Category Archives: The Thames

St Saviour’s Dock

Before heading to St Saviour’s Dock, a quick thank you for ordering tickets for this year’s walks. At the time of writing, the Barbican walks and Wapping walks are sold out. Many of the Bankside dates have sold out, but there are some tickets remaining on later dates, and there are a few on the Southbank walks.

St Saviour’s Dock is an inlet from the Thames in Bermondsey, just to the east of Tower Bridge on the south bank of the river. We can look across the river near Hermitage Moorings on the north bank, and see St Saviour’s Dock just to the left of Butlers Wharf.

St Saviour's Dock

I have circled the location of St Saviour’s Dock in the following map (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

St Saviour's Dock

Cross over to the south bank of the river, and on approaching the dock, there is a walkway spanning the entrance:

St Saviour's Dock

View from the footbridge across to the north bank of the river, at low tide, with thick mud across the foreshore:

St Saviour's Dock

Looking along St Saviour’s Dock – a carpet of mud:

St Saviour's Dock

St Saviour’s Dock is a very old feature of this section of the river. Originally the mouth of the River Neckinger, although it is very hard to pin down exactly where the Neckinger ran with any certainty, and how much of the water course was a natural river.

There were many streams and ditches in this area of Bermondsey and much of the land was low lying marsh. Some of the ditches which may have once been part of the Neckinger can be seen on 18th century maps, which I will come to later in the post.

Looking south along St Saviour’s Dock, the bends in the dock give the impression of a natural feature. Early maps show the sides of the dock as relatively straight, so the curves we see today may have been the result of extending some of the warehouses that line the dock as an attempt to maximise warehouse space.

At the far end of the dock, it comes to an abrupt halt at “Dock Head” at the junction of Jamaica Road and Tooley Street.

St Saviour's Dock

It is impossible to know for sure as to the origins of St Saviour’s Dock. It appears to have been part of the lands of Bermondsey Abbey, and what was then a natural watercourse, had banks created on either side, and a mill built on one side of the dock by the abbey at some point around the 13th century.

Just to the east of St Saviour’s Dock is Mill Street, apparently named after a mill stream which ran along the route of the street and which powered the mill, which was used to grind corn for the abbey. Mill Street is on the other side of the warehouses that line the eastern side of the dock, so is very close and complicates the mapping of waterways in the area.

The land around St Savoiur’s Dock was fully developed between the 16th and start of the 19th centuries, as maps from the 17th and 18th centuries confirm.

The following is an extract from William Morgan’s map of London from 1682. St Saviour’s Dock is located just to the lower right of centre of the map:

St Saviour's Dock

Note that the name of the dock in the map is Savory’s Dock. This may be a simple corruption of the name, or it could have been a rather sarcastic description of the dock given that there was much pollution from the surrounding buildings, and Bermondsey’s growing industry, that ended up in the dock.

I like the depiction of a small boat in the dock. It looks too wide to be a waterman’s boat, and could have been a lighter that transported goods between boats moored in the river and the warehouses lining the dock.

By the time of Morgan’s map in the late 17th century, it appears that buildings were lining the majority of the dock, and streets had been built to the east.

If you click on the above map to enlarge, you can see that to the right of St Saviour’s Dock were a number of water channels, and that to the lower centre edge of the map, there are what appear to be two water channels either side of a road, with a name of “The Neckincher” along the street. presumably this name applies to the water channels, and is a version of the name Neckinger.

This is the problem with being sure as to the route of the Neckinger, and how much of the route was a natural feature, and how much were artificial channels and ditches used to perhaps provide water to the industries in the area, or to drain what was low lying, marshy land.

Seventy three years after Morgan’s map, a 1755 map has St Saviour’s Dock on the edge of the map, with the surrounding area looking much the same as in 1682:

St Saviour's Dock

It is interesting that the name Savory Dock was again used on this later map. This name does not appear to be used when reporting anything about the dock in newspapers. For example on the 10th of January 1730, the Kentish Weekly Post used the name Saviour in a report that “Last Sunday, a Man, well dressed, was found drowned in St Saviour’s Dock”.

I can find no newspaper reference to the Savory spelling of the dock’s name.

Newspaper’s do give us an idea of the type of businesses and properties that surrounded the dock in the years around the publication of the above map. For example, on the 11th of January 1762 there was a report of a fire in one of the buildings along the dock:

“Thursday morning a fire broke out in a granary belonging to Mess. Hemmock and Co. Corn Lightermen, at St. Saviour’s Dock, near Dock Head, which was consumed, together with 8 dwelling houses, and a great many warehouses, and other out-buildings; three other dwelling houses were greatly damaged. Mr Allport, a biscuit maker, and his family, ran into the street almost naked, not having time to save anything. It being low-water, it was with difficulty a whole tier of ships was preserved, as they lay upon the mud close to the Dock, and nothing parted them from the flames but a crane house, which took fire several times, but by the activity of the firemen was prevented from getting to a head. We hear no lives were lost.”

So in 1762, St Saviour’s Dock was surrounded by a granary, dwelling houses, and a great many warehouses, which does align with the view presented in the above maps. As well as the granary, there are also mentions of a “Mr John Robinson’s Rope Warehouse” in the dock in the mid 18th century.

The following map is dated 1813 and includes the names of the wharfs along the dock. Only two also have the names of products stored, with a granary at lower left of the dock and a lime yard at upper right.

St Saviour's Dock

What is interesting about the above map is the area to the left (east) of St Saviour’s Dock.

On this map there are a number of streams / ditches shown, along with bridges over these. I have highlighted the waterways with arrows.

The area between the waterway on the left and St Saviour’s Dock is the area that would become known as Jacob’s Island (after Jacob Street running through the centre). It was Charles Dickens who would bring some notoriety to this small patch of Bermondsey when he apparently located Fagins den and Bill Sykes death in Jacob’s Island in his novel, Oliver Twist.

In the lower left of the map, I have included the photo of Bridge House, a house that was built over one of the bridges (arrowed). I have researched and written about the location of Bridge House in my post “A Return To Bermondsey Wall – Bevington Street, George Row And Bridge House”.

The above map does confirm that the area was still a place of ditches and streams in the early 19th century, all possibly once part of the Neckinger, but would disappear during the rest of the 19th century as new warehouses and roads were built. The ditches do not appear to have any connection to St Saviour’s Dock or the River Thames, so must have just held stagnant water.

The following print shows a view of St Saviour’s Dock around 1840 – but the print is not quite what it seems (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

St Saviour's Dock

Underneath the name St Saviour’s Dock is the name “Southwark” rather than Bermondsey. The above print is really of the dock just to the north west of Southwark Cathedral, where the replica of the Golden Hind is now located.

Southwark Cathedral was originally the church of St Mary Overie. The church was renamed St Saviour’s at some point around the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, and this name would remain in place until 1905 when it became Southwark Cathedral.

The small dock just to the north west of Southwark Cathedral was originaly Mary Overie Dock, but with the renaming of the cathedral, the dock took on the name of St Saviour’s Dock and is shown with this name in Rocque’s map of London from 1746, and in this 1811 print which shows the church of St Saviour (Southwark Cathedral) at lower centre, and St Saviour’s Dock to upper left.

St Saviour's Dock

The 1895 OS map continues to show the Southwark dock as St Saviour’s Dock.

So there were two St Saviour’s Docks, and we need to be careful with references to the name. Today the Southwark dock is the location of the Golden Hind replica, and the address on the Golden Hinde’s website is back to the original name of St Mary Overie Dock.

The 1895 Ordnance Survey map of the Bermondsey St Saviour’s Dock shows that the dock was lined with warehouses, wharfs and factories, including a flour mill, coal wharf, packing case factory and lime wharf – the typical mix of industries that you would find along any stretch of the industrial Thames in the 19th century.

As with so much of the London docks, St Saviour’s Dock went into decline after the war. Warehouses located down a narrow inlet just were not suitable for the size and type of ships, and containerisation would kill off any hope of using warehouses such as those found in the dock.

St Saviour’s Dock remained as an open inlet to the Thames, but the buildings along the edge of the dock started a path to dereliction.

St Saviour’s Dock has been used in a number of films. One of these in the years before the buildings were transformed is Derek Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee.

Jarman lived for a time in Butler’s Wharf, between the dock and Tower Bridge, and the film, which is still available as a DVD, whilst a typical Jarman film and very much of its time, is good to watch for one interpretation of punk and the late 1970s, but also for some London location spotting.

In the following clip, the characters Bod, Mad and Chaos are about to throw a body over the side of St Saviour’s Wharf, to the mud below, with the empty warehouses in the background:

St Saviour's Dock

From the 1980s onwards, the majority of the wharfs lining St Saviour’s Dock would be converted to apartments and offices. A walk along the side streets that follow the dock to the east and west reveals how many have survived.

Starting in Mill Street which runs along the eastern side of the dock, and to the north east corner is New Concordia Wharf:

New Concordia Wharf St Saviour's Dock

New Concordia Wharf was originally built in 1882 as St. Saviour’s Flour Mill, however after one of the fires that seemed to be a frequent risk to the wharfs along the river, it was rebuilt between 1894 and 1898.

St. Saviour’s Flour Mill / New Concordia Wharf included a flour / corn mill, continuing a tradition of milling flour that goes back to the original mill built on the banks of the dock by Bermondsey Abbey in the 13th century.

Rather than being powered by water, the mill was steam powered, and the water tank and chimney remain, although the water tank has been somewhat hidden by changes to the roof of the building.

The chimney was truncated in 1979, and now looks rather ungainly with what appears to be a concrete slab on the top of the chimney, but is still an unusual sight on the end of a warehouse.

New Concordia Wharf St Saviour's Dock

Conversion of New Concordia Wharf to apartments was carried out between 1982 and 1983 and was one of the first examples of the warehouse conversions that would become the standard for the type of building along the Thames.

We then come to Grade II listed St. Saviour’s Wharf:

St Saviour's Wharf

St. Saviour’s Wharf was built in 1868, and was for sale by auction in 1870. The advert for the auction provides some details of this 1868 building:

“Saint Saviour’s Sufferance Wharf, together with the modern pile of warehouses in Mill Street erected in 1868 in the most substantial manner under the superintendence of an eminent architect and so arranged as to fulfil all the requirements of the Metropolitan Buildings Act and of the Fire Insurance Companies. The premises comprise three double warehouses each with five floors and basement, having a frontage of 117 feet next Mill-street.

The various floors are carried on columns from basement to roof, and are strongly timbered. The ground floor is asphalted. The party walls are 2 feet 3 thick, and there is no communication between the three warehouses, except on the basement.

There are two staircases to each warehouse, and loophole doors and windows on each floor fronting the land and waterside.

The floors of two of the warehouses are divided by brick walls 2 feet 3 thick, communicating by chambers, enclosed by wrought iron folding double doors.”

The details of the construction of the buildings were important for potential buyers. Not just to show the strength of the building, but also that the building was designed to limit the spread of fire.

Fires in warehouses were a continual risk. Buildings on top of each other, all crammed with highly combustible goods resulted in frequent fires, and the newspapers almost always had reports of fires in warehouses along the Thames (for example, see my post on the “The Great Fire at London Bridge”).

No idea what the purchaser of St Saviour’s Wharf paid for the buildings, however today, a 2 bedroom apartment is for sale at £1.2 million.

The view along the southern end of Mill Street, with more wharfs and warehouses. Unity Wharf nearest.

Mill Street St Saviour's Dock

Unity Wharf is Grade II listed and is now mainly office / commercial space. In the 1953 publications “London Wharves and Docks”, Unity Wharf is listed holding Canned and Cased Goods, Bagged produce and General.

