Category Archives: The Thames

Old Barge House Stairs

For today’s post, I am returning to one of my favourite subjects, the old stairs that lined the river and provided such an important connection between the Thames and the streets of London on both the north and south banks of the river. The stairs for today’s post are Old Barge House Stairs:

Old Barge House Stairs

In the above photo, there are some modern steps descending from the river wall, just to the left of the large OXO sign. The remains of a wood and stone causeway can be seen to the left of the base of the steps towards the river.

The causeway is all that is left of Old Barge House Stairs. The following view shows the stairs from the opposite direction to the above photo:

Old Barge House Stairs

The stairs are located on the north western corner of the Oxo building on the south bank of the river, a short distance to the west of Blackfriars Bridge. I have ringed their location in the following map. The two piers on either side are the piers from where I took the above photos (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Old Barge House Stairs

The name Old Barge House Stairs comes from their proximity to the King’s Barge House, along with accommodation for the Royal Barge Master. It was here in the time of Henry VIII that the King’s Barge was stored.

The stairs appeared on maps as early as 1720, as shown in this extract from “A Plan of the City’s of London, Westminster and Borough of Southwark”, where Old Barge House Stairs are shown in the centre of the map:

Thames Watermen at river stairs

I do like the way that the map shows the boats that were probably used by the watermen associated with the stairs, clustered around the stairs.

If you visit Old Barge House Stairs when the tide is high, you will find just the top of a modern set of metal stairs that run down from the walkway in front of the north western corner of the Oxo building. Visit at low tide, and the causeway that would have once led from the original stairs is visible:

Old Barge House Stairs

I doubt that the causeway we see today dates back to the time of the above 1720 map. These stairs and their causeways were remade several times over the centuries due to continual erosion by the river, as well their changing importance relative to other river stairs.

Old Barge House Stairs

What I find so fascinating about these river stairs is that they provide a fixed point between two very different worlds – the land and the river. They are where people moved between the two, and they provided a fixed point of reference to understand what was happening in these two very different worlds.

On the land around the stairs, they would be used as a reference to events happening near-by. This would help people find a location, or the best way to travel. For example, the following advert from the Morning Chronicle on the 5th September 1806 is the equivalent of today using an underground station as a point of reference:

“Oak Scantlings, Mahogany Plank and Boards, and Two Thousand Deals &c. By Mr Farebrother at Mr Gresham’s Wharf (late Gales) near the Old Barge-house-stairs, Narrow Wall, Lambeth, on Monday next at 12.”

Newspapers mainly report bad news, and the River Thames has been the scene of so many tragic events over the centuries. A quick scan of old newspapers reveals an almost daily report of accidents and deaths on the river. It was a very dangerous place, as well as the scene of tragedies such as that reported in the Morning Chronicle on the 8th April 1831:

“On Tuesday evening, about five o’clock, a middle aged French lady, elegantly attired, hired a waterman, named Oxley, belonging to Waterloo-bridge stairs, to row her to the Old Barge House stairs. On the man being about to land her, she desired to return back and proceed to Westminster-bridge. He instantly pulled round, but previous to his arriving near the bridge, he asked the lady which stairs she would like to be landed at? To which she replied the lower one. When nearing them the lady placed her muff and purse in the boat and taking a portrait out of her bosom, and her bonnet off, she precipitated herself into the river before the waterman could prevent her. By great exertion, however, he succeeded in catching hold of her after she floated through the second arch, and by prompt assistance, she was rescued from the death she meditated. She was conveyed into the Swan tap, where every attention was paid her, but she would neither give any explanation of her rash conduct, nor her name or place of residence. her friends, however, by some means, became acquainted with the circumstance and they sent a coach for her, the coachman being desired to drive to Thornhaugh-street.”

And this very sad report from the Kentish Mercury on the 16th February 1847:

“On Wednesday an inquest was held by Mr. W. Carter at the Mitre, Broadwall, Blackfriars-road, relative to the death of a newly-born male child, found under very remarkable circumstances. Mark Marten, a lighterman, deposed that he was proceeding down the river on Friday morning last, and whilst passing Raymond’s-roads on the upper side of Blackfriars-bridge, he saw a market basket floating down with the tide.

He pulled it into his boat, and rowed ashore at Old Barge House Stairs, where he opened it, and found the body of a child wrapt in a piece of flannel, and covered with meadow hay. On the top of the basket was a label, to the following effect ‘to be opened with care, from an old friend’. Witness gave the body to the police, and inadvertently destroyed the label, which in a moment of excitement, threw into a fire. Mr. E. Doubleday, surgeon, said that he had examined the body, which was that of a male child, fully developed. There was sufficient evidence of the child having breathed, but he was unable to say to what extent. The deceased from the appearance of the body, had clearly received the necessary attention at his birth.

The coroner remarked that the fact of the paper being destroyed by the first witness was an unfortunate occurrence as all chance of tracing the guilty party was lost. He left the case in the hands of the jury, who returned an open verdict of Found Dead in the River Thames.”

The above two reports cover some of the more unusual events where the stairs were involved. There were also very many more tragedies at the river in the vicinity of each of the stairs, for example in August 1880 at old Barge House Stairs, 16 year old John Thomas Glue, who drowned after simply going for a swim during his dinner hour. Ten or eleven yards from the bank, he suddenly had cramp, was swept by the tide under a barge near the steps where he drowned.

