Category Archives: The Thames

Crow Stone, London Stone and an Estuary Airport

A couple of weeks ago, I finally managed to get to a place I have been wanting to visit for years. It took a bit of planning, but took me to a location that still has evidence of the City of London’s original jurisdiction over the River Thames.

To the west of Southend, on the borders with Leigh, and by Yantlet Creek on the Isle of Grain, there is a line across the River Thames which marked the limits of the City of London’s power. Where this line touched the shore, stone obelisks were set up to act as a physical marker.

These stone markers are still to be found, so I set out to visit both stones, and to explore the history of the City of London’s jurisdiction over the river, up to the estuary.

The following map shows the location of the stones and the imaginary line across the River Thames. Map extract (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

London Stone

The City of London’s claim to the river this far out to the estuary, appears to date from around the late 12th century when the City of London purchased the right from Richard 1st in 1197.

This gave the City of London the ability to charge tolls, control activities such as fishing on the river and exercise other legal powers over river use, including navigation of the river. This control extended from the line between Southend and the Isle of Grain in the east, to Staines in the west. The City of London also tried to control part of the River Medway from where the southern end of Yantlet Creek reached the Medway, to Upnor on the boundary with Rochester.

The exact powers of the City and their ability to apply them to the River Thames and Medway were frequently in dispute, but the City continued till the 19th century to claim control, including renewing the stone markers as evidence of their rights.

My first visit was to the stone on the north bank of the River Thames.

The Crow Stone

The Crow Stone is easy to visit. To the west of Southend, on the boundary with Leigh on Sea and where the road that runs along the sea front turns inland at Chalkwell Avenue.

Walk over the embankment that forms the sea wall between beach and road, and providing you have timed the tide correctly, the Crow Stone can be seen a short distance out from the beach, and an easy walk over stones and gravel.

London Stone

A short walk out to the stone, over a very firm layer of stone and gravel, with small pools of water the only indicators that this area was not long before, covered by the river.

The green algal growth on the Crow Stone shows the tidal range of the river.

London Stone

It is very doubtful whether there were stone markers here dating back to the original purchase of the right by the City of London. The earliest tangible evidence is of a stone dating from 1755, although there may have been an earlier stone that had disappeared, prior to the mid 18th century replacement.

The current stone dates from the mid 1830s. The date on the stone is 1836, but a plaque on the stone erected by the Port of London Authority states 1837.

The view back towards land, showing the gradual rise in height as the shoreline reaches up to the land.

London Stone

Carved on the Crow Stone are the names of the Lord Mayor, Alderman and Sheriff, although this adds further confusion as to the date the stone was erected, as the Lord Mayor named on the stone, William Taylor Copeland, was Lord Mayor in 1835.

London Stone

The City of London, via the Lord Mayor and Alderman, would demonstrate their control of the river by visits to inspect the condition of the stones. These visits were major events, and the Illustrated London News describes a visit to the Crow Stone in 1849:

“CONSERVANCY OF THE RIVERS THAMES AND MEDWAY – The assertion of the Conservancy jurisdiction of the Lord Mayor over the River of Thames, and the Waters of Medway, or the View as it is technically termed, is a septennial custom attended with some interesting customs and celebrations, which falling due this year, has just contributed to the convivial memorabilia of the present Mayoralty.

This, by the way, is termed the Eastern Boundary of the jurisdiction, whilst the view from Kew to Staines is the western.

The jurisdiction appears to have been immemorially exercised over both the fisheries and navigation of a large portion of the Thames by the Mayor and Corporation of London; and we find an order dated 1405, issued from Sir John Woodcock, then Lord Mayor, enjoining the destruction of weirs and nets from Staines to the Medway, in consequence of the injury they did do the fishery and their obstruction to the navigation.

The portion of the river over which the jurisdiction of the River extended seems to have always been much the same. The offices of Meter and Conservator are asserted from Staines to the mouth of the Thames, by the formerly navigable creek of Yantlet, separating the Isle of Grain from the mainland of Kent, and on the north shore by the village of Leigh, in Essex, placed directly opposite and close to the lower extremity of Canvey island.”

These visits by the Mayor and Alderman seem to have been a good excuse for a party. The Illustrated London News goes on to describe the visit to the Crow Stone:

“THURSDAY, JULY 12, The company assembled on board the Meteor steamer, engaged for the occasion, moored off Brunswick Wharf, Blackwall. There were present the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress and a large party.

The steamer left Blackwall at about half-past eleven o’clock, and having received on board the Royal Marines band at Woolwich, the Meteor proceeded on her passage to Southend, the civic party being liberally welcomed with salutes and other respectful demonstrations.

At about three o’clock the Meteor arrived at Southend Pier, where the Lord Mayor, lady mayoress, and a large portion of the company landed. The Lord Mayor, attended by the Aldermen, the Town Clerk and Clerk of the Chamber, and some of the civic authorities, proceeded in carriages towards Leigh, nearly opposite to which the boundary stone is situated.

Here, by direction of his Lordship, the City colours and state sword were placed upon the stone, and after asserting his rights as Conservator of the River Thames, on behalf of the City of London, by prescription and usage from time immemorial, the Lord Mayor directed the Water Bailiff, as sub-conservator, to cause his name and the date of his visit to be inscribed on the boundary stone. The Lord Mayor then drank ‘God preserve the City of London’, the inscription on the ancient stone, and after distributing coin and wine to the spectators, the civic party returned to the steamer.

The stone itself was in the water, so that it had to be reached in boats. the scramble for the money was a rumbustious affair.”

The Lord Mayor’s order to the Water Bailiff to have his name and date of visit inscribed on the stone was carried out and the name of Sir James Duke (Lord Mayor between 1848 and 1849) can still be seen on the Crow Stone, along with the name of previous and following visits.

London Stone

An illustration of the 1849 visit to the Crow Stone – it must have been quite a sight:

London Stone

Note that in the above illustration, the man carrying what I assume to be the colours of the City of London is standing on a smaller pillar, adjacent to the Crow Stone, and it was this stone that I wanted to find next.

The earliest known boundary marker stone on the north bank of the Thames at Southend dates from 1755. It was removed from its original position next to the 1836 stone in 1950, when it was relocated to Priory Park in Southend, so that is where I headed to next.

The original Crow Stone:

London Stone

This stone really does look like it has spent 200 years standing in the Thames Estuary, being battered by the wind and waves, and the daily movement of the tides.

The plaque on the current Crow Stone states this older version was erected on the 25th August 1755 by the Lord Mayor. The earliest written reference to the stone that I can find is from the Chelmsford Chronicle, dated the 18th July 1788, which carries a report of a body, sewn in a blanket, being found near the Crow Stone, washed up on the tide. It was assumed that the body was that of someone who had died on a ship and was buried at sea.

This report does confirm that the name Crow Stone was being used in the 18th century.

The stone in Priory Park has words carved into the stone, but these are very hard to read due to over 250 years of weathering, although as shown in the above photo, the cross from the coat of arms of the City of London is still clear, at the top of the stone.

London Stone

Wording is carved onto multiple sides of the stone, and at the base of the stone is either evidence of repair work, or possibly the original fittings that held the stone onto a base.

London Stone

So, Southend has two stones, one dating back to 1755, that mark the limit of the City of London’s jurisdiction over the River Thames. I next wanted to see the stone on the opposite side of the river.

The London Stone, Yantlet Creek

Marking the southern end of the line across the Thames from the Crow Stone is the London Stone by Yantlet Creek on the Isle of Grain.

The Isle of Grain is the eastern most section of the Hoo Peninsula in north Kent. The Isle was originally an island, with Yantlet Creek forming the western boundary. Parts of the creek have now silted up, so whilst difficult to get to (apart from the road on the southern edge of the peninsula), the Isle of Grain is not strictly an island.

The London Stone is not easy to get to. There are no footpaths to the stone, to the east of the stone is a large danger area as the land was once a military firing range. The south of the island has the remains of old power stations and new gas storage terminals.

The only route that I could see that worked was from the west, then across Yantlet Creek at low tide. The following map shows the Hoo peninsula on the left, the Isle of Grain to the right, the red dot marks the location of the London Stone, and just to the left of the London Stone is Yantlet Creek. Map extract (© OpenStreetMap contributors)

London Stone

Free time and tide times do not conspire to make life easy, so a couple of weeks ago I was on the edge of Yantlet Creek at 6:15 in the morning, ready to get across to the London Stone, and back again before the tide came in too far. The low tide was just before 7, so hopefully I had plenty of time to get across, look around the London Stone, and return before the water started to rise along Yantlet Creek.

The early 4 am start was well worth it – standing at the London Stone at 6:45 as the sun rose over the Thames Estuary, in such an isolated location, was rather magical.

London Stone

As can be seen in the map at the start of the post, the Hoo Peninsula and the isle of Grain are very undeveloped, apart of the south of the isle where large gas storage holders can now be seen, and where coal fired power stations once operated.

The Yantlet Creek has long been a key point of reference on the River Thames, and there are numerous newspaper reports using Yantlet Creek as a reference for an event on the river, and the change in regulations that apply when crossing the line between Yantlet Creek and Southend.

For example, in April 1880, the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette had a report on the option for ships to change their navigation lights as they passed Yantlet Creek “Masters will not, probably, take advantage of the permission, when inward-bound, on reaching Yantlet Creek, at which point the river regulations come into force, of taking in their sea lanterns and exhibiting others”. The emphasis of the article was that whilst legally ships could switch to using lights with less visibility when passing Yantlet Creek, they would probably prefer to keep their sea lights on, which provided visibility of up to two miles – probably a wise move on a congested river at night.

Yantlet Creek was once a more significant feature than today, when it provided a navigable route between Thames and Medway, and turned the Isle of Grain into a true island.

The following map extract is from John Norden’s 1610 map of Essex. The map does show part of the northern coast of Kent along the Thames, and the Hoo Peninsula be seen, with Yantlet Creek running between Thames and Medway, cutting of the Grane Island from the rest of Kent.

London Stone

The 1610 map also shows Alhalows, and it was from here that my walk to the London Stone commenced.

From the end of Avery Way there is a bridleway that runs up to the sea wall.

London Stone

The bridleway runs over an area of flat pasture, with a herd of cows who look as if they are surprised to see someone at this time of the morning.

London Stone

At the end of the bridleway, the land rises up to a footpath which runs along the top of the sea wall.

London Stone

Although again, the cows do not seem happy to let me through.

London Stone

Whilst the majority of the land is pasture, just before reaching the sea wall, there is a wide, water filled ditch with reeds that runs parallel to the sea wall.

London Stone

Up on the sea wall, looking out to the estuary.

London Stone

The Hoo peninsula and Isle of Grain are important habitats for birds. The RSPB has a reserve on the west of the peninsula at Cliffe Pools, and as I walked along the footpath, numerous birds flew up from the surrounding grassland, and there was the constant sound of birds on the mud flats of the estuary.

My first sight of the London Stone, to the left of the navigational marker at the entrance to Yantlet Creek.

London Stone

Looking back over the Isle of Grain to large gas holders:

London Stone

A better view of the London Stone as I get towards Yantlet Creek.

London Stone

I like the above photo as it shows four ways in which the Thames Estuary has been used over the years. Closest is the navigational marker for the entrance to Yantlet Creek, further back is the London Stone.

Look between the London Stone and the navigation marker and you can just see the Shivering Sands, World War 2 sea fort. To the right of the navigational marker are the wind turbines of the Thanet wind farm. The photo also highlights the isolation of the London Stone.

As I walked around to the edge of the Yantlet Creek, it was starting to look worryingly wide.

London Stone

In the grass adjacent to the creek is a stone with a rectangle where a plaque may once have been fixed.

London Stone

I only found one reference to this in the wonderful Nature Girl blog, where there is a reference to this being a memorial to a young boy who drowned in the bay, and there having been a copper plaque on the stone.

A reminder that no matter how calm the estuary appears, this is always a dangerous place to venture.

The point where Yantlet Creek narrows and heads inland between the isle of Grain and the Hoo Peninsula:

London Stone

It was here that I was able to find a way down the embankment, which was muddy, covered in seaweed and rather slippery, but I was able to cross over to the opposite shore.

