Category Archives: The Thames

The Thames from Cherry Garden Stairs

Before heading to Cherry Garden Stairs, can I thank you for the response to last week’s post. All eleven walks sold out within the first day, which I really did not expect.

I have added an additional five walks as follows:

The Lost Streets of the Barbican:

The Southbank – Marsh, Industry, Culture and the Festival of Britain

All the above walks have now sold out. I will be adding more in the coming months and listing on the blog. A really big thank you to everyone who has booked and supported my walks, very much appreciated.

The subject of this week’s post is one of the earliest of my father’s photos as it dates from 1946. The negative is 75 years old and is not in that good a condition. The scanned image needed some processing to get it to the state you see below, and it is still rather grey with poor contrast.

The photo is from Cherry Garden Stairs, Bermondsey, looking along the river towards the City, with the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral visible through Tower Bridge.

Cherry Garden Stairs

The same view today, with the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in exactly the same place, however a very different river scene (the perspective looks different due to the very different camera and lens combinations used).

Cherry Garden Stairs

The location of Cherry Garden Stairs is shown in the following map, with the stairs located within the red circle at lower right. The 1946 photo looks along the southbank of the river towards Tower Bridge  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Cherry Garden Stairs

The two photos show a very different scene.

In 1946, the river bank was lined by warehouses, wharves and docks, with cranes along the river. A large number of lighters and barges are moored in the river, and directly in front of the camera, which would have been on the foreshore of the river.

In the 2021 photo the towers of the City are visible to the right, along with the Shard on the left. There are no more working warehouses, wharves or docks, and traffic on the river is today very different.

The river is though still used to transport construction equipment to a major construction site. In the 2021 there is a large shed on the left bank of the river, with the metal work of a travelling crane extending from the shed to over the river.

This is Chambers Wharf, one of the main construction sites for the Thames Tideway Tunnel. Chambers Wharf is one of the project’s main drive sites, with boring machines transported to the site via the river, and lowered by crane down to the point where the machines drive out, creating the tunnel.

Chambers Wharf was one of the many wharves between Tower Bridge and Cherry Garden Stairs. The following map is from the 1953 edition of London Wharves and Docks, and the left of the river covers the area from Tower Bridge to Cherry Garden Stairs seen in my father’s photo.

Thames Wharves

The type of goods that these wharves dealt with are (from the top of the left bank of the river):

  • Coles Upper Wharf: Bulk grain, flour, cereals
  • Butler’s Wharf: Tea, rubber, colonial produce, bulk grain, fresh fruit
  • Upper Odessa Wharf: Cereals, non-hazardous chemicals, bagged goods
  • Adlards Wharf: General and bagged goods, timber
  • Sterling Wharf: General, strawboards and wood pulp boards
  • Chambers Wharf and Cold Storage: All types of food including highly perishable refrigerated dairy produce and quick frozen goods
  • Fountain Dock: Grabable rough goods, coal, granite, ballast and sand
  • Fountain Stairs Wharf: General, flour, cased goods
  • Powells Wharf: Foodstuffs
  • Farrands and Cherry Garden Wharf: General goods in bags, cases and casks, flour and corn starch

Also in the above map is St Saviour’s Dock, which I will save for a future post.

The list of wharfs does show the considerable range of goods that were being handled in the stretch of the south bank of the river shown in the 1946 photo.

The following extract from the 1949 edition of the Ordnance Survey map shows Cherry Garden Street in the centre of the map, running up to Cherry Garden Stairs, which are at the lower left of Cherry Garden Pier  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Cherry Garden Pier

A pier at the site seems to date from the later half of the 19th century, and Cherry Garden Pier is still there today, although used by a private company with no public access.

One interesting point in the above map, is to the right of the map is the Millpond Estate, a 1930s housing development which can still be seen today. The location of the estate had been the site of a flour mill, mill pond and terrace housing. The mill pond was once part of an extensive irrigation system that ran inland to much larger ponds – lots more to discover around this part of Bermondsey.

Cherry Garden Stairs are one of the many old stairs that provided access to the river. The earliest newspaper reference I can find to the stairs dates from the 25th May 1738 when “Yesterday morning an eminent Shoemaker at Cherry Garden Stairs, Rotherhith, was found drowned in the River Thames”.

The stairs are probably much older than the 1738 reference. Leading back from the location of the stairs (see above map) is a street called Cherry Garden Street. The street is named after a pleasure garden that was here called Cherry Garden.

In volume four of the 1912 edition of the History of the County of Surrey in the Victoria County History series, there is reference to a Jacobean style house called Jamaica House which could still be found in Cherry Garden Street until 1860.

This house appears to have been part of the gardens as in the same volume, there is a quote from Pepys which reads “To Jamaica House, where I never was before, together with my wife, and the Mercers and our two maids, and there the girls did run wagers upon the bowling green: a pleasant day and spent but little”.

Jamaica House or Tavern in 1858 (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Jamaica House

Pepys visit is referenced in an article in the Westminster Gazette on the 7th October 1910, which also recalls an inn that was located by the stairs: “Cherry Garden-street, the scene of yesterday’s big riverside fire, occupies the site and preserves the name of the old Bermondsey ‘Cherry Garden’, once a well-known place of public resort. The Cherry Garden was favourably known to Pepys, who recorded his visit there in his famous diary. At Cherry Garden Stairs there was formerly a celebrated inn known as the Lion and Castle, a name supposed to have been derived from the marriage which took place between the Royal House of Stuart and that of Spain. Close by was the even more famous Jamaica, traditionally supposed to have been the residence of Cromwell”.

Edward Walford in Old and New London (1878) doubts the Lion and Castle name originating from a Stuart / Spanish name and prefers the source to be “the brand of Spanish arms on the sherry casks, and have been put up by the landlord to indicate the sale of genuine Spanish wines, such as sack, canary and mountain”.

The Lion and Castle pub seems to have been at Cherry Garden Stairs from the late 18th century to some point around the 1860s. It was not shown on the 1895 OS map.

It may have been that the stairs were used for river access to the pleasure gardens and that was why they took the name of the gardens. Rocque’s map of London in 1746 shows Cherry Garden Stairs (right on the corner edge of my copy of the map):

Cherry Garden Stairs

Thames stairs were so very important for centuries in the life of the river, and for all those who had some connection with the activities carried out on, or alongside the Thames.

As well as providing access to and from the river, Thames stairs were a key landmark. There are hundreds of newspaper references to Cherry Garden Stairs during the 18th and 19th centuries. The majority of these are adverts of ships for sale, for lease, or that were about to set out and were advertising for cargo or passengers.

For example, the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser on the 8th May 1818 has the following advert: “Has only room for a few Tons of Goods, and will be dispatched immediately. For Gibraltar direct. The fine, fast-sailing Brig PRINCE REGENT, Henry Stammers, Commander. lying at Cherry Garden Stairs. burthen 118 tons. For Freight or Passage”.

Other reports concern accidents, collisions, drowning and bodies pulled from the river near the stairs. Such an incident is recorded in the last newspaper reference to the stairs that I can find, when on the 29th November 1936, Reynold’s Newspaper recorded that a ten year old Bermondsey boy had fallen into the Thames from Cherry Garden Stairs and had drowned.

Thames stairs and pubs also seem to be a magnet for crime. For example, there are reports of passengers being rowed across the Thames and then robbed in, or close by the pubs that were often located near the landside of the stairs.

The tide was in when I arrived at Cherry Garden Stairs to taken the comparison photo. Access to the foreshore is now via a modern set of metal stairs that run over the embankment wall that was built as part of the walkway / tree lined open space that runs along the river. Difficult to photograph without being on the foreshore, but the stairs can be seen at the end of the wall in the following photo:

Cherry Garden Stairs

The walkway to the pier can be seen in the background.

I am sure that my father took the original photo from the 1946 version of the stairs, as it was by standing on the stairs that I could get the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in exactly the same position. At this distance from Tower Bridge and the cathedral, even a small change in position changed the orientation of bridge and dome.

There is much more to discover in this part of Bermondsey, so it is an area I will be returning to again.

alondoninheritance.com

Lost Bankside Alleys

I have no idea of the exact location of the following photo. It is one of my father’s and dates from 1949. Judging by the photos on the strips of negatives that included this photo, it is probably one of a number of Bankside alleys, although there is a chance it is a bit further east.

The photo shows a police officer walking through an alley, probably between warehouses. At the end of the alley, there is one of the typical walkways that were built to connect warehouses on opposite sides of a street.

I love the photo as it captures what must have been a relatively common event – a lone police officer patrolling his beat.

Policing has changed considerably in the 72 years since the photo. Budget cuts have reduced police numbers, streets now have CCTV and there is the ongoing threat of terrorism.

Along Bankside, there are no warehouses full of goods that would tempt a thieve. The river is quiet and is no longer teeming with barges and lighters, although as the tragic events on London Bridge just a week ago demonstrate, the Thames is still a very dangerous place for anyone who enters the water.

The police officer in the photo was probably on his “beat” – a set route around a district that an officer would patrol. They would get to know the streets, the people, activity that was normal, and what was not normal.

Being assigned to a beat was the first step in a police officer’s career after training and being posted to a station as a Police Constable.

In the book “Fabian of the Yard” (1950) by Superintendent Robert Fabian, he provides an introduction to the activity of “being on a beat”:

“On the beat, an officer should normally walk the regulation 2.5 m.p.h. – if he is hurrying he is probably after someone or more likely going home to his supper. Properly carried out, patrol duty is not half so dull as you might imagine. The most ordinary looking street can to the practiced eye be of absorbing interest. Each doorway, shadow at a window, hurried footstep or meaningful glance may have a tale to tell”.

(Fabian of the Yard is a fascinating account of London policing and crime between the 1920s and 1940s)

Crime was frequently reported after the event, however the benefit of being on the beat, was that anything unusual, and a possible crime, could be investigated as it happened. Detailed newspaper reporting of such events tended to reduce in the 20th century, however in the 19th century, papers were full of long accounts of crimes, often including the conversations that had taken place during an inquest, or the words of the police officers involved.

The following three extracts are examples of the type of action that a police officer on the beat would frequently get involved with, when patrolling along the river’s edge.

From the Shipping and Mercantile Gazzete on Thursday the 8th February, 1877:

“THEFT FROM A BARGE – At the Southwark Police-court, Joseph Sadler, 22, a returned convict, was charged with being concerned with two others in stealing three pieces of oak timber from a barge on the River Thames, the property of Messrs. Shuter and Co., coopers and stave merchants, Shad Thames.

George Barnett, police-sergeant 56M, said that between 10 and 11 on the previous night he was on duty in Bermondsey-wall when he saw the prisoner and two others coming from Eaton’s Wharf. They were each carrying a piece of timber and as soon as they saw him they dropped the timber and ran away. He, however, captured the prisoner, but his companions escaped. He made inquiries, and found that the timber had been stolen from a barge lying off Bermondsey-wall. Mr. William Joseph Littell, of the firm Shuter and Co., identified the three pieces of oak timber as the property of the firm. Mr. Partridge committed the prisoner for trial”.

From the St. James Chronicle, August 1855:

“SOUTHWARK. CHARGE OF BURGLARY – John Richard South, a tall young man, partially dressed in military attire, and who stated himself to belong to the Royal Artillery, was charged with being concerned with another, not in custody, with breaking in to the Watermen’s Arms public-house, Bankside.

Joseph Alley, police-constable, 30M, said he was on duty shortly before three o’clock that morning in Bankside, and when passing the Waterman’s Arms he heard something breaking inside, which induced him to stop.

Another constable then came up, when they again heard the breaking noise, and saw the reflection of a light inside. Witness immediately directed the other constable to go to the rear of the house, while he knocked on the door for admittance and rang the bell. While doing so he heard a rushing noise inside, and a minute or two afterwards, the landlord came down and opened the street door. Witness entered and passed through, when he saw two men climbing up a shed. He got up after them, and saw the prisoner concealed behind a chimney, and as he came near him he exclaimed ‘It’s all right, I’ll give myself up’. He took the prisoner into custody, but his companion made his escape”.

From the Morning Post, 2nd July 1833:

“Yesterday two men, named Morrett and Yates, were brought before Mr. Murray, charged on suspicion of drowning a young woman (name unknown), whose body was taken out of the water at Bankside.

A police sergeant of the M division on proceeding over Blackfriars Bridge on Sunday morning, about four o’clock, saw some persons looking through the balustrades, and heard them exclaim ‘That a woman was in the water’. He looked in the direction of Southwark bridge, and perceiving a splashing in the water at some distance off, he ran round to Bankside, and by the time he arrived saw the body of a young female just brought on shore by a waterman.

He observed two men standing upon a barge moored at some distance out in the river, and he had been informed that these two men were with this female at the time she was drowned. Acting upon this intelligence he procured a wherry, and immediately went on board the barge, and took them both into custody.

The accused were examined separately, and Yates made the following statement voluntarily;- he said that he and the other prisoner were brass founders, and worked at a large factory in St Martin’s-lane. On Saturday night after work, they went to the Cart and Horses in Upper St Martin’s-lane which they left at half past eleven o’clock, and then went home together, but did not retire to rest.

At three o’clock in the morning they left home together with the determination of taking an excursion on the water. On their way to Westminster bridge they met a young female near the Horse Guards, and they spoke to her, and told her they were going to have a pull down the river. She expressed her desire to accompany them; they endeavoured to dissuade her, but when they hired the boat, which was at Mr Lyons, near the bridge, she said she was determined to go with them, and accordingly jumped into the boat along with them.

They then proceeded down the rive, the tide running that way, and in the course of their progress, run against a chain or warp to which a barge was made fast. This was about midway between the two bridges, and in an attempt to extricate it the wherry heeled over and the female rolled into the river. One of them (Yates) got hold of the barge and saved himself, and rescued Morrett, who was on the point of being drowned, and would inevitably have shared the fate of the female had not Yates grasped him by the collar and pulled him on board the barge.

in reply to the Magistrate the accused said he never saw the deceased before; that she appeared to be 18 years of age, and that they were unacquainted with who or what she was. She was dressed in a dark half-mourning dress, and wore a straw bonnet with ribands. The other prisoner gave a similar account of the transaction, and they were ordered to be detained in custody, as there were some mysterious circumstances attending the case”.

The following day an inquest was held and a verdict of accidental death was returned. Much of the critiscm at the inquest seems to have fallen on two other parties, not the two men found on the barge.

When the young woman’s body was first found, “two medical men” had been called, but had refused to attend. One of their assistants only arrived an hour later.

The proprietor of the boat was criticised for “letting out a wherry at that hour in the morning without some experienced person to attend to it; and that it was in consequence of this neglect that many casualties occurred in the river”. A deodand of £5 was levied on the boat. A deodand was a forfeit on an object where it has caused, or been involved with, a person’s death.

A scene that a police officer on the beat may have been interested in is shown in the following photo from the same strip of negatives, so around the same bankside area.

A quiet alley and some activity around a car in the distance.