What would not have been reported in the newspapers are the thousands of people who have used these stairs, using the services of the watermen who gathered around the stairs like taxis in a taxi rank, waiting to take their fare to their destination of choice.

Old Barge House Stairs

Today, Old Barge House Stairs are found between the Oxo building and Bernie Spain Gardens. The gardens are one of the few places of grassed, open space in the immediate area as this is a very built up area.

The old ITV Studios buildings, IBM Offices and the National Theatre are found to the west. Housing, offices and streets inland. In terms of London’s development, building around Old Barge House Stairs has been relatively recent, with the majority taking place during the 19th century.

For centuries the land around Old Barge House Stairs was part of Lambeth Marsh, an area of land roughly between Lambeth and Blackfriars Bridges and inland to St George’s Circus.

In the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map of London, Old Barge House Stairs is marked in the centre of the map:

Narrow Wall and Broad Wall

The map shows that by 1746, the land along the river had been built on, however inland it was mainly fields and agriculture. The Tenter Ground was an area used for the drying of newly manufactured cloth. Frames were set up across the field and the cloth was stretched across the frame to dry. If you look on the left side of the map, there is a building marked Dye House, so it is possible that cloth dyed in this building would be dried on the Tenter Ground.

The street running from the left is called Narrow Wall. This street ran from the current location of Westminster Bridge, running along the length of the south bank. The first written mentions of Narrow Wall date back to 1443, and it seems to have been a raised causeway or walkway with the sandy foreshore to the north. The name describes its original appearance as a Narrow Wall which would have helped prevent high tides coming too far inland.

Today, Narrow Wall is better known as Belevdere Road and Upper Ground. This later street name can be seen continuing to the right of the map, with the name again describing the physical characteristics of the street, when so much of the surrounding land was low lying, marshy, and would have been regularly threatened with flooding.

A long street called Broad Wall runs south from Old Barge House Stairs for the length of the map.

The name Broad Wall again defines how this street originally formed. It was also along the line of the western boundary of an area of land known as Paris Garden. The boundary was formed by one of the branches of the River Neckinger, which also seems to have gone by the name of Widefleet.

There was a syndicated article about Paris Garden in a number of newspapers in March 1890, which mention the boundary, and how the stream eventually became a sewer which entered the Thames at Old Barge House Stairs:

“Paris Garden, known as the King’s manor as appertaining to its lord and copyholders, formerly lay in St. Saviour’s Parish, and was famed for its mill, water-courses, pastures and wild plants. In 1670 nearly all of it was taken for the new parish of Christchurch, as constituted under the will of John Marshall, who had died 40 years before. Comprising the ancient hide of Wideflete, and covering nearly 100 acres, it had been given in 1113 by one Robert Marmion to the Cluniac Monastery of Bermondsey, whence, almost fifty years later, it passed to the Knights Templar, who set up a chapelry there, and from them to the Knights Hospitaler of St. John.

In the early years of the fifteenth century it became a sanctuary for offenders. Ultimately passing to Henry VIII, it was granted as dowry for Jane Seymour. Lord Hundens and others, who got the manor from Queen Elizabeth, conveyed the land and manor house to Thomas Cure, a benefactor to the parish. The manor house has been identified with the Holland’s Leaguer, or Nob’s Island, one of the many houses of ill-fame that formerly flourished on Bankside. The moated and castellated ‘Leaguer’ which was kept by one Susan Holland, in 1630, stood south-westwards of the present Falcon drawing dock. Latterly known as Beggars Hall, it was pulled down in making the southern approach to Blackfriars Bridge; yet some authorities question the survival of the original building to that time. The Widefleet was converted into a sewer, having its outlet by Barge House-stairs.”

The outline of streams can be seen in the 1746 map, however these can be more clearly seen in the Agas map which shows London in the mid 16th century. The map does not show Old Barge House Stairs, however the land of Paris Garden is shown as the built and cultivated area in the centre of the map, with Paris Garden stairs to the right of the line of buildings along the river. In the following extract of the Agas map, I have marked the location of Old Barge House Stairs (red circle):

Paris Garden

The map does illustrate the number of streams in this part of the south bank, and running south from the future location of the stairs is a street (Broad Wall), with a stream running along the west side of the street, one of the branches of the Neckinger, or the Widefleet, which drained into the Thames at the location of the stairs.

The Neckinger / Widefleet is not visible today and does not drain into the river next to the stairs. Presumably any running water from the stream is now part of the sewer system.

The river walls here are high, protecting the low lying land from the waters of the Thames:

Old Barge House Stairs

The causeway will gradually erode over the years as the daily tides cover and roll back from the structure. It would be interesting to know if the causeway extends further towards the river wall, under the sand of the foreshore.

Old Barge House Stairs

Thames stairs are so much more than the physical remains we see today. They are a reference point between the land and river, which help tell a story of the area, and the many thousands of people who have in some way come into contact with them.

The problem with researching these posts, is finding a reference to the subject of a post which raises a whole set of new questions, which I frequently do not have time to follow up. One example concerns a potential bridge across the River Thames which would have landed at Old Barge House Stairs.