It was still a short time to go before low tide and water was running out from Yantlet Creek towards the estuary. The above view also shows how deep the water will become when the tide comes in, and the flat nature of the mud flats mean that the tide can come in very rapidly and without too much warning.

The shore opposite was sand and stone, and provided a firm walking route to the London Stone, without having to leave the shore. The shore line curved round to what looked like a low peninsula with my destination at the tip.

London Stone

The London Stone is a short distance out from the beach along which I had been walking. It had been built on a raised platform of stones, with a raised level of stones providing an easy walk out to the London Stone without having to venture into the surrounding mud.

London Stone

Walking up to the London Stone. The obelisk is mounted on a square stone, which in turn sits on a plinth.

London Stone

The view above is looking out over the Thames Estuary with the coast and buildings of Southend in the distance. It is just over 4 miles from here to Southend.

Most of the references I have read about the London Stone assume it is dated to 1856, and there is a very eroded date on the obelisk that looks like it could be 1856. There may also have been a previous stone marking the location. An article in the City Press from September 1858 provides some more background:

“THE NEW CONSERVANCY BOARD OF THE RIVER THAMES – During the past week, the Conservators of the River Thames visited the eastern limits of the Thames Conservancy and limits of the Port of London. The jurisdiction of the Conservancy extends to the eastward as far as the line drawn from Yantlet Creek , on the Kent shore, to Crow Stone, near Southend on the Essex shore, and the Port of London extends eastward as far as a line from near the North Foreland, on the Kentish shore, to the Naze of Harwich, on the Essex shore.

The ancient boundary stone near Yantlet Creek was found completely embedded in sand and shell. The Crow Stone on the Essex side, having been comparatively recently placed there, is a prominent object, and is discernible at a great distance. 

It is the intention of the Conservators, we understand, to place a new stone on the site of the ancient stone at Yantlet.”

This article mentions the Thames Conservancy – this was the body who took over responsibility for the Thames from Staines to the Southend – Yantlet line from the City of London in 1857 under the Thames Conservancy Act. The article also mentions the Port of London, who have a far wider remit, extending much further out into the Thames Estuary – a responsibility carried out to this day by the Port of London Authority.

The article also mentions the ancient boundary stone being found embedded in sand and shell.  I did wonder if it is still there, buried under the stones that support the London Stone we see today.

As with the Crow Stone, the London Stone has carved text, however erosion makes it almost impossible to read, however I suspect that it is a list of names from the City of London responsible for the erection of the new stone.

London Stone

Supporting the obelisk, there is a square block of stone, with one side being carved with names. Despite at times being below the waterline, this block is easier to read, and contains a list of names of City Aldermen and Deputies. At the top of the list is the name of the Lord Mayor, Warren Stormes Hale, who was Lord Mayor of the City between 1864 / 1865.

London Stone

The name of a Lord Mayor from 1864 / 5 adds further confusion to dating the London Stone, as we now have:

  • References to the year 1856 as the date for the stone (for example English Heritage Research Report Series no. 16-2014)
  • A newspaper article from 1858 stating that the ancient stone is covered and that a new stone is needed
  • The name of a Lord Mayor from 1864/5 carved onto the base of the stone

So I am still not sure exactly when the London Stone was erected within a time range of 1856 to 1865.

Only the original Crow Stone at priory Park is Grade II listed. It appears the later Crow Stone and the London Stone are not protected, so over time they will gradually erode from the effects of weather and estuary water.

It really was a wonderful experience standing at the London Stone as the sun rose over the Thames Estuary, but it could have all been so very different.

Inner Thames Estuary Airport

The expansion of London’s airports has been rumbling on for decades, with an additional runway at Heathrow seeming to be the industry preferred selection, but one that was politically unacceptable.

The Thames Estuary has always been looked on as a potential site for a new airport. The estuary being just close enough to serve London, but remote enough to take away the noise of flights from over the city and suburbs, along with providing large areas of land for expansion.

One of the earliest was the 1970s proposal for an airport on Maplin Sands off the coast of Essex.

During his time as Mayor of London, Boris Johnson proposed and strongly supported the concept of an inner Thames Estuary Airport covering much of the isle of Grain, parts of the Hoo Peninsula, and the waters off the peninsula.

Plans were developed by the architect Sir Norman Foster, which proposed a massive airport in the estuary consisting of multiple runways, airport buildings and transport links to London and the rest of the national transport infrastructure. See illustrations of the airport here.

The illustrations show the airport, but the land on the rest of the peninsula appears untouched and ignore the amount of other infrastructure that would be required to serve the airport, and which would have obliterated the rest of the Hoo Peninsula.

I have added the outline of the airport to the following map. The red dot is the position of the London Stone, so where I was standing would have been in the middle of aircraft stands and gates, with multiple runways on either side. Map extract (© OpenStreetMap contributors)

London Stone

Thankfully, the inner Thames Estuary Airport option was excluded from a shortlist of options by the 2014 Airports Commission report, chaired by Sir Howard Davies.

One of the reasons for excluding the airport given in the report was the rather pointed:

  • There will be those who argue that the commission lacks ambition and imagination. We are ambitious for the right solution. The need for additional capacity is urgent. We need to focus on solutions which are deliverable, affordable, and set the right balance for the future of aviation in the UK

However given current politics, i would not be surprised if the proposal for an airport on the Isle of Grain and Hoo Peninsula gets resurrected.

Standing by the London Stone, as the sun rose, the distant sounds of the estuary, birds calling over land and water, it becomes very clear that an airport here would be a disaster.

I hope the following video provides an impression of this unique site.

The Crow Stone and London Stone are reminders of the City of London’s historical reach outside of the city, which as well as the Southend – Yantlet line also reaches out to Staines in the west, and included part of the River Medway. This post has been rather long, so I will cover the other stones at Upnor (River Medway) and Staines in future posts.

If you decide to visit the London Stone, then do so at your own risk and do not use this post as a guide – the estuary is a dangerous place.

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Southend on Sea – A London Bank Holiday

To really understand London and the lives of Londoners, we need to look outside the city to see how London has influenced the development of so many other places, one prime example being Southend on Sea.

Southend on Sea is on the Thames Estuary, not quite the open sea, and very different to the river that passes through London.

The first settlement around Southend was to the north of the town at Prittlewell, probably dating from the 6th or 7th centuries.

There was gradual development over the centuries, but from the late 18th century development dramatically increased and Southend on Sea became a major seaside resort of the 19th and earlier 20th centuries.

Passenger ships from the heart of the City would ferry day visitors to Southend, and with the opening of two rail lines (Fenchurch Street to Southend Central in 1856 and Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria in 1889), large numbers of Londoners would make their way to experience a day on the coast and to walk along the pier.

Southend is only Southend because of London.

As this is a Bank Holiday weekend, it seemed appropriate to join the thousands of Londoners who have made the same journey over the years and take a trip out to Southend on Sea.

Southend

The above photo shows crowds streaming up Pier Hill. This leads from the pier and the parade along the sea front, up to the high street and the stations. It was probably taken towards the end of the day when day trippers were heading back to the stations for their journey back into London.

The Southend Standard from August 1910 provides a wonderful description of Southend on an August Bank Holiday:

“HOW SOUTHEND SPENT BANK HOLIDAY – Last year Bank Holiday was cold and wet, and holiday makers had a good deal of their enjoyment marred by cold winds and frequent showers. This year however, the Clerk of Weather changed his mind for once, and was in his most genial mood.

The sun shone from early morn to dewy eve; his somewhat warm attentions being tempered by a cool and steady breeze. Very early in the morning the incoming excursion trains began to unload their human cargoes; the railway stations, like gigantic hearts, beat at regular intervals and sent the human tides flowing outwards, to disperse themselves along the various arteries and veins of the town.

Such crowds there were too; everyone in their holiday rig; artisans and their wives, the poorer class of clerks, ‘Arry in fearsome ties, the latest cut of trousers, and bowler or straw hat stuck jauntily on one side; ‘Arriet in all the glory of purple velveteen, brown boots and large hat with sweeping ostrich feather; everybody and his uncle as the saying goes, was in the crowd that ceaselessly passed down the high street and spread itself along the front. By midday, the Parade was a sight worth seeing; right away from Westcliffe to Luna Park, the great mass of holiday making humanity moved to and fro and back again, like the tides of the estuary, merry laughter, jokes and greetings were everywhere. But it was down along the east front, in the afternoon that the holiday crowd was seen at its best, there the genus tripper was present in every variety.

The stalls which purveyed fearsome and wonderfully made American drinks did a roaring trade. Every fruit shop was the centre of a knot of customers and even the establishment whose claim to attention lay in the handing out of frizzling hot sausages and steaming mashed potatoes did a brisk trade.

From the shops at the commencement of the Parade to the gasworks every place did a roaring trade, they might have been huge magnets and the coins in the pockets of those outside made of steel, so quickly did the later pass over the counters, and from hand to hand.

The spaces of beach and sand which were left vacant were filled with hundreds of children and grown-ups, who sat about and enjoyed themselves to the full.  In the pools left by the residing tide the youngsters had great sport, and with pail and spade and tucked-up clothes, splashed and dug to their hearts contents.

‘Arries and ‘Arriets, regardless of the dust and the heat, danced round piano organs in the East End style, which is only born and cannot be taught.

By six o’clock in the evening the human tides begin to return to the railway stations and crowd the trains again. Much singing and dancing was there, not quite so clear and steady as in the morning, but nevertheless all good humoured.”

The train companies would arrange special excursion trains from London to Southend for Bank Holiday weekends, and newspapers in advance of the weekend would carry advertisements detailing the times and prices for those wanting to leave the city for a day by the sea. Very different to today, where the Bank Holiday is often a time for closures and engineering works, rather than special trains heading to the coast.

Southend Pier has long been a central feature of a day by the sea. The original pier opened in 1830, and the iron pier that we can walk along today followed in 1889. The end of the pier was extended several times with the Prince George Extension opened in 1929 bringing the length of the pier to 1.34 miles.

The pier railway was opened in 1890, reaching the end of the pier in 1891.

In the following years, Southend Pier has been hit by ships and suffered a number of fires. At times it seemed that the pier would not be restored and might even be closed, but somehow it has continued to stay open, a train still runs the length of the pier, and the buildings at the pier-head have been restored.

Time for a Bank Holiday walk along the pier:

Southend

Once you start walking along the pier, the beauty of the estuary sky becomes apparent. The land on either side of the estuary almost blends with the water, and the wide open sky stretches from horizon to horizon.

Distance markers tell you how far along the pier you have walked – and how far you still have to go.

Southend

The Southend Pier Railway still runs the length of the pier.

Southend

The first 1830 version of the pier included a horse-drawn tramway, however this was replaced by an electric tramway in 1890 soon after completion of the iron pier.

There have been a number of different versions of the pier train over the years – this is the first version I remember, with the bowling alley in the background which once was the main building over the start of the pier.

Southend

Conditions on a warm August day are very different to the wind and rain the pier has to endure, sticking over a mile out into a flat estuary  with no protection from everything that the weather can throw at the pier.

The pier therefore needs constant maintenance. Replacement of the wooden boards lining the walkway, painting of the railings, replacement and restoration of the iron supports of the pier.

Southend

Looking back along the pier from alongside the station at the pier-head.

Southend

End of the pier station and estuary sky.

Southend

Colour at the end of the pier.

Southend

The pier did comprise upper and lower decks at the pier-head. The lower decks are now closed off.

Southend

Pier head:

Southend

Looking back at the pier head:

Southend

The following photo from the Britain from Above archive is titled “The Royal Eagle Paddle Steamer alongside Southend Pier, Southend-on-Sea, from the south-east, 1939”

Southend

Note the two decks along the pier head, and the crowds of people on the pier and the ship.

The Royal Eagle ran regular day trips from the centre of London out to Southend, Margate and Ramsgate.

A typical advert for the service from May 1933 read:

“London’s Luxury Liners – Commencing 3rd June Daily (Fridays excepted) Royal Eagle for Southend, Margate & Ramsgate from Tower Pier at 9.20 a.m. Greenwich 9.50, North Woolwich 10.20.”