Again, I cannot identify the location of the alley, there are no features that enable identification, and the area has changed so much in the last 72 years that as far as I can tell, the alley has long disappeared.

A glance at the 1896 edition of the Ordnance Survey map shows the number of alleys that were once along Bankside (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

In the above extract, Tate Modern now occupies the area on the left, and Southwark Bridge is on the right.

From left to right there is: Pike Gardens, leading to White Hind Alley, Moss Alley and Rose Alley, along with narrow streets leading up to the Thames such as Pond Yard and Bear Gardens.

These alleys have now dissapeard when you walk along the Thames, however there are traces further in land, such as Rose Alley, which is now a short stretch of narrow street acting as a service road to the building that now blocks the end of the old alley to the Thames.

There is one alley part remaining, although this is not named on the above map.

Underneath the letter I of the word Bankside (running along the street on the Thames embankment), there is a narrow alley with no name. This is Cardinal Cap Alley, with the entrance being found between two buildings just to the west of the Globe Theatre.

I wrote a post about Cardinal Cap Alley and No. 49 Bankside back in 2015 as the alley and number 49 have a fascinating history.

The alley has been controversially gated off for some years, however looking through the bars of the gate we can see the remains of an old Bankside alley.

Cardinal Cap Alley was open in the 1970s, and the view across to St Paul’s was one of my early photographic attempts, with my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic 126 (although the camera did not handle contrast that well, so St Paul’s is only just visible across the river).

I have no idea whether the police officer in my father’s 1949 photo was walking the regulation 2.5 mph, or as Fabian of the Yard also suggested that he may be hurrying home for his supper.

The policing of the river and the land along the river’s edge has changed considerably in the 72 years since the photo was taken, and the majority of Bankside alleys have been replaced with new buildings facing onto the Thames. Both Bankside and the river are today a very different place.

alondoninheritance.com

Three Hundred Years of Hay’s Wharf

Seventy years ago, this coming Friday, at 5.30 p.m. on the 30th April 1951, Mr. L. Elliott Esq. arrived at No. 1, London Bridge to celebrate three hundred years of Hay’s Wharf. The Lord Mayor would also be attending and there were cocktails and music.

Hay's Wharf

The invitation card pictured above opened out to reveal pictures from 1651 and 1951. The following picture shows Hay’s Wharf (with London Bridge on the right) in 1651:

Hay's Wharf

The second photo shows the wharfs occupied by the Hay’s Wharf company in 1951, running from London Bridge at top right, along the left side of the river down to Tower Bridge.

Hay's Wharf

The edge of the river in 1951 appears to be a hive of activity with numerous barges, lighters and ships moored alongside the wharfs, and working in the river.

This was the Hay’s Wharf that the event on the 20th April 1951 was intended to celebrate.

Hay’s Wharf has a rather complicated history, with different owners of land, building and rebuilding of wharfs and warehouses, the Hay’s family, partners in the business and how Hay’s took over most of the river frontage between London and Tower Bridges.

Today’s post is an attempt to provide an overview of the 300 years of Hay’s Wharf and the Hay’s Wharf company.

The year 1651 as the founding of Hay’s Wharf seems to be year when Alexander Hay took over the lease of a brew-house from Robert Houghton, on the site of the current Hay’s Wharf buildings, alongside a small inlet from the river.

Running a brew-house may have meant that Hay realised the importance of clean water supplies. Water was being delivered to London by companies such as the New River Company, and by the London Bridge Waterworks, and these companies needed pipes through which to distribute their water.

Before a method of joining iron pipes was developed in 1785, water pipes were made from hollowed out tree trunks, and Hay set up a business to bore tree trunks and supply wooden pipes to companies such as the New River Company.

This was carried out at the small inlet at Hay’s Wharf, with buildings alongside constructed for the operation of the business.

Pipe boring must have been of such a scale that the Bridge House records, record Pipe Borers Wharf as the official name for Hay’s Wharf

There is one curious story of Hay’s Wharf during the early years of the 18th century. In 1709, the overall lease for the wharfs and properties close to London Bridge were taken over by Charles Cox who had been the MP for Southwark since 1695. It was from Charles Cox that Hay had an individual lease of the properties that formed Hay’s Wharf.

In 1697 the Treaty of Ryswick resulted in the persecution of Lutheran Protestants in parts of what is now Germany. Many of these fled to England as refugees and were granted an allowance of one shilling a day. Following early arrivals from Germany, numbers soon increased as news of the welcome they received in England spread. Numbers became such that there was a public outcry against the number arriving and the grant of a shilling a day. As a result, this grant was soon stopped.

Charles Cox announced that he would give asylum to all who arrived and would cover the cost. His approach to housing new arrivals was to crowd them into buildings at Hay’s Wharf and nearby Bridge House. Conditions grew very insanitary, and the local population were angered by the number of arrivals, and their living conditions so close to the existing residents.

Despite Charles Cox stating that he would fund the costs, the local Poor Rate had to be increased to £700.

Hundreds continued to arrive from Germany, and in desperation Charles Cox sent many to Southern Ireland, where they were not welcomed, and had to return to London.

Eventually, arrangements were made to ship the refugees to America, where they were settled in Carolina. It is interesting to wonder how many of those living in America today are descendants of those who travelled to America via the buildings at Hay’s Wharf and Bridge House.

Warehousing as a major business started from 1714 when the Customs Authorities allowed goods such as tobacco to be stored in warehouses on payment of a small percentage of the import duty.

If the product was then exported, the import duty would be repaid, allowing imported goods meant for export to be stored in warehouses tax free. Previous warehouses had been for the temporary storage of goods and the convenience of merchants, however tax free import followed by export significantly grew warehousing as a business.

By 1789, Hay’s Wharf was just one of a number of sufferance wharfs along the south bank of the river. A sufferance wharf is one where goods can be stored until any tax or duty is paid.

The following map shows the sufferance wharfs lining the south bank of the river in 1789.

Hay's Wharf

Hay’s Wharf was just one of a number that lined the river. From lower left are Chamberlain’s Wharf, Cotton’s Wharf, Hay’s Wharf, Beal’s Wharf, Griffin’s Wharf, Symon’s Wharf, Stanton’s Wharf, Davis Butt & Co Wharf, Hartley’s Wharf, Pearson’s Wharf and Holland’s Wharf.

Hay’s Wharf was used as a place where ships would dock and receive goods and passengers for transport across the country, and abroad. A Hay’s Wharf sailing bill from 1798 provides an indication of how this trade was carried out.

Hay's Wharf

The “Sally” would be sailing from Hay’s Wharf to Plymouth and Plymouth Dock, and the ship would be available for twelve working days at Hay’s Wharf to take goods for transport to Plymouth, from where they could then be forwarded to a range of locations in the West Country. As well as taking goods, the Sally would also carry passengers for Plymouth.

Throughout the 18th century, the Hay’s Wharf business had passed through the Hay’s family. Francis Theodore Hay would be the last of the family connected with the business.

Francis had been apprenticed as a Waterman before taking over the business. He would become Master of the Waterman’s Company and King’s Waterman to George III and George IV.

In the early 19th century, Hay’s business was seeing considerable competition. In earlier years the Customs Authority had granted sufferance, or the right to store goods without paying tax, to a limited number of wharf owners, however they now granted sufferance to any owner of land with a frontage on the river. Competition was also coming from the new docks which were being built east of the Tower of London.

Possibly because of this competition, Francis set up his son in a lighter building business, with a property on the river in Rotherhithe. Lighters were smaller, flat bottomed barges which allowed goods to be transferred from a ship, right up to the wharfs lining the river.

Francis Theodore Hay died in 1838, and was the last of the Hay’s connected with the wharf business. His son carried on running the lighter building business.

Francis Theodore Hay:

Hay's Wharf

Francis Hay’s interest in the business seems to have been mainly financial, and Alderman John Humphrey (who already had a long association with Hay’s), now became the owner of the business. He would bring in two partners who were influential in the future success of Hay’s Wharf.

Hugh Colin Smith was a member of a family long connected with the City’s banking and commercial world. Arthur Magniac’s family was part of the Jardine, Matheson Company, one of the oldest Merchant Adventurers in China, and it was through Magniac that the tea trade was brought to Hay’s Wharf, with tea clippers from China bringing a high percentage of the tea consumed in London to Hay’s.

The trade with China was so successful that Jardine, Matheson referred to Hay’s Wharf as “our wharf in London”.

Humphrey, Smith and Magniac entered a fomal partnership in 1861 known as the “Proprietors of Hay’s Wharf”, although Humphrey would only live for another 18 months, however his sons took over their father’s interest in the partnership and Hay’s Wharf entered a period of considerable expansion and progress.

For the rest of the 19th century, and the early 20th century, Hay’s Wharf introduced mechanisation, purchased land and wharfs along the river between London and Tower Bridges, invested in new buildings and technologies such as a Cold Store. They also purchased the Pickford’s transport business.

It was during the early part of the 20th century that the Hay’s Wharf business was at the peak of its expansion and success.

The following painting by Gordon Ellis shows the tea clipper Flying Spur about to enter the dock at Hay’s Wharf on the 29th of September 1862. The ship is bringing the new season’s tea back from Foochow, China.

Hay's Wharf

The site of the original Hay’s Wharf is now the Hay’s Galleria. Seen from across the Thames, two old warehouse buildings surround an open space covered by a glass and metal frame.

Hay's Wharf

The central open space was once fully occupied by water, the remains of an old inlet from the river that had been turned into a dock so that ships could moor adjacent to the buildings that would store their cargo.

I cannot confirm the exact date of the current buildings. There are references to construction in 1856, however the 1861 fire, named in the press as the “Great Fire in Tooley Street” caused considerable damage to these buildings. The Morning Post of the 24th June 1861 describes the fire catching in the roof of Hay’s Wharf, tall columns of flame, the top floor blazing and the fire descending to the floor below, with the rest of the floors following.

The article described that this was supposed to be a fire proof building, and although it appears to have been considerably damaged by the fire, the fire did take longer to move from floor to floor than in the other warehouses.

Hay’s Wharf was repaired / rebuilt soon after, suffered bomb damage in the last war, and considerable restoration and modification at the end of the 20th century, which included the infill of the old central dock.

The following photo is looking along the interior of Hay’s Wharf, out towards the River Thames.

Hay's Wharf

The following photo shows the interior when it was in use as a dock, with water running up to a narrow walkway alongside the building on either side (the walkway was a later addition to the warehouse buildings. When first built the dock ran directly up to the side of the building and to get between the different arches you would have had to walk through the interior).

Hay's Wharf

The photo dates from 1921 and the ship in the photo is the Quest, the ship that the explorer Earnest Shackleton used for his final expedition to the Antarctic. Shackleton would suffer a fatal heart attack on the 5th of January 1922 whilst at South Georgia, where he would be buried.

The view back along the old dock from the river end of Hay’s Wharf:

Hay's Wharf

The old entrance to the river can still be seen with the indent on the river wall and walkway:

Hay's Wharf

In the late 1920s, the Hay’s Wharf Company decided to build a new head office. This would occupy the site of St Olave’s Church, between Tooley Street and the Thames.

To continue a link with the 11th century saint after who the church was dedicated, the new head office would be called St Olaf House. The photo below shows the view of the building from Tooley Street:

St Olaf House

St Olave’s church just survived the disastrous fire at Tooley Street in 1843. It was rebuilt the following year, however over the coming decades the size of the congregation declined, and in 1908 is was recorded that at one of the rare services at the church there were only five in the congregation.

The body of the church was eventually demolished with only the tower and graveyard remaining. In 1928, Bermondsey Borough Council proposed selling the church to the Hay’s Wharf Company in order to save public money. A bill was presented in Parliament to enable the sale, which requested permission:

“to sell to Hay’s Wharf the site of the Church of St Olave’s and the churchyard, comprising St Olave’s Garden between Tooley Street and the River, together with the right of demolition of the tower and the right to use the ground as a waiting place for vehicles, with loading bays, and to erect buildings upon it.

The sale of the churchyard and the tower (a local landmark) was a contentious issue, but finally went ahead. The flagstaff from the tower was given to St George’s Church, Borough High Street and three bells from the tower were given to the Church of St Olave which was then being built in Mitcham.

The octagonal Portland stone turret, formerly capping the tower of the church was moved to the Tanner Street, Bermondsey park and children’s playground to form a drinking fountain. The playground was funded with some of the proceeds from the sale of the land.

The new head office was designed by H.S. Goodhart-Rendel and opened in 1931.

The Tooley Street entrance to the building is recessed under the building, with parking space and vehicle access between the entrance and Tooley Street.

The main entrance has the arms of the Smith, Humphrey and Magniac families above the door, along with the opening date of 1931. These three families were the partners in the company, and responsible for the considerable development and expansion of the company after 1862.

St Olaf House

A black and gold mosaic of St Olave on the corner of the building:

St Olaf House

On another corner of the building is recorded that it occupies the site of the church and the legend of St Olave:

St Olaf House

Along with an award for the offices from the British Council:

St Olaf House

View of the new Head Office from London Bridge:

St Olaf house

The same view from London Bridge in 1951:

St Olaf house

The focal point of the river facing side of the building is a large set of reliefs framing six of the windows:

St Olaf House

The reliefs were the work of the sculptor Frank Dobson and completed using gilded faience (second time in the last few weeks I have come across this material. Faience is glazed pottery, see also post on Ibex House in the Minories).

The three large panels at the top represent Capital, Labour and Commerce, and the 36 vertical panels represent “The Chain of Distribution”.

Another example of Frank Dobson’s work can be found on the south bank of the river with “London Pride”, designed for the Festival of Britain, now outside the National Theatre.

Another 1951 view from London Bridge showing the head office, and the adjacent wharf (now the London Bridge Hospital). Note the cranes built on a pontoon in the river:

Hay's Wharf

As well as the name of the building, the name of the saint and church continues with the name of the alley from Tooley Street to the river to the west of the building – St Olaf Stairs:

St Olaf Stairs

There are two interesting buildings just to the east of St Olaf House on Tooley Street. The photo below shows Emblem House, now part of London Bridge Hospital.

Bennet Steamship Company

Emblem House was built in 1903 to a design by Charles Stanley Peach. Originally called Colonial House, the building was part of the change from wharfs and warehouses to commercial buildings along this stretch of Tooley Street.

In the photo above, there is a thin, brick built building to the left of Emblem House. This is Denmark House.

Built in 1908 to a design by S.D. Adshead, for the Bennet Steamship Company.

On the side of the building facing St Olaf House, at the very top of the building, there is a stone model of a steamship, with what looks like a funnel, two lifeboats and cranes at front and rear – possibly one of Bennet’s steamships.

Bennet Steamship Company

After the war, some of the wharfs and warehouses lining the Thames between London and Tower Bridges were empty. Wartime damage and the transfer of trade to the docks east of the river had an impact, however there were still ships being loaded and unloaded at the wharfs owned by Hay’s Wharf. My father took the following photo in 1947 from in front of the Tower of London, looking across to the warehouses on the south bank of the river:

Hay's Wharf

A ship is heading towards Tower Bridge, and a second ship is moored up against one of the warehouses, and cranes line the southern bank of the river.