In 1862 the London Gazette reported on the incorporation of a new compnay, for the making of new bridges over the River Thames. Application was being made by the new company for a new Act that the company was intending to bring before Parliament. The Act proposed a range of new bridges, including:

  • A bridge, to be called the Tower Bridge, for horses, animals, trucks and passengers across the River Thames. Works to commence at Irongate Stairs near the Tower of London, and to terminate at Horseleydown Old Stairs.
  • A bridge, to be called St Paul’s Bridge, for horses, animals, trucks and passengers across the River Thames, commencing from the foot of St Paul’s Steam-boat Pier and terminating at Mason’s Stairs, Bankside.
  • A bridge, to be called the Temple Bridge, for horses, animals, trucks and passengers across the River Thames, commencing on the north side at a point distant 100 yards or thereabouts in a south-easterly direction from the commencement of the Temple Steam-boat Pier near Essex Street, and terminating at certain Stairs called Old Barge-house Stairs at the end of Old Barge-house Alley

As well as the above, the Act also proposed the New Chelsea and Battersea Bridge and the Wandsworth Bridge.

Tower Bridge would be built, however construction was not started for a further 24 years after the above Act.

St Paul’s Bridge continued to be a proposed solution in the early decades of the 20th century, but was never built.

As well as the 1862 Act, a Temple Bridge was proposed in the 1943, Abercrombie County of London Plan, published by the London County Council, but would also not be built.

Today, there is a short stretch of Barge House Street from Upper Ground to behind the Oxo building, and there is a stretch of Broadwall from Upper Ground to Stamford Street, so some of these old street names, and reminders of the history of the area can still be found when walking today.

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Swanscombe Peninsula and the London Resort – Part 2

This post continues my walk exploring the Swanscombe Peninsula. The previous post covered the section marked in red in the following map, and this post covers the route in blue, alongside Botany Marsh.

Botany Marsh

The eastern and southern sides of the Swanscombe Peninsula are more industrialised than the western side, and the noise from these sites is starting to be heard above the breeze blowing through the thick fields of grasses and reeds.

The footpath follows the eastern edge of an area known as Botany Marsh, and the wet nature of the land is very obvious, despite September having slightly less rainfall than the average for the month.

Botany Marsh

Electricity pole in the marsh:

Botany Marsh

In the following photo we can see all the infrastructure needed to carry high voltage electricity across the River Thames. On the left is the pylon on the north bank of the Thames in Thurrock, with slightly to the right, the pylon on the peninsula. These two pylons carry the cables across the Thames. In the middle is the tower catching the descending cables and from this tower cables run off across north Kent.

Botany Marsh

View to the south west across Botany Marsh. More water and the chalk cliffs which are the boundary to the south western edge of the peninsula.

Botany Marsh

The Swanscombe Peninsula has long been the site for large industrial companies that needed access to the river for transport of raw materials, and space for large processing plants. One of these companies in operation today is the Cemex Northfleet Wharf and Concrete Plant:

Cemex

The concrete plant has a wharf on the eastern edge of the peninsula where the raw materials for the manufacturer of concrete, aggregates, asphalt and mortar are landed.

Looking in the opposite direction and the peninsula is still wild and wet. Fortunately I did not need to take this footpath.

Botany Marsh

The western side of the peninsula is more open, however walking along the eastern edge of Botany Marsh, and there are some lovely stretches of footpath, with banks and tall bushes on either side. It feels like walking in the depths of the countryside rather than a site with industry, a Greenhithe housing estate and the Thames all a short distance away.

Botany Marsh

However evidence of industry along the edge is not far away, and the noise of lorries running to and from the plant now compete with the breeze through the grasses.

Cemex

This adds to the wonderful contradictions of the peninsula. look one way to see industry, look the other to see the most wonderful landscapes, with Botany Marsh really living up to its name:

Botany Marsh

The road that provides access to the industrial areas also provides access to the peninsula, with some limited parking for cars. At one of these entrances is an information panel which tells how the peninsula is managed, and the wildlife that can be seen on Botany Marsh:

Botany Marsh

Botany Marsh is subject to land management to maintain the biodiversity of the place. Without management, the land would revert to scrub and woodland. Ditches were cleared and the footpath I have been walking along during this part of the walk was created.

The information panel also explains where much of the water comes from. A system to collect water from 20,000 square metres was installed which increased the water flow into the marshes by up to 10,000 cubic metres a year. The water is run through an oil interceptor to ensure the marsh is not polluted

The rear of the panel provides information on the species of animals that can be found across the marsh, many of which have seen a severe decline in numbers over the last couple of decades. Three of the six reptiles native to Britain are found on Botany Marsh (grass snake, slow worm and vivaparous lizard).

Botany Marsh

Campaigning to save the peninsula from development has included the need to designate the area as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The uniqueness of the place, diversity of animal species, the rarity of such a variety of habitats all support an SSSI designation.

In March 2021, an existing SSSI to the south (Bakers Hole – a back filled quarry that was the site of many finds of Stone Age occupation), was extended to include most of the Swanscombe Peninsula.

Consultation on the recommendation to extend the SSSI took place between March and July and a recommendation to the Board of Natural England will be made based on the results. The Board then have until the 10th of December 2021 to either confirm or withdraw the recommendation.