To the side of Unity Wharf is the entrance shown in the following photo:

Unity Wharf St Saviour's Dock

It was gated half way along on my visit, but appears to be one off, if not the only passage through the wharfs to the side of St Saviour’s Dock.

In the 1895 Ordnance Survey Map, the passage is shown, and marked as “Free Landing Way”, which I assume meant that it could be used by anyone to land something by boat in St Saviour’s Dock, and the passage provided a route between water and Mill Street. I would have loved to have got to the end of the passage and looked over the edge into the dock.

At the end of Mill Street, we reach the junction of Jamaica Road and Tooley Street. In the following photo, the steps to the left of the red bins lead up to the wall at the very end of St Saviour’s Dock – the point labeled Dock Head in the 17th and 18th century maps earlier in the post.

Dock Head St Saviour's Dock

Climb the steps, look over the wall, and we can look down on St Saviour’s Wharf:

St Saviour's Dock

Towards the northern end of the dock where it meets the River Thames and is spanned by the footbridge:

St Saviour's Dock

We can now walk along Shad Thames, the street that runs along the wharfs on the western edge of the dock.

Shad Thames St Saviour's Dock

The buildings have a couple of footbridges between the wharfs on the right and additional warehouse space on the left. These were used to transport goods between buildings without having to travel up and down floors and across the street, although looking closely at one of the bridges, I doubt these are original, they look either very good restorations or new copies of what would have spanned the street.

St Andrew's Wharf St Saviour's Dock

The following photo shows the “B” warehouse of St Andrew’s Wharf:

St Andrew's Wharf St Saviour's Dock

This building dates from 1850 and is Grade II listed, but as can be seen by the changes in brickwork, it has been partially rebuilt a number of times, most recently when it was converted for residential use.

We then come to the point in Shad Thames where it leaves the wharfs that line St Saviour’s Dock, and turns west to head towards Tower Bridge.

At this corner point is the much rebuilt and restored Butler’s Wharf:

Butler's Wharf St Saviour's Dock

And that brings me to the end of a look at St Saviour’s Dock, and the wharfs and warehouses that line this ancient inlet from the River Thames.

Although the buildings have been converted to residential and commercial, they do still provide a really good impression of what the dock would have looked like from the late 19th century onwards.

The thing that is missing is noise and activity. Walking the area today and it is quiet. No lighters in the dock, no goods being loaded and unloaded and very few people walking the streets.

The dock itself is always thick with mud, and I have never seen anyone searching the dock or foreshore. A good thing as it looks highly dangerous, but intriguing to imagine what is buried beneath the mud given the centuries of use of St Saviour’s Dock.

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Hungerford Bridge and Hungerford Market

My father took the following photo of Hungerford Bridge from the south bank in 1947:

Hungerford Bridge

The same view in 2022:

Hungerford Bridge

The photos are seventy five years apart, and as could be expected the core of the bridge is much the same now as it was in 1947.

There are some minor differences. The brick structure above the pier on the right was missing in 1947, although its appearance today may suggest it is part of the original structure.

Two signal gantries can be seen above the tracks in 1947, and on the left of the bridge the entrance to Charing Cross Station can just be seen, where today, the 1991 office block, Embankment Place, above the station is the major feature at the end of the bridge.

The white structures along the length of the bridge in the 2022 photo support the Golden Jubilee Foot Bridge which was completed in 2002. There is a second foot bridge on the other side of the railway bridge, to an identical design.

These foot bridges replaced a single, narrow footbridge that originally ran along the far side of the bridge. It was not that pleasant a foot bridge, always had large pools of water across the walkway after rain, and was often not the route of choice after dark.

Hungerford Railway Bridge was opened in 1864. It was built by the Charing Cross Railway Company to provide a route into the new Charing Cross Station from across the river.

It was not the first bridge on the site, and investigating further reveals the source of the name, a failed market, the original bridge, and a very strange death.

Charing Cross Station was built on the site of the 17th century Hungerford Market, and the site had originally been home to Hungerford House, owned by Sir Edward Hungerford.

The Hungerford family name dates back to at least the 12th century with an early reference to one Everard de Hungerford. The family name came from the Berkshire town of Hungerford, and over the centuries, the family amassed a considerable amount of land and property and became very rich.

Many of the Hungerford’s had key roles in the governance of the country (in  January 1377, Sir Thomas Hungerford was elected speaker of Parliament), and in national events (for example during the Civil War Sir Edward Hungerford was in command of the Parliamentary forces in Wiltshire, where it was reported that he carried out his responsibilities with an unpleasant zeal).

The first record of the Hungerford’s owning a house in the Strand was when Sir Walter Hungerford took up residence in 1422.

The Hungerford’s would own a house in the Strand until the late 17th century, when Sir Edward Hungerford (the nephew of the Civil War Hungerford of the same name) decided to try and create a market to rival the recently opened, nearby, Covent Garden Market.

An Act of Parliament in 1678 granted Sir Edward Hungerford permission to let some of the grounds occupied by Hungerford House for building leases and also to open a market on the site on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. The market opened in 1682.

Despite being in what seemed to be an ideal location, the market was not really a success. It was sold to Sir Christopher Wren and Sir Stephen Fox in 1685 and after their deaths, it was sold on to Henry Wise around the year 1717.

It would stay with Henry Wise and his descendants until 1830.

The following print from 1825 shows the original Hungerford Market:

Hungerford Market

The image at lower left shows the bust that is on the wall of the market building, and the text below names Edward Hungerford and confirms the opening date of 1682. The coat of arms on the right is that of the Hungerford family.

In the above drawing of the market, there is a sign on the building on the right about Watermen. The text below is too small to be readable. This is probably some reference to the stairs and access to the river at the far end of the market.

The following print from 1830 shows a busy market scene, with the River Thames visible in the gap between buildings in the distance.

Hungerford Market

John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the market between the Strand and the river, and shows Hungerford Stairs running down to the river:

Hungerford Market

As usual, to help with research, I checked newspapers for mentions of the old Hungerford Market. Papers of the 18th and 19th centuries record the numerous accidental and strange deaths that happened across London. I have read hundreds of these and one of the most unusual concerns a worker from Hungerford Market. This is a report from the Ipswich Journal on the 3rd of July, 1725:

“On Sunday Evening, an elderly Man that carried a Basket in Hungerford Market for his Livelihood, was drowned in an excessive Quantity of ‘Strip and go Naked’ alias ‘Strikefire’ alias ‘Gin’, at a notorious Brothel in the Strand; the poor miserable wretch expiring under too great a Dose of that stupefying Benediction.”

I have never heard of “Strip and go Naked” or “Strikefire” as a drink, and assume it was a form of Gin as this was the last alias.

It was with some trepidation that I put the name into Google, and the search results imply that it is now an American drink made out of beer, vodka and lemonade, also a cocktail made from beer, gin, vodka, lime juice, orange juice and grenadine.

Whatever it was in 1725, its description as a “stupefying Benediction” does sound rather appropriate.

18th century newspapers provide a view of the trades within Hungerford Market. These were in the paper for events such as bankruptcy so are not a complete list, but provide an indication: Wine Merchant, Butcher, Slaughter House, Oyster Merchant, Indigo Maker, Ironmonger, Coal Merchant.

As with any location which attracted people, there was also a public house – the Bull’s Head.

During the early decades of the 19th century, the market was becoming rather run down, dirty and surrounded by squalid housing.

The descendants of the Henry Wise, who had owned the building since 1717, sold the land and buildings to the Hungerford Market Company which had been formed in 1830.

The new company believed that by rebuilding, and providing a much improved market environment, the Hungerford Market could be just as big a success as Covent Garden and could also tempt some of the fish trade away from Billingsgate.

The new market buildings were much increased in size compared to the original market. New houses were built alongside, which included a number of pubs. The market buildings pushed the river embankment out by a further 150 feet and a set of stone stairs were constructed down to the river.

The following three prints of the opening ceremony on the 2nd of July, 1833, give an impression of the scale of the new market buildings and the grandeur of the opening, which was intended to give the market a considerable amount of publicity, and attract Londoners from as far afield as possible into the market.

The following print shows the view from the river, with crowds of people in front of the market and on boats on the river.

Hungerford Market

The opening of Hungerford Market was the place to be seen for the fashionable Londoner of 1833 as the following account from the Morning Advertiser on the 3rd of July, 1833 records:

“It having been announced that the opening of this splendid work was to take place yesterday at two o’clock in the afternoon, crowds began to assemble in the forenoon. By the specified hour, the concourse of people which thronged every part of the market, and all places adjoining, whence a view of what was going on could be had, was truly immense.

Of the numbers present it was impossible to form any conjecture which could be depended on. The large hall was most densely crowded with an assemblage of the most respectable kind, including much of the female beauty and fashion of this vast metropolis. The lower quadrangle was no less densely filled with an assemblage of the same class. The same may be said of the space appropriated to stalls and benches, underneath the colonnade. The quadrangle fronting the Strand, being open to all, was literally crammed with human beings. Indeed the open space in that particular part looked like a living mass of human beings.

The pavement on the south side of the magnificent building, which projects into the Thames, was so crowded with persons of all descriptions, that it was next to impossible to move from one part of it to another. The balconies at the top of the building, though a much higher price was demanded for admission to them, were filled with an assemblage of ladies and gentlemen. The view from these balconies was exceedingly interesting. It commanded an extensive prospect of the Surrey hills, and of a very considerable part of London, including a large portion of the Thames. Westminster and Waterloo Bridges were crowded with spectators, as were the tops of a great many houses in the neighbourhood of Hungerford-market.

The river was a most interesting scene; it was covered with boats, all as full as a regard to safety could justify. The coal barges in the neighbourhood of the market were so numerous and so close and so well filled that one could scarcely persuade himself they floated on water.

Taken altogether, we should say, it is very seldom indeed that so many human beings are congregated together.”

The following print shows the main attraction during the opening of Hungerford Market, a balloon ascent:

Hungerford Market

And the following print shows the balloon taking of from the quadrangle of Hungerford Market.

Hungerford Market

The balloon was piloted by George Graham, a prolific 19th century balloonist, who took two passengers with him in the basket.

The balloon took of at 4:30 in the afternoon. It went straight up for about sixty feet before heading in a south-easterly direction. Those in the basket waved their hats to cheers from the crowd as the balloon gained height.

By the time it had been up for 20 minutes it was described as being as small as a kite and after 30 minutes it was all but invisible, as it headed in the direction of Gravesend.

George Graham undertook many flights during the first half of the 19th century, and his wife was also a balloonist.

Margaret Graham was the first British woman to undertake a solo balloon flight, when in 1826 she took off from White Conduit Gardens in Islington, the location of her first flight with her husband just a couple of years before.

Individually, the couple would have a number of accidents. In one flight in 1838 George’s balloon hit a chimney on take off causing bricks to fall on an onlooker who died as a result. In a flight with his wife in 1851, the basket hit a rooftop just after launch causing him to fall from the basket and sustaining serious injuries.

In 1836, Margaret sustained serious injuries when during landing, her passenger stepped too early from the basket causing the balloon to rise, and Margaret to fall from a height.

In 1850 she suffered serious burns when a balloon caught fire.

George and Margaret had three daughters and the couple got them involved with ballooning. In 1850 Margaret flew with her three daughters causing something of a public outcry for taking all her children with her on what was considered a dangerous activity.

Despite having taken part in very many balloon flights Margaret died peacefully in her bed in 1880 at the age of 76.

Back to the opening of Hungerford Market, and in the evening there were fireworks and a ball was held which was “numerously and fashionably attended, and was kept up till a late hour with great spirit”.