Day return fares during the week to Southend were 4 shillings and 5 shillings on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays.

If you wanted a slightly longer day at Southend, the Crested Eagle left Tower Pier at 9 a.m.

The mid section of the pier head as it was pre-war. Note also the end of the pier station, with two covered platforms for trains.

Southend

The very end of the pier:

Southend

The view back along the pier towards Southend from the end of the pier:

Southend

From our 2019 viewpoint, it is probably hard to understand just how much a day out at Southend meant to someone living in East London. The ability to escape from the daily pressures of trying to earn enough to feed and house your family must have been essential to make life worth living. Whilst researching through newspapers, I came across the following tragic example from 1921. Hopefully a very rare case, but it does highlight what a day out at Southend meant to an east Londoner:

“TRAGEDY OF BOY’S SUIT IN PAWN – LOSS OF HOLIDAY CAUSES MOTHER’S SUICIDE.

Worried because she could not raise the money necessary to get her boy’s Sunday suit out of pawn so that he could go to Southend on Bank Holiday, Ellen Woolf (44) of Mile End, committed suicide by swallowing carbolic acid.

It was said at the inquest that the woman had had 14 children, of whom eight were living, and the clothes had been pawned during the week in order to get food.

She had also had additional worries over a sick child and debt. The husband served in France during the war, and was badly wounded. Before and since, for over 20 years, he had sold newspapers in Leadenhall-street for a living.

Suicide while of unsound mind was the verdict.”

The verdict should really have drawn attention to the pressures she must have been under, as these must have been the root cause of her state of mind – I will never take a trip to Southend for granted again.

Southend has had to change and adapt to continue to attract visitors who want more that just a walk along the pier or the Parade. As the 1910 report stated, in 2019 it is still about money, and attracting the coin out of the visitors pocket.

On either side of the pier, along the sea front is Adventure Island – a dense cluster of rides and amusements.

Southend

The following photo from the Britain from Above archive shows the sunken gardens in 1928, this is the same space as shown in the above photo.

Southend

The old Marine Parade, or Golden Mile runs along the sea front to the east of the pier.

Southend

This was one of the places to go in the late 1970s with my first car on a Saturday night. Clubs such as Talk of the South (ToTS) were in the buildings on the left and customised cars would spend their time driving up and down the Golden Mile. Southend on a Saturday night was exciting when you are 17.

It was a very different scene in the early years of the 20th century:

Southend

Large amusement arcades now line the street:

Southend

There have been proposals over the years to demolish and rebuild large parts of the Golden Mile, but they never seem to move beyond the conceptual stage, so Southend’s brightly coloured and gloriously tacky eastern seafront continues into the 21st century.

Southend

At the end of the street is the Kursal, now a shadow of its former self.

Southend

Opened in 1894 with the main entrance buildings opening in 1901, the Kursal consisted of dining halls, billiard rooms, bars etc. in the main building, with a large fairground covering the land behind.

The Kursal has been through many changes in use and ownership. In 1910 it was renamed the Luna Park, as referenced in the newspaper article at the start of the post. It has been used for greyhound racing and in the 1970s, the main ballroom was a rather good live music venue.

Leaving the seafront and walking up Pier Hill we find this strategically placed souvenir shop:

Southend

The shop has been here for as long as I can remember, and it is on the route back to the High Street and train stations from the pier and sea front. Just the place to stop off and buy your last minute souvenir before returning on the train to London.

Southend is not all garish seaside buildings, there is some wonderful historic architecture. At the top of Pier Hill, turning to the west along the cliff top is the Royal Terrace.

At the far end, on the corner with the High Street, is the Royal Hotel and a line of late 18th century houses run along the street with superb views over the pier and estuary.

Southend

The terrace was built between 1791 and 1793. The “Royal” name of the terrace was given after the 1803 visit of Princess Caroline (the wife of the Prince Regent), who occupied numbers 7,8 and 9 – the houses in the centre of the photo below.

Southend

At the end of the Royal Terrace is the Cliff Lift, providing pedestrians with a route between the sea front and the top of the cliff if they want to avoid the walk.

Southend

In 1901, a moving walkway was installed on the site, replaced by the lift which was constructed in 1912.

The lift has undergone several refurbishments and updates since, the most recent being a £3 million upgrade in 2010.

For 50p you can be carried smoothly up to the Royal Terrace:

Southend

One final view across the estuary, where sand blends into mud, then water then sky, with a thin sliver of land across in Kent. Hard to believe that this is the the river that flows through central London, now over 4 miles wide between Southend and the Kent coasts.

Southend

Southend is only the Southend we see today because of London. A long heritage of being one of the main destinations for Summer weekends and Bank Holidays for those who lived in London.

Easy transport provided by passenger ships on the river and the opening of two railway lines to central London helped bring crowds out of London to spend their money in Southend. In the late 1920s and 1930 a new main road (now the A127) was opened between the Eastern Avenue at Romford and Southend, adding a dual carriageway from east London directly to Southend as visitors started the move from ship and train to car – a trend that would be accelerated in the post war years.

Tastes will continue to change and what people want from a day at the seaside will evolve, but I suspect that Southend will respond as it has done for two hundred years, and develop new ways to, as the 1910 article stated, remove the coin from the pocket of the visitor, but for me it will always be a place to get lost in the wonderful estuary sky.

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HMS President and the Oxo Tower

In 1947 my father was standing on the north bank of the River Thames, slightly west of Blackfriars Bridge, and took this photo looking across the river to the Oxo tower on the south bank and a sign on the river for HMS President.

HMS President

72 years later, I took a photo of the same view:

HMS President

The Oxo tower is still there as a significant south bank landmark, although the rest of the south bank view in the original photo has changed considerably.

All trace of HMS President has disappeared.

HMS President is the name given to the location of the Royal Naval Reserve in London. The current location of HMS President is shore based, occupying a riverside building and river access along St Katharine’s Way, just to the east of Tower Bridge. The onshore move was made in 1988 when the base on the river was sold, and it is this incarnation of HMS President that had made a brief departure when my father took the photo in 1947.

Up until the 1988 move to a shore location, HMS President was the name given to the ship used as a base for the Royal Naval Reserve, with the first ship taking the name being used as a Royal Navy Drill Ship (before the formation of the Volunteer Reserve as it was known in 1903), being based in the West India Docks.

The ship that was temporarily away when my father took the 1947 photo, was originally HMS Saxifrage, built in Renfrew, Scotland in 1918. She was from a class of ships called Q Ships. These were ships designed as ordinary merchant ships, but heavily armed and with the aim of luring submarines into making a surface attack (believing that the ship was not armed), and therefore being able to attack the submarine on the surface, rather than the almost random dropping of depth charges.

The following photo is off HMS Saxifrage alongside a jetty, just after completion:

HMS President

HMS SAXIFRAGE (FL 4510) Alongside a jetty on completion. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120412

Being completed at the end of the First World War, HMS Saxifrage only saw active service in the final months of the war, including some engagements with U boats, one of which was sunk with depth charges after an exchange of gun fire. In 1922 she took on the role of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve ship and was moored at Blackfriars with a name change to HMS President.

Despite the Royal Naval Reserve moving onshore in 1988, the ship continued to be moored at Blackfriars as it had been sold, and was then used as a location for private events.

The ship only moved from Blackfriars a couple of years ago to make way for the building site that has taken over the location as this is now one of the construction sites for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, part of which can be seen in my 2019 photo.

Turning to look to the east from where I took the 2019 photo, this is the original entry to HMS President from the Embankment, now just a set of closed off steps leading to a drop into the river.

HMS President

This is the view of the Thames Tideway Tunnel construction site, which was occupied by HMS President.

HMS President

I looked back through my photo collection, and the last photo I had taken of HMS President before the ship moved, was in 2014 when the ship was decorated as a “dazzle ship”.

HMS President

Dazzle ship camouflage was intended to optically distort the view of the ship at sea and make the ship harder to locate and attack. This method of camouflage started to be used in the First World War and the 2014 painting of the ship in this style was by the artist Tobia Rehberger as part of the 14-18 Now World War 1 centenary art commissions.

HMS President in 2014 looks very much like a ship, however this was not the appearance when the ship left Blackfriars in 1947. When HMS Saxifrage was converted to become the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve ship, the ship was not intended to sail at sea, or indeed on the river. The ship needed to provide accommodation space for training, a drill hall and act as a recruiting centre. The hull of the ship was retained, but a series of, what can almost be described as sheds, were built along the top of the hull.

This gave HMS President a rather strange appearance, and the view of the ship on the Embankment was often criticised for its rather cobbled together construction.

The recruiting function of HMS President is clear from the sign in the 1947 photo which reads “Recruiting every Wednesday 18:30 to 19:30. Annual bounty and training allowance paid. Training with the fleet.”

Removing the ship from Blackfriars, and transporting to Chatham Dockyard where the ship would undergo a full refit and replacement of all the buildings on top of the hull, was a difficult exercise.

This photo shows HMS President being moved away from the Blackfriars mooring. The series of sheds on the top of the ship can be clearly seen.

HMS President

The photo below is of the ship being towed towards Blackfriars Bridge. What is interesting in the photos above and below is the difference in the views of the north and south banks of the Thames. The view of the north bank is much the same as seen today, however the industrialised south bank seen in the photo below has changed completely. Note the Shot Tower at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge.

HMS President

Getting HMS President under Blackfriars Bridge was a rather tight squeeze.

HMS President

The time had to be carefully planned, as the tide had to be low enough to get the ship under the bridge, but there needed to be sufficient depth of water to ensure the ship could be floated.

When HMS President returned a few years later, the ship was restored to what would be the expected appearance of a ship, including the all important funnel, but there was still space for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve to carry out their training and drill activities.

The building across the river in the 1947 photo is the Oxo building with the Oxo tower.

HMS President

The site was originally occupied by Old Barge House Wharf, Old Barge House Corn Wharf and Iron Wharf. On the western edge of the site was Old Barge House Stairs, and these can still be found today leading down from the corner of the Oxo building. These are old stairs as they are shown on Rocque’s 1746 map of London.

The wharves were demolished in the late 19th century to make way for a power station for the Royal Mail. The site was then acquired by the Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company, manufacturer of Oxo meat extracts and Oxo stock cubes. and the new building, constructed as a cold store was completed by 1929. The original facade of the power station was retained, with the rest of the building demolished to create the new cold store.

The story associated with the letters being part of the window design is that permission was not given for an illuminated brand name to be part of the original building design, so the letters became part of the window design.

I have no idea whether this is true, however in the 1947 photo you can also see the name Oxo in large letters across the top of the facade of the building.

By the 1970s, the site was empty and was in a bad state of repair. There were plans to demolish the building, along with a redevelopment of the surrounding space, however the GLC purchased the building and then sold it to Coin Street Community Builders at a substantial discount.

I suspect this would never happen today – the building would be sold at the highest price and converted to either a hotel or expensive riverside apartments.

A major refurbishment of the building took place, which included a rebuild of most of the building behind the facade and the Oxo Tower Wharf building reopened in 1996, hosting a range of specialist shops, galleries and restaurants.

Returning to the site once occupied by HMS President, I walked over Blackfriars Bridge to look back at the Thames Tideway construction site,

HMS President

The Thames Tideway Tunnel, or super sewer as it is also known, is a major construction project, building a new intercept sewer that follows the Thames until Limehouse, where it cuts in land before reaching the Beckton treatment works. The aim of the new sewer is to intercept the sewers as they fall towards the Thames and prevent overflows into the river at times of high rainfall.

The route of the Thames Tideway Tunnel:

HMS President

There are a number of river construction sites where a shaft is being sunk down to the sewer tunnel. The area covered by these construction sites will be turned into an extension of the Embankment, so when construction is finished, the site in the photo below will be new public space.

HMS President

I photographed the view from Blackfriars Bridge in 2014, before HMS President moved. In this photo below, HMS President is the first ship on the right. The old Blackfriars pier is at the extreme right of the photo.

HMS President

This is the same view, five years later in 2019.