The London Resort are looking at ways that this recommendation can be withdrawn or accommodated within their plans, so the outcome for both the London Resort and the Swanscombe Peninsula is not yet clear.

Map and details of the proposed SSSI are on display at all the main entrances to the peninsula:

As well as the Cemex site, another industrial company on the eastern side of the peninsula is Britannia Refined Metals, a company owned by the multinational Glencore. The company specialises in lead, zinc and tin production.

Britannia Lead

Given the current shortage of HGV drivers, and the poor facilities provided for them, the above photo provides an example. To the right of the photo was a long layby off the road for lorry parking. The blue box behind the site safety sign appeared to be their only toilet facilities.

Britannia Refined Metals was originally formed around 1930 as the Britannia Lead Co. Ltd, and their original brick building is still onsite with the name above what was probably the original main entrance to the site.

Britannia Lead

After having a looking at the industrial side of the peninsula, I walked back to Botany Marsh to continue south along the footpath.

Botany Marsh

Old building on the northern edge of the southern industrial area gradually being overgrown:

Botany Marsh

Although there are some large industrial sites along the eastern side of the peninsula, they are not that visible, apart from the very tall chimney of the Cemex works. More reeds, grasses and water of Botany Marsh.

Botany Marsh

The path I was following south, then turned towards the west, to loop back inland. I suspect it ended up at the flooded footpath shown earlier in the post, so after a lengthy detour, I turned back to access the road at the site of the Britannia factory.

Following this road south took me through an industrial estate, very similar to those that have traditionally lined the River Thames, but I did not expect to find a number of London buses:

Routemaster

This is the site of London Bus and Truck Ltd – “For All Your Bus, Coach & Commercial Vehicle Requirements” and specialists in Routemaster buses which explains the small fleet of buses in their parking area:

Routemaster

A bit of protection for pedestrians from the many HGV’s passing along the road:

Swanscombe peninsula

At the end of the road running through the industrial estate, it meets the A226, or Galley Hill Road, and I followed this busy road to head for Swanscombe station. The road runs across the bridge seen in the distance in some of the photos in today’s posts. The height of the road provides a good view across the Swanscombe Peninsula, and also shows where HS1 enters the tunnel under the peninsula to cross underneath the River Thames:

HS1

HS1 is the high speed railway running for 108km between Paris and St Pancras Station. Regular services started on the route on the 14th November 2007. The entrance on the Swanscombe Peninsula is the start of a one and a half mile tunnel under the Thames.

There are industrial sites lining the southern end of the peninsula, on either side of HS1. These industrial sites are also included in the land required by the London Resort. As development has extended east along the Thames from central London, many of these industrial estates have been closed and built over with housing. They are though a much needed part of economic infrastructure.

HS1

The view from the bridge shows what appears to be grass and bushes over the northern part of the peninsula. It is not really possible to appreciate the natural diversity of the place from this viewpoint and a walk through the site is needed.

The London Resort describe one of the benefits of their proposals as the regeneration of what is largely a brownfield site. This is true, the peninsula has been the location of both industry, the infrastructure needed to support these industries and connect them to the river, along with the dumping of waste from these industries. However just describing Swanscombe Peninsula as a brownfield site does not fully appreciate the site today. A site which has been considerably reclaimed by nature, is home to many endangered species and also retains that sense of isolation that was so prevalent across much of the land along the river to the east of London.

I also like the industrial sites that are found on the east side of the peninsula. They are there because of the river, the river that has transported so many raw materials and finished products across the centuries.

The road bridge taking Galley Hill Road over HS1. This was the exception when there was no traffic. During my walk along the road there was an almost continuous line of cars and lorries.

HS1

The River Thames is always in the background around the peninsula, with shipping moored at, and travelling past Tilbury visible:

River Thames

From the bridge we can view the chalk cliffs that line part of the south western edge of the peninsula:

Swanscombe Skull

There are a number of chalk pits on the peninsula, and the wider Swanscombe area is one of Europe’s most important Paleolithic sites (500,000 BC to 125,000 BC). Finds in the area include hand axes, and what became known as the Swanscombe Skull, which was excavated in Barnfield Pit, a short distance south of the peninsula (part of the extended SSSI). The area also includes evidence from some of the temperate periods between periods of glaciation, or ice ages.

The skull was discovered in 1935 by Alvan T. Marston, one of the many archaeologists who had been working in Swanscombe. He described the discovery as follows:

“For nearly half a century, archaeologists have known the high terrace gravels at Swanscombe, Kent, and in that time have found hundreds of thousands of the early Stone Age hand axes belonging to the Chelles-Acheulean stage, but the constant hope that skeletal remains of the makers of those implements might be found did not become fact until June 1935, when I discovered a human occipital bone 24ft below the surface in the middle gravels of the Barnfield Pit. Nine months later a second bone of the same skull was found, the left parietal, in the same seam of gravel and at the same depth below the surface. The two bones were 8 yards apart, many tons of sand and gravel having to be excavated and examined to bring the second bone to light, and this work is still going on.

Swanscombe is not homo sapiens. It is, as its geological horizon shows, a pre-Neanderthal hominid.”