This would not last for too much longer, and from the 1950s the business continued to decline.

By 1970, the Hay’s Wharf company was seen more as an owner of valuable property than a business running wharfs and warehouses. Following the release of the financial results for the company in 1970, newspaper reports commented that the results were “the London group owning 25 acres of prime Thames dockland, is almost as interesting as the takeover rumours surrounding the company”.

The Hay’s Wharf Company had announced a profit of £1.2 million, which “do not take into account the terminal costs on the closure of the Tooley Street wharves and expenditure on properties awaiting development”. The wharf and warehouse business had effectively closed by 1970.

There were various schemes proposed for redevelopment of the area between Tooley Street and the river during the 1970s and early 1980s. A 1981 scheme for a massive office development was the subject of a public enquiry, and in 1983 the Government gave approval for a scheme proposed by the London Docklands Development Corporation, which included a number of new office blocks, along with retention of a couple of the old warehouses, including Hay’s Wharf.

Hay’s Wharf reopened as Hay’s Galleria in 1987, with the old dock filled in.

View from the north bank of the Thames with Hay’s Wharf on the left, running up to London Bridge on the right.

Hay's Wharf

The following photo shows Hay’s Wharf to the right, and the buildings running up to Tower Bridge on the left.

Hay's Wharf

The majority of the above two photos was once part of the Hay’s Wharf Company. Today, the area is known as London Bridge City and is ultimately owned by the Kuwaiti Sovereign Wealth Fund.

I wonder what Mr. L. Elliott would have thought of what the area would become in the next seventy years, as he clutched his invitation and joined the celebrations of three hundred years of Hay’s Wharf.

To research this post, one of the key books I read is a book published to go with the 300 year celebration: “Three Hundred Years on London River – the Hay’s Wharf Story” by Aytoun Ellis. The book is a fascinating account of Hay’s Wharf, the development of this part of the south bank of the river, the families involved, and the commercial and political environment of London during those 300 years.

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Topping’s Wharf and the Wharves between London and Tower Bridges

In August 1948, my father was on a boat sailing from Westminster to Greenwich, taking photos along the route. The following photo is after having just passed under London Bridge, looking down towards Tower Bridge, with the cranes and warehouses of the wharves that line the river opposite the City of London.

Topping's Wharf

The Southwark side of the river between London Bridge and Tower Bridge was very different to the City side of the river. The Southwark side was full of wharves, warehouses, cranes and moored ships and barges.

The City had Billingsgate Market, the Customs House, New Fresh Wharf and the Tower of London. The difference between the two sides of the river can be seen in the following map from Commercial Motor’s 1953 edition of London Wharves and Docks:

Topping's Wharf

This fascinating book lists all the wharves and docks between Teddington and Tilbury, and provides details of the trade that they handled and their facilities. The following tables cover the Southwark wharves between London and Tower Bridges:

Topping's Wharf

Topping's Wharf

There was a remarkable 20,250,000 cubic feet of storage space within the warehouses along this relatively short stretch of the river, and there was a wide range of goods being stored. Chances are that if in 1953 you were drinking your morning cup of coffee, it would have been imported through one of these wharves.

By 1953, all except the Tower Bridge Wharf were owned by Hay’s Wharf Ltd, a business that had been expanding rapidly, and a name that can still be found in this transformed stretch of the river.

Many of these wharves had been in existence for hundreds of years, and they would have had individual owners with the name often reflecting the original owner / builder of the wharf.

There is so much history associated with each wharf, and they can demonstrate how trade was conducted, and what life was like in this part of London. Close to London Bridge in the above map is Topping’s Wharf, and I have taken this single wharf to see what can be found of its history.

The first reference I could find of Topping’s Wharf was an advert in the Newcastle Courant on the 17th December 1774 where the new owners are setting up a cargo route between London and Newcastle and advertising Topping’s Wharf as a safe and insured site for goods to be stored:

“To the MERCHANTS, TRADERS and SHIPPERS of GOODS to and from London and Newcastle. We take this opportunity of acquainting you, that having lately taken a new, commodious, and convenient Wharf, situate in Tooley-street, Southwark, and adjoining to London bridge, known by the name of Topping’s Wharf, where there are exceeding good warehouses for lodging and securing goods from damage by weather, and where vessels of 300 tons burthen or upwards may load by cranes, which will be a considerable saving of expense and risk, incurred by the present method of shipping, by lighters from above bridge. The goods will be lodged in warehouses, upon which an insurance of £4000 from fire will be made till shipped and the policy deposited at the Bank of Newcastle. A set of good accustomed vessels are engaged, one of which will sail every week. We therefore solicit your favours, and assure you, that the greatest care will be taken to ship your goods with regularity and dispatch, by Your humble servants, CHINERY, RUDD and JOHNSON, London, December 9th 1774”.

These newspaper adverts and reports are interesting because they shed some light on how trade was conducted in the 18th century. They also mention fire insurance as a key feature of Topping’s Wharf, and from later events we can see why.

Warehouses held large volumes of highly flammable materials, and fires in London’s warehouses were very frequent, with often significant destruction of buildings, the goods stored in the warehouse and ships moored alongside.

I have already written about one fire in the area, called at the time the “Great Fire at London Bridge” in 1861. There had already been another major fire eighteen years earlier in 1843. This fire had destroyed Topping’s Wharf, as reported in the Globe on Saturday, August 19th, 1843:

“TERRIFIC FIRE THIS MORNING – Never since the too well remembered fire at the Royal Exchange in 1838, has it fallen to our lot to record a more terrific one than that which took place this morning at an early hour, at the premises known as Topping’s Wharf, situate on the east side of London bridge, near Fenning’s Wharf, which it will be recollected was destroyed by a similar calamity in 1836.

In magnitude it exceeded the above-named disaster, or any other that has occurred on the banks of the River Thames for many years past; for, in addition, we regret to say that Watson’s Telegraph, formerly a shot tower, the large turpentine and oil stores of Messrs. Ward and Co, in Tooley-street, and St Olave’s Church, all fell a sacrifice to the devouring element, besides doing extensive damage to a tier of shipping moored alongside Topping’s Wharf”.

The fire had started just before two in the morning and was spotted by a Police Constable. The Fire Brigade was soon on the scene, led by the superintendent of the brigade, Mr. James Braidwood (who would be killed in the fire in Tooley Street eighteen years later).

By four in the morning, St Olave’s Church, just behind Topping’s Wharf was on fire and the Globe reported that “there appeared very little chance of any of that ancient building being saved”.

The following print shows the 1843 fire at Topping’s Wharf  (©Trustees of the British Museum):

Topping's Wharf

The report in the Globe newspaper mentioned Watson’s Telegraph, and in the above print, just to the right of the church tower you can see the word Watson. I knew about Watson’s Telegraph, but did not know that the central London telegraph was based by St Olave’s Church and Topping’s Wharf, just to the east of the southern end of London Bridge.

The British Museum has a print of Watson’s Telegraph before the fire, with St Olave’s Church to the right, and Topping’s Wharf to the lower left  (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Topping's Wharf

Watson’s Telegraph was the creation of a Mr. Watson of Cornhill. The purpose of the system was to rapidly pass messages to and from the coast and key ports. It was important to traders and ship owners in the City to know when their ship and cargo were getting close, or events such as a tragedy at sea.

Watson’s Telegraph system comprised of a number of towers with a semaphore signaling system on top. These were located at strategic points to allow a message to be passed along a chain of stations to the required destination. Each telegraph station needed to be able to see the telegraph stations on either side in the chain.  For example, to pass a message between the City and Deal in Kent, the telegraph chain consisted of: “London-bridge; the second at Forest-hill; the third at Knockholt; and others at Wrotham-hill, Bluebell-hill, and three or four elevated spots between there and Deal”.

An article in the Illustrated London News provided the above list of locations, and I love the introduction to the article which paints a futuristic view of communications:

“In this miraculous age of improvements and discoveries when ‘the annihilation of time and space’ is no longer regarded as an idle chimera of the brain, it might hardly be considered necessary to occupy our space with a detail of the various schemes that have been adopted and put in operation to facilitate this most paramount and prevailing desire. So many of our readers must be naturally unconversant with those experiments in arts and science which the ‘great metropolis’ is continually eliciting, that we feel it a duty which we owe to our friends and supporters at a distance, to place before them those objects of interest and real usefulness in which the metropolis abounds, and which are only known to them by name”.

As well as the telegraph stations, a key part of the system was a Telegraphic Dictionary which was kept at each station and contained “several thousand words, names, phrases and directions, such as are likely to be most useful and required, and names of vessels, places, and certain nautical terms which have been selected with great care, as may best suit the object in view”.

The message entries in the dictionary have an associated unique number and the positions of the arms on the semaphore corresponded to different numbers, thereby allowing the position of the arms to send a message from the telegraphic dictionary.

The system was created in 1842. It is remarkable to think that 179 years later, on the evening before writing this post, I was watching a live stream over the Internet from the US of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars, with photos of the surface coming minutes after landing. How communications technology has changed in less than 200 years. I suspect the readers of the Illustrated London News in 1842, could not have imagined this new ‘the annihilation of time and space’.

It is difficult to track the ownership of Topping’s Wharf over the centuries of its existence. It seems to have been owned by Magdalen College, Oxford for some time, as in the Globe on the 28th October 1907, there is a record that: “the leasehold of Topping’s Wharf, Tooley-street, London-bridge, which Messrs. Jones, Lang, and Co. are to offer by the instructions of Magdalen College, Oxford”.  There was also a description of Topping’s Wharf:

“The premises, which comprise ground floor, basement, and three large upper warehouse floors are supplied with loopholes to each floor, with hydraulic lifts, and cranes, back and front, and have recently been fitted with a London County Council staircase”.

I cannot find who took the lease in the 1907 auction, but in 1912 Topping’s Wharf was let to Nestle and the Anglo Swiss Condensed Milk Company.  Hay’s Wharf Ltd seem to have taken on Topping’s Wharf in the 1920s.

Back to the view of the river between London and Tower Bridges, and another view of the wharves along the river, and the ships that used these wharves is shown in the following photo which my father took from the open space outside the Tower of London.

Topping's Wharf

When my father took the above photo and the photo at the top of the post, the wharves along this part of the river were really busy. Cranes lined the river and ships loaded and unloaded their cargo at this stretch of wharves which were then nearly all owned by Hay’s Wharf Ltd.

The introduction to the 1953 edition of Commercial Motor’s London Wharves and Docks gives an impression of how trade on the river was increasing:

“Commercial activity on the River Thames has increased considerably in the post-war years, due in large part to British Industry’s successful efforts to expand its export trade with world markets. Arising out of this intensified traffic in the industrial reaches of the Thames has come the need for an up to date, comprehensive guide to the many wharves and docks which line the banks of the River from Teddington to Gravesend”.

Despite the post-war increase in trade on the river, the wharves between London and Tower Bridges would not have too many years left. The increasing size of cargo ships and containerisation meant that inner London docks quickly became unsuitable for the type of shipping and new methods of moving cargo.

To show how quickly river trade changed, 26 years after the above description of increased activity on the river, I took the following photo in 1979, looking along the river from London Bridge:

Topping's Wharf

The cranes lining the river have gone, some of the warehouses were still being used for storage, but the majority were derelict. The space where the cranes once moved cargo between ship and warehouse was then used for parking space.

Another photo from 1979 looking down the river. A few of the remaining cranes can be seen just to the right of HMS Belfast. These would have been on Mark Brown’s and Tower Bridge Wharves.

Topping's Wharf

I took a couple of “now” photos in August 2020 to mirror my 1979 photos, and the following photo shows the redevelopment of the Southwark side of the river. Part of Hay’s Wharf remains, but the rest of the area has been transformed.

Topping's Wharf

A riverside walk now runs where cranes once transferred goods between ship and warehouse, and where cars parked in 1979.

The following photo is an August 2020 view of my second 1979 photo and shows the redevelopment at the Southwark end of Tower Bridge, with the Mayor of London’s City Hall.

Topping's Wharf

So what occupies the location of Topping’s Wharf today? The whole Southwark stretch of the river between London and Tower Bridges was marked for development in the 1980s, and by 1986 “Number 1 London” had been constructed. A two part building complex with a 13 storey tower adjacent to London Bridge and a smaller 10 storey section on the site of Topping’s Wharf.

In the following photo, taken from the top of the Shard, London Bridge is on the left. The two buildings of Number 1 London are of similar design and materials and can be seen to the right of the bridge, directly on the river. The smaller of the two buildings is where Topping’s Wharf was located.

Topping's Wharf

A view of the location from the river. Topping’s Wharf was located where part of the glass canopy and the building to the left of the canopy now stand.

Topping's Wharf

In my father’s 1948 photo at the top of the post there are a line of identical cranes between the warehouses and river. These are the 240 cwt. or hundredweight (approximately 12,192 kg) cranes listed in the Commercial Motor specifications for each wharf.

The most newsworthy appearance of the cranes was during the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965. His coffin was carried along this stretch of the Thames, and the cranes bowed in turn as the boat carrying his coffin passed. This can be seen in a British Pathé film of the funeral, which can be found here – the cranes can be seen starting at 9 minutes.

If you want to see part of the street that ran behind the warehouses at the Tower Bridge end of the river, then see my post on the Lost Warehouses of Pickle Herring Street.

There is far more to discover along this stretch of the river. The 300 year history of Hay’s Wharf and the lost church of St. Olave are just two examples. These will have to wait for future posts.

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A Thames Dolphin at Rotherhithe

The title for this week’s post is a bit deceiving. The Thames dolphin in question is not one of the marine mammals, rather it is a structure in the river which is also called a dolphin.

The definitions for this type of dolphin include a pile, or a collection of piles in the river to which a boat can be moored, or a cluster of piles at the entrance to a dock, and it is this later definition which I suspect applies to the dolphin in my father’s photo at the entrance to the Surrey Lock and Basin in Rotherhithe – photographed in 1947:

Dolphin

The photo was taken from the Thames foreshore, adjacent to the air shaft of the Rotherhithe tunnel, looking across to the Shadwell / Wapping side of the river.

The negative with the photo was in poor condition and took some processing to get to the copy you see above, which unfortunately still has the opposite bank of the river with a rather poor contrast and lack of detail to the buildings.

I could not get down to the foreshore to take a similar photo as the tide was not sufficiently out, so the angle of the 2020 photo is slightly different. The following photo shows that the dolphin can still be seen today, along with some landmarks visible in 1947 on the opposite side of the river.

Dolphin

The following extract is from the 1948 revision of the Ordinance Survey map. The lines converge on the approximate point where my father was standing to take the photo. A blue circle marks the location of the dolphin (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Dolphin

The green circle on the opposite side of the river is the position of the air shaft of the Rotherhithe tunnel which can be seen in the 1947 photo. The centre red arrow shows the alignment of the airshaft in relation to the dolphin.