HMS President

The Tideway Tunnel construction site is on the right. When construction finishes, this will be the site of the new extension of the Embankment into the river, so the view will not return to that of 2014.

Note on the left side of the photo how the Oxo Tower is not now an isolated tower on the south bank when seen from Blackfriars Bridge. The new towers around the Shell Centre buildings in the background have changed this view.

HMS President is now in Chatham docks. The name of the ship has been changed back to HMS Saxifrage and restoration work in underway.

The name Saxifrage refers to the Saxifrage genus of plants which includes the variety London Pride – so a tenuous London connection between the original name of the ship, and the city where she would spend so many years.

HMS President was not the only naval training ship on the river along this section of the Embankment. HMS Chrysanthemum (which provided additional space for the naval reserve), was moored a short distance further west, and opposite Temple underground station was a ship used by the Sea Scouts.

To finish this week’s post, here is an extract from my father’s write up of his wartime diaries from the year 1942, where he talks about being a Sea Scout on a Thames training ship and their activities along the river:

“Opposite Temple Station lay the S.S. Discovery, the ship in which Captain Scott had sailed to the ant-arctic. The ship was used by the Sea Scouts which I had joined, and permanently manned by a small crew of teenage orphans, presided over by a grizzled old salt whose party piece was to accurately spit into the Galley Stove. My group, the Saint Pancras Sea Scouts, based at Tufnell Park, and very proud to be allotted Captain Scott’s cabin, would meet there every Sunday, to be taught seamanship and river craft. Part of our ‘job’ on the river was to sail a Whaler, several of us on either side of the boat, one oar each, the Skipper in the stern, a lookout in the bow, as far as Tower Bridge in one direction and Pimlico in the other, dependent on fog which could be hairy with a steamer bearing down on us. 

Sea Scouts were an unpaid adjunct to the River Police so as we journeyed along the Thames, barges and lighters would be boarded to check that all was secure, and anything suspicious investigated. 

A crowd would always be gazing at us from the Embankment, and if any pretty young girls were to the fore we would show off by performing dangerous climbs on the rigging, and I would eat my sandwiches suspended hammock like on the cables underneath the bowsprit.

However, my greatest claim to fame and humiliation was to loose my footing on the slippery gangway and fall into the cold and filthy river. the whole of Sunday afternoon was spent below decks trying to dry my sodden clothes over the stove.” 

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St Katharine’s Way and Ship Fires on the Thames

The primary aim of the blog is to track down all the locations of the photos that my father took of London. With a number of the photos he had identified the location, either written on the photo if printed, or later labeling some of the negatives. Many had no identification so I have been tracking these down based on the scene in the photo.

I thought the subject of last week’s post was easy as it had been labelled Thomas More Street, however despite walking up and down the street a couple of times, I could not identify the location. The street had the high brick walls, but I could not find the curve on the street.

Fortunately, the expertise of readers came to help with the identification of the correct location. It was not Thomas More Street, but nearby in St Katharine’s Way, so before turning to the subject of this week’s post, I need to provide an update on last week’s post (I will be re-writing the post, but wanted to get this update out).

This is the photo from last week’s post:

Ship Fires on the Thames

Andy Murphy commented on the post to identify the correct location and also provided a link to the following photo from the Britain from Above website:

Ship Fires on the Thames

The twin docks that are St Katharine Docks can be seen in the lower right of the photo. There is a single entrance to the dock from the River Thames, and a bridge can see seen over the dock entrance.

This is a swing bridge, and it was just to the east of the swing bridge that my father was standing when he took the photo looking east.

I have enlarged the specific part of the above photo to show the area in my father’s photo:

Ship Fires on the Thames

In the above photo it is just possible to see the wall along the northern edge of the street, the curve of the street which would be seen when standing in the straight entrance to the swing bridge, and the main building, the large warehouse in my father’s photo can be seen along the northern edge of the street.

Malcolm used the OS maps to identify the location, and the following map extract shows the location:

Ship Fires on the Thames

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

The area today is very different and the swing bridge has disappeared. In the following map showing the same area as it is today, I have marked the location of the swing bridge and the large warehouse  (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

Ship Fires on the Thames

Annie mentioned in a comment that she thought she could see one of the features in my father’s photo in photos of the site today.

I wanted to take another look, but work was too busy in the week, leaving yesterday, the hottest day of the year so far, as an opportunity to investigate further.

This is the main entrance to the St Katharine Dock from the River Thames today.

Ship Fires on the Thames

The footbridge and swing bridge in the photo are part of the redevelopment of St Katharine Dock, if you look back at the maps earlier in the post, you can see that the original swing bridge was a short distance along from the footbridge, further in towards the docks.

Comparing the two maps and using the overlay feature on the National Library of Scotland site, the swing bridge crossed the dock entrance, then the road curved to the left, behind what is now the Marina office. This is the view looking across the dock entrance today from roughly where the swing bridge would have been on the western side.

Ship Fires on the Thames

In the above photo, the marina office is the building on the left. To the immediate right of the marina office is a set of steps and a high brick wall.

Crossing over, I took a look at the steps and the wall.

Ship Fires on the Thames

The wall on the right is modern, but the wall on the left looks to be one of the original dock walls. There are bricked up features in the wall and the brickwork is rough and aged. Very similar to the dock walls in Thomas More Street.

This is the view along the footpath alongside the wall.

Ship Fires on the Thames

For some reason, the footpath is raised, with steps at both ends of the footpath, so the walls would originally have been much higher. No idea why the footpath has been raised.

At the end of the footpath, this is the view looking along St Katharine’s Way. The large building on the left is occupying the space where the large warehouse was in my father’s photo (see the maps for details).

Ship Fires on the Thames

My suspicion was that the wall that runs along the footpath, to the rear of the marina office, could be the wall in my father’s photo on the left of the street, towards the warehouse.

I was checking the wall for features, probably to the amusement of those also walking along the footpath.

This may be me seeing things that are not there – wanting to find evidence where there is none. I will leave it to you to judge.

On the wall on the left of my father’s photo is a triangular feature. The wall today is in shade, rather than the bright sunshine of my father’s photo, but there also appears to be a triangular outline in the brick wall today, in roughly the right place along the wall.

I have taken extracts from photos earlier in the post and marked this feature – not easy to see in the 2019 photo.

Ship Fires on the Thames

This area has changed very dramatically in the 70 years since my father took the original photo, and it may be that I am seeing things which are not there, wanting to find something remaining today from the 1949 photo, but it does look right.

I have no idea why my father wrongly labelled the street. This is only the second example I have found in five years of the blog. The other photo that was wrongly labelled was Bevington Street in Bermondsey. I suspect the reason why these photos were wrongly labeled is that he would develop the film some weeks after taking the photos and finishing a role of film, and this gap after walking multiple London streets resulted in an error, or forgetting exactly the location of the developed photo.

The other question from last week’s post was the uniform of the man walking along the street. It is now clear that he was walking towards St Katharine Dock, so perhaps he was walking towards the start of work. There were a number of suggestions as to the uniform and cap badge, but the lack of detail in the photo could not help with a firm identification.

Thanks to everyone who commented on last week’s post – your feedback helps make writing these posts so enjoyable. So now to the subject of this week’s post.

Barge and Ship Fires on the Thames

My father took the following photo from Bankside looking across to the north bank of the Thames, with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background.

To the right, there is a fire on a ship with black smoke partly obscuring the scene.

Ship Fires on the Thames

The same scene today:

Ship Fires on the Thames

The scene is both much the same, and very different.

St Paul’s Cathedral is still the dominating feature, and it is good to see that the height of buildings between the cathedral and the river are much the same, so the view of the cathedral is very similar.

On the river front, the only building that is the same in both photos is the warehouse on the right.

The Millennium Bridge on the left is the main new feature at river level.

Looking at the photo, I wonder if the reason my father took the photo was perhaps the fire.

Shipping on the River Thames carried a considerable variety of goods and materials, many of which were highly inflammable. This, along with a lack of regulations around safety and fire prevention, how goods should be carried, the fire needed to raise steam in steamships and the sheer volume of traffic on the river probably resulted in many such examples.

To investigate further, I had a look through newspaper reports to understand how frequent these were, and the types of goods that were at risk.

31st March 1845 – A Ship On Fire In The Thames

Yesterday afternoon information was received at several engine stations that a fire was burning on board the brig Betsy, Captain J. Rich of Penryn, lying off King Edward Stairs, opposite Rotherhithe. For sometime the greatest fears were entertained that the whole vessel would fall sacrifice to the fury of the flames, which were then burning brightly and fiercely in the after cabin. The floating engine, manned by one hundred men, was got to work, and a vast body of water poured into the cabin. At length the flames were subdued, and all danger of their further extension at an end, but not before the after cabin and its contents were nearly consumed. The fire from the cabin stove, from some cause which is unexplained, is said to have caused the disaster. The vessel, which is the property of Capt. Tranery, of Penryn, is said not to be insured.

23rd March 1877 A Barge Fire On The Thames

A barge laden with straw, caught fire on the Thames, near Blackfriars, on Monday. The barge was speedily got away from a number of others, and removed to mid-stream, where the fire floats played upon her until the fire was extinguished.

12th September 1871 Petroleum Barge on Fire In The Thames

The barge City of Rochester, belonging to Mr Burkett, of Greenwich, laden with petroleum, while lying in the upper part of Halfway Reach, London, on Saturday morning, took fire, and was burned to the water’s edge. the barge had received the petroleum from two vessels, the Harmony and Ennis, discharging at the petroleum buoys, near Erith.

15th February 1899 (a single paragraph in among other news items)

A barge took fire in the Thames this morning, and of her crew of three men, one was burned to a cinder, and the others were so severely injured that they are not likely to recover.

3rd January 1902 – A Smallpox Ship On Fire In The Thames

A fire broke out last evening on board the Endymion, a smallpox hospital ship, in the Thames, near Dartford. The vessel is one of three ships moored together, and used for acute cases. The Metropolitan Fore Brigade were apprised by telephone, and immediately sent down the Alpha fire float, which was moored at Blackfriars Bridge. The fire brigade authorities were later informed that the outbreak occurred in the stokehold of the Endymion.

The fire was overcome this morning, having smouldered all night in the stokehold, At the time of the outbreak, a number of nurses and attendants were on board, but no smallpox patients. There was no panic, neither was any personal injury sustained.

I had no idea that there were smallpox hospital ships on the River Thames. I found the following drawing of these ships (or rather hulks as in the drawing) in the Wellcome Collection.

The ships were the Atlas and Endymion (the subject of the above news report) at Deptford Creek.

Ship Fires on the Thames

Ships used as smallpox isolation hospitals. Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

17th September 1906 – Blaze Near London Bridge

Early on Saturday morning a vessel, the Balgownie, belonging to the General Steam navigation Company, was found to be on fire at her berth in the Thames. Carrying a general cargo, the ship came up the Thames on Friday night’s tide, and was berthed near London Bridge, it being intended to unload her on Saturday morning. When the alarm was raised two L.C.C fire floats, Alpha and Beta, were summoned and were quickly on the scene. A number of fire-engines from stations near by were also called.

The vessel was lying just off Hay’s wharf, near Tooley-street. A number of other vessels were near by, and there was some danger that the fire would spread to these ships. The brigade quickly got to work under the command of Captain Hamilton, and a very strong force of water was pumped into the burning vessel’s hold. The smoke and flames had in the meantime created considerable excitement amongst early morning frequenters of the river and bridge, and large crowds watched the operations of the firemen. 

After two or three hours work the fire was subdued, although the firemen had been working under considerable difficulty through not being able for a time to get at the seat of the outbreak. After the flames had been put out the fire-boats and the engines from the shore remained in attendance, the floats directing their attention to pumping out water from the hold.

14th September 1910 – Barge Fire On The Thames

The East-end firemen were called last night to a vessel alight on the Thames, and found that the Dutch barge Alberdina, of 200 tons burden, was on fire alongside Foster’s Wharf, in Stanley-road, North Woolwich. The fire had broken out in the main hold, and was just attacking the deck when appliances were set to work and the fire overcome.