The Swanscombe Skull © Natural History Museum:

Swanscombe Skull

And with that diversion, I reached Swanscombe station, ready for the train back to Waterloo East:

Swanscombe Station

This is the first time I have been to Swanscombe Peninsula. No doubt the weather helped with first impressions, however it was a fascinating walk through such an interesting area.

This is a place that is incredibly unique. Fresh water marsh to the south and salt water marsh to the north has created different environments, with a wide variety of animal species populating the peninsula.

The peninsula is also very quite, I walked through on a Friday, so it is possibly busier at the weekend, however I saw five people at most, only one close up – a jogger on the eastern side of the peninsula.

Jobs are really important and are needed in north Kent, and it is always a difficult argument, however the planned resort / theme park does seem to be in the wrong place.

It does not occupy the whole of the peninsula, however it would have a dramatic impact on the remaining land. Construction work, drainage, impact on the water table, noise and light would all have an impact on the surrounding environment and animals. Many of these animals are threatened, with, for example, Swanscombe Peninsula being one of only two known places where the jumping spider Attulus distinguendus can be found.

The development would also disrupt the movement of animals between the peninsula and the wider environment.

The board of Natural England have until the 10th of December 2021 to make a decision on the SSSI extension to the peninsula. It will be interesting to see their decision and the impact this may have on plans for the London Resort and the future of Swanscombe Peninsula.

If you get a chance to visit, a walk through Swanscombe Peninsula is a really good day out.

More information on the London Resort (which includes their planning application), the Swanscombe Marshes, and those campaigning against the development can be found at the following links:

The London Resort site is here.

The Save Swanscombe Marshes site is here

And their map with their recommended walking route is here

The Kent Wildlife Trust page on the London Resort development is here.

The Bug Life page on the Swanscombe Marshes is here.

The RSPB page on the marshes is here.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs page with the SSSI documentation is here.

The Natural England page on Swanscombe is here.

A PDF of Natural England’s supporting documentation for the SSSI, including maps, can be found here.

alondoninheritance.com

Swanscombe Peninsula and the London Resort – Part 1

Before heading to the Swanscombe Peninsula, if you would like to explore the Southbank or the Barbican, there are still a few tickets left for my final walks for the year. I have also added a limited number of tickets as many walks have already sold out. Click here for details.

If you have been reading the blog for a while, you will probably be aware of my interest in the River Thames. Not just the part through the city, but the whole of the river, out to the estuary. The Thames is the reason why London is located where it is, and has been the route for the trade that made the city so successful.

Just over a week ago, on probably the last, hot and sunny day of a late summer, I went to the Swanscombe Peninsula. A place that is currently threatened with some significant development.

The Swanscombe Peninsula is a large area of land, pushing out into the river, well to the east of the city. According to the Kent Past website, the name comes from the Old English “camp” meaning a “field, an enclosed piece of land”, along with the Danish name of Swaine, so Swanscombe could have originated as describing “Swaine’s enclosure’’.

The area of the peninsula is 205 Hectares, or 506 Acres. In the following map, I have circled Swanscombe Peninsula in red (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors)..

Swanscombe Peninsula

The western part of the peninsula has long been seen as a development opportunity, and in the Strategic Planning Guidance for the River Thames (1997), the area was identified as a “riverside opportunity for an urban village”. Current plans are for a very different use as a considerable part of the Swanscombe Peninsula is currently planned to be developed as the London Resort, described on the project’s website as a “world-class, sustainable, next generation entertainment resort known as the ‘London Resort’, on the banks of the River Thames”.

The London Resort will also be the “first European development of its kind to be built from scratch since the opening of Disneyland Paris in 1992”.

Development of the London Resort will bring considerable investment into the area and many, much needed jobs.

The London Resort has been planned for many years, in 2008 it was designated as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, however there have been a number of delays, and major supporters of the project have withdrawn and also rejoined over the years.

Plans for development now seem to be making progress, and the London Resort’s website claims a start date of 2022, with the first part of the resort opening in 2024, and the site being complete by 2029.

If I have understood the planning documents correctly, the core of the London Resort is shown outlined in red in the following map:

Swanscombe Peninsula

The red rectangle covers pier developments as numbers of people travelling to the resort are expected to come via the river, and land on the opposite side of the river in Tilbury is being being included in this scheme.

Whilst the map shows the core of the resort, there will be considerable additional surrounding development, bath in support of the resort, and as the large number of visitors and supporting businesses draw in additional development.

The Swanscombe Peninsula is not a pristine, natural environment. It has long been surrounded by the type of dirty industrial complexes that were to be found to the east of London. Paper Milling, Cement Production and Lead Refining were some of the industries that could be found here, and their impact extended over the peninsula, for example rail tracks extending to river piers.

The site has also been used for waste disposal, gas works, a sewage works, and in recent decades provides the infrastructure for a high-voltage electricity crossing of the river, and where the HS1 railway linking St Pancras with the Channel Tunnel dives under the Thames.

The following extract from a mid 1950s Ordnance Survey map shows the peninsula, with industry covering the southern boundary. Note also the split between the Broadness Salt Marsh and Swanscombe Marshes where a drain was constructed to recover the southern parts of the peninsula (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’.

Swanscombe Peninsula

To visit the site, I took the train from Waterloo East to Greenhithe. I planned to follow the recommended route on the Save Swanscombe Marshes website, which can be found here.