The market buildings cost around £100,000 to build, and were expected to be a considerable success and rival Covent Garden and Billingsgate. At opening, all the market space had been rented out.

In the main hall, shops on the eastern side sold fruit and vegetables, butchers, selling meat, poultry and animal food took shops on the western side. There were large cellars and store rooms beneath the building and space for a large number of fish mongers. Space was provided for small traders with benches and stalls.

To try and tempt customers to the market, steam boats were run from east and west London along the Thames to the river stairs at the market. The market had one final trick to tempt what they called “the housewives of Lambeth and Southwark” to the market, and that was a bridge.

Hungerford Bridge

The above and below prints show the Hungerford Suspension Bridge which was opened to provide direct access to the market from the south bank of the river, and to provide another route over the river, as compared to cities such as Paris, London was believed to have too few bridges.

Hungerford Bridge

The bridge was designed by Sir Isambard K. Brunel and consisted of four individual chains running the length of the bridge, with two brick piers providing support for the chains.

The bridge was a considerable financial success. In their 1845 report for the first year of operation, the Directors recorded that tolls to cross the bridge raised £9,000 in a year. When the bridge was built it was expected that the daily traffic would be about 8,000 people, however after opening the bridge was attracting nearly 14,000 people.

The success of the bridge was such that the Board decided to pay the Directors £500 for their services to the company.

In a sign of what was to come, at the Board meeting in 1845, the Directors agreed to lease the bridge to the Central Terminus Rail Company for a fee of £186,000.

In the 1830s / 1840s, the area around Hungerford and Waterloo Bridges was being seen as a location for a railway terminus that would service the south east and south of the country, and connect into London Bridge – a subject way out of the scope of today’s post.

An interesting print from 1850 about flooding caused by a high tide shows some of the advertising for the Hungerford Bridge. The following print shows flooding in Vine Street which once ran where the Shell Centre building now stands on the South Bank, up to York Road. A large banner across the street directs people to the bridge, with another sign on the side of the terrace of houses towards the end of the street on the right:

Vine Street flooding

The south bank, being part of low lying Lambeth Marsh was subject to frequent flooding at high tides as shown in the print.

In the following extract from the 1894 Ordnance Survey map, I have ringed the location of Vine Street (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Vine Street

Despite the optimistic opening, steam boats bringing customers from along the river and the bridge to tempt customers from south London, the market was not a success.

In 1851 a Hungerford Hall was built on part of the site for lectures and exhibitions, however this building burnt down during an accident when lighting gas lamps. The fire also caused damage to the main market hall.

The market would close by the end of the 1850s.

Plans for new railways and stations had been developing during the mid 19th century, and the entire site of the market was purchased by the Charing Cross Railway Company in order to construct Charing Cross Station.

The station would serve as a terminus of a route from the south of the river, therefore a new bridge was needed, and this resulted in the demolition of the original Hungerford Bridge. The railway bridge was approved by the 1859 Charing Cross Railway Act, and construction of the new bridge started in 1860.

Charing Cross Station (and therefore the bridge) opened on the 11th January 1864, and quickly became a busy rail route between south and north sides of the river.

Demolition of the bridge was not the end for parts of the original suspension bridge.

One of Brunel’s projects had been the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This had run into delays and financial problems and Sir John Hawkshaw and William Henry Barlow took over construction of the bridge as consultant engineers, working to complete the bridge.

They were aware of the demolition of the Hungerford Bridge, and to help with the financial difficulties in completing the Clifton Suspension Bridge, they purchased the chains and ironwork from the original Hungerford Bridge for £5,000.

Many of these chains still remain, and look out on a very different view than when they spanned the River Thames (see my post on the Clifton Suspension Bridge and my visit to the hidden chambers beneath the bridge in this post):

Clifton Suspension Bridge

As well as some of the chains still being in use, the core of the piers from the first bridge were used in the construction of the piers for the new railway bridge.

The new Hungerford Railway Bridge initially provided a route for pedestrians across the river, with two footpaths on either side of the bridge. A toll of a half penny was charged up to 1878.

Initially the bridge provided four tracks across the river, however this was later widened to six tracks by the removal of the pedestrian routes, which were moved to a pedestrian way along the outside of the bridge.

The pedestrian route alongside the bridge as it appeared in the early 1950s:

Hungerford Bridge footbridge

The entrance to Charing Cross Station as it appears today:

Charing Cross Station

The ornate construction in the forecourt is a reconstruction (not a replica) of the Eleanor Cross that was located nearby and destroyed in 1647. The original Eleanor Cross was one of several built across the country in the late 13th century to mark the route when the body of Queen Eleanor was carried from Nottinghamshire for burial in Westminster Abbey.

Although the main market buildings were very slightly further back from the front of the above building, they were built on the site of part of the building, the station concourse and the platforms down to roughly where Villiers Street is today, with the steps extending down into the river. The later construction of the Embankment pushed further into the river

The following postcard shows Charing Cross Station as it appeared at the turn of the 19th / 20th century when the main building served the planned purpose of a hotel. Designed by Edward Middleton Barry in the French Renaissance style and which became one of the most fashionable hotels in London. Barry also designed the cross in the station forecourt:

Charing Cross Station

Plans for the reconstruction of London after the war proposed demolishing bridges such as Hungerford Bridge and routing rail traffic in tunnels, however there was no way in which this could be financially justified and the plans did not progress further than a paper proposal.

Hungerford Bridge now stands as a reminder of a centuries old family name, who had a house off the Strand in the 15th century, a site which became a market and is now occupied by Charing Cross Station.

All prints in this post are from the British Museum collection and reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.

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The South Bank Shot Tower and Riverside Buildings

I have written a number of posts about the South Bank, and the transformation of the area from industrial and terrace housing, via the Festival of Britain, to the place we see today with the Jubilee Gardens and Royal Festival Hall. The majority of my father’s photos of the area were taken in the streets of the South Bank, however there is one that was taken from across the river featuring the Shot Tower, and part of the Thames foreshore between Waterloo Bridge and the site of the Festival Hall.

1947 view of the Shot Tower and South Bank

The above photo was taken on Saturday 23rd August 1947, and shows the Shot Tower, and the buildings along the river. The approach to Waterloo Bridge can just be seen on the left of the photo, and on the right would today be part of the Royal Festival Hall.

The same view in 2022 (although a bit too much of the Royal Festival Hall):

View of the South Bank

The Shot Tower was just behind and to the left of the yellow stairs seen in the centre of the above photo.

The South Bank today, and the Shot Tower would have been just to the right and further back from the yellow concrete stairs, and the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Hall:

Location of the Shot Tower

The purpose of the Shot Tower, and the process which gave its name to the tower, was the manufacture of lead shot for shotguns.

The Shot Tower was built in 1826 for Thomas Maltby & Company, and in 1839 was taken over by Walker, Parker & Company, who would continue to operate at the site until closure in 1949.

The Shot Tower was designed by David Riddal Roper and stands 163 feet from ground level to the top gallery. A spiral staircase within the tower provided access to two galleries, one half way up from where molten lead was dropped to produce small lead shot, and a gallery at the top of the tower which was used for large lead shot.

It was a considerable brick construction, with 3 foot thick walls at the base of the tower, tapering to 18 inches at the top.

There were a number of shot towers across London, including one on the other side of Waterloo Bridge which I will show later in the post. There was also one in Edmonton and a film was made using the Edmonton tower to show how lead shot was made within the tower.

The film can be found here on the British Pathe site, and shows the process which would have taken place within the South Bank Shot Tower.

The Shot Tower survived the demolition of all the other buildings on the South Bank as part of the clearance for the Festival of Britain, and was included as part of the festival.

It was finally demolished in 1962, clearing the site for the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. A real shame that it was not preserved and space made for it in the design of the new hall. It would have been a fitting reminder of the industrial history of the South Bank.

The Shot Tower survived and was included in the Festival of Britain as it was considered a well known landmark, and as with the lion on the top of the Lion Brewery, there was public concern that such a landmark would be demolished.

The festival organising committee wanted vertical features on the South Bank to draw attention to the site (the Skylon was the primary feature, designed specifically for the festival) and they also wanted the festival to demonstrate Britain’s scientific and technical achievements and advanced British manufacturing, as the country faced the economically difficult post war years and was in desperate need of foreign trade and currency.

The answer was to save the tower, and include it as part of the displays. The very top of the tower was removed and a new structure installed that consisted of a large lamp, emulating a light house, and a large radio dish antenna mounted on an anti-aircraft gun carriage.

The following photo shows the Shot Tower with the additions to the top of the tower for the Festival of Britain:

Shot Tower with radio dish and lighthouse

The intention with the radio dish at the top of the tower was described in the Festival of Britain Guide Book, as: “The radio beacon is above the lighthouse optic. The most obvious part of it is a large reflector which beams a signal to the moon. This is part of the radio telescope and is connected with the display in the Dome of Discovery by underground cable. In the Dome visitors can transmit signals to the moon and actually see them reflected back to the earth after about two and a half seconds”.

The display was in the Outer Space section of the Dome of Discovery, and the use of an anti-aircraft gun carriage at the top of the tower on which the radio dish was mounted, was to enable the dish to move to follow the moon in the sky.

The above description of the intended use of the radio dish is from the official festival guide, and the majority of books on the Festival of Britain repeat this planned use, however it seems that a different use for the dish had to be found after the technically advanced parts for such as radio transmitter / receiver were not available in time.

The Illustrated London News on the 21st April 1951 (not long before the opening of the festival on the 3rd of May 1951) records the new use of the radio dish: “There is to be no moon radar telescope on the top of the 200-ft shot tower on the South Bank: instead , visitors will see radio ‘noises’ or atmospherics from outer space on a television screen.” I assume the guide book had already been printed when the change was made.

The display on a TV of radio noise from sources such as the sun was probably far less visibly dramatic than the radio dish on the top of the old Shot Tower, but it did follow one of the Festival’s aims of showing scientific and technical advancements, just not in such a dramatic way as bouncing a radio signal off the moon.

Mounting an anti-aircraft gun carriage at the top of the tower was not without its dangers as this report from the Evening Telegraph on the 26th of October 1950 describes: “GUN CRASHES INSIDE SHOT TOWER – The gun mounting of a 3.7 A.A. gun being hoisted to the top of the Shot Tower at the Festival of Britain site fell 120 feet inside the tower to-day.

A 20-year-old soldier, Edward Bradley, was taken to St Thomas’s Hospital with slight bruises.

The mounting which weighs about five tons was being placed at the top of the Shot Tower. The gun is to carry a radar set which will send pulsations to the moon during the Festival.

Mr. Morrison told the Commons yesterday the equipment would cost £25,000 and would help in the development of radar astronomy.

Gunner Bradley was half-way up the staircase inside the tower, guiding the load, when he was struck by a falling plank. The gun mounting landed squarely in the centre of the tower and broke through the concrete floor to a depth of a foot.

Also inside the tower at the time were Captain Elliott, in charge of the operation, and a sergeant. The sergeant said ‘We heard a noise as if there was something amiss and we baled out of the tower as quickly as possible'”.

Underneath the radio dish was the “lighthouse” which was in operation from dusk until the evening closure of the festival. It was an electrically operated light (described as “of the most modern all-electric design”) with a lamp of three thousand watts, with a second lamp available should the main fail. The glass of the lighthouse optics which focused the light was made by Chance Brothers, the company that had made the glass for the original Crystal Palace in 1851.

The beam from the lighthouse could be seen up to 45 miles away from the South Bank site.

