plan proposed as:

“The open space area not only provides space for playing fields for a secondary school associated with the district centre, but will also help relieve the deficiency of playing fields and open space in Poplar.”

Phase 3 would see the work in Beckton complete with new housing east of the district centre. In Silvertown and North Woolwich the release of land around the Victoria Dock would allow the extension of the Poplar and Silvertown industrial zones to the east.

For transport, phase 3 identified the possible route of a new road, the southern relief route (shown by the line of circles in the diagram below). The route shown would have involved two river crossings, complication by the need for opening bridges. The benefit of the route across the Isle of Dogs was, although dependent on the future of the Millwall Dock, it would pass mostly through vacant land. A disadvantage of the route was identified as the significant additional traffic the new road would feed into Tooley Street and the resulting addition to the congestion on the approach to Tower Bridge.

London Docklands

Docklands Development Phase 4 – Up To 1997

Phase 4 completed the development across the docklands, however still with options for train and road routes.

In the Isle of Dogs, there would be further additional housing, however the main feature is continuous open space from the north, through the centre of the peninsula, to link up with Mudchute in the south.

In the Silvertown and North Woolwich area, there would be additional housing and open space to occupy the area once covered by the Royal Victoria Dock.

The map shows the route reserved for the proposed road, and the two options for extension of the proposed River line on to Thamesmead.

London Docklands

The map for phase 4 shows how different the docklands would have been if the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee had been implemented.

By completion, the allocation of the 5,500 acres within the Docklands area would have been:

  • 1,600 acres for industry
  • 1,600 for housing
  • 600 acres of public open space and playing fields
  • 600 acres for community services and transport

The remaining 1,100 acres was assumed to be still held by the Port of London Authority (the Royal Albert and King George Docks), the Gas Corporation at Greenwich and Beckton and the Thames Water Authority, also at Beckton.

Although the report documented the considerable redevelopment of the whole Docklands area, the report also identified as a priority the need to retain many of the older buildings that could still be found across the area.

An appendix of the report listed 101 buildings that were a priority for retention. An extract from the appendix is shown below with one of the maps, and following a list of the buildings in the Poplar and Isle of Dogs area.

London Docklands

London Docklands

The number in the third column is the floor space, not a financial value.

The need in the report to list buildings that should be retained is similar to the 1973 Architects’ Journal on East London which also listed buildings across East London that were at risk. There was considerable concern that wholesale development of such a large area of land would include the destruction of many of the historic buildings that could be found across East London. Many of these had lost their original function which placed them at further risk.

Following publication, a number of problems were quickly identified with the proposals.

The emphasis on industrial and manufacturing space rather than office space did not align with the wider environment across the country with the gradual decline in manufacturing and the potential growth in financial services and wider service industries that was taking hold in London.

The Docklands Joint Committee had no real powers and no direct access to finance for the purchase of land and the implementation of the proposals. This was further complicated by the lack of local authority finance due to the economic conditions of the mid to late 1970s.

The Docklands Joint Committee was also intended to coordinate the response of the individual local authorities that covered the docklands, however all too often these local authorities acted in their own interest. Examples being the work of Tower Hamlets to relocate Billingsgate Market and to bring the News International print works to Wapping in the early 1980s.

The Docklands Joint Committee did try to bring in private finance late in the process, however this was opposed by some of the local action groups who did not agree to the use of private finance in the development of the area.

In the meantime, the people of the Docklands were getting more and more frustrated with the lack of action, endless studies and consultations, but no significant development. Jobs and people continued to leave the Docklands. When the Docklands Joint Committee report was published in 1976 the population of the Docklands was round 55,000 and by 1981 this had reduced to 39,000.

The House of Commons expenditure committee examined the work of the Docklands Joint Committee in 1979  and came to the conclusion that since the committee had been formed, very little had been done.