Starting at Greenhithe Station, an almost circular walk would take me to Swanscombe Station to catch the train back to Waterloo East. I ended up walking almost six miles, by taking some detours and also on the eastern side of the peninsula, I carried on along a footpath rather than turn onto the road, the footpath almost took me back around the peninsula.

There is so much to be found in the area. I got distracted in Greenhithe, found where the Cutty Sark was moored, saw some wonderful electrical infrastructure, and was just stunned by the beauty of the place, and whilst much could be described as a brownfield site, it shows how nature can recover and reestablish.

I have split today’s post about the Swanscombe Peninsula into two separate posts. One at the usual time this morning, and a second post later this evening. I will also include a number of links for further information at the end of the second post.

So, for the first post, I am starting at Greenhithe Station (blue circle to left) and covering the route marked by the blue line.

Swanscombe Peninsula

To reach the western end of the peninsula, I walked through Greenhithe to get close to the river. Greenhithe is a historic, small town, where the streets alongside the river reflect the towns early relationship with the river.

The name has similarities to Queenhithe in the City, with “hithe” meaning a wharf or landing place. It seems that Green just refers to the town as being a green landing place.

There were wharves, ships were built and maintained, goods and people transferred between ships and land.

In Greenhithe High Street is the Sir John Franklin pub, named after the commander of the expedition that sailed from Greenhithe on the 19th of May 1845, in the Erebus and Terror, to try and find a north west passage across the top of Canada, between the Atlantic and Pacific. Greenhithe was the last place that the crew would set foot in England. After a final sighting on the 26th July 1845, the two ships and their crew, including Sir John Franklin, were not seen again.

Sir John Franklin

A newspaper report on the 20th May 1845 describes their departure along the Thames;

“The Erebus, Captain Sir John Franklin, and the Terror, Captain Crozier, left Woolwich on Monday, towed by the African and Myrtle steamers, for Greenhithe. The Terror having previously tried her screw-propeller, on this occasion resolved on trying it again, and made such excellent progress, that she cast off her towing steamer and proceeded down the river without any additional assistance whatever. The crews of the Erebus and Terror were paid in advance today and tomorrow (Saturday) sail for their destination, accompanied by the Monkey and Rattler steam-vessels, ordered to tow them to the Orkney islands. The Baretto Junior transport with live stores and various descriptions of preserved meats and other articles, most liberally supplied for the use of the officers and men of the discovery vessels, will be sent at the same time, and accompany them to the borders of the ice. The compasses of the vessels have been adjusted by Captain Johnson, and the most perfect arrangements made for the peculiar service in which the vessels of the Artic expedition are to be engaged.”

I have written more about the expedition, and the search for the crew in a post on the The Bellot Memorial at Greenwich.

At the back of the Sir John Franklin pub is one of the old wharfs, now a rectangular inlet, with new housing on one side and an old, decaying boat below.

Greenhithe

As well as the name of the pub, Greenhithe High Street retains other links with the previous life of the town (assuming the sign is genuine, and not a modern creation).

Greenhithe

There are some wonderful old houses in the High Street, and it is a lovely place to walk on a sunny, September day, however in the 18th century, this would not be a very safe place to be when the press gangs were roaming as this report from a number of newspapers on the 24th May 1740 indicates: “On Tuesday there was a smart Pres on the River below Bridge, that from the little Town of Greenhithe they have taken no less than 17 Men for the King’s Service”.

Greenhithe

Before the High Street takes a sharp right to turn in-land, there is another pub, this is the Pier Hotel:

Greenhithe

In the first half of the 19th century there was an attempt to turn Greenhithe into a tourist destination, perhaps trying to attract the boats passing on the river that were starting to take Londoners out of the city for a day trip to Southend or Margate.

This included the construction of a short pier, shown in the following drawing by Henry Cole, dated 1836:

Greenhithe Pier

To get back to the river, and continue on to the peninsula, I walked past the Pier Hotel, and took a quick look down to the river, where there is a rather hidden red telephone box, before taking a cut through to the river walk.

Greenhithe

From where there is a superb view of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, part of the M25 Dartford crossing:

Queen Elizabeth II bridge

And looking in the opposite direction, I could see my destination, the peninsula curving out into the river, with the electricity pylon a clear landmark of where I was heading.

Swanscombe Peninsula

This stretch of the river has a walkway with superb views across the river. In the following photo I am looking back towards Greenhithe. This stretch of the river has had a considerable amount of building over the last few decades, with a large housing estate on the left, facing onto the river:

Thames Walkway

View in the opposite direction, towards my destination:

Thames Walkway

Part of the land on which the housing in the above two photos was built, originally formed part of the Ingress Estate, an ancient manor that once belonged to the Priory of Dartford.

in 1833, an Elizabethan style house was built on the site and named Ingress Abbey, allegedly using stones from London Bridge which had been demolished in 1831. The house was surrounded by land, including land sloping down to the river. When researching the site, I found the following photo from the Britain from Above archive:

Cutty Sark

The photo is dated 1939. Ingress Abbey can be seen looking down to the river, where two ships are moored. The larger ship is HMS Worcester which at the time operated as the Thames Nautical Training College. The smaller ship is the Cutty Sark which at the time was also part of the training college, operating as an auxiliary cadet training ship. The Cutty Sark would continue in this role, before being moved to Greenwich.