The following postcard showed the Shot Tower at Night. The lighthouse is the lit section at the very top of the tower, not the beam of light shining down from the tower.

Shot Tower at night

There were discussions on how to decorate the brick tower. Aluminum was suggested (the material was used for the Dome of Discovery and the Skylon), but was deemed too expensive. Cellophane was also suggested but considered a very poor choice. In the end, it was left as the original brick

The two vertical features of the South Bank, Festival of Britain – the Shot Tower, and much taller (300 feet from ground to tip) Skylon:

Skylon

As well as the Shot Tower, a brick building at the base of the tower was retained and used for a small exhibit showing the development of the South Bank site, as well as some control equipment for the radio system at the top of the tower.

A walkway from this building led into the Shot Tower where visitors could look up and see the top of tower, and below a kaleidoscope of changing London scenes was shown.

The following page from the Festival of Britain, South Bank Guide Book shows the Shot Tower and the recommended route:

The Guide Book also included a rather good colour advert from the construction engineers who had completed the work to extend the steelwork at the top of the Shot Tower for the lantern and for supporting the anti-aircraft gun and radio dish:

The following postcard shows the base of the Shot Tower and the adjacent brick building which provided the access route to the tower during the festival:

Shot Tower

My father took the following photo at the base of the Shot Tower:

Base of the Shot Tower

Time to return to my father’s original photo and look at the other buildings facing onto the river:

View of the South Bank in 1947

From left to right:

On the far left edge of the photo is the approach road to Waterloo Bridge. Behind the red arrow pointing to the approach road is one of only two buildings that have survived from the photo, the building is now part of King’s College, London.

To the right is a travelling crane and Canterbury Dock that were part of Grellier’s Wharf.

The name Grellier’s Wharf came from Peter Paul Grellier, who opened a stone and marble business at the site between Belvedere Road and the Thames. Auctions were held at the site of imported stone and marble, for example, on the 20th July 1843, there was an auction of “a very large importation of very fine marble, consisting of statuary, black, black and gold, vein, dove and bardilla. This importation is recommended to the attention of the trade, as being of a very superior description”.

Canterbury Dock was a small inlet of the river into the site. The name Canterbury came from the Archbishop of Canterbury who was a major landowner in the area (and is also why many of the streets with housing developed in the area between Belvedere Road and Waterloo Station in the 19th century were named after Archbishops of Canterbury).

Slightly to the right, in the background can be seen a small part of the main entrance to Waterloo Station, the second building that remains from the 1947 photo.

The buildings of the lead works are next with the Shot Tower behind.

To the right of the Shot Tower, along the buildings facing the river, there is one with the name “Embankment Fellowship Centre” along the top of the building. An enlargement from the original photo is below:

Embankment Fellowship Centre

The Embankment Fellowship Centre was a charitable organisation with an aim of helping unemployed ex-servicemen who had fallen into poverty. Established in 1932 by Mrs. Gwen Huggins the wife of the Adjutant of Chelsea Hospital. She decided to do something to help the ex-servicemen she saw sleeping rough in London, and along the Thames Embankment.

Originally known as H10, and changing name to Embankment Fellowship Centre in 1933, the following article from The Sketch on the 30th of August, 1939 provides a good summary of the organisation’s approach and what took place on the south bank:

“The EMBANKMENT FELLOWSHIP CENTRE provides a constructive solution to the unemployment problem where it affects its most difficult victim, the middle-aged ex-Service man from the Navy, Army, R.A.F., or Mercantile Marine. The Centre does not cater for the vagrant, the work-shy, or the waster, but can claim that every man helped has been reduced by sheer misfortune and no fault of his own to the lowest ebb of poverty.

Painters, doctors, miners, schoolmasters, chauffer’s, stockbrokers, plasterers, mechanics and clerks are all among those who have been assisted. The credentials of all applicants who must be over forty-five, are carefully examined before admission to the Centre, where they are housed, fed and re-clothed and maintained for a period averaging 47 days per case. When a man reaches the Centre he has usually been through a bad period of stress, so the first task is to ‘recondition’ him. To that end he is surrounded by an atmousphere of cheerfulness, comfort and companionship. In the daytime he has occupational work, and every evening he has something to look forward to – a lecture, a show by an amateur dramatic society, a game of darts or billiards, or a film.

Meanwhile officials endeavour to find suitable employment for him; and since many applicants belong to overcrowded or depressed trades, the Fellowship Centre undertakes free training in its own workshops for employment in which middle-age is only a slight handicap, such as valeting, housework, cookery, carpentry, boot and shoe repairs, and so on.

Last year employment was found for 549 men, at an average age of 53 years. The total could have been larger had the premises been capable of accommodating more men. During the past four years some 2000 men have been found employment at an average age exceeding 50 years. Included in the Centre is the Ward of Hope, where a period of free convalescence is provided, following discharge from hospital for homeless and friendless men.

The Council are trying to solve the problem of expansion. They are also trying to raise capital for maintaining a country home, to be modelled on Chelsea Hospital, where veterans of good record with no pension and past the working age can be housed.

Subscriptions to this excellent cause to be sent to Major R.M. Lloyd, Appeal Director, the Embankment Fellowship Centre, 59 Belvedere Road, S.E.1.”

The Embankment Fellowship Centre made a film in 1939 telling the story of a middle aged man named Smith, who lost his job, and could not get another because of his age. Things went downhill quickly with the family possessions being repossessed until he was recommended to the centre. With the centre’s help, he found a new job, and the last scene of the film is Smith and his wife agreeing to donate his recent pay rise to the Embankment Fellowship Centre.

The film “Smith” can be watched here.

The centre on the South Bank was closed not long after my father took the photo, and Hansard records a question in Parliament about the closure, when on the 23rd September 1948, Commander Noble “asked the Minister of Health why the Embankment Fellowship Centre, Lambeth, which provides accommodation for ex-Service men, has just been given notice to quit by 1st December”

Mr. Bevan answered “I understand that this and other notices are occasioned by a London County Council scheme for the redevelopment of the area of the South Bank in which this centre lies.”

The redevelopment of the South Bank would lead to the Royal Festival Hall and the Festival of Britain.

The Embankment Fellowship Centre relocated, and in 2007 changed name to  ‘Veterans Aid’, and is still in operation.

Veterans Aid have their main London centre at ” New Belvedere House”, which is rather nice as hopefully the intention was to name the building after the original location at 59 Belvedere Road on the South Bank.

On the right edge of the 1947 photo is part of the Lion brewery. It would be demolished to make way for the Royal Festival Hall which would be built on the land to the right of the Shot Tower.

The South Bank Shot Tower was not the only shot tower along the south bank of the river. The following postcard is a view from the top of the Shot Tower, looking towards the City of London:

View from the Shot Tower

Between the two chimneys is a much wider tower, with a dome shaped top. This was also a shot tower, and was older than the one on the South Bank.

Built around 1789, it was described as “a new structure, which cost near six thousand pounds, but cannot be considered as an object ornamental to the River Thames”. It was 150 feet high, and in 1826 the top part was destroyed by fire, which was not surprising given the activity carried out within the tower.

The lead works which included this second shot tower were also owned for a period by Walker, Parker & Company, the same company that owned the South Bank Shot Tower. They left the works in 1845 to concentrate on their South Bank site. The site was advertised in the Morning Chronicle on the 9th October 1845 as: “EXTENSIVE LEAD WORKS, Shot Tower, Wharf, Dwelling-house, and Buildings, Commercial-road, Waterloo-bridge. To be LET on LEASE for twenty one years, from Michaelmas next, when possession will be given in one or two lettings, all those capital and spacious PREMISES, with Wharf, extending about 120 feet next the river Thames, with the lead works, shot tower, and buildings lately occupied by Messrs.’ Walker and Co. Also a counting house, extensive stabling and premises, lately occupied by Mr. Sherwood”.

By the time of the above photo, the large advertising sign on the side of the shot tower was advertising that the works were “Lane, Sons & Co Limited. Lead and Shot Works”.

The street name in the advert is given as Commercial Road. This was a short lived name for the street which is now Upper Ground.

The shot tower was demolished in 1937 after having been out of use for several years. Today, the IBM offices (in the photo below) occupy the site of this second shot tower and lead works:

It is such a shame that the South Bank Shot Tower could not have been included in revised plans for the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and could today be seen between the Queen Elizabeth and Royal Festival Halls.

A reminder of the industrial history of the area, and adding some historical complexity to the buildings we see today, lining the side of the river.

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County Hall and a Roman Boat

Today, the River Thames runs between embankments on the north and south sides of the river, embankments built over the last 160 years, and were still being completed in the 1980s. For centuries the river had an extended foreshore which would shift with the tides, and particularly on the south bank, large areas of wet, marshy land.

One stretch of the embankment, built during the first decades of the 20th century, is the stretch in front of County Hall, the purpose built home of the London County Council, then the Greater London Council, and now home to hotels and tourist attractions.

County Hall photographed from Westminster Bridge:

County Hall from Westminster Bridge

The London County Council was formed in 1889 to replace the Metropolitan Board of Works and to gradually take on powers covering Education, Health Services, Drainage and Sanitation, Regulation and Licensing of a whole range of activities, dangerous materials, weights and measures, street Improvements – there was hardly an aspect of living in London that would not be touched by the LCC.

The problem with having all this responsibility was that the LCC also needed the space for all the elected officials and the hundreds of staff who would deliver the services.

The LCC initially had an office at Spring Gardens, near Trafalgar Square, the old home of the Metropolitan Board of Works, but quickly started looking for a new location as staff began to be scattered across the city.

A wide range of locations were suggested, but they were either too small, too expensive or too close to the Palace of Westminster – the London County Council wanted to be seen as a completely separate authority to the national government, but still wanted a prominent location, suitable for the governance of London.

The LCC already had a Works Department which occupied a small part of a site on the South Bank, to the side of Westminster Bridge.

The new St Thomas’ Hospital on the other side of Westminster Bridge had already started the improvement of the Lambeth side of the river, which included the creation of a large formal embankment.

The land across Westminster Bridge Road from the hospital provided a sufficient area for the LCC with space to grow. It was in a prominent position, directly facing onto the river, and importantly was on the opposite side of the river to the Palace of Westminster so was close to, but separate from the national government.

As the site was being acquired, attention turned to the design of the new building, and a competition was organised to invite designs for the new home of the LCC.

There were some incredibly fancy and ornate designs submitted, however the winning design was one of relative simplicity by the 29 year old architect Ralph Knott.

Construction of County Hall began in January 1909 with the construction of a coffer dam in the river, which allowed the new river wall to be built, reclaiming an area of land from the river. Work then began on excavation of the ground, ready for laying a concrete raft on which County Hall would be built.

Work was sufficiently advanced, that by 1912 the laying of the foundation stone could take place, and to commemorate the event, a booklet was published, providing some history of the construction of County Hall up to 1912, along with some plans and photographs of the original river frontage, and an important find during digging ready for the construction of the concrete raft.

County Hall foundation stone

County Hall would be built on a 6.5 acre site, and to achieve this area, a significant part of the foreshore and river needed to be reclaimed. In total two and a half acres of the river were reclaimed and a new river wall constructed to hold back the Thames.

A new river wall had been part of the construction of St Thomas’ Hospital, and the alignment of this wall would be continued with the construction of County Hall.

588 feet of new river wall was constructed. the most difficult part being where the wall would come up against Westminster Bridge. The piers of Westminster Bridge had been built on timber piles, and the foundations of the river wall would go a further 6 feet deeper than those of the bridge, so careful construction was needed to avoid damage to the bridge. This included steel piles driven around the foundations of the bridge to provide some protection from the excavations of the river wall.