As well as coming in front of the House of Commons Expenditure Committee, 1979 was also the year of another event that would seal the fate of both the Docklands Joint Committee and their proposals when a Conservative Government was elected.

Michael Heseltine as the Secretary of State for the Environment created Urban Development Corporations, one of which would focus on the London Docklands as the London Docklands Development Corporation.

The objective of an Urban Development Corporation was stated in the  Local Government, Planning and Land Act:

“Shall be to secure the regeneration of its area by bringing land and buildings into effective use, encouraging the development of existing and new industry and commerce, creating an attractive environment and ensuring that housing and social facilities are available to encourage people to live and work in the area.”

The Conservative ideology was also that private rather than public money would fund and drive much of the development of the Docklands.

Financial deregulation would also drive the demand for a new type of office space consisting of large open floor trading areas with the space to install the complex IT systems and their associated cabling that was a challenge in the more traditional buildings of the City of London.

The Docklands would change beyond recognition over the following years. The London Docklands Development Corporation published a glossy summary of their work in 1995 titled “London Docklands Today”. To emphasise the degree of change, the publication included a few before and after photos, including these of Nelson Dry Dock, Rotherhithe:

London Docklands

London Docklands

And these of the West India Docks in 1982 and 1993:

London Docklands

London Docklands

The Docklands area today continues to develop. The Isle of Dogs seems to be a continual building site, however it could have all been very different if the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee were not now just an interesting footnote in the development of London.

A Brief History Of The South Bank

I have long been interested in the history of the South Bank, which for the purposes of this post I will define as the area between County Hall and Waterloo Bridge. I worked there for 10 years from 1979 and it was the location where I first realised that my father had a collection of photos as he brought out some of the photos he had printed to show me what the area where I was now working had looked like some 30 years earlier.

The South Bank has been through two major transformations since the war. The first with the construction of the Festival of Britain exhibition which required the demolition of the whole area between County Hall and Waterloo Bridge (with the exception of Hungerford Railway Bridge which provides a useful reference point).

Following closure, the Festival of Britain site was in turn swiftly demolished with only the Royal Festival Hall remaining, with the rest of the site being gradually built up to the position we see today.

The South Bank was an inspired location for the main Festival of Britain site, a decision which has resulted in the South Bank continuing to be an arts and entertainment centre to this day.

The Festival of Britain was in many ways, a break point between the immediate post war period and the decades to follow. The Festival attempted to define the place of Great Britain within a new world order and looked at how British industry, science, design and architecture could shape that future for the better.

Starting today, and for the next few weeks, I will be exploring the history of the South Bank and the Festival of Britain in detail, starting with three posts covering the South Bank prior to the Festival of Britain.

Then next week, exploring the Festival of Britain at the South Bank, the week after moving to the Festival of Britain Pleasure Gardens at Battersea, then moving onto the Festival’s Architectural Exhibition at Poplar and finally, rounding off with the wider impact of the Festival of Britain.

These are locations and a time in recent history that I find fascinating – I hope you will also enjoy the journey.

A Brief History of the South Bank

I have published a number of photos my father took of the South Bank over the last couple of years and in the next couple of posts I will take a walk along Belvedere Road and then look at the construction of the Royal Festival Hall using these photos, including a number that I have not published before, but first, some history of the South Bank.

Originally, the river frontage along this stretch of the Thames was mainly marsh land and at times of high tide, water would sweep inland. At some point, an earthen bank was constructed to prevent the Thames coming too far inland and by the Tudor period, a road had been constructed on the alignment of this original earthen bank, although according to Thomas Pennant, in 1560 there was not a single house standing between Lambeth Palace and Southwark. This road was shown on maps as Narrow Wall and today, Belvedere Road is roughly along the line of the old Narrow Wall and therefore also the original wall that formed the barrier to the Thames.