Walking further towards Swanscombe Peninsula, and the walkway changes, now with a high concrete wall protecting the housing from the river.

Thames Walkway

Not sure what these rails in the base of the walkway are, possibly left over from the site’s industrial activity:

Thames Walkway

As well as the land of Ingress Abbey, the housing in the second above photo was built on a large industrial site, the Empire Paper Mills. I have highlighted the paper mills within the red oval in the following extract from the 1966 Ordnance Survey map:

Swanscombe Peninsula

The paper mills included a large jetty projecting into the Thames. This was used to receive raw materials from cargo ships, that were then transported to the mill for processing. Completed products were then sent via the rail network, and a rail line can just be seen leaving the lower left of the mills, heading to the mainline at Greenhithe.

The following photo from Britain from Above shows the scale of the paper mills in 1927. The Swanscombe Peninsula can be seen in the background:

Swanscombe Peninsula

The paper mills continued into the early 1990s, but were struggling to operate and make money. They finally closed in 1992, and in the decades that followed the site was cleared and is now occupied by housing.

The following photo, also from 1927, is looking west, with the paper mills, the grounds of Ingress Abbey and at the top right of the photo, the town of Greenhithe:

Swanscombe Peninsula

In the above photo, part of Swanscombe Peninsula can be seen in the lower left half of the photo. Part of the space is occupied by Cricket and Sports grounds, showing how there has long been a degree of human influence on the peninsula.

Also in the above photo, there is a triangular inlet from the river where the paper mills meets the peninsula. This inlet is still there today, and is where the river walkway ends with steps up to Swanscombe Peninsula.

Swanscombe Peninsula

Walking up the steps, and I was finally on Swanscombe Peninsula:

Swanscombe Peninsula

A raised bank protects this part of the western side of the peninsula from the river. One of the old piers from the area’s industrial past juts out into the river:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Along this stretch there are two raised banks, with a low lying ditch between:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Windswept bushes line the river:

Swanscombe Peninsula

A good view of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge. It is only from viewpoints such as this that you can appreciate the length of the central section and the two slender towers that provide support.

Queen Elizabeth II bridge

Below the bridge, to the lower right can be seen the red and white of the Stoneness Lighthouse, a working lighthouse on a piece of land jutting out into the river. This model of the lighthouse will soon be replaced. The Port of London Authority have issued a Notice to Mariners that from the 29th September, work will begin to replace the lighthouse, and that it will be out of operation until the 9th of October.

Inter-tidal mud and grasses:

River Thames

The above photo highlights how important an area with low lying marsh is along the river, and will be in the future with expected rises in the level of the Thames on the eastern side of the Thames Barrier where water levels will rise, as the barrier protects the city.

Looking inland, and this part of the peninsula is covered with dense, tall grasses and reeds:

Industrial Archeaology

There are two, rusting towers visible in the above photo. To the south of the peninsula was a large cement works, and the towers were part of an aerial cableway that stretched from a wharf and pier on the river to the cement works and was used to transport materials between ships in the Thames and the factory. The cable operated alongside a railway between wharf and factory.

I have highlighted the route of the cableway which is marked on the following extract from the 1966 Ordnance Survey map:

Industrial Archeaology

Closer view of one of the towers, showing one of the cables that once ran along the route carrying materials to and from the cement factory:

Industrial Archeaology

As well as the factory to the south of the peninsula, and the transport system across the peninsula, the production of cement was also responsible for the legal dumping of cement kiln dust, which has raised the height of the land in some western parts of the peninsula.

Looking to the right of the above view, and there is a dense area of grass growth up to a distant tree and bush line:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Along the inland base of the second bank is a road which runs up to the location of the old wharf and pier:

Swanscombe Peninsula

An open barrier still stands as the land around is reclaimed by nature:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Track leading to the location of the old wharf and pier:

River Thames

Which unfortunately appears to have a double row of fencing restricting access:

River Thames

Getting closer to the electricity pylon:

Swanscombe Peninsula

There are a number of tracks which make it clear that parts of the peninsula are private land and that these tracks are not public footpaths:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Exploring tracks on a warm September day:

Swanscombe Peninsula

In the following photo, I am looking inland. There are a number of large areas of water, and in the distance on the left is the bridge that carries the A226, London Road, and on the right, the white chalk cliffs can be seen, highlighting that the site has been subject to extensive chalk quarrying:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Strange to come across some Network Rail infrastructure in a small, fenced compound. The reason for this will be come clear in the second post on Swanscombe Peninsula.

Network Rail

Although much of this part of the peninsula is covered with dense grasses, reeds and low bushes and trees, these can be deceiving as the area is also very wet, with water appearing in clear pools which emerge from the grass:

Swanscombe Peninsula

As well as walking, the peninsula is a place to just stop and enjoy what is a very special place. There is plenty of insect life both within and away from the water. My insect identification skills are almost non-existent, however I hope I am right in claiming the following photo is of a dragonfly, one of many that were around me in the above photo.

Dragonfly

The main landmark on the peninsula is the electricity pylon:

Electricity Pylon

The pylon is one of a pair that support cables spanning the Thames. The other pylon is on the north bank of the river, and they carry several 400,000 Volt (400kV) electricity circuits, transporting power across the country.