The arrow on the left points to the church spire that be seen in the 1947 photo. This is the spire of St Mary’s in Cable Street. The spire can also be seen in the 2020 photo, and I photographed the church when I was walking the area a few years ago.

Dolphin

The arrow on the right points to the buildings which can be seen to the right of the dolphin. These are the buildings and cranes of Charringtons Wharf, which were demolished some years ago to be replaced by the large block of flats on the site today. The cranes to the right of the tunnel air shaft in the 2020 photo mark one of the construction sites for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, or Super Sewer.

There is a prominent line of buildings running between the dolphin and the spire of the church. These were buildings along the northern edge of The Highway – buildings that have now been demolished.

The gap in the centre of the line of buildings is open space between The Highway and Glamis Place, with the ruins of a pub to the left.

The entrance to Shadwell Basin is also in the photo, but is hard to see due to the lack of contrast, and the lighting of the scene across the river. The entrance is also at an angle to the river so the northern side of the entrance looks like a continuation of the river wall.

I have marked these features on the original 1947 photo as shown below:

Dolphin

There is one feature in the 1947 photo that I could not locate, however the Britain from Above archive came to the rescue.

The following photo from 1946 shows the Wapping / Shadwell area. The tunnel air shaft is lower left and I have ringed the church. I have written the name of The Highway along the street and the row of buildings along the north side of the street can be seen.

Dolphin

From the church spire, look diagonally to the lower left and you will see a chimney. This is the chimney seen in the 1947 photo and is the feature I could not locate.

Comparing the photo and the OS maps, the chimney looks as if it may have been part of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children.

The following map shows the area today. The lower solid red circle is the point from where the photo was taken, and for reference, the upper red ring is the location of the church (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Dolphin

The entrance to the Surrey Basin can be seen to the right of the lower red circle and the entrance to Shadwell New Basin is on the opposite bank.

The following photo is looking slightly to the west. The air shaft of the tunnel is opposite, and it is strange to imagine the thousands of cars and lorries that are running daily, under the river between where I am standing and the air shaft opposite.

Dolphin

The dolphin has been repaired since the 1947 photo, but still retains the mooring bollard on top.

Across the river, there is a second church spire to the left, this is St Paul’s Shadwell. The white building on the extreme left is the Prospect of Whitby pub.

A close-up view of the air shaft on the north bank of the river. To the left of the air shaft are the Shadwell Dock Stairs, which I wrote about here.

Dolphin

The area behind the northern airshaft is the King Edward VII Memorial Park – a fascinating area which I wrote about here.

The following photo shows the Rotherhithe tunnel air shaft on the south bank of the river, mirroring the design of the structure on the opposite bank.

Dolphin

The location of these airshafts can be seen when travelling through the Rotherhithe tunnel. They are each located where the tunnel bends, and with the walls of the tunnel set back for the infrastructure leading up through the air shaft.

If you look along the river wall in the above photo, you will see steps descending down to the foreshore, which at the time I was there were still partly underwater.

I suspect this was the method my father used to get down to the foreshore to take the 1947 photo, as the steps are also shown on the 1948 Ordnance Survey map.

The entrance to the Shadwell New Basin on the opposite side of the river is almost impossible to see in the 1947 photo. The entrance is at an angle and is still not that obvious today. The following close-up photo shows the entrance to the basin.

Dolphin

The Prospect of Whitby on the northern bank of the river (I can only dream of having a beer there at the moment):

Dolphin

View looking west along the river with the dolphin:

Dolphin

The dolphin is just outside the entrance to the Surrey Lock, which was the western entrance to the Surrey Basin, and the large complex of docks that once occupied the peninsula. The following extract from the 1940 edition of Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London shows the considerable size of the docks. The entrance by the dolphin is on the left and labelled Surrey Docks.

Dolphin

The following photo shows more clearly the position of the dolphin and the entrance to the docks, which today have two posts marking the entrance.

Dolphin

The mooring bollard on the top of the dolphin implies that ships could have been moored on the dolphin, however I would have thought a ship moored in that position could have been an obstruction for ships coming in and out of the dock.

Dolphins at the entrance to docks were also used as a type of fender where the dolphin provided something for a ship to gently hit up against, and as an aid to align and position the ship.

At the entrance to a dock this may have helped a ship enter or exit the dock rather than drift further up or down stream.

Whatever the use of the dolphin, I assume it is now redundant as the docks have long since closed, with the majority disappearing under new building, and the entrance from the lock into Surrey Water closed off by Salter Road which runs across the old entrance into the basin.

The entrance does have an interesting base, which appears to be composed of metal plates.

Dolphin

I suspect the design is to reduce the amount of sediment that settles on the base of the lock. The angled plates which run along the centre will result in water draining to left and right as the tide goes out, and the higher flow of water along the edges that this causes reduces the amount of sediment left in the dock.

Facing out of the dock, towards the Thames, the tunnel air shaft is on the left, and a large pub, the Salt Quay, on the right:

Dolphin

Looking in from the river, along the Surrey Lock, and a rolling lift bridge can be seen, carrying Rotherhithe Street across the lock.

Dolphin

The bridge is a rolling lift bridge as it has a large counter weight at one end of the bridge, with a curved framework connecting the counter weight to the deck of the bridge.

Dolphin

When the bridge opens, the counter weight moves to the ground, rolling the deck of the bridge upwards. The following photo shows the bridge in action, with the deck fully raised to allow ships to move from the lock and into the docks.

Dolphin

The above view is looking south-west from the Thames. The chimneys in the background are at the Rotherhithe Gas Works which I covered a couple of weeks ago.

The docks were a prime target for bombing during the last war, and the original bridge was badly damaged in September 1940. Whilst it could continue to provide a road across the dock, it could not lift, so only barges were able to enter, not the usual sea going ships that would have normally entered the docks via this route.

The original bridge was built in 1858 as part of the development of the dock complex, but was finally replaced in 1952 when the new bridge was completed and opened by Viscount Waverley, the chairman of the Port of London Authority.

When the bridge was opened, it was reported that “the people of Bermondsey will again be able to observe the daily spectacle of sea-going ships on their way in and out of this dock entrance”.

The bridge also had a wider roadway than the original bridge, along with improved approaches to the bridge which would help with the substantial volume of road traffic along Rotherhithe Street.

The bridge cost £110,000 to construct, and the fine balance of bridge and counter-weight enabled the 720 tons of the bridge to be raised or lowered in three minutes, by just a 50 horse power electric motor.

Newspaper reports of the time stated that “incorporated in the main structure are 100 tons of cast-iron blocks from an old bridge across the river at Limehouse”. An intriguing statement that I have not had the time to research.

The bridge today sits quietly in an area that those who attended the 1952 opening would be hard pressed to recognise, the area having been significantly redeveloped after the closure of the docks.

Dolphin

The following photo is looking from the bridge, along the Surrey Dock towards where Salter Road now closes off the entrance to the basin. Salter Road being part of the development of the area after the closure of the docks.

Dolphin

The dolphin at the entrance to the Surrey Lock is a reminder of the sea going shipping that once was so common on this part of the river, and that would have either moored on the dolphin, or used it as an aid to enter or leave the dock.

The Surrey Commercial Docks to give the dock complex their full name is an area I have yet to explore. My father took more photos of the area, so hopefully some return visits in 2021.

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King Henry’s Stairs and Execution Dock

This week, I am back in Wapping, exploring one of the stairs that line the River Thames – King Henry’s Stairs.

The location of King Henry’s Stairs is shown in the following map. Along Wapping High Street, they are adjacent to Wapping Pier, and opposite Brewhouse Lane (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

King Henry's Stairs

The alley that leads to the stairs, opposite Brewhouse Lane:

King Henry's Stairs

The alley is between two of the few remaining undeveloped buildings alongside Wapping High Street. Looking towards the river, the Phoenix Wharf building is on the right and on the left is King Henry’s Wharf. Not yet developed into the standard apartment building which has been the fate of the majority of old warehouses that line the river. I am sure their time will come, indeed Phoenix Wharf has had a number of planning submissions and ownership changes, but nothing yet seems firm as yet.

King Henry's Stairs

King Henry’s Stairs are unusual for a number of reasons. Their current name is not the original name, they have a rather macabre history, and alongside the location of the stairs is the Wapping Pier, with an elevated walkway leading alongside the stairs out to the pier.

The following photo shows the entrance to the stairs down to the river foreshore, with the walkway to the pier on the right:King Henry's Stairs

However looking over the edge, where one would expect to see a series of stone steps leading down to the foreshore, there is nothing but a sheer drop down to the sand and mud below.

On the right, a metal ladder, a couple of feet out from the edge of the stairs, is hooked over the pier, and provides the only access to the foreshore below:

King Henry's Stairs

I stood there for a few moments trying to decide whether the ladder was safe. It looked straight out of a TV hospital drama, where you know what will happen next and anyone risking the ladder would find themselves flat on the ground below.

Swinging one foot out to the ladder, it swung on where it was hooked to the pier, the ladder not being fixed to the ground. Other foot on the ladder, and despite swinging I made it to the ground.

The foot prints in the above photo are mine as I took the photo after getting back up. On arrival the sand and mud was perfectly smooth.

Looking back at the ladder from the foreshore. It may have been fixed at the base at some point, but today is just hooked over the rail alongside the walkway out to the pier. Apart from a couple of steps at the top, there is no evidence of any steps having ever been in place.

King Henry's Stairs

The view back to the entrance. When I arrived, the blue gate was wide open which seems somewhat risky given the lack of stone steps and the abrupt fall to the foreshore.

King Henry's Stairs

Sticking out from the ground, a short distance away from the wall, are two lengths of wood with a metal pole between, They are angled towards the top of the stairs, and give a clue to what was here.

The following photo from the LMA Collage archive shows King Henry’s Stairs in 1971, and explains the wooden remains. There were once a full set of wooden steps leading from the top of the wall down to the foreshore.

King Henry's Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0638_71_35_518_8

There is no indication of the age of the steps in the 1971 photo, however they look in reasonably good condition, and provide a safe route down to the foreshore. There is just under 50 years between the above photo and my photos, which shows the power of the Thames to erode and decay wooden structures. Daily tides, the continual immersion in water followed by exposure to the air and sunlight has reduced these steps to the two wooden stumps we see today.

The view from the foreshore is always worth it. A smooth layer of sand / mud covered in the tide worn remains of London brick, stone, and the lumps of chalk used to provide a smooth base for barges and lighters.

The algae covered walls show the height of the tide, and the old warehouses stare out on a very different Thames to when they were built.

The view looking to the west, towards central London:

King Henry's Stairs

The view to the east, with the towers of the Isle of Dogs behind the Wapping Pier:

King Henry's Stairs

The building on the eastern side of King Henry’s Stairs is King Henry’s Wharf:

King Henry's Stairs

The building probably looks much as it did when barges would be lined up on the foreshore, with the crane moving goods between barge and warehouse.

London Wharves and Docks was a directory of all the wharves and docks along the River Thames. Published by Commercial Motor. The directory provided key details for the hundreds of wharves and docks that lined the river from Teddington to Tilbury. According to the 1954 edition, King Henry’s Wharf was known as St. John’s and King Henry’s Wharves. The occupier was R.G. Hall and the building was owned by W.H.J Alexander Ltd of Leadenhall Street.  The facilities included;

General, dry goods, specifically dealing with cocoa, coffee, sugar, spices, dried and canned fruit, gums and cheeses. The cranage was 60 cwt and the building provided 1,900,000 square feet of storage space. The building included customs facilities and bonding, an examination floor and sufferance. The river facing side of the building had space for barge berths and the depth of water at high tide was 10 feet.

A closer view of the crane on the side of the building:

King Henry's Stairs

On the western side of the stairs is Phoenix Wharf. The Commercial Motor book does not have a listing for a Phoenix Wharf on Wapping High Street so I wonder if this was a name given to the building relatively recently. The small space between Phoenix Wharf and King Henry’s Stairs was Swan Wharf (the 1894 OS map does show a Phoenix Wharf, mainly as open space just to the left).

King Henry's Stairs

Looking back from the water’s edge. Phoenix Wharf on the left, then the open space of Swan Wharf. The walkway to Wapping Pier above. King Henry’s Stairs to the right of the walkway followed by the corner of King Henry’s Wharf.

King Henry's Stairs

I was puzzled by the name of the stairs and the adjacent building – why King Henry?

The earliest use of the name I could find was from 1823 when on the 8th November the London Sun reported: “SINGULAR SUICIDE – on Thursday morning, about two o-clock, a Gentleman went to a waterman plying at King Henry’s Stairs, and asked him to take him across the river in his boat, which he instantly got into, and the waterman proceeded with his passenger. When they had nearly reached the middle of the river, the stranger took off his hat, and in a moment threw himself overboard, after which he was never seen. There is no name in the hat, nor anything that can lead to a discovery of this unfortunate man”.

Newspapers of the later 19th century offered a clue as to the source of the name when they referred to the stairs, for example in the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette on the 7th July 1840, there is an article about a new pier being erected here, and the article states “King Henry’s Stairs, where in ancient times, the monarchs of England landed and embarked”.

What I do not understand is why monarchs of England would have embarked using these stairs in Wapping, in whenever “ancient times” were. As far as I know, there was no establishment or activities such as hunting on this side of the river that would have attracted a monarch, and there were far safer places towards the City for boarding boats.

The same newspaper article also provides an alternate name for the stairs by stating that they were: “commonly called Execution Dock”. I found this to be a recurring reference in 19th century newspaper reports that King Henry’s Stairs were formerly known as Execution Dock.

I checked Rocque’s map of 1746 for help, and in the location of King Henry’s Stairs was the name Execution Dock Stairs (in the middle of the map with the name extending out between ships on the river).

King Henry's Stairs

To confirm that this was the same location, comparing 2020 and 1746 maps confirms some streets in exactly the right location.

The stairs are off the road Wapping High Street (2020) and Wapping Dock (1746), but opposite where these stairs join this road, is a street with the same name and shape on both 1746 and 2020 – Brewhouse Lane. Compare Rocque’s map above with the 2020 map below:

King Henry's Stairs

Execution Dock is used for the name of the stairs in all early maps, always at the same location as King Henry’s Stairs.

The following maps all show Execution Dock at the same location: C. and J. Green (1828), R. Harwood (1799), William Morgan (1682). See the Layers of London site to layer these maps on a contemporary map.

Another example is the following 1755 Parish Map. Although not named, Brewhouse Lane can be seen with the same shape as in the other maps to confirm the location. What I like about this map is that three boats are shown clustered around Execution Dock. This was to show (as confirmed by the earlier newspaper article) that these were stairs where watermen were stationed ready to take a passenger along the river.

King Henry's Stairs

Execution Dock probably needs no introduction – it was the place where those found guilty of crimes at sea when the death sentence was imposed, were taken to be hung.