Land between Narrow Wall and the river was gradually drained and a number of small industries grew up along this stretch of the river, with the land behind the Narrow Wall staying as marsh and pasture with drainage ditches taking water into the river.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the land between the current location of Waterloo and Westminster Bridges, from Narrow Wall to the river was called Church Osiers (Osier being a name for a type of Willow) after the osier bed which occupied this marshy land at the side of the river that would frequently flood. At some point prior to 1690 the land was named Pedlar’s Acre. 1690 is the first time that the name appears in a lease document. The legend behind the name Pedlar’s Acre is that a Pedlar from Swaffham in Suffolk had traveled to London with his dog in the hope of finding his fortune. Different versions of the legend either has the Pedlar’s dog digging up a pot of money either on the South Bank, or after returning home to Swaffham. The Pedlar then gave the strip of land along the river to the parish of Lambeth on condition that his portrait, along with his dog be preserved in painted glass in the parish church.

What ever the truth of this story, there was a picture of the pedlar and his dog in one of the windows of Lambeth Church until 1884.

From the 17th century onwards, the land between Narrow Wall and the river was gradually developed. John Rocque’s map shows the area in the middle of the 18th century.

Westminster Bridge is at the bottom of the map and the future location of Waterloo Bridge is at the top of the map, to the left of the bowling green.

History of the Southbank Map 1

Narrow Wall, the original earthen wall, can be seen running parallel to the river, dividing the development along the river from the pasture land that covered much of Lambeth. Starting at the top right of the map, Cuper’s Garden runs in land from the river following almost exactly the route today of the approach road up to Waterloo Bridge.

Cuper’s Garden, one of the many pleasure gardens that ran along the south bank of the river was well known for displays of fireworks and it was also described as “not however the resort of respectable company, but of the abandoned of either sex”. The name came from one Boydell Cuper who had been the gardener to Lord Arundel at his property on the north bank of the river and who rented the land and created the gardens including using some of the old statues from Arundel House.

The land from Cuper’s Gardens along the river went under a number of changes of ownership and names including Bishop’s Acre, Four Acres and Float Mead.

Follow the river south through the wharfs and timber yards that now occupy the space between the river and the Narrow Wall, until College Street.

College Street is on the edge of the current location of the Jubilee Gardens with the open space bounded by College Street, Cabbage Lane and Narrow Wall, called College Gardens part of which is also now the Jubilee Gardens. At the end of College Gardens is Kings Arms Stairs, one of the many stairs down to the river. The curve inland of Narrow Wall at this point was later straightened out, with the inland curve being retained and originally named Ragged Row and then Belvedere Crescent.

The name College Street and College Gardens may refer to the ownership of this parcel of land by Jesus College.

The land after the next Timber Yard and onwards to Westminster Bridge was the future location of County Hall.

There are a number of prints of Cuper’s Gardens which give the impression of a very pleasant place. The following is from the mid 18th century and is looking across the curve of the river to the north bank, but shows the water entrance to Cuper’s Garden on the right side of the print.


The following print is from 1798 and shows when part of the gardens were occupied by Beaufoy’s Distillery with a large amount of barrels outside. The print gives a good impression of the number of trees across the gardens as it was always described as a wooded area.


Another view of the Distillery in Cuper’s Gardens.


The next map is part of the “New and Correct Plan of London, Westminster and Southwark” from 1770. This shows the area to be roughly the same with Cuper’s Gardens at the top right of the map and Narrow Wall running down towards Westminster Bridge. This map is interesting as it shows the difficulty with relying on one specific map for accuracy. In the Rocque map, College Street is shown running into Vine Street. In the following map, College Street is now College Walk and Vine Street has changed into Wine Street. These are the only references I have found to these names so I assume that they are errors in 18th century map making.

History of the Southbank Map 6

The above map shows the location of Kings Arms Stairs. The following print from 1791 is titled “A View of Westminster Bridge, the Abbey &c. from Kings Arms Stairs, Narrow Wall, Lambeth Marsh”. The stairs can be seen on the left, the tide is low and there is much activity on the waters edge. Westminster Bridge can be seen across the river with Westminster Abbey and Westminster Hall just to the left of the Abbey.