Construction of the wall started in January 1909 and was completed in September 1910 at a total cost of £58,000.

The booklet includes the following diagram which shows the outline of County Hall, the alignment of the new river wall, and within the outline of County Hall, the original buildings on the site and the alignment of the old river wall, showing just how much was reclaimed from the river.

County Hall

The site was occupied by businesses such as Cross and Blackwell with a jam and pickle factory, and the engineering firm of Peter Brotherhood who had their radial engine factory on the site. Their radial engine was an innovative machine used to power the Royal Navy’s torpedoes, as well as being a source of power for other machines including fans, and dynamos for the generation of electricity.

The booklet also includes the following photo of the site from Westminster Bridge. I suspect the embankment wall now runs roughly where the photographer was standing.

County Hall original river frontage

If you look at the edge of the photo on the right, there are a large flight of stairs leading down to the river, and at the top of the stairs can just be seen part of a pub. The pub had one side facing onto Westminster Bridge Road, and the other facing a small square and the river stairs. With limited research time, I have been unable to find the name of the pub, and it is not mentioned in the County Hall booklet.

This is the view of County Hall today, the photographer for the above photo was probably standing a bit closer to the river wall than I am, but everything in the following photo was built on reclaimed land.

County Hall

The new river wall and embankment was a significant construction, and before work on this could start, a timber dam had to be built to hold back the Thames from the construction site. The dam consisted of a wall of tongue and groove timber piles, which had to be driven through four feet of mud, then eleven feet of ballast (sand, gravel etc.) before reaching London Clay, then driven further into the clay to provide a firm fixing.

This was needed as the dam would have to hold back a significant wall of water, as the tidal range could be over 20 feet, so the dam had to hold back sometimes no water (at very low tides) and at very high tides, a wall of over 20 feet of water pressing on the dam.

The embankment wall was a very substantial construction, reaching down over 35 feet below the original Trinity high water mark. Between the river wall and County Hall, a new public walkway was constructed, and under the walkway there were large vaults within the open space between the walkway and the concrete raft at the base.

The following drawing shows the construction of the wall and embankment:

County Hall Embankment Wall

Behind the wall, a large area was excavated. Due to the marshy, damp nature of the ground a concrete raft was needed across the whole area on which County Hall would be built. It was during the excavation to build that raft that a significant discovery was made of the remains of a Roman boat, seen in the following photo as discovered:

County Hall Roman Boat

The booklet provides a description of how the boat was found:

“The discovery was primarily due to Mr. F.L. Dove, the present chairman of the Establishment Committee. While inspecting in January 1910, with Mr. R.C. Norman, the then Chairman of the Committee, the excavation for the concrete raft, he noticed a dark curved line in the face of the excavation immediately above the virgin soil, and some distance beneath the silt and the Thames mud. The workmen engaged suggested that it was a sunken barge, but Mr. Dove realised from its position that it must be of considerable antiquity, and accordingly requested the Council’s official architect to have the soil carefully removed from above.”

Mr. Dove was right about the considerable antiquity of the find. When excavated, it was found to be a Roman boat, constructed out of carved oak. It was lying 19 feet, 6 inches below high water, and 21 feet 6 inches below the nearby Belvedere Road.

The size of the boat was about 38 feet in length, and 18 feet across.

Within the boat were found four bronze coins, in date ranging from A.D. 268 to 296, portions of leather footwear studded with iron nails, and a quantity of pottery. There were signs that the boat had been damaged as several rounded stones were found, one of which was embedded in the wood, and there was indication that some of the upper parts of the boat had been burnt.

After excavation, the boat was offered to the Trustees of the London Museum, who accepted, and the boat was removed from site, with the following photo showing the transport of the boat from the excavation site. It is within a wooden frame to provide some protection.

Roman Boat

The boat was put on display in Stafford House, then the home of the London Museum. (Stafford House is now Lancaster House, in St. James, a short walk from Green Park station).

The following photo shows the boat on display:

Roman Boat

I contacted the Museum of London to see if parts of the boat were available to view, and was told a sorry story of the limitations of preservation techniques for much of the 20th century.

The boat was found beneath the silt and Thames mud in an area of damp ground. This created an oxygen free environment which preserved the boat’s timber.

As soon as the boat was exposed, it started to dry out, and over the year the timbers cracked and disintegrated. Museum of London staff tried to patch up with fillers, but this was long before the chemical means of conservation that we have today were available.

When the Museum of London moved to its current site on London Wall, only a small section was displayed, and this was removed from display when the gallery was refurbished in the mid-1990s.

Some key features of the boat such as joints and main timbers have been preserved as well as they can be after so many years, and are stored in the Museum of London’s remote storage facility, so not available for public display.

The Museum of London did donate some of the fragments to the Shipwreck Museum in Hasting, so I got in contact with them to find out what remained.

I had a reply from the former City of London archaeologist, Peter Marsden, who advised that much of what was preserved at Lancaster House was modern plaster of paris painted black. He also confirmed that only some ribs and a few bits of the planks survive, and are no longer on display.

Peter Marsden has written some fascinating books on Ships of the Port of London. They are very hard to find, however the English Heritage Archaeology Data Service has the book “Ships of the Port of London, First to eleventh centuries AD” available to download as a PDF from here. It is a fascinating read which includes many more discoveries in the Port of London as well as the County Hall Roman boat.

The age of the boat seems to be around 300 AD which is confirmed by the coins discovered in the boat all being earlier, and Peter Marsden managed to get a tree ring date of around 300 AD from one of the planks.

It is difficult to confirm exactly why the boat was lost on the future site of County Hall. There was much speculation at the time, including in the County Hall booklet, that the boat had been lost during battles in AD 297. The burning on parts of the wood written about in the booklet has not been confirmed, and the stones could have been ballast.

It seems more likely that the boat may have been damaged, or simply lost on what was the marshy Thames foreshore and land of the south bank. Away from the City of London, the boat was left to rot, gradually being covered by the preserving mud and silt of the river until discovery in 1910.

There is another feature on the plan of the new County Hall that suggests the boat could have been on the edge of the Thames foreshore.

On the opposite side of County Hall to the river is a street called Belvedere Road. This was originally called Narrow Wall. The first written references to the name Narrow Wall date back to the fifteenth century, and it could be much older. The name refers to a form of earthen wall or walkway, possibly built to prevent the river coming too far in land, and as a means of walking along the edge of the river.

In the following extract from John Rocque’s 1746 map of London, Westminster Bridge is at the lower left corner, and slightly further to the right, Narrow Wall can be seen running north.

Narrow Wall

Although straightened out and widened, Belvedere Road follows the approximate route of Narrow Wall.

If Narrow Wall was built along a line that formed a boundary between river and the land, then the Roman boat was close to this and would have been in the shallow part of the reed beds that probably formed the foreshore.

I have annotated the original plan from the booklet with some of the key features, including the location of the Roman boat:

County Hall

The following view is looking along Belvedere Road / Narrow Wall, with County Hall to the left:

Belvedere Road

The following photo is a view of the entrance to County Hall from Belvedere Road. The Roman boat was found just behind the doors to the left:

County Hall

There is a curious link between the finding of the Roman boat and the laying of the foundation stone commemorated by the booklet.

The foundation stone was laid on Saturday the 9th of March 1912 by King George V. Underneath the foundation station was a bronze box, the purpose of which was described in newspaper reports of the ceremony:

“Depositing a ‘find’ for some archaeologist of the future, the King and Queen watching the foundation stone of the new London County Hall being lowered into position. Before the stone was lowered into position and declared by the King to be well and truly laid, his Majesty closed a bronze box containing certain current coins and documents recording the proceeding, and caused it to be placed in a receptacle in the stone. Perhaps at some dim future day, when London ‘is one with Nineveh and Tyre’ this box and its contents will come to light beneath the spade of an excavator, burrowing amid the ruins of a forgotten civilisation.”

So having been the site of excavation of a Roman boat, the hope was that the bronze box would form an archeological discovery in some distant future.

I assume the bronze box is still there, below the foundation stone, in the north-east lobby adjacent to the old Council Chamber.

Construction of County Hall continued slowly. It was a large building requiring large numbers of workmen and materials.

The coal and dock strikes of 1912 and building workers strike of 1914 delayed construction. Work continued during the First World War, however war demands such as on the rail network caused problems with the transport of granite from Cornwall to London.

As parts of the building became useable, they were taken over by rapidly growing Government departments such as the Ministry of Munitions and Ministry of Food, who were able to prioritorise their needs over the LCC due to the demands of war.

By the end of September 1919, the LCC were able to retake possession of the building, and work on completion continued quickly, with over one thousand men working on the site by March 1921.

The building was soon substantially complete, was gradually being taken over by an ever expanding LCC staff, and was officially opened in July 1922.

The London County Council continued until the 1st April 1965. The London Government Act of 1963 restructured how London was governed, and this led to the Greater London Council (GLC) which took over from the LCC.

The GLC lasted to the 31st of March, 1986 when it was abolished by the 1985 Local Government Act, primarily down to conflict between the Labour held GLC and the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher across the river.

The building was sold to the Shirayama Shokusan Corporation, a private Japanese company, for £60 million. and in the following years it would be converted to a hotel and the ground floor facing the embankment walkway hosts tourist destinations such as Shrek’s World of Adventure, a Sealife Centre and the ticket offices for the London Eye.

County Hall is Grade II listed, and the original Council Chamber of the LCC has been preserved, and is now available to hire and is used as a theatre.

The architect Ralph Knott worked on County Hall for most of his career. He had been called up into the Royal Air Force during the First World War where he was responsible for the design of airfield buildings, but he still kept in touch with County Hall construction. He returned to the County Hall project after the war to see the main building through to completion.

He was still working on plans for extension of the building late in his career, which were not finished at the time of his death at the young age of 50 on the 25th of January 1929.

County Hall is a fitting tribute to Ralph Knott. A relatively simple, but grand and imposing building facing onto the river, suitable for an institution that was to have so much impact on the 20th century development of London. A building of contrasting design to the Palace of Westminster on the opposite bank of the river.

Sad that the Roman boat has been substantially lost. Preservation of organic remains that have been in waterlogged soil for centuries is difficult, but thankfully now much better, as seen for example, with the preservation of the Mary Rose in Portsmouth.

I hope that no readers comment that the bronze box beneath the foundation stone has been removed. It would be great that it is still there for archaeologists in the distant future to dig up.

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Pickle Herring Street Revisited

It is remarkable how some places in London have changed beyond all recognition within living memory, and this week’s photo is a prime example. It was taken by my father in 1947 in Pickle Herring Street, a lost street that ran behind the warehouses on the south bank of the Thames, west from Tower Bridge.

I last wrote about Pickle Herring Street six years ago, when I featured a photo taken from underneath the arch on the approach road to Tower Bridge. This photo was on the same strip of negatives, but I was not sure of the location, whether west of Tower Bridge, or east along Shad Thames, so I put the photo aside to look at later.

I recently spent some time checking maps, and aligning some of the features between map and photo and can now confirm that the following 1947 photo shows an additional section of Pickle Herring Street, not seen in my original 2015 post.

Pickle Herring Street

It is difficult to be precise with the exact location of the photo given the total redevelopment of the area, however as best as I can estimate, my father was standing somewhere on the grass between where I am standing to take the photo, and the tree, looking towards City Hall:

Pickle Herring Street

The building behind the tree is City Hall, the current home of the Mayor of London, which will soon be moving to an existing building called the “Crystal” at the Royal Docks in Newham. (Strangely on the Mayor of London website, the pages describing City Hall have text that refer to the existing building, but with a photo of the new building at the Royal Docks).