24th March 1911 – Ship On Fire In The Thames

The steamer “North Point” was bound for Philadelphia, and discovered on fire shortly after leaving the dock. The crew, which numbered forty, were aroused by the captain, and all saved by tugs. Five sailors, unable to join their comrades, owing to the heat of the decks, lowered themselves by ropes over the side of the vessel, and were then rescued. The vessel in a short time was a floating furnace, the iron plates on her sides being red-hot to the water’s edge. Eventually the “North Point” was beached. 

24th April 1912 – Ship On Fire In The Thames

London bridge was crowded by sightseers on Saturday evening owing to the fact that a fire had broken out on the steamship Prince Albert, lying off Nicholson’s Wharf, Lower Thames-street. The alarm was given at half-past five, and the brigade authorities ordered out ten motor pumps and steamers and two powerful river floats. The vessel, of 3,000 tons burthen, is owned by the Ocean Belgian Steam Navigation Company of Antwerp, and had recently arrived from Italy with a general cargo, which included sulphur, hemp, and green fruit. Owing to the fumes of the sulphur, a number of smoke helmets had to be used by the firemen, who were engaged for several hours before the outbreak was suppressed, this being accomplished by the flooding of No. 2 hold. The work was very difficult, as the firemen could not remain for any length of time at close quarters, and they were relieved at short intervals by fresh relays. Beyond the damage to the one hold, the vessel received comparatively slight injury.

16th December 1919 – Explosives On Board, Three Barges On Fire In Thames Dock

A serious fire broke out this morning in three barges laden with explosives lying in the Thames off Dagenham Docks. Explosions followed, which prevented the local fire engines coming close to the barges. Fire floats and fire engines subsequently got to work, but up to noon had made no impression and there were further minor explosions.

Efforts were made to sink the barges before they blew up, and the fireman worked under dangerous conditions to themselves. It was not believed that the property on shore would be in much danger if the barges ultimately blew up. So far there have been no casualties.

16th November 1921 – Ship Fire On The Thames, Unusual Spectacle For City Workers

Thousands of people on their way to the City this morning witnessed a fire on board a large steamer lying in the Thames near London Bridge on the north side of the river, at Fresh Wharf.

The vessel, the S.S. Kingestroom, of 796 tons gross register, carried a general cargo, including rum and paper. River floats pumped large volumes of water into the affected parts of the ship, and within about three-quarters of an hour the outbreak was mastered.

The main seat of the fire was among some rum barrels. These blazed fiercely, giving off a pungent odour. Then some full barrels became involved, and, these bursting, the contents ran over the decks. At midday hundreds of gallons of rum and water were being pumped from the ship.

19th September 1925 – Its Own Extinguisher

A barge caught fire in the Thames, and though fire floats were soon on the spot, the outbreak was extinguished by the barge sinking.

The above is just a very small sample of news reports of fires on board barges and ships on the River Thames – all the way from central London, out along the river to the estuary.

The river was a dangerous place.

It is perhaps surprising from a 21st century viewpoint that a ship carrying a mix of sulphur, hemp, and green fruit would berth in the heart of the City. The impact of burning sulphur must have been terrible, however this was normal for the time, when the same ship would carry a wide range of goods and materials and there were very few restrictions on where such ships could berth.

Fire boats or fire floats were a key weapon in the fire brigades arsenal of tools to fight fires on the river, and also fire onshore, from the river.

The following photo from 1910 is of the fire float ‘Beta III’.

Ship Fires on the Thames

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0487_2358C

These boats were equipped with powerful pumps drawing water directly from the river and able to direct powerful jets of water towards a fire.

A couple of years ago I was on board the fire boat Massey Shaw and saw an early fire boat in action. I wrote about the day (with video) in this blog post. The following is a view of the Massey Shaw pumping water.

Ship Fires on the Thames

The London Fire Brigade still has two fire boats available, and these new boats are far more sophisticated than earlier boats. They are able to change the way in which water is pumped towards a fire, from a powerful directed jet of water, to a dense mist of water.

When I was on the Massey Shaw, we were joined by one of the current fire boats, the Fire Dart.

Ship Fires on the Thames

Both pumping water was an impressive sight, and it was possible to imagine how ship fires would have been fought on the river, when it was full of goods traffic,

Sorry, that was a bit of a long read.

The feedback to last week’s post was so informative that I had to revisit and investigate further and I wanted to write a new post.

Just shows how much there is to discover about this fascinating city.

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The Brexit Bridge or New London Bridge

Readers of the blog will be very aware that I spend most of my time in the past, writing about London’s history, and unlike may other blogs I do not explore future plans for London and the many exciting developments in transport and architecture.

Today is an exception, and for an extra post on the 1st April, I have a scoop that I have not yet read about anywhere else.

A couple of week’s ago I was at the end of a walk from Deptford to London Bridge and had stopped in one of the well known coffee chains that frequent the area. I had sat down at a table, drinking tea, looking through the photos on my camera, and started to hear snatches from a rather loud conversation on an adjacent table.

Around the table were six smartly dressed people, who I gathered were from a construction company and an architectural practice. They were about to give a presentation at City Hall, and in a text book example of why you should not discuss confidential business in a public place, they were doing exactly that.

The words that caught my interest were Brexit Bridge, followed by New London Bridge. I now had a challenge to make my almost empty cup of tea last much longer so I could listen in to the discussion, and this is what heard.

The team was about to present their proposals for a new bridge across the Thames and were having a final run through of their presentation, and looking for anything they may have missed to make the presentation, and the proposal for the bridge, more compelling.

The proposal was for a new bridge across the River Thames in the same location as originally planned for the Garden Bridge. Where the bridge would differ from the Garden Bridge is that it would be a much larger copy, with modern materials, of the earlier version of London Bridge when the bridge was lined by houses.

The working name for the project was officially “New London Bridge”, but the team were discussing that the Brexit Bridge would have been a great alternative for the previous Mayor, with an alliterative name, and the option to put his first name at the beginning.

The new bridge would stretch from the South Bank to the Temple underground station and would consist of eight storey houses on either side. These would use modern materials for strength and durability, but from what I could make out of the design from their conversations, would emulate the appearance of the earlier London Bridge.

The bridge would not be open for traffic, pedestrians only and to emulate bridges such as the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the ground floor would be lined with shops. They expected considerable demand from all the expensive international brands hoping to get a store in such an iconic landmark.

The team had obviously learnt from the issues with the Garden Bridge:

  • The bridge would be self funding as sales of the apartments in the buildings lining the bridge would generate more than enough funding to build the bridge
  • Rental from the shops, and annual maintenance fees from the apartments would more than cover the maintenance costs of the bridge

So no public money, or private donations would be needed.

The team had also considered other objections to the Garden Bridge and part of their pitch was that the, and I quote “heritage lobby”, could not object as the bridge was a recreation of a historical bridge that once crossed the river.

Other arguments for the bridge consisted of:

  • It would demonstrate that London continues to be “Open for Business”
  • The concept had already been tested with potential purchasers in China, Malaysia, the Middle East and Russia, and there was no shortage of buyers – what billionaire would not want such an address to boast to their peers, so funding would not be a problem
  • It would bring to London a significant new tourism attraction, thereby increasing London’s attraction to international tourists
  • It would provide another pedestrian route across the river

I continued to listen (pretending to drink from an empty cup and looking through my photos for the 10th time) as the conversation seemed to get increasingly far-fetched. They also discussed options for other uses for the bridge, and how potential purchasers could be better served (and charged more).

  • The original London Bridge had narrow arches so the flow of water was constricted, and passing underneath London Bridge could be a dangerous exercise, with travelers often preferring to get back onto land to bypass the bridge before getting back on the river. Modern construction techniques would allow wide arches, however as an additional tourist attraction, technology used at the Thames Barrier in the form of raising barriers could be used to simulate the rush of water under the old bridge, which could provide an additional tourist attraction for the Rib tourist boats that currently ply the river (although the team did expect objections from the Port of London Authority and the RNLI to this feature)
  • Gatehouses would guard the entrance to the bridge. These would provide a security control to check the pedestrians attempting to cross (this would after all be private land), but they were discussing other historical features such as simulated heads on spikes waving above the entrance to the bridge
  • The type of potential client for the apartments on the bridge also have large yachts which could not pass under the City bridges, so the team were planning to make use of the space where the plans for the cruise liner terminal at Greenwich appears to have been abandoned, by providing a dedicated mooring space, with a concierge river taxi service taking clients from Greenwich to their apartments – they estimated that another £5 Million per year per apartment could be charged for this feature

The team finally packed aware their laptops, and with a final few motivational encouragements, headed off to City Hall to make their presentation.

I have no idea of the outcome of their presentation, or whether we may be seeing a future recreation of the following bridge across the river:

London Bridge

The site was chosen as to redevelop the existing London Bridge was not viewed as an option as the bridge was a key traffic route between north and south banks of the river. The proposed location was also wider than the central City location, so could accommodate more apartments and therefore generate a greater return to cover the costs of the bridge and profit for the investors.

The location of the bridge will be across the river in the middle of this photo (only taken a few years ago, but surprising how the City has since changed).

London Bridge

The Serious Bit

The above is my attempt for April Fool’s Day, but there is a serious element to it. The more I thought and wrote about such a bridge, I more I thought that this could actually happen.

The city is growing at a very rapid rate. I took the above photo in December 2014, and less than five years later the number of towers in the City has grown considerably.

Buildings that previous generations could never have imagined have been built across London, and their geographic spread, height and design variations seem to be growing on a monthly basis. The function of areas of the city have also changed considerably – the Isle of Dogs was once devoted to industry and the docks. These disappeared within a generation to be replaced by offices and apartment blocks which continue to be built and spread in area and height.

London has always changed, and what we see today is only a snapshot of the city, a view that is different to yesterday and will be different tomorrow.

I have a theory that our baseline of London is from when we first encounter the city. Mine is from the 1970s, and I still reference changes to what the city was like then. We took our granddaughter up to the Skygarden a few months ago, and she loves the building and the view – this is part of her baseline of the city, where I would consider the building in relation to what was there before and the impact that buildings like this have had.

The city will therefore be very different in the future. Buildings we cannot imagine now will at some point grace London’s skyline. London appears in one of the Star Trek films (Into Darkness) where St. Paul’s Cathedral is surrounded and dwarfed by towers that rise in all directions (see 26 seconds into the YouTube extract which can be found here). This view seems very plausible for the future given the current trend in building.

I have no idea whether a New London Bridge, lined with apartments will ever be built, but with money and the right connections, I am sure there is very little to stop such a construction.

If it does ever get built, just remember that you heard it here first.

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Cutty Sark Pub And Greenwich Peninsula

I must have been going to the Cutty Sark pub in Greenwich for well over 45 years. I can just about remember the first trips, where as part of a family day out to Greenwich, after feeding the squirrels in the park, walking down to the Cutty Sark ship and the old Gypsy Moth IV, Francis Chichester’s boat in which he circumnavigated the world single handed in 1967, we would walk along the river to the Cutty Sark pub for a soft drink and crisps.

The walk along the river was different to that of today. It was much quieter and the industrial nature of the Greenwich Peninsula extended up to the Greenwich Power Station. My father would tell us stories along the way. Along the narrow walkway between the River Thames and the old Royal Naval College he would tell of people being robbed along here at night with the threat of being thrown in the river if they did not comply – no idea if these stories were true, or whether they were to keep the interest in a walk, but I could imagine this happening on a dark night with mist drifting across from the river.

To get to the Cutty Sark pub, it was a walk in front of the Royal Naval College, past the Trafalgar Tavern, Trinity Hospital and Power Station. There was then a short walk through a scrap metal yard to get to the pub.

A couple of months ago, I scanned some negatives and among the photos were some I had taken in Greenwich, including these photos which were probably taken in 1986 (plus or minus a year – I did not date these negatives, but judging by other photos on the same negative strips they are from this time).

The approach to the Cutty Sark pub was through a scrap metal yard. High walls of concrete panels held back large amounts of metal on either side of a narrow walkway:

Cutty Sark pub

The scene today is so very different. As part of the de-industrialisation of the area, the scrap yard has been cleared, space opened up to the river on the left and flats built to the right.