There was a considerable number of executions here, I have been trawling through records compiling a spreadsheet of dates, names and convictions (yes seriously) but ran out of time to complete for this post, however some example are worth examining to get an idea of the crimes and how the convictions were carried out.

Being executed at Execution Dock was a major spectacle. The authorities probably encouraged this so that “justice was seen to be done”, and it would also act as a major deterrent to those considering similar crimes.

Most references to Execution Dock refer to the crime of Piracy, however you could also be executed there for many other crimes, including Insurance Fraud, such was the fate of one Captain William Codling in 1802.

Captain Codling was on trial for “sinking a ship and cargo with intent to defraud the Underwriters”. It appears that his ship, the Adventure, should have been carrying a quantity of silver, however he had hidden this onshore, and when off Brighton, made holes in the hull of the ship causing her to sink. He and a couple of accomplices could then keep the silver and claim on the insurance – a crime that in 1802 was “an Offence most justly rendered Capital by Statute”.

Captain Codling was found guilt and handed the death sentence. The London Star on the 29th November 1802 carried a detailed account of the execution at Execution Dock:

He was executed on Saturday 27th November and between trial and execution was held at Newgate where since the Friday evening he had been “in solemn devotion and prayer, preparatory to his fatal exit”. His main regret was separation from his wife Jane and his son aged nine.

His wife Jane had traveled to Windsor to try and obtain a pardon from the King, but was not successful, arriving back at Newgate early on Saturday morning, without any success. He had a nephew who assured him that he would look after his wife and son. He appears to have been resigned to his fate, and his main concern was consoling his wife when she returned to the prison:

“The tender scene which now followed would require the pen of the most pathetic writer. The prisoner conducted himself with manly fortitude, and used every argument to console his wife, begging that she would suppress her grief, for that it affected him much more than his own unhappy fate. After some mutual endearments, she became more tranquil, and when they passed about an hour together, Dr Ford, the Ordinary of Newgate, entered, and advised Mrs. Codling to take her last farewell of her husband; Captain Codling himself joined in the request. Any description of their parting scene would appear a mockery of such real woe”.

The article also provided details on the procession that assembled to take Captain Codling from Newgate to Execution Dock. When reading this, consider that this was to guard someone convicted of insurance fraud and was accepting of their fate. The procession was as it was to show the power of the state, the law and judiciary and to act as a very strong deterrent:

“The cart was drawn up by two horses, a board nailed across for a seat, and another as a back to it. The Deputy Marshal was on horseback arranging the constables. Messrs Canner and Holdsworth (the two City Marshals) were likewise on horseback, with their staffs in their hands. A few minutes before nine o’clock the Marshal of the Admiralty arrived in his carriage, with two footmen behind, and the two Sheriffs were next in their carriages. The Rev. Dr. Ford, the Ordinary, followed in his carriage. There were about fourteen of the Sheriffs’ men on horseback to guard the prisoner, whilst the number of constables, all on foot, was about two hundred. Just as St Sepulchre’s clock struck nine, the executioner and his men came out with a pair of steps, which placing them in the back of the cart, they were both ascended. The Under Sheriff, came out with the death warrant in his hand, which he delivered to the Deputy Marshal. he then returned to the prison, and again appeared. conducting the unhappy Captain Codling to the cart and assisting him up the steps.

The mob, which had been collecting for some hours was now immense. the street, lamp-posts, windows and the roofs of the houses, were wonderfully crowded“.

The route taken from Newgate prison was along Ludgate Steet, passing St Paul’s Churchyard, , Cheapside, Leadenhall Street, High Street, Whitechapel, then down Gravel Lane and along to Execution Dock, where the procession arrived at half past ten. The cart was backed up the alley to the stairs.

The crowds in the City were recorded as being larger than for a Lord Mayor’s show. It was market day in Whitechapel, which caused problems getting through the crowds, and along Gravel Lane “the crowd was so great, and the street so narrow, that they were obliged to move very slowly and with great precaution”.

The gallows had been erected about ten to twelve paces from low water mark. Planks had been placed on the mud on which the officials could stand. Then at twenty minutes before eleven, on a signal from the Sheriff “the board was knocked from under his feet, and he was launched into eternity”.

Unfortunately with this method of execution, the end was not so quick. Although he was a weighty man, Captain Codling “struggled hard for three or four minutes”. After being left for a further fifteen minutes, he was taken down, covered with a black cloth, and his body was put into a boat to be taken away.

Captain Codling was described as “a stout well-made man, about 45 years of age – the complexion of a man used to the sea – very pleasing and affable in his manner; and prior to this, bore an extreme good character. he was dressed in double breasted blue coat, with guilt buttons and black collar”.

A print of an execution at Execution Dock in 1795, seven years before Captain William Codling, so probably very similar.

King Henry's Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: p7491142

To the rear of the above print is a church tower. This is the tower of St Mary, Rotherhithe.

Unfortunately, Wapping Pier obscures the view of the church today from King Henry’s Stairs:

King Henry's Stairs

I took the following photo a little to the west of King Henry’s Stairs, the location of the stairs is marked by the red arrow. The church tower can be seen on the opposite bank.

King Henry's Stairs

Executions at Execution Dock covered many different crimes, the common factor being that the crimes happened at sea:

  • May 1701, Captain William Kidd was hung for piracy and murder and his body hung in chains off Tilbury
  • March 1734, the pirate Williams was executed and his body left to hang in chains
  • March 1737, four unnamed pirates were hung on the same day and left in chains
  • For the worst offences, the bodies of those executed would be left hanging from the gallows, or their bodies would be left in a cage for the tide to pass over them. Penalties were severe for anyone removing a body. In January 1739, a reward of £100 was being offered for information on who cut down and removed the body of James Buchanan
  • in January 1743, Thomas Rounce, who had been convicted for high treason by fighting against his King and country in a Spanish privateer was hung, drawn and quartered at Execution Dock
  • December 1781, William Payne, Matthew Knight and James Sweetman were hung after being convicted of Felony and piracy on the high seas. The bodies of Knight and Sweetman were hung in chains at Execution Dock, however the town of Yarmouth had applied to the Admiralty for the body of Payne, so it could be hung in chains on the coast at Yarmouth as a deterrent
  • In July 1800, James Wilson was executed after being convicted of fighting against his country, on board a French privateer
  • In July 1806, Akow ” a tartar” was executed for the willful murder of one of his countrymen on board the Travers, an East indiaman, on the high seas
  • In June 1809, Captain J. Sutherland was executed after being convicted of murdering his cabin boy – a crime of which he was protesting his innocence all the way to the gallows

Some of the crimes which carried a sentence of death seem relatively trivial. In December 1769, six “pirates” were hung in one day at Execution Dock. Edward Pinnel was hung for sinking and destroying a merchant ship, the five others; Thomas Ailsbre, Samuel Ailsbre, William Grearey, William Wenham and Rchard Hide were sentenced to death for entering a Dutch ship two leagues from Beachy Head and stealing sixty hats.

Newspaper reports of the execution of the six men provide an account from the time of how these events proceeded “They appeared very hardened and seemed totally ignorant and careless about the sudden transition they were going to make. the principal of them even wore a blue cockade in his hat, and when they arrived at the place of execution, he bow’d his neck to the halter and threw his hat among the populace. It is thought that more hardened wretches were scarce ever seen. From the great number of people that pressed to see the punishment of the above unhappy men, the great rails along a wharf near Execution-dock gave way, and above 60 people fell over the wharf; by which accident several of them were much bruised and one man killed”.

Executions at Execution Dock would decline in the first decades of the 19th century. The execution of George Davies and William Watts in December 1830 for the crime of piracy was recorded as being the first at Execution Dock for ten years. They would also be the last people executed on the foreshore of the River Thames.

From the 1830s onward, references to Execution Dock were for the normal occurrences at any of the Thames Stairs – accidents on boats close to the stairs, theft, boats for sale, bodies being found, problems experienced by the waterman with difficult passengers, fires and floods etc.

In the latter decades of the 19th century, references to Execution Dock turned from day to day events to historic tales of those who had been executed. I suspect that the new name of King Henry’s Stairs was gradually taking over, but it took some time as a name with the resonance of Execution Dock would take many years to be replaced in the conversations and memory of those who lived and worked in Wapping.

The name change was possibly down to the growth in Victorian trade and industry along the river’s edge at Wapping. To the Victorian businessman, the area was a place to be celebrated for trade and industry, rather than looking back at the barbaric practices of the past.

There is much speculation regarding the exact location of Execution Dock. Maps dating back to 1682 show what are now King Henry’s Stairs as Execution Dock, and the location in respect to Brewhouse Lane is the same. The change in name occurs in the first half of the 19th century, with the earliest use of King Henry’s Stairs being in 1823, with the name growing in use throughout the 19th century, as use of the name Execution Dock declines.

Many sites along the Thames at Wapping have claimed to be the location of Execution Dock, for example the Prospect of Whitby pub has a noose hanging from a gallows over the foreshore at the rear of the pub:

King Henry's Stairs

I suspect that King Henry’s Stairs / Execution Dock was the central location for executions, but in the hundreds of years that the practice was carried out, the location shifted along the foreshore to east and west of the stairs as the mud and foreshore shifted, to move around obstructions such as moored boats, building work facing on to the river, perhaps for the more notorious executions, the need to ensure good visibility of the execution from the shore and from boats on the river also dictated the location.

It is a very different place today – the view looking east from Execution Dock. hard to image the scenes that occurred here and where poor Captain William Codling was hung for the crime of insurance fraud.

King Henry's StairsI have not been able to find out why King Henry’s Stairs was used as the name for the stairs. Were the stairs named after the adjacent King Henry Wharf, or was the wharf named after the stairs – what was here first? I need to find some detailed maps of the area around the 1820s when the name appears to have been first used.

After leaving the foreshore, I climbed back up the ladder and stepped across to the top of the river wall, where the missing stairs should be leading down to the foreshore. I closed the gate as I headed back to Wapping High Street as if you were not too careful, and were expecting stairs, a nasty fall into the river or the foreshore could be the result – and there have been far too many deaths here over the centuries.

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Limekiln Dock and the Black Ditch

Walking between Tower Bridge and the Isle of Dogs back in early March, I crossed the entrance to Limekiln Dock. The tide was out and the dock presented the strange view of being completely empty of water.

Limekiln Dock

Limekiln Dock is a relatively short expanse of water leading off from the Thames at Limehouse. Over the last few centuries the dock has been called several variations of the name, including Limekiln Creek, Limehouse Creek and Limehouse Dock.

Limekiln Dock seems to be the most commonly used name.

The following map extract shows Limekiln Dock in the centre of the map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Limekiln Dock

The map implies there is a road running over the entrance to the dock. This is the Limehouse Link Tunnel and runs underneath the entrance to the dock – the lighter colour used for the road on the map shows the extent of the underground routing.

Limekiln Dock is an old feature. In the following Rocque map extract from 1746, the dock is to the right.

Limekiln Dock

Rocque shows that on the southern side of the dock entrance was Lime Kiln Yard. This was the location of the lime kilns that as well as giving their name to the dock, were also the origin of the name Limehouse.

The following extract from Haines & Son map of 1796 also shows Limekiln Dock to the right of the map.

Limekiln Dock

The views of Limekiln Dock in the two 18th century maps show an inlet from the Thames, wider at the entrance, and tapering along the length of the dock. It was not the shape of many other docks along the river, which were more of a rectangular shape, with the full width of the dock staying almost constant along the length.

The reason for the shape of Limekiln Dock is that it is a mainly natural feature. Whilst the shape may have been modified over the years, the dock is the shape it is as it was the entry point into the River Thames of the Black Ditch.

The Black Ditch is one of the many London rivers and streams that has long been hidden underground, becoming part of the City’s sewer system.

As can be seen in the two maps, during the 18th century, the city was extending along the Thames and had reached Limehouse, although still the majority of building was located close to the river. Inland, most of the area was still field and agricultural, although long rope walks could be found, where the open space provided the large elongated area needed for the manufacture of ropes for the shipping industry.

We can get an impression of the area from the following 1773 print. The entrance to Limekiln Dock is just visible, about three quarters of the way along the shoreline © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Limekiln Dock

The whole area saw a dramatic increase in industry and housing during the 19th century, and by 1894, Limehouse was a large area of East London, covered in streets, warehouses, factories and terrace housing.

Limekiln Dock had grown a Dry Dock, with a second Dry Dock built just to the south of the entrance, all part of Limekiln Dockyard – it seems that the original Lime Kilns had disappeared many years earlier ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ ..

Limekiln Dock

Walking along Narrow Street, Three Colt Street and Limehouse Causeway, it is not obvious that Limekiln Dock is there – hidden behind the old warehouse buildings and the recently constructed apartment buildings.

The photo at the start of the post was taken from the footbridge that now crosses the entrance to Limekiln Dock, and from on the river, we can get a good view of the entrance to Limekiln Dock today.

Limekiln Dock

The footbridge is a swing bridge as there are historical rights to bring ships into the dock and moor at the warehouse buildings, although I suspect that this very rarely happens. The bridge was completed in 1996 and designed by YRM and Anthony Hunt Associates and built by Littlehampton Welding.

The photo above shows all the new apartment buildings that now line the majority of Limekiln Dock. These have been built over the last 30 years, and in 1981, the entrance to Limekiln Dock looked very different:

Limekiln Dock

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0912_81_120_6813_4

The only buildings that remain from the 1981 photo are some of the older buildings visible in the above photo towards the end of the dock.

I love finding little details in these photos which are the same, despite significant change in the area. If you look at the right hand corner of the dock entrance, on both photos there is a section with vertical lines, perhaps reinforcing rods. There is also the same crack visible leading down to the base of the wall, although in the 2020 the crack seems to have extended higher.

I have enlarged the two sections below:

Limekiln Dock

During the 19th century, Limekiln Dock was a very busy place, with goods being unloaded and loaded into the surrounding warehouses. It cannot though have been a very pleasant place to work as the state of Limekiln Dock was a continuing problem.

In a letter to the East Observer on the 27th February 1869, a Mr P. writes:

“THE LIMEKILN CESSPOOL – On several occasions the Limekiln-dock has been alluded to at the Limehouse District Board, as the common receptacle for the sewerage of part of Fore-street, and also being a harbour for a large portion of the animal refuse of the Thames. The place alluded to is Limekiln Creek. The sanitary condition of the place may be seen by any of your readers who will ask permission of several occupiers of houses adjoining the abominable place; we hear of fevers and other contagious diseases being prevalent. Need we wonder ! What will be the consequence if the present mild winter is succeeded with a warm spring?”

The letter was one of the few places I found the word Creek being used rather than Dock. The state of the dock was obviously a long standing problem, as 24 years later, the responsibility for cleaning Limekiln Dock had reached the courts. From the Standard on Thursday December the 14th 1893:

“The Conservators of the Thames V. The Sanitary Authority of the Port of London – This was a specially constituted Court for a hearing of a special case stated by Mr. Mead, Metropolitan Police Magistrate, sitting at the Thames Police-court, in respect to a dispute between the Corporation of the City of London, in their capacity as Sanitary Authority for the Port of London, and the Conservators of the Thames.

