Category Archives: The Thames

The Brexit Bridge or New London Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other arguments for the bridge consisted of:

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

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

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

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

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

London Bridge

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

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

London Bridge

The Serious Bit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

Cutty Sark Pub And Greenwich Peninsula

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

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

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

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

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

Cutty Sark pub

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

The following photo shows the same scene today:

Cutty Sark pub

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

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

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

Cutty Sark pub

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

Cutty Sark pub

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

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

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

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

Cutty Sark pub

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

Cutty Sark pub

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

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

Cutty Sark pub

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

Cutty Sark pub

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

Cutty Sark pub

The same view today:

Cutty Sark pub

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

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

Cutty Sark pub

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

Cutty Sark pub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

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

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

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

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

And this is the same view today:

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

The caption with the above photo read:

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

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

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

Bermondsey Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

Along The Thames From Chiswick To Hammersmith

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

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

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

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

Chiswick

(Map  “© OpenStreetMap contributors”).

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

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

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

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Another view from Chiswick Mall towards the River Thames:

Chiswick

Italy or Chiswick?

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

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

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

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

Chiswick

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

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

Chiswick

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

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

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

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

Chiswick

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

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

A Jasmine covered lamp post:

Chiswick

Carved decoration on houses:

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chiswick

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

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

Chiswick

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

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

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

Chiswick

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

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

Chiswick

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The pavilion at the far end:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

It appears to be used as a store room:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

It reads:

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

The view along the terrace to the east:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

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

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

King Edward VII Memorial Park

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

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

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

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Albert Bridge And The Extra Piers

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

Albert Bridge

The same view today:

Albert Bridge

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

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

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

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

Albert Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albert Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albert Bridge

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

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

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

The toll booths at the entrance to the bridge:

Albert Bridge

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

Albert Bridge

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

Albert Bridge

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

Albert Bridge

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

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

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

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

Albert Bridge

And the view looking to the west:

Albert Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albert Bridge

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

Albert Bridge

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

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

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

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

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Thames River Police Museum And Hermitage Moorings

Finally, somewhat later than planned, here is the last post on my Open House 2017 visits. I had started in the Isle of Dogs and my final two locations were the Thames River Police Museum in Wapping and the Hermitage Moorings,  a short distance further along the river towards St. Katherine Docks.

Thames River Police Museum

The Thames River Police Museum is usually only open by appointment so Open House provided the opportunity to just turn up and see this fascinating museum in one of the old workshops in what is still a working Police Station.

This is the front of the building on Wapping High Street. The museum is reached through the entrance on the left, through a small courtyard and up to the museum on the first floor of the part of the building facing the river.

Thames River Police Museum

The Marine Policing Unit as it is now named, is one of, if not the earliest uniformed police force in the world.

The Port of London was growing rapidly around Wapping in the last decades of the 18th century. There would be hundreds of different ships moored on the river, along the wharfs and warehouses facing the river and in the docks. The cargo stored in these shops and warehouses provided a ready source of income for those willing to steal or pilfer from these cargoes.

The problem was getting so bad that in the 1790s a uniformed police force was organised, approved by the government and funded by the various merchant companies that operated along the river.

The river police force was based at the location that remains their headquarters to this day. The first patrol of the river set out from this location in 1798.

Thames River Police Museum

In my father’s collection of photos, there are some of 1950’s era police river launches moored by Waterloo Bridge so I plan to write more about the history of the river police when I cover these photos in the coming months, so in the photos below is a brief view of what is a fascinating museum.

The museum is housed in a long, single room, at the end of which is a door facing onto the river.

The museum is a bit overwhelming at first sight as there is so much to look at. A couple of long display cases run part of the length of the room full with models, books, record books, old equipment used by the river police and much more. The walls are covered in drawings, paintings, photographs, maps and flags that tell the story of some of the significant events over the past two hundred years, and how the river police have evolved.

Thames River Police Museum

Thames River Police Museum

Display cabinets show some of the craft used by the river police. The original river patrols were made using rowing galleys, often with a crew of four comprising a Surveyor or Inspector and up to three Constables.

Thames River Police Museum

View of one narrow walkway showing how much there is to see in the museum.

Thames River Police Museum

Flags used on the patrol boats:

Thames River Police Museum

At the end of the museum is a door facing onto the river which provides some unique views.

Being an operational police station, there is a walkway leading down to a pier where some of the police boats are moored.

Thames River Police Museum

There is also a good view here across to Rotherhithe and down to the Isle of Dogs.

Thames River Police Museum

Half way along the walkway there is a traditional Police blue light:

Thames River Police Museum

The museum provides a fascinating view of the history of the Thames River Police, there is much to view and read. What makes this museum very special is that it is on the site where the original river police force was established and is within a building providing the same function to this day.

Back outside in the courtyard between the museum and the street there is a reminder that this is still a working river police station.

Thames River Police Museum

A short distance along Wapping High Street was my final Open House visit to:

Hermitage Moorings

In comparison with the other sites I visited during Open House, the Hermitage Moorings are very recent. The submission for planning permission was in 2004 and the Hermitage Moorings were constructed a few years later.