The following photo shows the same scene today:

Cutty Sark pub

The Cutty Sark pub is in a superb location. An early 19th century building (although a pub had been on the site for many years prior to the current building), it looks out over the river, providing views to the east and west. We sat outside on a hot day in early August 2018 during the visit to take these photos, something I dream about doing again whilst writing this on a cold, grey and overcast January morning.

The current name of the pub is relatively recent, only being named the Cutty Sark in 1951 when the ship of the same name first arrived in Greenwich. Originally the pub was called the Green Man, then from 1810 it was named the Union Tavern.

After clearance of the scrap yard, the Cutty Sark pub now enjoys a large open space to the west along with a seating area directly in front of the pub.

Cutty Sark pub

In the above photo there is a brick wall with three plaques, a close up photo provides some detail:

Cutty Sark pub

The middle plaque informs that the foundation stone on the right was from the old metal recycling yard that occupied the space.

I have not been able to find any information as to the blue plaque on the left, and who was “Gordon of Greenwich”, There are English Hedonists plaques in other parts of London, created as an artwork, but the Greenwich plaque does not appear to be included in lists of these other plaques.

The area around the Cutty Sark pub is an ideal point to view the river and the western edge of the Greenwich Peninsula. The closure of industry along this stretch of the river is almost complete and it is undergoing a similar transformation to much of the rest of the river, with blocks of flats being built, the first of these can be seen in my photo earlier in the post showing the view from where the scrap yard once stood, with a tall block of flats taking up the area behind and to the left of the Cutty Sark pub.

In 1986, this was the view along the Greenwich Peninsula:

Cutty Sark pub

The same view today (I must get better at taking photos at the same state of the tide):

Cutty Sark pub

Apart from the curve of the river, the only recognisable feature in both photos is the gas holder further down the peninsula. This was originally one of a pair of gas holders, the largest of their type when constructed. One of the gas holders was demolished in 1986, fortunately one survives.

This photo from Britain from Above shows the pair of gasholders in 1924 and the surrounding industrial landscape.

Cutty Sark pub

Two large concrete silos can also be seen, shown again in the following photo which was taken from the edge of the scrap yard. These were the storage silos of a sugar refinery which, as with much of British industry in the past few decades, went through a number of changes of ownership before being bought in 2007 by a French company and then being closed two years later, with demolition of the silos following soon after.

Cutty Sark pub

The following photo from 1986 shows a view across the full width of the River Thames. The large container cranes were part of the Victoria Deep Water Wharf. Behind these are two chimneys from the old Blackwall Power Station, commissioned in 1951 and closed thirty years later.

Cutty Sark pub

The same view today:

Cutty Sark pub

The only obvious surviving features are the old brick warehouse on the left (now flats) and the tower block behind.

There are a few remaining historical features buried within the photos. The following is an enlargement of one part of my 1986 photos. Part of the old sugar refinery is to the left, but look in front of this building and along the river edge is a triangular metal structure:

Cutty Sark pub

The following enlargement from one of my 2018 photos shows the same area today and whilst all the factory buildings have been demolished, the triangular metal structure, now painted grey, remains.

Cutty Sark pub

This is part of the winding equipment that allowed undersea telecommunications cables manufactured in the buildings to the right in the 1986 photo to be transported from the factory onto ships moored in the river.

This is Enderby Wharf and is where the first cable to cross the Atlantic was manufactured with  much of the world’s sub-sea communication cables being manufactured here until the mid 1970s.

The white building behind is Enderby House, built around 1830 and the only remaining building from the factory site.

Enderby Wharf was the site for a planned cruise liner terminal, however these plans have been abandoned following local campaigns against the terminal as the lack of shore power would have meant ships moored at the terminal would be generating their own electricity and therefore polluting the local area.

Although the cruise terminal has been abandoned, development of the Greenwich Peninsula continues and the river bank between the Cutty Sark pub and the O2 Dome will soon be an almost continuous line of flats.

The industrial history of the Greenwich Peninsula is fascinating. The book “Innovation, Enterprise and Change on the Greenwich Peninsula” by Mary Mills provides plenty of detail on the factories and industries that made their home on the peninsula. The Greenwich Industrial History site also has plenty of detailed information.

In the depths of January, I am just looking forward to when the weather improves and provides the opportunity to sit outside the Cutty Sark on a warm sunny day, with a beer and taking in the views of the river.

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A Return To Bermondsey Wall – Bevington Street, George Row And Bridge House

A couple of months ago, I featured a photo that my father had taken in Bermondsey. He had written the following notes to explain when and where the photo was taken “Flockton Street looking south from Bermondsey Wall. 19th century slum dwellings ravaged by the blitz – Summer 1948”. When I visited what remains of Flockton Street I was doubtful that this was the right location. Many features of the existing streets and in the photo did not line up.

I am really gratefull to a number of readers who identified the correct location as being Bevington Street in Bermondsey, and that a couple of the features in the original 1948 photo can still be seen to confirm. A quick look at Google Streetview clearly showed the location, however I was not content just to use Streetview as the purpose of this project is to revisit and photograph from the same viewpoints as in my father’s photos, so a couple of weeks ago I took another walk to Bermondsey to photograph Bevington Street – a location I have walked past a number of times, but for reasons I will explain later in the post, I was looking in the other direction.

My revisit also enabled the location of another photo to be confirmed, and I also found the location of a building photographed for the Wonderful London series of books published in 1926.

This is the view of Bevington Street from Bermondsey Wall photographed by my father in 1948:

Bermondsey Wall

And this is the same view today:

Bermondsey Wall

There are only two features that remain the same, but serve to confirm the location. The school on the left and the small brick building on the right which now appears to house an electrical substation – remarkable that in all the redevelopment of the area this small building has survived.

So where is Bevington Street? The following extract from the 1940 Bartholomew’s Atlas of Greater London shows the location. Bevington Street can be seen just to the right of the large Y. The school is further to the right, just across Farncombe Street.

Bermondsey Wall

Flockton Street, the wrongly identified location can be seen to the left, leading off from Bermondsey Wall, so these streets are very close. I suspect my father wrote up his notes for the photos after developing the negatives and looking at his route on the map, accidentally picked the wrong street.

I have used this 1940 map as it helps to explain a feature that can be seen today.

Bevington Street ends at Bermondsey Wall, and directly across from Bevington Street, between Bermondsey Wall and the River Thames is Fountain Green Square. The following photo is the view from the end of Bevington Street, looking across Bermondsey Wall to Fountain Green Square.

Bermondsey Wall

The name is very appropriate as there is a central green with a stone fountain in the centre. New housing is arranged around two sides of the green and the River Thames is alongside the far side of the green.

Looking back at the 1940 map and there is a feature here called Fountain Dock. The 1895 Ordnance Survey Map provides some additional detail and shows the shape and location of Fountain Dock.

Bermondsey Wall

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

The Southwark Council Conservation Area Appraisal (February 2013) confirms that the site of Fountain Green Square was the site of Fountain Dock, and that the dock was one of the few dry docks that operated along this part of the river.

Checking the overlay feature on the National Library of Scotland site, the dry docks appears over the easterly part of the green and partly under the houses on the eastern edge of the green, rather than occupying the full space of the green.

I checked the London Metropolitan Archives, Collage site and there are two photos from 1929 that show the dry dock. The first is looking from the north west corner of the dock, back towards where Bermondsey Wall runs right to left.

Bermondsey Wall

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0912_A52734

The second photo, also from 1929, is looking from the south east corner of the dock, towards the river and the direction of the City.

Bermondsey Wall

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0912_A5273

These photos from 1929 show Fountain Dock much as it must have been in the 19th century. Dry docks are important as they allow the hull of a ship to be inspected and worked on. The ship was moved into the dock, gates to the river closed and water pumped out from the dock, so somewhere alongside there must have been a building that housed the pump.

In an advert for the dry dock in Lloyd’s List on the 13th May 1893, the dimensions are given as a length of 161 feet and depth of 16 feet. The dock was owned by Mills & Knight who also owned the larger Nelson Dry Dock in Rotherhithe.

In addition to numerous adverts for the dry dock, 19th century newspapers included reports of accidents at the dock, as well as ships for sale. It appears to have been standard practice to offer a ship for sale when the ship is in dry dock for repair. The earliest example I could find was from the Shipping & Mercantile Gazette on the 27th August 1850, when the following ship was in Fountain Dry Dock and advertised for sale:

“The A1 Liverpool-built Barque BRAZILIAN, 345 tons, now lying in the Fountain Dry Dock, and ready for inspection; is in the course of re-coppering, &c., and, if not sold within a reasonable time, will be sent out again by her present owner. Length, 107 feet; breadth, 23 1-10 feet; depth 13 3-10 feet; carries a large cargo at an extraordinary light draught of water, and shifts without ballast”.

The following photo is the view taken from roughly the same viewpoint as the above photo. Today there is a fountain in the centre of the green.

Bermondsey Wall

The 1895 Ordnance Survey Map does not show a fountain, so I do not know if the fountain was moved here when the green was created to provide some relevance to the name. I doubt the fountain was here originally as it looks of rather fine construction to have been in such an industrial area – however I also do not know how Fountain Dock was named.

The origin of the name Bevington Street is interesting. When looking for this street on the 1895 OS map, whilst the street is there, in 1895 is was named Princes Road. It had changed to the current name sometime between 1895 and the 1940 map.

Although I have not been able to find any written confirmation of this, I suspect the name change may have been in the first decade of the 20th century. Bevington probably refers to Colonel Samuel Bourne Bevington. 

When Bermondsey Borough Council was formed in 1900, Samuel Bevington was the first mayor and he was reelected the following year. He came from the family that had established  Bevington and Sons, a company that manufactured leather products at Neckinger Mills in Abbey Street, Bermondsey. He was also a Colonel of the West Surrey Regiment, Justice of the Peace, on school boards and coming from a Quaker background, used family money to support a number of philanthropic activities.

Samuel Bourne Bevington died on the 14th April 1907 leaving a considerable estate to the value of £133,195. His will included money to provide income for four men and four women over the age of 60 who had been engaged in the leather trade.

Because of his role in the leather trade in Bermondsey, that he was the first mayor of Bermondsey Borough Council, and his other activities, I suspect that after his death, the council looked at ways to commemorate him, and one of the ways within their power was to rename one of the local streets, so Princes Road became Bevington Street.

There is much else of interest to be seen from the junction of Bevington Street and Bermondsey Wall.

A very short distance to the east along Bermondsey Wall is a rather unique, listed pub – the Old Justice.

Bermondsey Wall

The pub, as with so many London pubs, has closed, however the building is Grade II listed.

The reason for the listing is that the pub is a rather well preserved example of a style of pub design from the inter-war period. The majority of Victorian London pubs were small and focused on drinking. The design initiatives after the First World War, focused on improving the pub environment, the provision of space for other activities apart from basic drinking, for example with the provision of restaurant space and a function room.

The Old Justice was designed by Sidney C Clark in 1933 for the Hoare & Co brewery. It followed a mock Tudor design that was frequently used on many pubs of the period.

Hoare & Co were taken over by Charringtons and the pub has a pair of Charrington lanterns on the frount, these probably date from the 1960s.

Bermondsey Wall

Alongside one of the lanterns is a plaque recording that Sir Paul McCartney used interiors and exteriors of the Old Justice as locations in his film “Give My Regards To Broad Street” and in the music video to “No More Lonely Nights”.

As well as the pub, the film also has some fascinating shots of the front of the warehouses along the Thames in Bermondsey.

I looked in through the windows of the Old Justice and the interior looks to have been reasonably well gutted, although the wooden paneling remains on the walls and the fireplace is still intact.

The Old Justice is just to the east of the junction of Bevington Street and Bermondsey Wall. To the west is another building that is earlier than the majority of buildings in the area. This is Fountain House:

Bermondsey Wall

I am not sure when Fountain House was constructed, or whether the name is original. however it did feature in another of my father’s photos of Bermondsey. I have now been able to identify the following photo as having been taken in Loftie Street, which runs parallel to part of Bevington Street.

Bermondsey Wall

The rear of Fountain House is on the left of the photo, but what confirmed the location was the rear of the electrical substation building that was one of the surviving features in the photo of Bevington Street. The rear of this building can be seen in the above photo, to the right of Fountain House.