The dispute arose in reference to the cleansing of Limekiln Creek, at Limehouse. The Creek, which runs inland some 500 feet from the river is occupied by wharves on each side, is said to have become a public nuisance, and dangerous to health, through the accumulation of foul sewage matter, besides floating dead animals, refuse thrown from barges, &c.”

Initially, the Magistrate found in favour of the Corporation of the City of London, and that it was the Conservators of the Thames responsibility to clean Limekiln Dock, however on appeal, this was overturned and the responsibility was with the Corporation of the City of London as Sanitary Authority.

The following photo is of the far end of Limekiln Dock. You can see at the end there is a large pile of rubbish left as the tide has gone out. I suspect the dock has the same problem as the 19th century articles described where the incoming tide carried rubbish into the dock, which settled and remained at the end of the dock as the water then went out.

Limekiln Dock

As well as everything that washed up from the Thames into Limekiln Dock, the dock also suffered from everything that was washed down the Black Ditch and into the dock as the Black Ditch’s access point to the River Thames.

The Black Ditch is one of London’s lost rivers and has not been very well documented. Most of the detailed routings come from the time when the Black Ditch was a sewer, and whilst the name was used for the full extent of the sewer, it may not have been the original route of the stream.

Care is also needed as the words “black ditch” seemed to have been used as a generic description of a polluted, dirty stream or ditch of water and there are a number of references to other black ditches across London.

The East London Observer had a fascinating regular column going by the name of Roundabout Old East London. The column would be packed with local history, although it is difficult to know how true there all were, but the columns always provide some interesting background information to East London at the time. In the 5th April 1913 column, there was reference to the river running from Limekiln Dock, but under a different name (although the Black Ditch was mentioned). The paragraph was headed The Barge River:

“It would seem from old records of place names in the parishes and hamlets along the Thames side, that Limehouse Hole was so-called because a stream – a Century ago called the Barge River – at that place found its way to the great River.

This effluent, which through the greater part of its course came to be little more than an open ditch, is now the Limekiln Dock Sewer. It is described in the first Metropolis Act 1855 as a Main Sewer of the Metropolis, as commencing at Bonner’s Hall Bridge, leading into Victoria Park, and it extends along Victoria Park-road, East side of Bethnal Green, Globe-road, White Horse-lane, and Rhodeswell-road. It passed under the Regent’s Canal at Rhodeswell Wharf, thence along the Black Ditch, Upper North-street; and discharges into the River Thames at Lime Kiln Dock.

For a considerable length before it entered the Thames the Barge River was tidal, even within living memory.

In 1835 there was an old resident of Narrow-street, Limehouse, who recalled through his father, some strange yarns of smugglers and Revenue Officers on the Barge River when it was navigable for ships and boats for a considerable distance at some seasons and tides.

There are vague references to this stream, and to another which probably joined it across what was afterwards called Bow Common by way of South Grove in the extreme west of Mile End Old Town in very old land records. Of this latter now subterranean river, the engineers of the extension of the Underground Railway made troublesome acquaintance when the tunnel was being constructed”.

I suspect that the use of the name Barge River was an error. I cannot find any other references linking the name to the Black Ditch. There are a few cryptic references to a Barge River near the Lee and in Tottenham, but that is it – I suspect the author was describing the route of the Black Ditch.

I checked the referenced 1855 Metropolis Act and it does not mention the Barge River, but does list the same route for the Limekiln Dock Sewer. The Metropolis Act is a fascinating document (if you like that sort of thing, which I do) as it lists all the main sewers across London in 1855, and there was a considerable number of them. Many were old rivers and streams, covered in and converted to sewers.

The route compares well with the route of the Black Ditch described by Nicholas Barton and Stephen Myers in The Lost Rivers of London. Running alongside Upper North Street, Rhodeswell Street and the east side of White Horse Lane.

One tributary then goes a short distance over Mile End Road to Globe Road. Where the book and article differ is that Barton and Myers do not have the Black Ditch heading up to Victoria Park. They have the ditch in three separate streams heading to Whitechapel, Spitalfields and Bethnal Green.

I suspect the 1855 Metropolis Act correctly routed the sewer which ran from Bonner’s Hall Bridge. Part of the route included the route of the Black Ditch, with pipes leading from the main sewer carrying the old Black Ditch to the destinations listed by Barton and Myers.

There are very few maps which show any part of the Black Ditch. Some show some tantalising river like features. For example, the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map shows a river like line to the south of Rhodes Well.

Limekiln DockRhodes Well is the source of the name Rhodeswell Road, and was located roughly within the red oval as shown in the following map extract – exactly where the Black Ditch was described as crossing the Regent’s Canal (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Limekiln Dock

One of the tributaries of the Black Ditch was from Spitalfields and in the following extract from 1746, there is a wavy line forming a boundary between what appears to be cultivated fields to the north and grassland to the south. This must be a natural feature due to the irregular line which looks as you would expect of a stream.

Limekiln Dock

The possible stream in the above map runs from the junction of Vallance Road and Buxton Street down to Woodseer Street on today’s streets, and is similar to the route mapped by Nicholas Barton and Stephen Myers.

The Black Ditch may have formed a boundary between Mile End and Bethnal Green. At a meeting of the Mile End Old Town Vestry in August 1877, the upgrade of a sewer was one of the points for discussion, and the sharing of costs between Bethnal Green and Mile End Vestries. During the meeting, it was stated that “The old sewer, as it had been called, was really no sewer at all, but the old black ditch through which the ancient boundary of the two hamlets ran. It was in a horrible state, and if not attended to at once, should heavy rains ensue, it was hard to say what might happen”.

The state of the Black Ditch had been the subject of complaint for many years prior to the work in 1877.

In 1859 it was described as the “receptacle for the sewage from a great number of houses”. The Black Ditch ran under houses for part of its route. In an 1831 murder investigation it was revealed that there was no problem with access to a house which was built over the Black Ditch as anyone could gain access to the premises from the Black Ditch than accessing the house above.

The route of the Black Ditch is on my list of future walks, however I suspect that there is very little to see of this lost river which now runs below the streets in London’s sewers, but it is always worth having a listen at any manhole covers along the route after heavy rains.

Returning to Limekiln Dock, lets have a look at some of the buildings that line the dock.

When walking along Narrow Street, it is not immediately obvious that the dock is behind the buildings, however the names of the buildings provide a clue.

Dunbar Wharf is one of the buildings that date from the time when Limekiln Dock was a busy dock on the Thames. Today, the building retains many of the original external features:

Limekiln Dock

Dunbar Wharf was named after the Dunbar family who had a very successful business at Limekiln Dock.

The Dunbar family wealth was initially from a Limehouse brewery established by Duncan Dunbar. It was his son, also called Duncan, who used the money he inherited from his father to build the shipping business that was based at Dunbar Wharf.

Dunbar’s ships carried passengers and goods across the world as well as convicts to Australia. Whilst very successful, this was not without the occasional disaster, as described in this article from the Western Times on the 7th November 1865:

“The Wreck Of The Duncan Dunbar – The passengers and crew of the Duncan Dunbar reached Southampton on Saturday morning on board the Brazil mail steamer Oneida. It seems that the vessel struck on the reef Las Rocas at about half past eight in the evening of the 7th of October, and an awful night was passed on board. On the following morning they were all, 117 in number, landed on a little island or bank of sand, which was covered with birds. They remained in this situation, with the exception of the captain, one of the passengers and six seamen, who started in a lifeboat to Pernambuco for aid, till the 17th, when they were fetched off by the Oneida. Though the sufferings, mental and bodily were indescribable, not a life was lost or a limb broken.”

The Duncan Dunbar stuck on the reef off the coast of Brazil.

Limekiln Dock

The problem I find with researching a specific subject is that it always opens up another interesting subject, and so it was with Duncan Dunbar.

He was widely known as a “protectionist” in matters of trade, and the battle between trade protection and free trade came to a head in 1849.

During the previous couple of centuries, a number of Navigation Acts had been put in place which protected British trade, and gave a commercial advantage to British manufacturers, agriculture and shipping.

By the mid 19th century the Free Trade movement was pushing for the repeal of these acts, and the opening up of Global Trade.

A large meeting was held in the City of London in May 1849 of what were known as “Protectionists” and Duncan Dunbar was at the meeting and was elected to the committee – an indication of his reputation. An association was formed and went by the name of the The National Association for the Protection of British Industry and Capital. One of the resolutions passed stated:

“That it is of the opinion of this meeting, that the adoption of a Free Trade policy has failed to produce the national benefits predicted by its promoters; that it has been followed by deep injury to many of the great interests of this country; that a reaction in public opinion is widely diffused, and is rapidly extending in favour of just and moderate protection to the productions of the land, the manufacturers, and the industry of the United Kingdom and British possessions; and that it is of the utmost importance to the restoration of the prosperity to the nation, that the influence of agricultural, colonial, mercantile, manufacturing and shipping interests should be united in resistance to the further progress of experimental legislation”.

Duncan Dunbar and his fellow members of the new association were not successful, and the repeal of the navigation acts remained in force.

Duncan Dunbar died in 1862. The report of the funeral, published on the 17th March 1862 provides a view of the standing of Duncan Dunbar in London and the wider shipping community:

“Funeral Of The Late Mr Duncan Dunbar, the Shipowner – The funeral of the late Mr Duncan Dunbar, the eminent shipowner, took place on Friday at Highgate cemetery. The mournful cortege, which comprised ten mourning coaches and several private carriages, left the deceased gentlemen’s residence, Portchester Terrace, Bayswater, at 12 o’clock, and reached the cemetery shortly after 1 o’clock. the mourners comprised a number of gentlemen of high standing in the commercial world. At Poplar and Limehouse much respect was shown. Nearly all the shipping in the East and West India Docks had their colours hoisted half mast high, as also the flags on the pier head entrances of the docks, the lofty mast house at Blackwall and Limehouse Church, the bells of which tolled during the hours appointed for the mournful ceremony.”

Duncan Dunbar did not have any children so his wealth was divided across his wider family members, although no one in the wider family wanted to continue the shipping business. The ships and warehouses were sold, however Dunbar Wharf remains to this day as a reminder of a once highly successful shipping business.

As well as Dunbars Wharf, there are a number of other building remaining along Narrow Street that face onto Limekiln Dock, including Dunstans Wharf:

Limekiln Dock

And Limehouse Wharf:

Limekiln Dock

On the corner of Narrow Street and the southern stretch of Three Colt Street is an old pub:

Limekiln Dock

This was the Kings Head, a late 18th Century / early 19th Century pub, that although it is still clear that this was once a pub, closed a long time ago, around the early 1930s after which it became the office of a banana importing business.

Walking along Three Colt Street towards the river is Limekiln Wharf, dating from 1935:

Limekiln Dock

Further along is one of the new apartment blocks that now surround the entrance to Limekiln Dock:

Limekiln Dock

At the end of the wall with darker bricks, there is a dark green door built into the wall.

A rather faded plaque on the door provides some background:

Limekiln Dock

“This is a replica of the door which served the old Limehouse built around 1705 and demolished in 1935. The original door was donated to the Ragged School Museum Bow E.3.”

Which really brings me back to where I started. The Lime Kilns at the southern entrance to Limekiln Dock that gave the dock its name, and indeed the area of Limehouse.

Standing on a new footbridge looking along Limekiln Dock opens up the history of the dock, one of London’s lost rivers that ran to Spitalfields and Bow, one of the 19th centuries most successful shipping companies, the tension between protectionism and free trade, and the location of Limehouse Lime Kilns.

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Shadwell Dock Stairs

Six week’s ago, I walked along the north bank of the Thames from Tower Bridge to the Isle of Dogs, hunting some of the stairs down to the river. I am trying to trace all those that have been lost, and visit all those that remain. I have already covered a number of these fascinating places, and for this post I am at one of the probably lesser known stairs, Shadwell Dock Stairs.

The red circle in the following map extract shows the location of the stairs, between King Edward Memorial Park and the entrance to Shadwell Basin  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Shadwell Dock Stairs are shown on the 1894 Ordnance Survey map, but in a rather unusual location as they are almost hard up against the entrance to the Shadwell New Basin. This was the eastern entrance to the London Docks, so must have been a busy place with ships entering and departing from the London Dock complex.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The reason they are there is explained by looking at an earlier map, the 1746 Rocque map of London which shows the stairs in place, long before the build of the Shadwell Basin. They are highlighted by the red oval in the following map.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

The above map also explains the source of the name. If you look to the left of the stairs, there is a narrow channel leading a short distance inland to the street Lower Shadwell. This channel of water is named Shadwell Dock. There is a Timber Yard across the street, so perhaps Shadwell Dock was the route by which timber was landed to be moved to and from the Timber Yard.

So, I suspect it is safe to assume that Shadwell Dock Stairs are earlier than 1746, and were named after the nearby dock.

The Faithorne and Newcourt map of 1658 shows a continuous line of buildings along the river at this point, without the stairs or Shadwell Dock, so they must have been built in the years between 1658 and 1746.

UPDATE: Reader David Crowther highlighted in the comments a key point regarding the location of the stairs which I completely missed. In the 1746 map, Shadwell Dock Stairs are to the west of Labour In Vain Street, however in the 1894 map the stairs are just to the east of the same street. To check that this was not a mapping error in the 1746 map, I checked Horwood’s map of 1799 and that also shows the stairs to the west of Labour In Vain Street, the same position as the 1746 map. 

The Shadwell Basin entrance was constructed in the 19th century, and aligning Horwood’s map with the position of the basin entrance shows that the original position of the stairs was where the new entrance would be constructed, so the stairs were re-built just to the east of the basin entrance, to the new position shown in the 1894 map.

This perhaps demonstrates the importance of the stairs, in that they were not simply lost when the Shadwell Basin was constructed, but were rebuilt just to the east of the new basin entrance.

The following maps (1746 on left and 1894 on right) clearly show the change in location between Labour in Vain Street (red oval) and Shadwell Dock Stairs (yellow circle).

My thanks to David for finding this.

Shadwell Dock Stairs today are fenced off and show evidence of an alternative use of providing access to the river. They are located on the pathway that leads from Glamis Road to the southern end of the King Edward Memorial Park, where the northern ventilation  / old pedestrian access building for the Rotherhithe Tunnel is located.

This is the view looking towards the top of the stairs. The walkway is behind the fence at the top of the photo.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

The LMA Collage archive has a similar view of the stairs from 1978, when much of the land behind was still derelict.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0639_78_120_100_2

The clue as to the most recent use of the Shadwell Dock Stairs is found in the space between the stairs and the entrance to Shadwell Basin. This space is now occupied by Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre which provides water sport activities, and the Tower Hamlets Canoe Club.

The steps provided a launching route into the river for the adjacent organisations, however there now appears to be a much larger slipway built directly into the entrance to Shadwell Basin so I assume the stairs are now redundant, hence the current condition.