The rest of the scene cannot be a usual scene on this part of the south bank. In the centre of the print is a very ornate boat facing into the river with the flag of the City of London on the stern of the boat. The two small boats in the river to the right have people in ornate dress and large baskets of flowers. It would be interesting to know what was happening. On the left, the building just past the stairs has a sign reading “Artificial Stone Manufactory”, referring to Coade’s Stone Factory which i will cover later in the post.


Between the above map of 1770 and the next map, the Ordnance Survey map of 1895, the whole area underwent considerable development.

This edition of Ordnance Survey map splits coverage of the area between two maps, so the following map shows the area between Waterloo Bridge and Hungerford Railway Bridge.

History of the Southbank Map 3

The approach road to Waterloo Bridge still has the name of Cuper’s Garden, retaining a link from when this now heavily built area was mainly pasture land. The Waterloo Bridge approach was developed between 1813 and 1816.

The area inland from Belvedere Road has been developed with rows of terrace houses.

The area between the old Narrow Wall, now named Belvedere Road, and the River Thames is still industrial with two major landmarks, the Iron Works and Shot Tower close to Waterloo Bridge and the Lion Brewery adjacent to Hungerford Bridge. Narrow Wall was widened and straightened between 1824 and 1829 to become Belvedere Road. The source of the name is from Belvidere, a house and grounds on the land south of the Iron Works in the above map. As with many of the other pleasure grounds along the river, Belvidere was opened to the public from 1718 and sold wine and food, including fish taken from the river.

The start of the Hungerford Railway Bridge is shown in the lower left of the above map. Construction of the bridge and the associated railway almost cut the area in two with Belvedere Road now being the main route through the area. If you look back at the Rocque map, Hungerford Bridge was built over the Timber Yard and land just north of College Street.

Designed by Brunel, construction of the original Hungerford Bridge was completed by 1845 when the bridge was opened. It was not originally a railway bridge, the aim of the bridge was to bring more custom to the Hungerford Market on the north side of the river. The original bridge did not last long and in 1859 the construction of a new railway bridge was authorised by the Charing Cross Railway Act. The old bridge was demolished and the new railway bridge was opened in 1864. The chains and ironwork from the old Hungerford Bridge were sold to be used in the construction of the new Clifton Suspension Bridge, also to a design by Brunel.

The original Hungerford Suspension Bridge:


The other major change was the construction of Waterloo Bridge, with the approach road across the former Cuper’s Gardens. Construction of the original Waterloo Bridge commenced in 1811 with the bridge being opened by the Prince Regent on the second anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in 1817, after which the bridge was named following an act of parliament in 1816 to approve the proposed name.

The following map is interesting as it appears to bring together some of the later development around Waterloo Bridge with the area in 1746. Published in 1825, eight years after the bridge was opened, it is titled “A Plan of Cuper’s Gardens with part of the Parish of Lambeth in the year 1746 showing also the site of the Waterloo Bridge Road and the new roads adjacent”.

The map helps define the exact location of Cuper’s Gardens as the church of St. John is also shown. The large roundabout at the end of Waterloo Bridge Road is now covering the end of Cuper’s Gardens at the junction with Stamford Street.

The map also shows how the name Belvedere Road came into use. The first straightening of the Narrow Wall is shown close to the approach to Waterloo Bridge and the name for this short section is New Belvidere Road. It is the first reference to the new street name, and also retains the original spelling from the house and gardens. As the name was taken on by the rest of the Narrow Wall, the name changed to the present spelling.