To find the location of the photo, I checked the features in the scene against the 1950 revision of the Ordnance Survey map, published three years after the photo had been taken.

In the following graphic, I have aligned features in the photo with those on the map  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Pickle Herring Street

The red dot and arrow show where my father was standing to take the photo and the arrow is the direction of view.

The first two arrows point to the overhead walkways connecting warehouses on either side of Pickle Herring Street.

A patch of light can then be seen on the street, this is coming from the street Potters Fields which runs to the left of the photo.

The street than narrows with a building seen blocking part of the street, and a narrow section to the right, where in the distance, a larger overhead structure can be seen spanning the street. This is the greyed in block in the map with an X which shows this is an upper floor which runs over a street.

The southern approach to Tower Bridge can be seen on the right of the map.

So having located this 1947 photo, I can add to the photo from my 2015 post to give a fuller view of Pickle Herring Street. This was the view from under the approach to Tower Bridge:

Pickle Herring Street

If you refer to the 1950 map, you can see the point in the street where the building on the right juts out into Pickle Herring Street, and it was there that my father was standing to take the photo at the top of today’s post.

The following photo is my 2015 version of the above, from underneath the approach to Tower Bridge:

Pickle Herring Street

Pickle Herring Street is an old street, and is shown in Rocque’s 1746 map of London. The following extract shows the western extent of the street, the part in my father’s photo was in the join on my printed copy of the map so did not photograph well.

John Rocque map of Southwark

The map does show that there was also a Pickle Herring Stairs to the western end of the street. I do not know what came first, the stairs or the street, but I suspect the stairs as the river stairs are some of the oldest features along the river’s edge.

There are also multiple theories as to the source of the name of the street and stairs. I cannot find any confirmed written reference to the source, but it is probably safe to assume it has some reference to the fish herring that may have been landed at the stairs, but it is impossible to be sure.

The first written references to activities within the street date to the start of the 19th century, and a newspaper advert from the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser on the 14th of February, 1805 refers to the street, and also an interesting way of buying access to a property at the time:

“WHARF, DWELLING-HOUSE and WAREHOUSE, PICKLE HERRING STREET, Southwark, at Garraway’s Coffee-House, Cornhill. The Life Interest of Two Persons, aged 45 and 44, in the above estate, is now to be sold, and the purchaser will be entitled to the property for the life of the longest liver; both are insurable at a very trifling premium, but as there are now two lives, no insurance is necessary”.

Interesting way of buying access to a set of buildings, where the length of time you have access is entirely dependent on the remaining length of life of two people. Presumably they still held the freehold, which at the death of the last, would then pass to whoever was named in their will, and the person who had purchased the property would either have to leave, or negotiate with the new owner.

There is an earlier written reference to Pickle Herring Stairs, which dates from the 16th October 1727, when a newspaper reported that a Waterman’s Boy had fallen in the Thames at the stairs and drowned.

It is safe to assume that Pickle Herring Street has been in existence for centuries, and served the warehouses and wharves that lined the river.

That would all end not long after my father took the above photos. The 1953 edition of London Wharves and Docks, published by Commercial Motor lists the two wharves that were still in operation.

Mark Brown’s Wharf and Cold Stores are the buildings in the first photo at the top of the post. These were owned by the Hay’s Wharf Company and dealt with “provisions, dried fruit, spices, canned goods and refrigerated produce”.

As seen in the 1950 map, there was a long jetty in the river to serve the wharf, with travelling cranes. The jetty could accommodate and fully unload ships up to 420 feet in length.

The buildings seen from underneath the approach to Tower Bridge in the second photo were part of Tower Bridge Wharf, which dealt with “hides, skins, wool and leather”.

The buildings were empty and derelict for much of the 1960s and 70s, were demolished, and for some years the space became a temporary car and lorry park before the building of the area as we see it today.

The grass in the photo is part of Potters Fields green space, an area that runs from close to Tower Bridge, round the back of City Hall and up to Tooley Street.

The space where City Hall is located occupies the western end of Pickle Herring Street, at the far end of the photo at the start of the post.

It is interesting how streets dissapear, and the space occupied by these streets become part of private developments.

Large parts of London have long been owned by individuals. In the past these tended to be members of the aristocracy, who owned the land, then built and developed as the city expanded, and ended up owning large areas of streets and buildings. Many of these are still in existence, however they have reduced from their peak.

Property companies have built significant collections of buildings, and a change over the last few decades has been the rise of the foreigh property owner.

The area from City Hall, almost to Hays Galleria and up to Tooley Street now goes under the name of More London.

The area is owned by St Martins Property, which is the UK investment vehicle of the sovereign wealth fund of Kuwait.

So the space occupied by Pickle Herring Street is now under private ownership, and in common with many of these spaces, is patrolled by private security.

The name Potters Fields referred to the street that ran from Tooley Street to Pickle Herring Street and was the street that allowed light to fall on the street in the distance in my father’s photo. It can still be found as a small stub of the street remains off Tooley Street, and in the name of the green space.

Originally, Potters Fields was the name given to the space to the west of the approach to Tower Bridge, and today occupied by City hall. Part of this space was occupied by a pottery, set up by the Dutchman Christian Wilhelm in around 1618, and which went by the name of Pickle Herring Pottery.

I suspect the name of the pottery came from the street or stairs as it is a rather strange name to give to a pottery.

The pottery operated on the site for around 100 years, before moving to Horsley Down to the east of Tower Bridge, early in the 18th century.

The British Museum has a collection of what is attributed as Pickle Herring Pottery, including the following dish dating from 1668 and showing Charles II crowned and in armour (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Potters Field pottery

Much of the early output of the Pickle Herring Pottery appears to have had a delftware influence, which was probably down to the Dutch founder of the pottery.

Sad that the centuries old name Pickle Herring which referred to both the street and river stairs can no longer be found in the area, however I am pleased to have confirmed the location of another of my father’s photos and at least these two photos help to remember this lost London street.

My original 2015 post on the street can be found here.

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The Medieval Church at Reculver

I hope you have had a good Christmas in whatever form that may have taken in these strange times. As well as Christmas, last week also saw the shortest day of the year, and slowly the days will start to lengthen. The weather has also been very grey and cloudy and the period between Christmas and New Year is often a good time to get out for a walk.

The Thames Estuary is an ideal place for a walk. Close to the Thames and the sea, usually a good breeze to blow away any late December lethargy, and plenty of historic places to explore.

One of these is the ancient church of Reculver on the north Kent coast. The remains of a church built in an old Roman camp, with two distinctive towers that for long were navigation markers for those sailing on the estuary.

Reculver

Reculver is a few miles to the east of Herne Bay, and as the above photo shows is on a prominent location on a cliff top next to the sea. The location is ringed in the following map ( © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Map of Reculver

This has long been an important location, with the first major construction on the site being an early Roman fort. A Saxon church was built at some point around the year 669, with the church forming the core of a small monastic settlement.

The towers were added when a series of alterations were made to the church at the end of the twelfth century. This work included a new, large west facing doorway.

The church was built in the centre of the original Roman fort, and the church was originally almost a mile from the sea, however erosion has taken the sea up to the edge of the church, and the land occupied by almost half of the Roman fort has been lost.

The beach (now occupied by large rocks to prevent further erosion) and the church has long been a tourist destination, and the following early postcard shows what would have greeted visitors in the early 20th century:

Reculver postcard

The Monastic establishment came to an end in the year 949 when the building took on the role of a parish church. The rebuild of the late twelfth century utilised the remains of the old monastery to construct the new church.

Over the centuries, land was gradually being eroded, and by 1780, the northern corner of the church was only 50 yards from the sea. In 1802 much of the core of the church collapsed and by 1805, the two towers were at risk.

The prominence of the two towers, on the cliff, overlooking the sea and the Thames estuary was critical to navigation. The minutes of Trinity House from 1662 record the need to make repairs to the steeples of a building that was long regarded as an “ancient sea mark”.

With the two towers at risk in 1805, Trinity House took action and purchased the remains of the old church in 1810 and built groins along the beach in front of the cliff, to break up the action of the waves. They also faced the cliff with stone to prevent further erosion, and following this work, the two towers have been able to continue to help those navigating at sea.

Trinity House also rebuilt the wooden steeples at the top of the towers, which had been blown down (it can get very windy along this exposed coast).

Navigation markers, such as the towers at Reculver, were becoming less relevant in the early 20th century for navigation on the Thames estuary, so Trinity House handed over the site to the Government’s Office of Works in 1925, and it is now the responsibility of English Heritage.

The following print from 1834 shows the new wooden steeples installed by Trinity House at the top of the towers. Note also to the right of the church two structures with flags which were probably used for signaling to ships at sea  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Reculver

Getting closer to the church and the original west facing entrance can be seen, now blocked up.

Reculver church towers

A legend associated with the twin towers of the church is that they were either caused to be built, or where repaired around the year 1500 by  Frances St. Clair, Abbess of a Convent of Benedictine Nuns at Davington.

There are a number of variations to the legend, with the majority recording that Frances, along with her sister (also a nun) were travelling on a ship that was shipwrecked near Reculver. They were brought ashore at the church. Some variations record that her sister Isabelle died in the ship wreck, other that they were both saved.

Either way, due to the shipwreck, Francis had the towers built / repaired as a result of being saved, or in memory of her sister.

A drawing from 1784 shows Frances and Isabella being reunited in front of the church at Reculver, with some serious artistic license and creativity being used to show the buildings of the church in the background  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Reculver

The site of the church has probably been in use for well over 2,000 years. Archaeological excavations have shown that the Roman fort probably started as a small initial camp for the invading Roman forces in the year 43. Excavations have also revealed that Reculver was the site of an earlier Iron Age farmstead.

The site was occupied throughout the Roman period, and the main walled fort was built early in the third century. It became one of the line of forts known as the Saxon Shore Forts which were established along the eastern and southern coast of England, and the northern coast of France, in the late third century, to protect against raiding parties as the Roman empire started to face many of the threats that would result in Rome abandoning England in the early 5th century.

The remains of a number of the walls of the fort can still be seen around the site, and Roman tiles and stone were used in the construction of the church. The distinctive red / orange Roman tiles can be seen embedded in many of the remaining walls of the church:

Reculver

My last visit to Reculver was on a brilliant sunny day, and the ruins of the church stood out against a blue sky.

Reculver

However it is a wonderful place to walk at any time of year, and has frequently been illustrated as part of a windy / stormy scene with the waves crashing up to the cliff showing how easily this part of the north Kent coast is eroded, and that the church would have been victim to the waves if not for the work of Trinity House. The following print is from 1829  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Reculver

Another scene from 1796 showing the nave of the church before this collapsed in 1802. The scene also shows a house between church and cliff, however as well as the collapse of the church, a few years later this house would also be lost and the cliff would be up against the church  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Reculver

Whilst today there are very few sailing ships off Reculver using the towers as navigation markers, the view from Reculver includes the Kentish Flats wind farm, roughly six miles offshore, and in the middle of the following photo, just visible on the horizon, is the Red Sands fort:

Red Sands Fort

Reculver is a fascinating place to visit at anytime of year. It is also a good place to see the impact of coastal erosion, with getting on for a mile of land having been lost in recorded history. Without the work of Trinity House, it is doubtful whether the two towers, the remains of the body of the church, and some of the walls of the Roman fort would remain for us to see today.

That’s my last post for 2021. Thanks for reading over the last year, and can I wish you all a very happy and healthy 2022.