Boats would have been run down and up the metals runners which have been installed over the steps.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Shadwell Dock Stairs feature in numerous newspaper reports over the years. All the usual accidents, drowned bodies being found, crime, ships for sale etc. There are three reports that I want to cover, as they reveal some of the more unusual aspects of life on the river, centred around these river stairs.

From the Morning Chronicle on the 16th January 1841, a report which shows that it was not just the Thames around the area of the City that froze in winter:

“NARROW ESCAPE OF THREE WATERMEN ON THE RIVER – On Thursday night, at about six o’clock, three Greenwich watermen, who had been into the London Dock with a vessel they had brought up the river, were returning from the upper entrance at Wapping, when their progress was stopped by a large field of ice, which nearly broke their boat in two, and drove them towards Shadwell Dock-stairs. Here they were completely hemmed in among the ice, which extended from one side of the river to the other, and completely blocked up the navigation.

The boatmen endeavoured in vain to extricate themselves, and were at length driven nearly into the middle of the river. Here they remained stationary for some time, exposed to the sleet and snow.

Soon afterwards the ebb tide drove the ice a little further down the river, and again the poor watermen tried to get out, but with no better success than before, and the field of ice was again stopped by the barges and shipping.

The watermen continually hailed the people ashore to render them some assistance, but none could be afforded, and the masses of ice were not sufficiently consolidated together for any one to venture in safety.

The men at last began to complain of the wet and cold, and said they could not hold out much longer. They had been four hours among the ice and their situation became very critical.

Some watermen and lightermen ashore threw lines towards them, but they fell very far short of the boat.  At ten o’clock, when they appeared quite exhausted, Judge, an Inspector of Thames police, and three river constables came to the spot at Shadwell and determined to make some effort to save them.

They borrowed two hurdles and some ropes. Constable Jones ventured as far upon the ice as was consistent with safety, and threw a line towards the boat, but the men were unable to catch it. The Thames Police, finding no time to be lost, and that the men were benumbed with cold, and incapable of any exertion, resolved upon a bolder attempt to save them.

A rope was fastened around Jones, the youngest and most expert of the party, and he placed one of the hurdles across the blocks of ice in advance of the one he was standing on. 

After much difficulty, Jones got back with a second line he had made fast to the boat. On reaching the shore, the Thames police, with the assistance of five other men, pulled the boat right over the ice, with the three men in it, and brought it close alongside one of Mr Charrington’s coal barges.

The watermen were taken out and were conveyed to the nearest public house.

Their exposure to the snow storm had affected them so much that it was some time before they recovered; and had not the greatest attention been paid them one or more would have perished.”

Very descriptive, and looking across the river at this point, it is hard to imagine that it could have frozen, being much wider than in the City, but in reality the sheer number of moored ships and barges would have provided plenty of spaces where ice could aggregate, and tides would have broken free large sheets of ice which would have drifted around the river as described in the report.

There are a number or reports which mention a ferry running from Shadwell Dock Stairs, but so far I have not been able to find any detail of the type of ferry, the destination and for how long it operated. There was consideration of starting a large steam powered ferry service from Shadwell, similar to the Woolwich ferry, and in Lloyd’s List on the 15th February 1893, there is a report that the London County Council is proposing a ferry between Rotherhithe and Shadwell.

The article reports on the considerable differences in opinion of the effect on navigation of a two ferry-boat service running across the river at intervals of every 15 minutes throughout the day. The proximity to the entrance to the London Docks was identified as a risk, with a ferry being a serious danger to ships entering or leaving the docks.

The Rotherhithe to Shadwell ferry was part of a bill put before Parliamentary Committee, but the ferry proposals did not make any progress, the proposal for a road tunnel underneath the Thames was a much better option, able to move far greater volumes of traffic and with no impact on river traffic. The Rotherhithe Tunnel opened in 1908, and now runs underneath the river, very close to Shadwell Dock Stairs.

I have often wondered whether these Thames stairs were administered or overseen in any way, or whether they provided open access to the river. In the days when there was so much traffic on the river, with people and goods of all types being stored on ships and barges. Given the right tide, the river was probably the fastest method of moving across London. The Thames stairs were important gateways between the river and land.

An article in the London Sun on the 10th March 1868 mentions a Watchbox at Shadwell Dock Stairs.

The article reports on the trial of Thomas Deacon, a 19 year old lighterman who was charged with violently assaulting Edward Dove, a Waterman at Shadwell Dock Stairs. The report states that:

“The complainant said that the prisoner was a perfect nuisance at the place and was in the watchbox at Shadwell Dock-stairs last night with another man. They had no right there, and were requested to turn out, which they refused to do, and the prisoner, who is a strong and powerful fellow, struck the complainant a tremondous blow on the mouth with his clenched fist, and completely wounding the upper lip.”

Thomas Deacon was sentenced to two months of hard labour for the assault.

Watermen were higher in the river hierarchy than lightermen, and watermen had a range of rights covering their work on the river, and perhaps were involved in some form of policing, or watching over the river and stairs.

The Watchbox at Shadwell Dock Stairs possibly being part of this approach – a problem with writing this blog, researching any topic always opens up lots of additional subjects to investigate.

Looking down Shadwell Dock Stairs and the following photo provides a better view of the stones forming the causeway leading out into the river.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

The LMA Collage archive has a better photo of this part of the stairs at low tide in 1971. Interesting in comparing the above and below photos, the 1971 photo did not have what looks to be some form of concrete / stone platform either side of the causeway. This must have helped with preserving the state of the causeway. The concrete appears to have replaced the wooden posts that once held the side of the causeway in place.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0639_71_35_513_23

Looking west along the river with Shadwell Dock Stairs in the lower left corner. To the right, between the marker post and the opposite river wall is the entrance to the Shadwell Basin, showing how close the entrance is to the stairs.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Shadwell Dock Stairs are Grade II listed, and they were included in the impact assessments for the construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel and close by is one of the construction sites for the tunnel, where part of the river facing walkway has been closed off. The following view is from the location of the Shadwell Dock Stairs, looking east, with the old Rotherhithe Tunnel pedestrian entrance, now ventilation point on the left, and the construction site on the right.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

A small part of King Edward Memorial Park is now part of the construction site, but the major part of this park is unaffected. It is a park with a fascinating story, including competition for Billingsgate Fish Market. I wrote about the history of the park here.

Large, black, storage tanks form an interesting view along the southern edge of the park:

Shadwell Dock Stairs

A longer view of the Tideway Tunnel construction site. Shadwell Dock Stairs can just been on the left edge of the photo.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Shadwell Dock Stairs were in existence before the London Docks, and the construction of the entrance to Shadwell Basin must have demolished the Shadwell Dock seen in the 1746 map, that the stairs must have been named after.

Shadwell Basin is the only remaining expanse of water from the London Docks, with the entrance to the basin being adjacent to the stairs.

A large lifting bridge remains over the entrance to the basin, carrying Glamis Road from Wapping Wall up to The Highway.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

The section of the basin entrance between bridge and river is now occupied by the Outdoor Activity Centre.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Looking from the bridge in the opposite direction with the basin entrance leading into the larger Shadwell Basin. The towers of the City in the distance.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

At the risk of sounding repetitive as I have mentioned this in my previous posts on Thames Stairs, I do find them fascinating. Shadwell Dock Stairs today is fenced off, but as with all the stairs I have looked at, they are a focal point for discovering the human history of the river and shore.

Standing by the stairs, we can imagine the thousands of people who have used the stairs to get to and from the river. The coming of the Shadwell Basin must have had a huge impact on the stairs. The times when ice from the frozen river broke up against the stairs, and the watchbox that must have been a scary place to sit on a dark winter’s night – all part of London’s centuries old relationship with the River Thames.

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New Crane Stairs and the Anchor and Hope Pub

In the week before the lock down was implemented, I walked from London Bridge to the isle of Dogs. One of my favourite walks as the views of the river are wonderful in the gaps between old warehouse buildings. I am gradually working through as many Thames Stairs as I can find, and for this week’s post, let me take you to New Crane Stairs and a lost pub.

New Crane Stairs can be found at the corner where Wapping High Street turns away from the river towards Garnet Street. the entrance is tucked away between the old New Crane Wharf building and a recent new apartment building, with the entrance to the River View Chinese restaurant at the entrance to the stairs.

New Crane Stairs

The view along the passageway leading to the stairs:

New Crane Stairs

At the end of the passageway, New Crane Stairs lead down to the river foreshore:

New Crane Stairs

Despite the name, New Crane Stairs are an old set of stairs down to the river. They appear in Morgan’s 1682 map of the whole of London. The word “New” at the start of the name is interesting as it implies there may have been an earlier set of stairs with the Crane name. There are other examples of this, for example Horselydown Old and New Stairs on the south bank of the river, east of Tower Bridge.

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets Wapping Wall Conservation Area document states that: “Great Jubilee Wharf and New Crane Wharf (following the post medieval river wall line) form a continuous ‘wall’ of buildings between the street and the Thames.” Intriguing to wonder if New Crane Stairs could possibly date back to a route over the medieval river wall to the river.

The following photo shows the view of New Crane Wharf from the river, with the stairs to the left:

New Crane Stairs

I cannot find a source for the name, whether there was an earlier set of stairs with the Crane name, or whether the name was in reference to the nearby installation of a “new crane” which perhaps in the 17th century or even earlier would have been worthy of note.

Rocque’s 1746 map clearly shows New Crane Stairs at the point where the road turns north, in the centre of the following map:

New Crane Stairs

The first written reference I can find to the stairs, in addition to the above maps is a rather touching newspaper report from the 4th August 1758:

“Thursday, the Wife of John Newcomb, a Waterman, belonging to New Crane Stairs, Wapping, was delivered of three fine boys, and all are like to do well.”

That this was newsworthy probably indicates how rare it was in the mid 18th century for three babies to be born, presumably without any complication – although typical for the time, the wife’s name is not given, or her health following the birth.

Five years later, in July 1763 there was one of the disastrous events that were relatively common in the wooden, close built houses and warehouses crammed with combustible materials:

“Sunday morning, about One o’Clock, a most dreadful Fire broke out at the New Crane Stairs, Wapping, which burnt with great Fury for 4 Hours before it could be stopped, and consumed all the Houses from New Crane Stairs to King James’s Stairs, and from the River-side back to the Garden Ground which includes both sides of the Street called Wapping Wall, and Part of Gravel Lane; it ended in consuming Mr Wilson’s large and fine Cooperage: The Number of Houses burnt are computed around 170, besides Shops, Warehouses and Docks, &c. and it is reckoned 1500 Persons, Housekeepers, Lodgers, &c. are burnt out. The loss is immensely great.

In the Dock by New Crane Stairs was the Mary Gally, captain Clarke, a fine Ship in the West-India Trade, almost ready to come out, which was entirely consumed to the keel, with all materials about the Dock. 

It is said the Fire broke out in a Small-Beer Brewery, which immediately communicated itself to the Ship Alehouse; and the Wind blowing strong from the South carried the Flames to the Dock-Yard and other Houses adjoining; and the street being narrow, greatly impeded the working of the Engines. Two men are said to be buried in the Ruins and a Fireman had his skull fractured by the falling of a Wall.”

The damage caused by the fire can be judged by Sun Fire Office alone paying out £40,000 to those who had suffered losses in the fire.

It was a sunny and peaceful day when I walked down New Crane Stairs. The following photo is looking back up the stairs, the green algae demonstrating the height of high water on the stairs and surrounding buildings.

New Crane Stairs

Part of the foreshore at the base of the stairs is covered in large concrete blocks, possibly the remains bombed buildings, river wall of structures that once ran into the river.

The foreshore at the base of many of the Thames stairs are remarkable places. I very rarely see anyone else, they are very peaceful, but have the full view of the river and adjoining buildings.

New Crane Stairs

To the east (the above photo), the foreshore is almost beach like with a fine silt covering much of the surface. To the west as shown in the photo below there are more of the large concrete blocks:

New Crane Stairs

The foreshore is covered with the tide worn remains of bricks and the chalk blocks that were used to provide flat and firm bases on the foreshore for barges and lighters.

New Crane Stairs

When the tide is low it is possible walk some distance along the foreshore, but not today – and always with care to watch the tide and access to and from the river.

New Crane Stairs

A rather tragic event at New Crane Stairs in 1911 demonstrated the lack of care for people really struggling and probably with mental health problems. The following article was titled “A Lucky Escape”:

“James Rick, 48, a meat porter of Angle-street, Walworth, was charged with attempting to commit suicide by jumping into the River Thames at New Crane Stairs, Wapping.

Police-Sargent Anderson, stated that early on Saturday morning he saw the accused struggling in the water. He rowed to his assistance, and succeeded in getting him into the boat. When questioned at the station, the accused replied ‘I have lost my wife, and everything has gone wrong. Everything seems to have gone wrong with me’.

Prisoner was remanded for a week.”

That someone who had attempted suicide, and had been driven to that fate by who knows what tragedy had been treated as a criminal seems incredible, but was a standard approach at the time.

A different example, but which also shows how people were treated comes from 1832 when Hugh Elliot of the coal ship Flora from Sunderland was charged with assaulting John Morrison, a boy belonging to another collier.

The boy had been assaulted at midnight at New Crane Stairs where he was waiting for his master, when the prisoner and several other ‘north country seamen’ came down and asked the boy to row them to their ships. He refused as he was waiting for his Captain, and Hugh Elliot assaulted him with several blows about the face and body.

This was bad enough, but the boy had been waiting since 10 pm and was “almost perished with cold”. It was apparently common practice for the masters of colliers to get their apprentices to row them to shore, then wait in the cold whilst they got drunk in the pubs. The report adds that a few winters ago, two lads were found by their officers frozen to death while waiting for their captains.

New Crane Wharf, to the east of the stairs is one of the pre-war warehouses, however the building to the west of the stairs is a new apartment building replacing a smaller building seen on the left of the following photo of New Crane Stairs in 1971:

New Crane Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0639_71_35_518_11

We can get an idea of the industry in the immediate vicinity of New Crane Stairs by looking at maps of the area. The following extract from the 1894 Ordinance Survey Map shows New Crane Stairs in the centre of the map, with a causeway extending out into the river.

New Crane Stairs

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

There is a jetty extending into the river, and to the upper left of New Crane Stairs are a “Commercial Gas Company’s Works”. More detail can be seen in the 1948 Ordnance Survey Map below, where New Crane Stairs is shown with a “Hard” extending into the river, the pier is still there with a conveyor which I suspect was used for taking coal to the Gas Works, which by 1948 are now shown as disused.

New Crane Stairs

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

There is a 1929 Britain from Above photo which shows the area covered by the above two maps. Ignore the large white ship, rather look to the right and there is a smaller ship with two square holds which I suspect carried coal which would then be transported via conveyor to the Gas Works, the area to the right of the gas holders.

New Crane Stairs

New Crane Stairs are to the upper right of the smaller ship, between the large warehouse (New Crane Wharf) and the smaller building.