They were built in 1965, and are 623 feet (190 metres) in height, apparently the tallest in the country. The height was needed to ensure sufficient clearance for the cables above the River Thames so the river is clear for shipping. Not just the height of the ship, but also to provide enough distance between cable and ship, so the high voltages carried by the cables would not arc between cable and ship.

The cables running over the Thames, connect to the grid network north of the Thames that transports electricity into London. From Swanscombe, the cables run towards east Kent where there were former coal fired power stations, which have been replaced by gas, as well as undersea interconnector cables to the Netherlands and Belgium which land on the Isle of Grain and near Richborough in Kent.

The height of the tower, along with the two platforms on the tower has resulted in the tower being popular with base jumpers – people who jump with a parachute from a high structure. In March 2006, one base jumper died at Swanscombe when it appears his parachute failed to open.

That is a sport I could not imagine ever attempting, however I really do like these structures.

Following photo shows the platform at the very top of the 623 feet tower, along with some of the insulators that carry the cables. These are of some length as they need to separate the 400kV running through the cables from the metal of the tower.

Electricity Pylon

The cables from the top of the tower then run down to a smaller tower that separates and routes them off to more traditional electrical pylons.

Electricity Pylon

A sideways view of the above tower shows a work of industrial art:

Electricity Pylon

I have now reached the end of the blue line in my map of the route through the Swanscombe Peninsula. The post covering part two of my walk through this very special place, the industry on the eastern edge, HS1, the wildlife of the peninsula, the status of a Site of Special Scientific Interest along with links to further sources of information will be sent out this evening.

alondoninheritance.com

The Thames from Cherry Garden Stairs

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

I have added an additional five walks as follows:

The Lost Streets of the Barbican:

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

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

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

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

Cherry Garden Stairs

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

Cherry Garden Stairs

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

Cherry Garden Stairs

The two photos show a very different scene.

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

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

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

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

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

Thames Wharves

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

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

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

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

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

Cherry Garden Pier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamaica House

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

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

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

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

Cherry Garden Stairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cherry Garden Stairs

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

Lost Bankside Alleys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the St. James Chronicle, August 1855:

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

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

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

From the Morning Post, 2nd July 1833:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

Three Hundred Years of Hay’s Wharf

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

Hay's Wharf

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

Hay's Wharf

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

Hay's Wharf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hay's Wharf

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

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

Hay's Wharf

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

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

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

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

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

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

Francis Theodore Hay:

Hay's Wharf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hay's Wharf

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

Hay's Wharf

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

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

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

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

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

Hay's Wharf

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

Hay's Wharf

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

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

Hay's Wharf

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

Hay's Wharf

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

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

St Olaf House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Olaf House

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

St Olaf House

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

St Olaf House

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

St Olaf House

View of the new Head Office from London Bridge:

St Olaf house

The same view from London Bridge in 1951:

St Olaf house

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

St Olaf House

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

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

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

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

Hay's Wharf

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

St Olaf Stairs

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

Bennet Steamship Company

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

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

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

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

Bennet Steamship Company

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

Hay's Wharf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hay's Wharf

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

Hay's Wharf

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

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

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

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

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

Topping's Wharf

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

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

Topping's Wharf

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

Topping's Wharf

Topping's Wharf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topping's Wharf

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

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

Topping's Wharf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topping's Wharf

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

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

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

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

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

Topping's Wharf

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

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

Topping's Wharf

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

Topping's Wharf

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

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

Topping's Wharf

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

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

Topping's Wharf

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

Topping's Wharf

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

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

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

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

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A Thames Dolphin at Rotherhithe

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

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

Dolphin

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

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

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

Dolphin

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

Dolphin

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

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

Dolphin

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

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

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

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

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

Dolphin

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

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

Dolphin

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

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

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

Dolphin

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

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

Dolphin

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

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

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

Dolphin

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

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

Dolphin

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

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

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

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

Dolphin

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

Dolphin

View looking west along the river with the dolphin:

Dolphin

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

Dolphin

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

Dolphin

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

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

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

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

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

Dolphin

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

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

Dolphin

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

Dolphin

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

Dolphin

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

Dolphin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dolphin

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

Dolphin

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

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

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King Henry’s Stairs and Execution Dock

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

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

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

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

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

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

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

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

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

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

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

The view looking to the west, towards central London:

King Henry's Stairs

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

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

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

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

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

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

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

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Henry's Stairs

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

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

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

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

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Limekiln Dock and the Black Ditch

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

Limekiln Dock

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

Limekiln Dock seems to be the most commonly used name.

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

Limekiln Dock

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

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

Limekiln Dock

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

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

Limekiln Dock

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

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

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

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

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

Limekiln Dock

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

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

Limekiln Dock

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

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

Limekiln Dock

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

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

Limekiln Dock

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

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

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

I have enlarged the two sections below:

Limekiln Dock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limekiln Dock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limekiln Dock

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

Limekiln Dock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limekiln Dock

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

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

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

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

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

Limekiln Dock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limekiln Dock

And Limehouse Wharf:

Limekiln Dock

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

Limekiln Dock

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

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

Limekiln Dock

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

Limekiln Dock

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

A rather faded plaque on the door provides some background:

Limekiln Dock

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

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

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

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