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Tower Stairs – The Greatest Plying Place In All London

The following photo was taken by my father in 1947, from the south bank of the River Thames, looking over to the north bank, just to the west of the Tower of London (part of which can be seen on the right hand edge of the photo).

Tower Stairs

The tall building in the centre of the photo is the former headquarters of the Port of London Authority on Trinity Square. Lower, and to the left can be seen a blackened tower. This is the remains of the church of All Hallows by the Tower after the area was very badly damaged by wartime bombing.

Hard to see, but in the very centre of the photo, along the river edge is a set of stairs. I have enlarged the section of the above photo to shows the stairs below:

Tower Stairs

This was Tower Stairs – one of the many old stairs leading from the land down to the river, described in an 18th century newspaper as “the greatest plying place in all London”.

I have written about a number of these stairs in previous posts, and I must admit to be fascinated by them. They connect two very different worlds, the land and the water, although they are an integral part of both, and for so many people they have been a point of arrival or departure.

Along with City churches, they have been in the same location for centuries. They are a fixed point where we can trace events in the history and life of everyday Londoners.

The majority of Thames Stairs are not that obvious, and people probably walk by without noticing them.

A wonderful project would be plaques alongside to restore the original name of each of these stairs, and perhaps some of the key events that happened at each stair. An initiative to try and reconnect people with the river.

Tower Stairs were an important set of stairs to the river. They were adjacent to the Tower of London and they were to the east of London Bridge, therefore if you were travelling to places along the east of the river, such as Greenwich, by using Tower Stairs you would avoid having to pass through the narrow arches of London Bridge, where the fast flow of water through a narrow gap was always a risk.

The following photo is my 2021 view of the same photo taken by my father in 1947:

Tower Stairs

Tower Pier now hides the location of the stairs in the above photo, so to find them, we need to cross the river and look for them under the entrance walkway to Tower Pier:

Tower Stairs

A wide set of stairs remain, although a considerable width of the stairs has been built on to provide support for the entrance to Tower Pier. Only a narrow section on the left of the stairs runs up to street level.

The following photo is looking at the entrance to Tower Pier. The entrance to the stairs is to the lower right of the pier entrance, at the end of the central light section of paving which runs between the two dark sections.

Tower Stairs

The entrance to Tower Stairs (unfortunately locked), showing the narrow section which leads down to the wider stairs and to the river.

Tower Stairs

There are numerous newspaper reports about events happening at these stairs.

In March 1793, it was reported that “one hundred and fifty Frenchmen, chiefly officers, who had fled from Dumourier’s army, landed at Tower Stairs from Holland. They gave the most deplorable accounts of the wants and distresses of Dumourier’s soldiery”.

In May 1750, after reviewing the First Regiment of Foot Guards in Hyde Park, the Duke of Cumberland arrived at Tower Stairs , where he took to the water “to go Pleasuring for a few days in the Caroline Yacht”.

In January 1768, the stairs were described in the words I used in the title to this post as “the greatest plying place in all London” which gives some indication of their importance. The same report stated that old houses adjoining Tower Stairs would be pulled down in the spring to make the “landing more commodious”.

Tower Stairs was also the site of the numerous small tragedies that were almost a daily occurrence on the river. In May 1739 “a young lad, about 18 years of age, servant to a Druggist in Wood Street, washing himself in the river off Tower-stairs, was taken suddenly with the Cramp, and drowned, in sight of numbers of spectators, none of whom could be quick enough to save him”.

And in October 1738, “Captain Collier, Commander of a Norwayman, landing at Tower Stairs, upon stepping on shore, his foot slipped, and he fell into the river and drowned”.

Tower Stairs are very old. Although not named, they are shown on the 19th century reprint of the mid 16th century map known as the Agas map (although the original has not survived, only later, modified copies).

The stairs are not named, but in the following extract, look to the left of the Tower of London, and a wide street runs down to the river, where there is a break in the river wall. A man appears to be driving a couple of animals into the river at the point where the stairs are located.

Tower Stairs

The stairs are shown and named Tower Stairs on Rocque’s 1746 map of London. They appear right on the edge of the page on my reprint of the map so I have not included an extract.

They are also shown on Smith’s New Plan of London, dating from 1816. I have arrowed the stairs in the following extract:

Tower Stairs

The importance of the stairs can be judged by their location, adjacent to the Tower of London, and where Great Tower Hill meets the Thames. As can be seen in the above map, there was also a small inlet to the left of the stairs, which probably provided additional mooring space for Watermen, and boats loading and unloading at the stairs.

As you have probably seen from previous posts, I use newspaper archives as one of the historical sources when researching posts.

Being newspapers, they have to be read with some care, to try and see through the way the story has been edited and added to by the journalist, however they do provide an account that was written at the time.

There are numerous references to Tower Stairs, so I decided to take a few from the 18th century to see what was happening at the stairs. I have already recorded some local events, but there were four accounts mentioning Tower Stairs that tell of a wider story of life in London in the eighteenth century, based on people who walked along Tower Stairs, so for the rest of the post, four stories about Press Gangs, the Frozen Thames, the Blackheath Chocolate House and when Cherokee Indians visited London.

The Press Gangs

The danger of being taken by a Press Gang and tricked into service in the Navy was more often a risk for those living and working in the streets to the east of the City, however those sleeping in their beds in the City were at risk, but the City of London would always protect their citizens, as this report from the12th of September 1755 records:

“Monday at the Sessions at Guildhall, Robert Alsop, a Midshipman of one of her Majesty’s men of War, was convicted, upon his own confession, of riotously entering the Dwelling-House of Mr. William Godfrey at Billingsgate, a reputable Citizen, and Livery Man of London, at the Head of a Press-Gang, on the 25th of June last, in the Night-time; and for seizing him by the collar, knocking him down, forcibly dragging him through the Streets of London to the Tower-Stairs (with only one Slipper on), carrying him on board a Tender on the River Thames, and confining him in the Hold for twelve hours, without any Warrant of lawful Authority, to the great peril of his Life; when the Court were pleased to fine him £5, and to order him to be imprisoned one Year in Newgate. This Prosecution was carried on by the Directions of the Court of Alderman, at the Expense of the City, in order to vindicate the Rights and privileges of its Citizens, and to prevent such Insolences for the future.”

The City of London was always ready to defend the “Rights and Privileges” of their citizens. I suspect a fine of £5 and one year of imprisonment was a reasonably hard sentence, which also acted as a deterrent to others.

During the 18th century, the Navy was in almost constant need of men to man the ships. The Derby Mercury on the 17th March 1743 described another event at Tower Stairs, when “They press so strong upon the River Thames for Seamen, that not a Day passes but they get a great many Hands, and last Saturday, a Waterman, belonging to Tower Stairs, who had a Protection, was pressed five different times”.

Protection was mainly issued by the Admiralty or Trinity House for specific types of employment, and the bearer had to prove their protection if they were caught by a press gang. This would normally stop a person being taken, however in times of war, even protections were abandoned and almost anyone could be taken.

The 1828 edition of City Scenes by William Darton shows a press gang in operation at Tower Hill. I assume the man at the front is pointing towards Tower Stairs where the unfortunate man is being dragged. A Royal Nay ship can be seen in the background.

Press Gangs

Source: The Project Gutenberg eBook City Scenes by William Darton

Having avoided the Press Gangs, there is another danger in the Thames off Tower Stairs:

The Frozen Thames

Up until the mid 19th century, a period known as the Little Ice Age had been causing very cold winters and periods when warm summers were not always dependable. This period of colder weather began around the 14th century, but the impact on London is well documented in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Whilst the popular image is of ice fairs held on the Thames, for those who had to work or travel on the river, ice would also present a danger. For those without the sanctuary of shelter and warmth, very low temperatures would also be a risk to life.

Following image shows “This view of London, printed on the Ice of the River Thames, February 5th, 1814”: (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

Frost Fair

News reports referencing Tower Stairs show the dangers of the frozen River Thames. On the 12th January 1740, the Ipswich Journal reported: “On Tuesday Night an adventurous Waterman undertook to carry his Fare, a Woman and a Child, from Tower-stairs to Battle-Bridge, as the tide was coming in; but the Islands of Ice floating down upon them they were drove to the Bridge, where they lay in sight, perishing with the Cold, but out of reach of Relief from any of the Inhabitants of the Bridge, but at last were fortunately carried through to St Mary Overy’s Stairs, and taken up almost to Death. Tis thought neither the Woman nor Child can recover.”

The Bridge was London Bridge when it still had houses and businesses running along the bridge over the river. The relatively narrow arches for water to flow under the bridge caused a fast flow and it was a very dangerous place to get trapped.

In the same report was an indication of the amount of ice on the river “Yesterday morning at Low Water, the Thames was so covered with Ice above Bridge, that several Men walked over from Old Swan to Pepper-Alley Stairs”.

The term “Above Bridge” was used to refer to the stretch of the Thames to the west of London Bridge, in the direction of Westminster. The following print shows a Frost Fair on this area of the Thames during the 17th century. London Bridge is in the background (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Frost Fair

Although prints such as the one above show a scene of celebration on the frozen river, there was a very dark side as the Kentish Weekly Post reported on the 9th January 1740 where “Several dead Bodies float up and down with the Tide and Ice, but none of them can be taken up”.

The following print dates from 1740, the year of the above news reports and is titled “An exact draught of Frost Fair on the River Thames as it appeared from White Hall Stairs in the year 1740” (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Frost Fair

The winter of early 1740 seems to have been a particularly bad winter for those on and off the river. On the 5th of January “Above 30 boats, twas judged lost between Tower-stairs and Woolwich, most of which were stav’d, but some sunk under the Ice and were not seen afterwards”.

The above paragraph referencing Tower Stairs was at the end of a longer description of the January weather in London: “On Saturday Night, by the Violence of the Wind, several boats were drove from their Fastenings above Bridge near Shore and stav’d to Pieces by the large Flakes of Ice that were brought down by the Tide. The same day in the morning, a Hoy laden with Malt was sunk in Chelsea Reach by the Violence of the Wind.

Two Coasters were drove from their Anchors at Horselydown upon the Sterlings at London bridge, where they lay for some time being beaten against the Houses, to the great Terror of the Inhabitants; but by the turn of the Tide they were luckily carried off, tho’ not without having sustained very great Damage.

Besides the two Vessels above-mentioned, there have been five more since cut from their Anchors by the Ice and drove down against the Bridge, where their Bowsprits have broke into several of the houses of the Eastern side and done great Damages to the Inhabitants.

On Sunday three Boys in a Boat off Rotherhithe were drove away by the great Flakes of Ice and perished thro’ the Severity of the Frost.

As ever, what is a danger to some is an opportunity for others, although in this instance, without the hoped for outcome:

Yesterday great Numbers of London Gunners assembled at the several Stairs leading to the Thames, to shoot Ducks, Gulls and Road Geese, which appeared in great Plenty; and many of them were killed, tho’ none could be brought off, the Frost not yet having prevented the Currency of the Tide. Dogs were of no use to bringing them off, the Edges of the Ice on which the birds settled being too weak for the Dogs to get up by.

As well as freezing much of the Thames, the cold winter of 1740 was a danger to those without the benefit of shelter and warmth:

A poor man without either Money or Friends, on Friday night last was obliged to take up his Lodging on a Laystall in Tyburn Road, and was on Saturday Morning found dead thereon; although he had covered himself over with Dung and loose Litter.

On Sunday Night last, about nine o’clock, a Man about 60 years was found dead in Pensioners Alley in King-street, Westminster, supposed to have perished for Want; as were also two aged Men by the Waterside at White-friars, and two Women in Old Street, all through excessive Cold and for Want of Nourishment.”