Coal for the Gas Works was at continual risk of theft. An article in the East London Observer on the 29th May 1920 reported on two boys, John Vincent and John Bullman, both of Whitehorn-place, Wapping who were charged with the theft of 84lbs of coal, the property of the Commercial Gas Company. They had been seen by Constable 393 H who was on duty at New Crane Stairs coming from the barge Spaniard with a large sack.

They were up before the magistrate at Old Street Police Court and were given some “good advice” and bound over to be of good behaviour for twelve months.

I suspect the large amount of broken concrete blocks on the foreshore to the west of New Crane Stairs could be the remains of the jetty, or other infrastructure which was part of transporting coal from moored ships to the gas works.

The two maps also show a causeway or hard extending from the stairs into the river. There was no sign of that on the day of my visit, however on a visit a couple of years ago when the tide was lower, remains of this feature were visible existing out from the silt of the foreshore into the river, as shown in the following photo:

New Crane Stairs

The following drawing from the LMA Collage archive, dated c1870, shows the New Crane Stairs on the far right, along with the smaller warehouse building shown in the maps, Britain from Above photo and the 1971 photo.

New Crane Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: p540958x

In the centre of the drawing is a pub. This is the Anchor and Hope public house, the building labeled P.H. just to the west of the stairs in the 1894 Ordnance Survey map.

I cannot find any photos of the pub, or much written about the pub, although there are plenty of newspaper references to the pub, either as a reference point for some event, or to activities using the pub. These references are always useful in understanding more about life in London as they record the day to day events that were important at time.

The unhealthy state of the River Thames is clear from an article in The Sportsman on the 14th January 1889 when the capture of a fish justifies an article:

” Perhaps the most startling incident in the world of sport during the last few days is the catch of a large carp in the Thames at Wapping. On Tuesday afternoon, opposite Mr Bat Murphy’s well-known hostelry, the Anchor and Hope, Wapping, a lighterman caught a very fine specimen of an English carp in the river, weighing more than 7lb. Mr Murphy has given instructions that this ‘below-bridge novelty’ should be stuffed and placed in a glass case.”

So perhaps the carp in its glass case was on display in the Anchor and Hope. The article goes on to mention a previous capture of a carp in the Thames, which was cooked for a special dinner to commemorate the capture of such a fish in the river, however after one bite, the taste was so bad that the diners had to reach for the brandy – a possible indicator of how bad the pollution of the river was in the 19th century.

Pigeon racing was a popular sport in East London and in August 1883, Mr Murphy, representing the Anchor and Hope came 3rd and won £3 in a race that started from the Derby Arms, Charlton.

In August 1880, the City of London, Tower Hamlets, Middlesex, Shadwell, Wapping and Ratcliffe Annual Regatta took place and all watermen and lightermen’s apprentices of the River Thames from Teddington to Gravesend were invited to enter their names at the Anchor and Hope, New Crane, Wapping for their annual coat and silver badge, and freedoms of the Watermen’s and Lightermen’s Company.

Pubs were used as a meeting point, both for activities at the pub and also as a reference point for unrelated activities. An event in 1806 is a reminder of how General Elections were very restricted and the appointment of MPs controlled by the MPs, who often held seats for very long periods of time.

In the November 1806 General Election, George Byng was returned to Parliament for Middlesex. He had already been an MP since 1790 and would remain an MP for Middlesex until his death in 1847.

Voting was limited to Freeholders, and one way to get Freeholders to vote was to arrange their transport, and George Byng was advertising in newspapers that on election day:

“the Friends of Mr Byng are respectively informed that Carriages are provided for the conveyance of Freeholders in that Gentleman’s interest, and stationed at the following places, viz. Near the Anchor and Hope, New Crane, Wapping.”

As well as the Anchor and Hope, the advert then lists an additional 8 locations across East London and the City where coaches would be provided to transport his supporters to the election at Brentford.

I can identify exactly how and when the Anchor and Hope pub closed. The following is from an article titled “Exciting Scenes At Wapping” in the Daily News on the 5th July 1904:

“The East-end was the scene of an exciting fire in the early hours of yesterday morning, at which two persons were injured and three had very narrow escapes.

Shortly before two o’clock a fierce fire burst out in the spirit stores on the first floor of the Anchor and Hope public-house, Wapping High-street. In a short time the entire floor was blazing.

When the Shadwell firemen arrived they were informed that there were people in the burning building. Dashing up the staircase, and beating back the flames with a hydrant as they went, the crew of the escape brought down a man and a woman – the latter, Mrs Margaret Allen, 68, being in a condition of semi-unconsciousness. Meanwhile a third person had leaped out of the second floor window to the foreshore of the Thames. Her name is Ann Donovan, 43, and when she was picked up and removed to hospital it was found that she had broken her leg in two places, and was otherwise injured.

The fire was not extinguished until the public-house and it contents had been practically destroyed.”

It may be that fires were at the start and end of the Anchor and Hope, probably built after the destruction of the 1763 fire, and destroyed in the 1904 fire. After the 1904 fire, the area once occupied by the pub seems to have been included in the space occupied between river and gas works, probably used for the movement of coal from river to gas works.

I continue to be fascinated by Thames Stairs. They are some of the oldest features to be found along the river and almost certainly date back many hundreds of years.

Most times when I walk down stairs and on to the foreshore, even on a glorious sunny day, they are quiet. It is not often I find someone else on the foreshore.

A perfect place to watch the river and consider the considerable human history centred around these places that form the boundary between land and river.

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Trinity Hospital and Power Station, Greenwich

Trinity Hospital Greenwich can be found facing the River Thames, roughly half way between two pubs, the Trafalgar Tavern and the Cutty Sark. In 1951 my father took the following photo of the river facing entrance and clock tower of the hospital, with the chimneys of the adjacent power station behind.

Trinity Hospital

I suspect his thinking in composing the above photo was to show the contrast between what was at the time the almost 350 year old hospital and the relatively recent power station that then dominated the area. The photo also shows two buildings with very different form and function. One enormous building generating electricity from coal for the tram network of London, the other much smaller building providing accommodation for the poor of Greenwich.

On a fine day last Autumn, i was on my way to the Cutty Sark pub, remembered that my father had taken a photo of the hospital and power station chimneys, but did not have a copy of the original photo with me, so took a couple of comparison photos in landscape rather than portrait, but hopefully they show what has changed, and what has not in the past 70 years.

The entrance gates, entrance and clock tower, with the power station in the background.

Trinity Hospital

A slightly wider view showing all four chimneys.

Trinity HospitalThe main difference between the two photos is the build of the chimneys. The power station has four chimneys. The two chimneys in my fathers photo, and to the left in the above photo date from the first stage of the power station which was opened in 1906. The two chimneys of the second stage, shown to the right of the above photo were originally constructed to the same design, but were soon shortened due to complaints by the Royal Greenwich Observatory.

The construction of the power station used some leading edge technology for the beginning of the 20th century, and an article in the 20th October 1906 edition of the Kentish Independent described the power station:

“THE HEAVENLY TWINS – GREENWICH ELECTRIC POWER STATION: Very much the reverse of beautiful though they are, the two great chimneys which stand side by side, gaunt and forbidding, near the Thames at Greenwich, represent power, importance, and engineering skill. They are the outward and visible sign of the inward wonders of the London County Council’s new power station. One of the largest in the world it will be when completed. 

‘The Heavenly Twins’ Greenwich people have christened the towers, but it is the interior which is to supply the vitality and volatility which will be the better reminder of Angelica and Diavolo. 

Along the side wall of the vast chamber, where the plant is to be stored, runs a series of vertical girders, writes a correspondent who has paid the generating station a visit. On these a travelling iron bridge moves from end to end carrying a crane which lifts any weight up to 50 tons. Heavy objects are taken up at the front door and gingerly carried to any part of the hall. Below us the furnaces, consuming 600 tons a day, occupy the great basement. The dynamos are on the ground floor, in the side gallery a giant switchboard will strike the visitor with awe and fear at its death dealing potentialities.

It will come as a surprise to many homely people to find that here the ‘coal cellars’ are on top of the house. These bunkers comprise 24 square iron chambers, holding in all 16,000 tons of coal. The bottom of each is shaped, in cement and metal, like an inverted cone, the depressed point being an open funnel or shoot, down which the coal falls directly into the furnace openings as the stoker directs.”

The following photo from Britain from Above shows the power station in 1924 with the two “Heavenly Twins”, chimneys from the first phase of the power station nearest to the river and the shortened chimneys of the second phase to the right.

Trinity Hospital

Trinity Hospital is to the left of the power station. The hospital buildings and clock tower facing the river, with the hospital gardens stretching back, parallel to the power station.

The power station supplied electricity to the London tram system, and later to the London Underground, along with Lotts Road in Chelsea. The power station was built on an earlier tramway depot. The following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows the hospital in the centre of the map, with the tramway depot to the right.

Trinity Hospital

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

Power stations in the first decades of the 20th century operated independently, with no backup and breakdowns would have an immediate impact to users of electricity, and this was very visible on the London transport system.

A letter to the East London Observer on the 17th October 1908 by the president of the Associated Municipal Electrical Engineers raised two recent failures of the Greenwich Power Station, and the power station at Lotts Road, Chelsea which supplied the London Underground:

“The Greenwich Power Station of the London County Council and the Chelsea Power Station of the Underground Railways, both these stations have recently broken down, with the result that in the former case about 600 to 800 trams were brought to a standstill, and in the latter case all trains and lifts on the Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Hampstead Tube Railways and the District Railways were stopped and the stations and lifts plunged into utter darkness, as well as causing a stoppage on the Wimbledon and Surbiton sections of the London United Tramways systems.”

The author then goes on to propose that these sort of power outages can only be fixed if electricity generating stations are interconnected so there is no single point of failure, and other stations are available to take on the load of a failed power station. An idea that would eventually be implemented across the country in the form of the National Grid, which today provides electricity to the Underground network, with the Greenwich Power Station being available as a back-up generator having been converted to gas operation.

Trinity Hospital is also shown on the 1895 map, and by the time of the map, it was already almost 300 years old. The book “The Endowed Charities of the City of London” (published in 1829) describes the founding of the hospital as:

“By letters patent, King James I, dated 5th June, in the 13th year of his reign (1615) reciting that Henry, late Earl of Northampton, did, in his lifetime, begin to erect a certain edifice at East Greenwich, for the habitation and support of poor men”

Accommodation was provided for 20 poor men, who would live in the hospital along with a Warden. Residents were expected to comply with a set of standards which included not being allowed to go to Taverns or Ale-houses.

A 19th century report of a dinner provides a glimpse of life at Trinity Hospital and for the increased number of residents (now 25). From the 11th September 1841;

“Trinity Hospital, Greenwich – A most gratifying scene was presented at this hospital on Wednesday last, on the occasion of a dinner being given to the inmates, nurses &c, by the Rev. William Jurin Totton, rector of Debden, Essex, and old member of the Mercer’s Company, who are the governors and trustees of the charity. It was pleasing to those who saw the old members, 25 in number, and whose ages amounted to 1680 years, assembled in the sub-hall at a dinner of true old English fare of roast beef, plum-pudding, and other substantial refreshments. The dinner was served soon after noon according to primitive custom; and, afterwards various appropriate toasts were given by Mr Tatham, the warden. ‘God save the Queen’ being sung after that of the ‘ Queen and Royal Family’, by as many of the old men as were able, aided by the young men of Greenwich, whose musical services were kindly volunteered for the occasion.

The crowning point of the evening was the presentation by the liberal donor of the feast, of twenty-five valuable books, consisting of sermons and works of edification and amusement, thus forming the foundation of a library for the use of the poor men in their leisure hours. The Earl of Northampton’s banner was hoisted on the turret of the building, in honour of this innocent festivity, and at night-fall each inmate retired to his chamber with his heart filled with gratitude towards the Rev. Mr Totton, whose health was drank in the ancient silver loving-cup, with three times three.”

The report states that there were 25 residents with a combined age of 1680 years, therefore the average age of the residents was just over 67 years.

Note the reference to the Reverend being an old member of the Mercer’s Company. Trinity Hospital was one of the charities managed by the Mercer’s Company, and this relationship continues to this day with Trinity Hospital being one of the Mercer’s Almshouses. On their website, the conditions for admittance as a resident are:

  • being in reduced financial circumstances
  • reasonable good health and able to look after daily needs
  • resident of Greenwich for at least 4 years

So Trinity Hospital has retained its relationship with the Mercer’s and providing accommodation for local Greenwich residents for almost 400 years.

The London Metropolitan Collage Archive has a photo of Trinity Hospital looking in the opposite direction to the power station, dated 1937:

Trinity Hospital

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0151_50_738_C

Interestingly, Collage also has a photo very similar to my father’s photo. Taken in 1960 it was obviously a favorite photographic subject, showing the contrast between two very different chimneys.

Trinity Hospital

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0151_62_722

Trinity Hospital is sometimes open during the Open House London weekend and it has been on my list of places to visit, but not yet had the time. Hopefully this year.

As usual, there is so much to find in the immediate local area. Directly opposite Trinity Hospital is the river wall, heightened over the years to prevent flooding. With plaques on the wall detailing the heights and dates of previous high tides.

Trinity Hospital

The plaque on the right records an extraordinary high tide on the 7th January 1928 when 75 feet of the wall were demolished, this must have flooded the hospital.

The river is always making its presence felt along the river walkway. A tell-tale flow of water from underneath this metal gate:

Trinity Hospital

Sticking my camera over the top of the gate reveals a narrow gap between two buildings, with the river surging in.

Trinity Hospital

Passing above the riverside walkway and extending out into the river is the old power station coal jetty.

Trinity Hospital

As can be seen in the Britain from Above photo, the jetty once included two cranes which were used for moving coal from the river to the power station, and for transferring ash from the power station to barges on the river for disposal.

Along the riverside walkway, the power station is surrounded by a high brick wall, I suspect not just to keep people out, but also to keep water out in the event of a high tide.

Trinity Hospital

The wall is covered in a mysterious set of ceramic works that tell the story of a young boy taking his dog for a walk along the Thames foreshore, and finding a strange creature that led the boy into the murky depths of the river. The work was created by Amanda Hinge.

Trinity Hospital

I have featured the Cutty Sark pub before, which is to the east of Trinity Hospital, if you are walking along the river from the ship, the Cutty Sark, the first pub you come to is the Trafalgar Tavern. Built in 1837, the pub stands on the site of an earlier pub, the Old George Tavern.

Trinity Hospital

Facing directly onto the river provides a superb view from the pub, however the high tides get close to the windows.

The power station is still providing a standby capability for the London Underground. Now gas-powered, the station is cabled to a number of points on the underground network, enabling Greenwich to provide electricity should there be problems with the main supply from the grid.

Unfortunately, the chimneys are today much reduced and the original pair do not justify the 1906 title of the Heavenly Twins.

Trinity Hospital continues to provide homes for the elderly of Greenwich, so this strange pairing of buildings look set to continue living next to each other for years to come.

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