The houses are the rear of the houses that front onto Bevington Street. Washing is hanging to dry at the rear of one house, and I am fascinated by the height of the chimneys on these houses.

What must be the remains of a bomb site is to the front of the photo.

I tried to take a photo from a similar position today, but it was not easy with the buildings and fences that now occupy the area, however in the following photo, the rear of Fountain House can be seen, and just to the right, a small part of the top of the rear wall of the electrical substation building is just visible.

Bermondsey Wall

There was one additional place I wanted to track down. When I was looking for Flockton Street, I walked along George Row, which runs parallel to the original route of Flockton Street. The name George Row was familiar and I recently remembered where I had seen the name.

In 1926 a three volume set of photos and articles titled “Wonderful London” was published and the first main photo in volume 3 was titled “The Bridge House In George Row, Bermondsey”.

Bermondsey Wall

The caption with the above photo read:

“Bermondsey has had its royal palace dating perhaps from Edward the Confessor, and it was only in 1805 that the North Gate of its Abbey was taken down. The building in the photograph is called the Bridge House, since it stands where a bridge was built over one of the creeks that entered the river and made, with what is called St. Saviour’s Dock, Jacob’s Island. This was a densely populated quarter a hundred years ago, and its many canals and ditches had a Dutch air, according to the chroniclers”.

George Row today is a wide street that runs from Jamaica Road down to Bermondsey Wall. There are no buildings that look like the above photo and I was doubtful that I could find the location, however I turned to the 1895 Ordnance Survey map, and at the northern end of George Row, close to the junction with Bermondsey Wall, there is a building clearly labelled Bridge House. The map also shows the steps leading down from the building with what appear to be steps leading down from the building on the eastern side and sidesteps on the western side. This would confirm that the photo from Wonderful London was taken of the eastern face of the building.

Bermondsey Wall

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

It was easy now to find the location of Bridge House, the map overlay feature helped confirm exactly where to look. Bridge House was not directly on George Row. In the above map there is a space, which appears to be open space between the building and street, and this configuration remains today.

The following photo shows the location of Bridge House today, with a 4 storey block of flats – Providence Square – now standing in what appears to be almost the same footprint of Bridge House.

Bermondsey Wall

It would be interesting to know why the new building did not extend to George Row. Developers tend to maximise the amount they can build and make use of every available bit of space and the area between the building and George Row serves no apparent purpose.

I walked up to the edge of the building to take a photo from roughly the same position as the photo from Wonderful London.

Bermondsey Wall

The caption to the photograph in Wonderful London explains the source of the original name for the building: “The building in the photograph is called the Bridge House, since it stands where a bridge was built over one of the creeks that entered the river and made, with what is called St. Saviour’s Dock, Jacob’s Island”.

There are no signs of the creek today, however maps provide some indications.

In the 1895 Ordnance Survey map the word Neckinger can be seen running alongside George Row. This refers to the River Neckinger. I have read many different accounts of where the Neckinger entered the River Thames, most claim that St. Saviour’s Dock was the main estuary of the Neckinger into the Thames, however this was always low lying marsh land, and there have been many canals and ditches built in this area (I mentioned the 19th century walled drain in my post on Flockton Street, and the outline of this drain can still be seen running across the street).

The book “Bermondsey, Its Historic Memories And Associations” written by E.T. Clarke and published in 1902 provides a location for the creek and bridge. The book includes the following map of the area.

Bermondsey Wall

The so called Jacob’s Island is in the centre of the map, bounded by the Thames at the bottom of the map, St. Saviours Dock to the right, a canal running alongside London Street to the top, and on the left, a canal running along the full length of George Row.

Based on the locations of streets that can still be found today, I have circled in red the bridge that gave Bridge House its name.

This is pure speculation, but it may be that Bridge House is the rectangular building on the above map to the lower right of the red circle.

I do not know when this canal or extension of the Neckinger was filled in – it had disappeared by the time of the 1895 map, but it is interesting that the open space between George Row and the building that now occupies the location of Bridge House would have been where the canal ran.

Finding the location of Bridge House helps to understand how this area has developed over the centuries. Fountain Green Square provides a link to the dry dock that once occupied the site, and Bevington Street records the first mayor of Bermondsey and the leather industry of area.

Finding Bevington Street means I can tick off another of my father’s photos from 70 years ago. My thanks again to everyone who identified the correct location of the photo.

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Along The Thames From Chiswick To Hammersmith

If you drive west out of London, along the A4, Great West Road from the Hammersmith Flyover to Chiswick and the Hogarth Roundabout, you pass along a very busy highway with three lanes of traffic either side.

This probably is the last place you would expect to find one of the more historic walks along a very scenic part of the River Thames, with some of the views looking more like the depths of the countryside rather than a built up area of west London.

There are some superb walks along the River Thames, and for today’s post, here is a walk from Chiswick to Hammersmith on a very hot Saturday afternoon in June (it is also a lovely walk on a cold, dark winter’s evening). The walk is perfect for a hot day as there are plenty of suitable stopping places along the route for some quick refreshment.

In the following map extract, the A4 is the large road running from the Hammersmith Flyover at top right, down to the Hogarth Roundabout at bottom left.

Chiswick

(Map  “© OpenStreetMap contributors”).

A short distance below the A4 is the river and along the river is a series of streets starting with, on the left, Chiswick Mall.

I started by walking to the river down Church Street, between St. Nicholas’ Church and Fuller’s Griffin Brewery to reach Chiswick Mall.

Chiswick Mall runs along the river, with gardens separating the street from the river, and large houses lining the street opposite the river.

The views here to the river look as if they should be from the upper reaches of the river, rather than a short distance from the six lanes of the A4.

Chiswick

The river here does frequently flood across the road. This was not a particularly high tide, however the damp road shows how far the river had come across the road.

Chiswick

The majority of the houses on the opposite side of the street have flood defences in the form of walls and metal gates that can be closed across the entrances from the street to prevent water from flooding towards the house.

There are also signs warning of the potential impact if you leave your car along the Chiswick Mall.

Chiswick

This is Walpole House, a Grade II listed building dating from the 18th century, possibly with elements from the 17th century.

Chiswick

Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, a former mistress of King Charles II was one of the earliest recorded residents, with Thomas Walpole a later owner, who gave his name to the house.

Another view from Chiswick Mall towards the River Thames:

Chiswick

Italy or Chiswick?

Chiswick

At a number of places, the route between Chiswick and Hammersmith turns slightly in land and there are houses between the street and the river. This is where Chiswick Mall ends and becomes Hammersmith Terrace.

Chiswick

There are a number of references to the age of the terrace, dating them from 1755 to 1770. The houses along the terrace are nearly identical, however there are some minor differences, and some which stand out such as very different entrance doorways.

As could be expected there are blue plaques to be found. This one to the typographer and antiquary Emery Walker Chiswick

Emery Walker was a friend of William Morris and it was Walker’s interest in early typefaces that inspired Morris to set up the Kelmscott Press.

A short distance along the terrace is another blue plaque, this time for Edward Johnston, a Master Calligrapher.

Chiswick

Edward Johnston has had a significant impact on 20th century London. It was Johnston who created the sans-serif alphabet (now called Johnston) in 1916 for use across London Underground.

At the end of Hammersmith Terrace, the route returns to run alongside the River Thames, and at this turning is a good stopping point – The Black Lion:

Chiswick

The view at the end of Hammersmith Terrace. Hammersmith Bridge is just starting to appear in the distance:

Chiswick

The view looking back upstream towards Chiswick with Chiswick Eyot in the middle of the river:

Chiswick

The River Thames between Hammersmith and Chiswick is a wide river. In many places the river is bounded by large concrete walls that keep the river within the channel, however in some places, such as where the river floods in Chiswick Mall, the river comes up to the road, with a poorly defined boundary between river and land.

This was the state for the river until recent times, and early prints show a wide, meandering river with marshy edges. The following print from 1750 shows the River Thames from Chiswick:

Chiswick

In 1834, the banks of the river are starting to be developed, but the edge of the river is still a natural boundary between buildings and river:

Chiswick

However much of the river now has a very clear boundary, and time for another stop at the Old Ship:

Chiswick

A short distance along from the Old Ship is the London Corinthian Sailing Club, with a lookout and small pier for launching boats onto the Thames:

Chiswick

Chiswick

The forerunner of the club was the London Sailing Club, who later moved further downstream towards Essex, and those who remained in Hammersmith started the Corinthian’s. They were original housed in a building where Furnivall Gardens are now located, however the area suffered badly in the war, and the council cleared the land to create the gardens.

The council provided Linden House for the club where it remains to this day. The building is a magnificent, 18th century, former Merchants house.

Chiswick

On the corner of Upper Mall and Weltje Road is this house with a blue plaque on the side:

Chiswick

The plaque records that the artist Eric Ravilious lived in the house between 1931 and 1935.

Chiswick

He lived in a flat in the house with his wife Tirzah Garwood. His work had a very distinctive style and his later work covered many wartime scenes. He took the opportunity for a posting to Iceland with the RAF in August 1942 to paint both the Icelandic scenery and the work of the RAF.

On the 2nd September 1942 he was on an air-sea rescue mission flying from Iceland, in search of a plane that had been lost the previous day. The plane with Ravilious on board also disappeared, and he was lost at the young age of 39.

The following is an example of his wartime work. Bombing the Channel Ports. with the description from the IWM image: “a deserted coastal road that leads past an ‘acoustic mirror’ early warning device. In the top right of the composition there are searchlights beaming up into the sky, and a large circular glow of light to one side.”

Chiswick

Bombing the Channel Ports (Art.IWM ART LD 1588) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/22468

On the river wall opposite is this survivor from 1960 warning that you could be fined forty shillings for driving or parking along Upper Mall:

Chiswick

On the wall of Eric Ravilious house, there is another survivor from the time when Hammersmith Borough Council was the authority for the area up to 1965.

Chiswick

A Jasmine covered lamp post:

Chiswick

Carved decoration on houses:

Chiswick

On Upper Mall is the small museum of the William Morris Society:

Chiswick

The displays are worth a visit, and above the entrance is an interesting plaque recording a unique event that took place here in Hammersmith.

Chiswick

The plaque is to record the construction and testing of the first electric telegraph here in Hammersmith in 1816.

This was the work of Sir Francis Ronalds who lived here and used his garden for experimentation. He was awarded a knighthood in 1870 and the following Illustrated London News report provides a good insight into an interesting character:

“The Queen has lately conferred the honour of knighthood upon a gentleman in the eighty-second year of his age, who showed the use of the electric telegraph so long ago as 1816. Sir Francis Ronalds, F.R.S. formerly director of the Kew Observatory, has devoted his life to the advancement of electrical science and its practical applications. in 1814, having made the acquaintance of M. de Lue, then engaged in a series of interesting experiments, Mr. Ronalds was induced to turn his attention to this subject.

The researches he then began, with a view to ascertain the degrees of quantity and intensity in the electric pile, and his invention of a clock to be kept in motion by electro-galvanic power, were described in the Philosophical Magazine.

In the summer of 1816 he undertook to prove the practicability of telegraphic communication at great distances, by transmitting a certain number of electric shocks, for an arranged signal, through insulated wires of a considerable length. He laid his wire in glass tubes surrounded by wooden troughs lined with pitch, which were placed in a covered ditch, 525 feet long and 4 feet deep in his garden at Hammersmith. He also suspended eight miles of wire, by silk cords, from two wooden frames erected on the lawn, so that the wire passed to and from many hundred times, well insulated at each point of attachment, and forming one continuous line, kept separate from contact with other parts.

Both these kinds of apparatus served equally to show the instantaneous transmission of the electric shock. in order to provide the means of conveying intelligence along the underground line, he placed at each end of it a clock, with a dial bearing twenty letters inscribed. It is only needful to explain that the two clocks were made to go isochronously, the one always presenting the same letter as the other at any particular second of time; and the moment chosen was indicated at the other end by the sudden collapse of a pair of pith ball electrometers, suspended at each station close to the clock dial and connected with the telegraph wire.”