806218001You will need to click on the map to expand a larger version to see the next reference point to the area today. In the gardens in the wooded area just at the bottom right corner of the pond is a building marked D. Checking the key at top left, D is given as the “Royal Universal Infirmary for Children”. This is on an alignment of Waterloo Bridge down to St. John’s Church and although it has now closed as a hospital, a later version of this building, the Royal Waterloo Hospital for Children and Women is still there, on the junction with Stamford Street. This allows us to place the location of Cuper’s Garden precisely and as you walk up towards Waterloo Bridge from St. John’s Church, you are walking through the middle of Cuper’s Gardens.

The following photo shows the Royal Waterloo Hospital for Children and Women on the corner of the approach to Waterloo Bridge and Stamford Street.

History of the Southbank 31

The church of St. John, although badly damaged by bombing during the last war, it was rebuilt to the original plan and is still exactly the same as the drawing on the 1825 map. During the Festival of Britain, the church was designated as the Festival Church with a programme of events during the period of the festival. The church is at the end of the original location of Cuper’s Gardens, the entrance to the gardens was on the left.

History of the Southbank 32

Looking up towards Waterloo Bridge from where the end of Cuper’s Gardens would have been. The hospital and Stamford Street are on the right. The IMAX cinema is on the left in the centre of the roundabout. A very different place to the 18th century gardens.

History of the Southbank 33

In 1923, Waterloo Bridge suffered from settlement to the central arch along with subsidence to the carriageway and parapet, leading to the bridge being closed to traffic in 1924. A temporary bridge was constructed alongside Waterloo Bridge and options were reviewed as to whether the original bridge should be repaired, rebuilt or a completely new design of bridge built.

The decision was for a new design of bridge and the Waterloo Bridge that we see today was fully opened in December 1945. The following postcard with a photograph taken from the top of the Shot Tower shows the original Waterloo Bridge with the damage to the central pier, along with the temporary bridge built alongside.

Postcard 5

Also in the above map, adjacent to Hungerford Bridge is the Lion Brewery. This area was originally the location of Belvidere House and Grounds, and in 1785, Water Works were built on the southern end of the gardens, drawing water from the river to supply the local residents. Not surprisingly, there were issues with the purity of the water being taken from the river and as part of the general improvements to London’s water supply, the water works were moved to outer London locations such as Surbiton. After the closure of the water works, the lease on the land was assigned to James Golding and the Lion Brewery was completed in 1837. On the opposite side of Belvedere Road to the brewery, Golding purchased a lease on an additional parcel of land and built stables and warehouses to support the brewery.

The Lion Brewery was taken over by the brewers Hoare and Company of Wapping in 1924 and in 1931 the building was badly damaged by fire. It was then temporarily used for paper storage before being demolished in 1949 to make way for the Royal Festival Hall.

During the demolition of the brewery buildings, a total of five wells were found which had been used to provide water for the brewery as water could not be taken from the Thames.

There are a number of prints which show the industry along the South Bank between Hungerford and Waterloo Bridges. The following shows the Lion Brewery. Note the tower of the church of St. John’s in the background.


Another print shows both the Lion Brewery and the Shot Tower with the original Waterloo Bridge on the left.


And a view from Waterloo Bridge along the river to Westminster Bridge before the construction of Hungerford Bridge. The Shot Tower and the Lion Brewery are on the left.


The Shot Tower was built in 1826. The gallery at the top of the tower is 163 feet high, and was used to drop molten lead for large shot. A gallery half way up the tower was used to make small lead shot.

The Shot Tower and the associated lead works were owned from 1839 by Walkers, Parker and Company who ran the business until 1949.

The area between Hungerford and Westminster Bridges is shown in the following map (the map cuts off before Westminster Bridge but if included it would be just at the bottom of the map to the left).

The map shows the straightened Belvedere Road, with the original curve in the road still in existence but is now named Belvedere Crescent. Follow Belevedere Road towards the bottom of the map and at the junction with Chicheley Street, it reverts back to Narrow Wall.