Despite being very recent, they are one of those many places around London that have a name that maintains a link with the location as it was many years ago.

The Hermitage Moorings can be found at the western end of Wapping High Street, just before the junction with St. Katherine’s Way.

The Hermitage Riverside Memorial Gardens run between Wapping High Street and the river, and at the eastern end of the gardens is the entrance to Hermitage Moorings.

Thames River Police Museum

Before taking a walk around the moorings, some history of the area and the name. In the extract from the 1896 Ordnance Survey map below, in the centre of the river’s edge is the Hermitage Steam Wharf. Just to the right of this wharf are Hermitage Stairs running down to a causeway into the river. It is here that the entrance to the Hermitage Moorings is located.

Thames River Police Museum

As can be seen from the map, the name Hermitage is used for a number of features – the stairs, the wharf and the basin.

You can also see on the left of the map the Red Lion Brewery, however according to “A Dictionary of London” published in 1918:

“Hermitage Brewhouse – A Brewhouse ‘so called of an hermite sometime being there,’ at the southern end of Nightingale lane, E. Smithfield” and “This hermitage seems to have given its name, not only to the Brewhouse, but to the Stairs and the Dock, etc.”

Nightingale Lane is the street running down from the top of the map to the left of Hermitage Basin down to the junction with Wapping High Street, so Hermitage Brewhouse may have been the earlier name of the brewery prior to Red Lion and it may have been named after a hermit.

Very tenuous but good to imagine that the new moorings are named after a hermit that lived close by.

The photo below from the Britain from Above website shows the area in 1946.

Thames River Police Museum

At the bottom right of the photo you can see some stairs and a causeway leading down into the river – this is the Union Stairs. Move along the water front to the left, pass the cranes and you will come to another causeway leading down into the river – this is the Hermitage Stairs.

The area between the Hermitage Stairs, the road behind and the river entrance to the basin is now the Hermitage Riverside Memorial Gardens.

The view across the gardens from the edge of the basin entrance looking across to where the entrance to the Hermitage Moorings is located in shown in the photo below.

Thames River Police Museum

The gardens are a memorial to the East London civilians who lost their lives, or were injured during the Second World War.

Time for a look at the moorings which were fully open during Open House weekend.

Hermitage Moorings were built, and are now owned and operated by Hermitage Community Moorings and they provide up to 23 berths for historic vessels with the owners living aboard. The moorings therefore form a community on the river rather than a place for distant owners to moor their boats.

When planning permission was applied for, there was general support for establishing a community on the river, however there were also a number of objections which appear to have come from the occupiers of the new apartments that had recently been built along the river.

Objections included that the moorings would be  ‘blots on the landscape’ and ‘floating gypsy camps’ and that ‘rusting wrecks’ will be moored alongside the flats and the park.

The historic boats are very far from being rusting wrecks. The view looking downstream from the entrance to the moorings.

Thames River Police Museum

The view upstream towards Tower Bridge and the City.

Thames River Police Museum

There are two main pontoons extending either side from the centre of the moorings. All lined with a range of very well maintained historic boats. The majority with owners currently living aboard.

Thames River Police Museum

Some of the boats have potted gardens running along the edge of the pontoon.

Thames River Police Museum

Talking to some of the owners, there was a real pride in their boats, a very obvious community of people living on the river, and great pleasure in being able to live in such a way and location.

Thames River Police Museum

The boats are all extremely well maintained. many are Dutch, all have seen a working life of many decades and now rest at this wonderful location.

Thames River Police Museum

One of the differences between being on the river and walking the streets of the city is that from the river the wide sweep of the sky is visible and there is a connection between the river and weather which played such an important part in the lives of those who worked on the river for so many hundreds of years.

Thames River Police Museum

Names and numbers:

Thames River Police Museum

Despite the boats and owners living here at Hermitage Moorings, the boats are still in working order and able to make their way along the river. To have a mooring, the owner also needs a Day Skipper qualification as a minimum so the moorings are not simply providing a living place with a superb view – they are for those with the time and money to invest in maintaining a historic boat in working order and with the skill and qualifications to pilot those boats on the river.

Looking across towards Rotherhithe.

Thames River Police Museum

For Open House, there were also a couple of historic visitors to the Hermitage Moorings, including the Massey Shaw fireboat on the left.

Thames River Police Museum

There is a good view of the Hermitage Moorings from the riverside park and walkway along the river, however Open House provided the opportunity to walk among the boats and talk to the owners.

It was a fascinating day that demonstrated the sheer variety of sites open during Open House. From the pumping station on the Isle of Dogs, the Church and Town Hall at Limehouse, a museum in a working police station on the same location as where the river police force was formed, and river moorings from the last decade.

Hopefully, with some planning, I will get the whole weekend free for Open House 2018.

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West India Dock Impounding Station

Last weekend was the annual Open House event across London, two days when it is possible to visit so many locations across the city that are not normally open. I only had Sunday free this year, and planned a walking route that would take in five locations that I have walked past many times, but never had the opportunity to see inside.