A laystall, referred to in the article was a place where “waste and dung” was deposited.

Souvenirs of Frost Fairs and years when the river froze could be purchased from booths on the Thames, including some which were printed on the frozen river (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Frost Fair

The above souvenir was printed on the 5th of February 1814, and the following print from Bankside shows the Thames as it appeared on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of February 1814 (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Frost Fair

A couple of the articles above refer to the dangers of being swept up against London Bridge, where ice would pile high up against the side of the bridge. The following print from 1814 is titled “Ice at London Bridge” and shows how the narrow channels under the bridge would restrict water flow and allow large amounts of ice to collect against the bridge (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

London Bridge

Now off to a warmer place, as my next stop from Tower Stairs is:

Blackheath Chocolate House

Tower Stairs appear to have been one of the main routes for Royalty when they headed to Greenwich. From the Newcastle Courant on the 8th September 1722:

“This day the young princesses, with a Guard, came through the City, took water at Tower Stairs for Greenwich; dined at Sir John Jennings, and after seeing the Hospital of Greenwich and other Rarities of the place, returned in the evening to Kensington”.

On the 30th June 1736, the Kentish Weekly Post was reporting another Royal visit to Greenwich, which included a visit to a place of entertainment at Blackheath:

“On Saturday evening their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales came through the City from Kensington, and taking Water at the Tower Stairs, went down the River in a Barge, attended by two others, in one of which was a fine Band of Music. Their Royal Highnesses landed at Greenwich, and went to the Chocolate House on Blackheath, where they had an elegant Collation, and about twelve returned back to Kensington.”

The Prince and Princess of Wales were the future King George II and his wife Caroline of Ansbach.

The Chocolate House was a popular place for people to meet, drink chocolate, scheme and plot in the 17th and 18th centuries. The chocolate drink was very different to the type we would drink today. It was heavily sweetened, and would be flavoured with spices and fruits.

There were several Chocolate Houses in London, but I was not aware of one at Blackheath, which if not already a popular place, would be the place to be seen after the Prince and Princess of Wales visit.

The article referenced Blackheath rather than Greenwich, so it was not close to the river or in the park, and luckily a series of articles in the Kentish Mercury in 1902 located the site of the Chocolate House, starting with the following article on the 22nd August 1902:

“THE CHOCOLATE HOUSE ON BLACKHEATH: A glimpse of the ‘manners and customs’ of some 130 years ago is obtained in the following paragraphs taken from the Kentish Express of July 4th, 1774 – ‘Friday, the Kentish Society held their annual feast at the Chocolate House in Blackheath, where there was a most elegant entertainment, and it was unanimously agreed to support the Hon. Mr Marsham and Mr Sawbridge to be the Members of the County of Kent at the General Election, being gentlemen of very considerable property in the said county, and independently to support the interest of the same. Lord North’s name was mentioned, that he is tended to offer, but they all declared to oppose him’.

Perhaps some of our readers can identify the site of the Chocolate house on Blackheath.”

The challenge of finding the location of the Blackheath Chocolate House was one that the readers of the Kentish Mercury rose to, and a series of articles followed based on reader feedback. On the 29th August 1902:

“A correspondent says that while he is unable to identify the site of the Chocolate House on Blackheath, he remembers that twenty years ago there was a pond at the top of Hyde-vale known as Chocolate Pond. He suggests that this may offer some clues.”

On September 5th, 1902: “Mr Alderman Dyer appears to put the matter to rest with the interesting statement that it was in The Grove between Nos. 4 and 5, and was a fashionable resort of the period. The beaux and belles of Blackheath much resorted thereto in the days when George the Third was King, for the purpose of drinking chocolate and discussing the scandal of the neighbourhood. The house was subsequently used as a ladies’ school, but was pulled down some years ago.”

The Kentish Mercury declared success in finding the location of the Chocolate House on the 26th September 1902, when “The question of the site of the Chocolate House on Blackheath, with a view to the definite fixing of which we some time solicited information, can now, we opine, assumed to be settled. documentary evidence in our possession goes to show that the site is now occupied by the houses 4 and 5, The Grove, Blackheath.

By the kindness of a gentleman living on Blackheath-hill we have been afforded the opportunity of inspecting a lease dated from 1776, from Mr. John Wilkinson to Mr. Charles Walker, of the property which stood upon the site in question., described in the document, which is mutilated, as in ‘Chocolate-row’.

Mr Charles Walker, aforementioned, is described as of ‘Chocolate House’. That this Chocolate House was a place of fashionable resort and entertainment we have previously mentioned. Proof is afforded by the fact that on the lease there are clauses relating to the use of the assembly rooms for ‘dancing, music and other diversions’. Our informant himself remembers the premises referred to, before the building was pulled down for the erection of those at present standing.”

The article also mentions an “Olde House” in Hyde Vale where the footmen and attendants would wait whilst their “masters and mistress were disporting themselves in the Chocolate House” – which gives a good impression of the atmosphere in the Chocolate House.

The Grove is today called West Grove and is separated from Blackheath Hill by an area of grass, and on what is today the A2 as the main route from London to Kent and the channel ports. The Chocolate House was at an ideal location to attract passing trade. I have marked the location of the Chocolate House on the following map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Blackheath Chocolate House

There were a number of Chocolate Houses in eighteenth century London, with Blackheath being described as one of the five most important. They were:

  • Blackheath Chocolate House – was much favoured by officers from Woolwich
  • The Cocoa Tree in Pall Mall, on what is now 87, St James’s, Pall Mall, gave its name to the Cocoa Tree Club, the oldest of existing London clubs. It was famous as a resort for Tory politicians.
  • Lindhart’s was in King Street, Bloomsbury
  • The Spread Eagle in Bridge Street, Covent Garden
  • White’s the most famous of any, was started in 1698, and was at the southern end of St James’s Street.

Having found the location of the Blackheath Chocolate House, there is one more story of those who had at one time passed along Tower Stairs, a delegation from the US, when:

Cherokee Indians Visit London

Reading through newspaper reports mentioning Tower Stairs, I found the following from the Oxford Journal on the 24th July 1762 – a report I was not expecting to find of some rather unusual visitors to Tower Stairs:

“This day the Cherokee King, and his two Chiefs, went in their Coach to the Tower-stairs, and about half an hour after Ten o’Clock, went on board the Admiralty Barge, in which they proceeded down the River to Deptford, Greenwich &c.”

The British had established an alliance with the Cherokee nation early in the 18th century, with both a trading and military alliance. This was important as the Cherokee were one of the major native American tribes and controlled land across what is now the states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia.

An earlier Cherokee delegation had visited London in 1730 when a group of seven Cherokee, led by chief Oukanaekah spent time in London and had several meetings with King George II at Windsor Castle. This led to a treaty where the British supplied military equipment and the Cherokee agreed to trade only with, and fight alongside, the British.

The relationship between the Cherokee and British was tense at times, and the British did occasionally attack and burn Cherokee villages.

The Cherokee fought with the British against France and during the American War of Independence.

A member of the British Virginia Militia was instrumental in arranging the visit to London. Henry Timberlake had lived with the Cherokee for a number of months and was asked by Chief Osteneco for an opportunity to visit England and to meet with the King.

After sailing across the Atlantic (during their voyage their interpreter died which caused problems until a new interpreter could be found), they arrived in Plymouth and then traveled across country to reach London, where newspapers described their appearance:

“The Cherokee Indians lately arrived in Town, are tall men, six feet high, dressed in a shirt, trousers and mantel round them and their heads adorned with Shells’ Feather and Ear-Rings, unfortunately their interpreter died in his passage and they can now only express their wants by signs. They are shy of company, especially a crowd. This King’s business here is to pay his respects to our Monarch, with whom he has lately entered into alliance. In his own country, he can raise 10,000 fighting men.”

The following print shows the Cherokee leader, Osteneco (centre) with his two chiefs:

Cherokee Indians

So what would a Cherokee delegation to London do in 1762. It appears they did much the same as a delegation from a country would do in London today. They were wined and dined, taken to shows, met key people such as the Lord Mayor and visited displays of military power.

I have been able to trace some of their itinerary as follows:

  • 11th June 1762 – An Indian King and two Chiefs belonging to the Cherokee Indians arrived in London after landing in Plymouth from America
  • 12th June 1762 – Cherokee Indians met the Earl of Egremont at his House in Piccadilly
  • 28th June 1762 – King of the Cherokees, with his attendants, dressed in the English fashion, walked for some time in Kensington Gardens, and seemed highly delighted with the place. They dined with Governor Ellis.
  • 3rd July 1762 – The Cherokee Chiefs were at Sadler’s Wells, and expressed great satisfaction at the entertainments of the place
  • 7th July 1762 – At Vauxhall where they had a very sumptuous entertainment. The wines first set before them were Burgundy and Claret, which however they did not greatly relish. Others were then placed on the table, when they fixed upon Frontenac, the sweetness of which highly hit their palate and they drank of it very freely
  • 11th July 1762 – Dined with the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House. They seemed greatly pleased with the numerous concourse of ladies and gentlemen who crowded the windows &c. to see them pass
  • 23rd July 1762 – Mr. Montague conducted the Cherokee Chiefs to the Parade in St James’s-Park; they happened to enter the Guard Room just as the Grenadiers were fixing their bayonets in order to Troop the Colour. The formidable appearance of the men and the business that accidently were engaged in threw them into such agitation that it was with the utmost difficulty they were persuaded to advance a step on the parade. They had a suspicion of treachery, were extremely impatient to be gone, and when they got home defined to see no more of those warriors with caps.
  • 24th July 1762 – This day, the Cherokee King and his two chiefs, went in their coach to the Tower Stairs, and about half an hour after ten o’clock, went on board the Admiralty Barge, in which they proceeded down the river to Deptford, Greenwich, Woolwich &c. They were much delighted with the hospital. An entertainment was laid on for them at the Greyhound, and after dinner they saw the park and the Observatory
  • 28th August 1762 – The Cherokee Indians, in a Landau with six horses, visited Winchester Camp; at its appearance they seemed greatly surprised
  • 30th August 1762 – Arrive in Portsmouth and visit the Theatre.
  • 31st August 1762 – They went on board the Epreuve Frigate, and the wind being fair, sailed directly back to America

Whilst in London, Joshua Reynolds painted Chief Osteneco:

Chief Osteneco

Source: Joshua Reynolds, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Soon after the Cherokee visitors had returned to America, the War of Independence started. The Cherokee nation allied with the British, but in reality this was more against the settlers who were continually moving closer to, and taking parts of Cherokee land.

As part of the War of Independence, in 1776 Osteneco led his forces against the Province of Georgia, however this resulted in the destruction of the towns occupied by Osteneco’s Cherokee tribes. He would then lead his people to the west and he eventually settled in the town that is today Chattanooga in Tennessee.

He died in 1780 at the house of his grandson Richard Timberlake. Henry Timberlake, who had lived with the Cherokee and was instrumental in bringing the delegation to London in 1762 was the father of Richard with one of Osteneco’s daughters being the mother.

After American independence, the British had no interest in the Cherokee nation. The following decades saw frequent skirmishes and battles with the forces of the independent state of America, and they would gradually loose their land and freedoms.

Today, Tower Stairs are hidden beneath the walkway to Tower Pier, however they were one of the key river stairs. Many thousands of people would have walked along these stairs, either passing to or from the river.

Of those thousands, four tell us a wider story of Press Gangs, the Frozen Thames, London’s Chocolate Houses, and when a delegation of Cherokee Indians visited London.

I just wish there was a conspicuous plaque naming these river stairs and providing some information on their history.

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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.

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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.

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