The following illustration shows the apparatus used by Francis Ronalds in his Hammersmith garden:

Chiswick

I wonder what he would have thought of the people walking by his house using mobile phones with instant communication anywhere in the world?

The route now turns slightly in land as there are a row of houses between the Mall and the river, and here we find the next stop:

Chiswick

The Dove is an old pub, originally an early 18th century coffee house, not that big, but with some brilliant views over the river and the perfect place for a stop on a hot summer’s afternoon.

A short distance further along, the route returns to the river’s edge, alongside Furnivall Gardens, named after Dr. Frederick Furnivall who was one of the original creators of the Oxford English Dictionary. The relevance to the location alongside the river is his enthusiasm for rowing and his own Furnivall Sculling Club.

Alongside Furnivall Gardens we can get a view of the full length of Hammersmith Bridge:

Chiswick

Unfortunately, as the tide comes in, the river washes up the rubbish that has probably been up and down the Thames many times with the tides.

Chiswick

My next stop was at the Rutland Arms, probably the busiest pub along the river between Chiswick and Hammersmith.

Chiswick

Almost next door to the Rutland Arms is an older pub (the white building with the awning projecting from the front), the Blue Anchor which was first licensed in 1722. Another good stop on a hot summer afternoon:

Chiswick

A final blue plaque for George Devine, the Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre, who lived in this house overlooking the river and Hammersmith Bridge.

Chiswick

I then reached the end of the walk from Chiswick to Hammersmith, at Hammersmith Bridge, which deserves a dedicated post, however I took a quick walk across as this is always a fascinating bridge to pick out design and construction details.

Chiswick

The year of construction, 1887, replacing a previous bridge across the river:

Chiswick

Detail of the decoration on the rods leading up from the deck of the bridge to the main suspension cable:

Chiswick

Lights, which all appeared to be on during a bright summer afternoon:

Chiswick

The view from the bridge to the north bank at Hammersmith:

Chiswick

Wooden seating between the walkway across the bridge and the road.

Chiswick

As traffic passes over the bridge it makes a very distinctive rumbling noise. The cause of which is easily seen, as it the reason why Hammersmith Bridge is London’s weakest bridge.

The deck of the bridge appears to consist of wooden decking, overlaid with metal plates, then a layer of tarmac, which in many places has disintegrated. The rumbling noise as traffic passes over the bridge is caused by tyres passing over the many exposed bolt heads, which presumably are holding the metal plates and wooden decking together.

Chiswick

Chiswick to Hammersmith along the river is a fascinating walk, not just for the architecture and scenery, but also to discover early experiments with the electric telegraphic and the creator of the typeface that is still used across the London Underground.

There are also plenty of refreshing stops along the way, which on a very hot June day were very welcome.

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

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

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The pavilion at the far end:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

It appears to be used as a store room:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

It reads:

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

The view along the terrace to the east:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

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

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

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

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Albert Bridge And The Extra Piers

After exploring Cheyne Row for last week’s post, I walked along the Chelsea Embankment towards Battersea Bridge, to photographic the same view as my father’s photo looking along the River Thames towards Albert Bridge, with Battersea Park and Power Station in the background.

Albert Bridge

The same view today:

Albert Bridge

In the last half of the 19th century, Chelsea was growing rapidly. The Chelsea Embankment was under construction, the first Chelsea Bridge (originally called the Victoria Bridge) had been completed in 1858 and the nearby Battersea Bridge was of a rather old and fragile wooden construction.

Congestion and the rapid development of the area justified an additional river crossing and in 1860 Prince Albert proposed that an additional bridge between the two existing bridges would be justified by the volume of traffic and the revenue that would be generated by tolls for crossing the bridge. The Chelsea Bridge when opened was a toll bridge and proposals for the Albert Bridge included a toll for crossing the river.

The Albert Bridge Company was formed to build and operate the bridge and construction started in 1870. The bridge was designed by Rowland Mason Ordish using his own patented design. Although construction of the Albert Bridge was approved in 1864, the six year delay to the start of construction (due to plans and work on the Chelsea Embankment), allowed Ordish to design and build another bridge using the same principles – the Franz Joseph Bridge which spanned the River Vltava in Prague.

The following photo of the Franz Joseph Bridge shows how similar the design was to the Albert Bridge, and also probably shows how the deck was suspended – a design that would lead to structural weaknesses in the Albert Bridge resulting in the need for additional strengthening over the years.

Albert Bridge

Source: By František Fridrich (21. 5. 1829 – 23. 3. 1892) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The Albert Bridge was opened in 1873. The bridge was 710 feet long with a central span between the two towers of 384 feet. The design included toll booths at both ends of the bridge to collect the tolls for crossing the river. The cylindrical piers were the largest ever cast and were manufactured at a nearby metal works on the Battersea side of the river, then floated down to the location of the bridge, sunk in the river and filled with concrete.

Soon after construction, there were concerns about the strength of the bridge as it would frequently vibrate, a problem which was amplified when large numbers of people walked across the bridge in step – an issue when troops from the nearby Chelsea Barracks crossed the bridge.

The vibration of the bridge was the result of the synchronisation of the steps of those crossing the bridge. The same problem was seen when the Millennium Footbridge opened across the river in June 2000. When upwards of 2,000 people were on the bridge it would start to vibrate. Research has shown that when a bridge starts to vibrate, people walking across the bridge start to synchronise their step with the movement of the bridge, which in turn amplifies the vibration and movement.

Interesting that even after 130 years, the same problems can apply to a structure.

In 1884 Sir Joseph Bazalgette inspected the bridge and found that the iron rods supporting the bridge were showing signs of corrosion and a program of work was implemented to strengthen the bridge which included the installation of steel chains to support the deck along with the replacement of the timber decking.

The steel chains changed the appearance of the bridge from the original design, which probably looked very similar to the Franz Joseph bridge, to the Albert Bridge that we see today.

When I took the comparison photo, I was trying to align features on the bridge with the chimneys of Battersea Power Station to make sure I was roughly in the same position. There were a number of distractions to this.

Firstly, if you look under the Albert Bridge there are a number of piers in the river further back. These are not the piers of Chelsea Bridge, rather they are the piers of one of the temporary bridges constructed over the river during the war to provide additional capacity should one of the main bridges be badly damaged by bombing. I wrote about this bridge in a previous post, and this is my father’s photo of the temporary bridge at Battersea:

Albert Bridge

But there was another difference looking underneath the bridge – when my father took the original photo the bridge was a suspension bridge, with the central span supported across the river by the chains running from the top of each tower. In my 2017 photo there is a large pier supporting the centre of the bridge.

The central pier was the result of ongoing concerns about the strength of the Albert Bridge. After Bazalgette’s inspection in 1884, as well as the additional strengthening work, he imposed a weight limit of five tons for vehicles crossing the bridge.

There was a proposal to demolish the bridge in 1926 and replace with a new, stronger bridge, however lack of funding meant that this did not progress beyond the proposal stage. A second attempt to demolish the bridge was made by the London County Council in 1957, however a campaign led by John Betjeman saved the bridge again.

The weight limit for vehicles crossing the bridge had been further reduced to two tons in 1935, so clearly something had to be done to strengthen and preserve the bridge.

As well as replacing the decking and strengthening the bridge structure, the answer to significantly strengthen the bridge was to convert the bridge to a more traditional beam bridge by the addition of a central pier. The bridge closed in 1973 for this work to be carried out which resulted in the bridge we see today.

The two new central piers are of the same design as the original piers, however they support a metal girder that runs under, and supports the centre of the bridge:

Albert Bridge

In echoes of the Garden Bridge, there was also a proposal in 1973 to close the Albert Bridge to traffic and change the bridge into a public park and pedestrian walkway. John Betjeman also supported this proposal, along with many of the local inhabitants who probably saw the closure of the bridge to traffic as a way of reducing the ever increasing volumes of traffic along the Chelsea Embankment. Motoring groups opposed the idea and such was the need for river crossings capable of supporting vehicular traffic that the proposal was rejected and the bridge reopened to pedestrians and traffic after the strengthening work and the addition of the new central piers.

Despite this work, the weight limit has remained at two tons and to try and prevent vehicles over this weight from crossing the bridge a traffic island was introduced at the southern end of the bridge to narrow the entrance, thereby limiting the size of vehicles trying to cross.

The last strengthening work to be carried out was in 2010, and the Albert Bridge will continue to require periodic work to maintain the decking and the supporting ironwork well into the future.

The toll booths at the entrance to the bridge:

Albert Bridge

The toll booths still retain the signs warning troops to break step when marching across the bridge:

Albert Bridge

View across the bridge from the north side on a sunny autumn day:

Albert Bridge

The plaque on the bridge states the bridge was opened in 1874, however the bridge had a phased opening.

Albert Bridge

The “Shipping and Mercantile Gazette” on the 1st January 1873 reported on the initial opening of the Albert Bridge:

“THE ALBERT BRIDGE AT CHELSEA – At 1 o’clock yesterday, amid the firing of cannon and waving of flags, the Albert Bridge at Chelsea was opened to the public. There was an absence of all ceremony, as the bridge is as yet in an unfinished condition. The opening simply consisted in the admission of the public over the bridge, the engineer, contractor and other gentlemen going over in a carriage. By this event, however, the conditions of the Act of Parliament have been complied with, which required that the bridge should be opened before the close of the year. The work of completion is being rapidly proceeded with, and in a short time the formal ceremony of opening the bridge may be expected to be performed.”

There does not appear to have been a formal opening ceremony, and there are reports in the newspapers of the time of the bridge opening to traffic in September 1873.

The view looking to the east from the centre of the bridge:

Albert Bridge

And the view looking to the west:

Albert Bridge

The bridges in the above photos, Chelsea and Battersea Bridges were, as with the Albert Bridge, all originally toll bridges, however soon after the Albert Bridge had opened, it was made toll free along with many other bridges across the river. The East London Observer reported in the 31st May 1879:

“FREEING THE BRIDGES OVER THE THAMES – a great work has just been accomplished in which the East End has co-operated with the West, although its first importance is for the latter. It was but the other day that Waterloo Bridge was thrown open free of toll, and the boon granted is conspicuous by the fact that in seven months the traffic has increased 90 per cent. But last Saturday five bridges were made free of toll for ever, these being the Lambeth, Vauxhall, Chelsea, the Albert and Battersea Bridges.

Within the Metropolis there are thirteen bridges spanning the River Thames and connecting the Middlesex and Surrey shores. With a view of obtaining for the public the full advantage of these bridges as a means of free communication between the various points of the Metropolis, the Board of Works in 1877, promoted a bill in Parliament, to enable them to purchase the interests of the several companies in all the toll bridges crossing the Thames within the metropolis, including the two foot-bridges at Charing Cross and Cannon Street railway stations, and also one bridge crossing the Ravensbourne at Deptford. the bill was successfully carried through both Houses of Parliament, and passed into law in July 1877.”

The Albert and Battersea Bridges were owned by the same company and the sum of £170,000 was paid by the Metropolitan Board of Works to the company for the purchase of the bridges.

From then on, crossing the river was toll free, which must have been one of the drivers to opening up business and trade on both sides of the River Thames, as the article also states that “A free communication across the Thames is an incalculable boon to all classes of inhabitants on both sides of the river”.

Following the opening of the bridges described above, the only bridges across the Thames that still had tolls were bridges at Wandsworth, Putney and Hammersmith.

The view from the centre of the bridge – the style of decoration is the same throughout the bridge, with the round patterns repeated across both sides of the bridge span, and along the edge of the steps that lead up from the river walkway on the north bank of the river.

Albert Bridge

View from the traffic island on the southern end of the bridge looking back over towards the north:

Albert Bridge

It is perhaps a wonder that the Albert Bridge has survived so long. A bridge that once had a twin crossing a river in Prague.

A bridge that if the Chelsea Bridge had retained its original name would be one half of the Victoria and Albert Bridges.

And a bridge that may have been the original “garden bridge”.

The Albert Bridge is a unique bridge. The addition of the central pier has changed the design of the bridge to a more traditional beam bridge, however on a sunny autumn day it still appeared as London’s most beautiful bridge across the Thames.

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