Below the Chicheley Street junction, the whole area between York Road and the river would later be occupied by County Hall. Following the Festival of Britain, the area bounded by York Road, Belevedere Road, the rail tracks and Chicheley Street would be occupied by the Shell Centre building. On the opposite site of Belvedere Road, up to the river, during the Festival of Britain, the Dome of Discovery would be built on the area occupied by the India Store Depot and today the Jubilee Gardens are on this spot.

History of the Southbank Map 4

At the top left of the map is a set of buildings, over which is written “site of Sparagus Garden”. This was also an early pleasure gardens, but unlike Culper’s Gardens, is not very well documented. This was also the site of Coade’s Artifical Stone Works.

The initial stone works on the site were opened in around 1770 by Daniel Pincot who published that he had opened a factory “by King’s Arms Stairs, Narrow Wall, Lambeth”. At some point soon after 1770, the factory appears to have been taken over by Eleanor Coade who would go on to run the factory for 25 years until her death in 1796 when her daughter, also called Eleanor, took over the factory. The younger Eleanor also ran the business well and opened a gallery for the factory’s products at the corner of Narrow Wall and Bridge Street – the street leading up to Westminster Bridge – along with a number of houses which took the name Coade’s Row.

The entrance to the Coade Stone showroom on Westminster Bridge Street:


Products from the Coade factory were used across London and wider afield, but the most long lasting and well known is the lion that was on top of the Lion Brewery. Removed and stored at the time that the brewery building was demolished, it was installed on a plinth at the southern end of Westminster Bridge in 1966.

The younger Eleanor Coade was unmarried and had no children by the time of her death in 1821, however she had already taken on a cousin, William Croggon to take control of the business, who was succeeded by his son Thomas in 1836, however his ownership of the business did not last long and the Coade Stone Factory appears to have closed a year later in 1837 and the production of this unique, man-made stone was consigned to history.

Just to the south of College Street, is labelled the India Stores Depot. This was built in 1862 on land leased by the Secretary of State for India. These stores were gradually extended until the start of the 2nd World War, during which they suffered considerable damage and were demolished to make way for the Festival of Britain.

As a final bit of confusion regarding continuity of street names, the following map extract is from the Bartholomew Greater London Street Atlas from 1940. It shows Belvedere Road running between Westminster and Waterloo Bridges, with Howley Place shown at Howley Terrace, Tension Street and Sutton Walk with the same names as previous maps, but further along, where College Street and Vine Street were shown in the 1895 Ordnance Surcey map, the street is now called Jenkins Street. This map is the only place I have seen this name for the street, so it was either an error, or there was a name change between 1895 and 1940.

History of the Southbank Map 7

And finally we come to today and the following map shows the layout of the area as it is now – although this will also change soon as the buildings surrounding the Shell Centre tower have been demolished to make way for a new development of multiple apartment towers.

History of the Southbank Map 5

The map shows roughly the same area, between Waterloo Bridge at the top of the map and Westminster Bridge at the bottom.

The only streets that remain from previous years are Belvedere Road and Chicheley Street. Belvedere Road has been widened and straightened over the years, but follows roughly the same route as the Narrow Wall and the original earthern embankment.

There is more land between Belvedere Road and the river as during the construction of County Hall and the Festival of Britain, the embankment was pushed further into the river.

The approach road to Waterloo Bridge now covers the area occupied by Cuper’s Gardens. The Royal Festival Hall occupies the site of Timber Yards and then the Lion Brewery.

The Coade Stone Factory was on the site now occupied by the car park above the Jubilee Gardens.

The rows of terrace houses between Belevedere Road and York Road have gone with the space being occupied by the Shell Centre Upsteam and Downstream buildings – off which all but the tower building have either been converted into apartments or have been demolished to make way for more apartment blocks.

In my next post we will have a walk along Belvedere Road looking at the buildings and views from between 1947 and 1950 as the site is prepared for the Festival of Britain and comparing with the same scenes today.

All the prints in the above post are ©Trustees of the British Museum

The extracts from the 1895 Ordnance Survey Map are reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.