The route would start on the Isle of Dogs and end just outside St. Katharine Docks. My first visit was to the West India Dock Impounding Station:

West India Dock Impounding Station

The Isle of Dogs has, and continues to undergo, significant development. The first building on my OpenHouse list is a low brick building between Marsh Wall and Westferry Road, surrounded on almost all sides by massive building sites.

This unassuming building is the West India Dock Impounding Station and since 1929 has provided the critical function of maintaining the water levels in the West India Dock complex and helping to reduce the build up of silt.

Side view of the building from Westferry Road:

West India Dock Impounding Station

The complex of interconnected docks (West India Dock Import, Export and the South Dock) form a large expanse of water. From the opening of the docks it was a challenge to keep the docks from silting up. Opening of the lock gates between the docks and river would frequently bring in a large quantity of water carrying silt which would be deposited across the docks.

The water level would also change. As well as the inflows and outflows when the lock gates were open, there was also evaporation from the large surface area of the water, as well as leakage through the walls and base of the docks.

The docks needed to be frequently dredged and there was an early attempt at a system to manage the flow of clean water into the docks built where Poplar Dock is now located, but these methods did not work well, or offer a long-term, cost-effective solution.

Plans for a new impounding station (impounding means the replenishment of a reservoir and in the case of the docks, the management of water into the docks) were ready in 1913, however construction of the new station did not start.

Modified plans were ready in 1921 and between 1926 and 1929 the new impounding station was built across the disused western entrance to the South Dock.

This view is from Westferry Road, looking along the disused entrance to the South Dock out towards the River Thames. The entrance now provides the water intake from the river to the pumps in the impounding station.

West India Dock Impounding Station

Externally, the building appears to be a simple, brick building with no hints of what could be inside. What does make the building stand out today, is that it is one of the very few surviving buildings in this area from when the docks were operational. So much has been demolished over the past decades.

The isle of Dogs was heavily bombed in the last war, but the building also survived intact throughout this period. I searched through photos of the area on the Britain from Above web site and found the following photo from 1934. The West India Export Dock is on the left of the photo, and to the right of this dock is the South Dock. The West India Dock Impounding Station had been completed five years before this photo was taken and is just visible between the South Dock and the river. The red circle surrounds the building.

West India Dock Impounding Station

To show the overall expanse of water that was topped up by the West India Dock Impounding Station, I took the following photo during a flight over London in the early 1980s. I have again circled the location of the building. the South Dock is behind the building, the West India Export and Import docks are to the left.

West India Dock Impounding Station

The building is slightly deceiving from the outside in that the machinery is all below ground level which is apparent on entering the building and looking down on the three large pumps and their associated electric motors that occupy the floor of the building.

West India Dock Impounding Station

These are all the original 1929 machines, apart from the normal wear and tear replacement or refurbishment of components. Each of the pumps consist of three component parts:

  • the large doughnut shaped housings for the impellers that pump the water from the river into the dock
  • a large electric motor that runs the pump
  • a smaller electric motor that acts as a starter motor – the pumps are direct drive, there is no gearing so the torque needed to get the pumps running is considerable

The photo below shows the drive between the electric motor and the pump. The large boards resting up against the wall at the back of the photo are blanking panels inserted across the lower half of the pump when the top half is removed to gain access to the impeller. Without sealing the pumps, water would escape into the building, which it did in the 1970s causing a minor flood in the building.

West India Dock Impounding Station

The pumps only operate when water needs to be transferred into the docks, so they do not run all the time. Generally only one pump is needed, the three pumps provide a level of redundancy to ensure that the impounding station can still work even with two pumps out of service for maintenance or repair.

Depth of water gauges:

West India Dock Impounding Station

The pumps and electrical equipment still have their maker’s name plate, giving the manufacturer, location and year of build:

West India Dock Impounding Station

Original meters showing the electrical feed to the motors:

West India Dock Impounding Station

Each of the pumps consists of three main parts. In the photo below are the electrical motors. On the left is the smaller starter motor which generates sufficient torque to get the larger motor and pump moving and on the right is the large motor which drives the pump. The box to the left of the starter motor is full of resistors used to absorb excess electricity generated by the starter motor when the main motor is running.

West India Dock Impounding Station

The electric motors drive the impellers which are housed in these large doughnut shaped pump housings. Water is drawn in from the Thames via the old inlet to the South Dock, and through a wire mesh which traps items floating in the water from being drawn into the pumps.

West India Dock Impounding Station

For each pump, there is a large blade that opens or closes the flow of water into the South Dock. The following photo shows two of these. When open, the blade is retracted into the large metal housing above floor level, when closed the blade is lowered to block the flow of water in the pipes below floor level, from the pump into the South Dock.

West India Dock Impounding Station

Monitoring water levels and control of the pumps is now mainly automated, however some of the original monitoring equipment is still in place. The photo below shows the original water level monitor. Water would rise up and down the large black pipe. A float on the top of the water column was connected by a cable to the gauge on the wall above.

West India Dock Impounding Station

Original tools:

West India Dock Impounding Station

The water level on the inlet from the river is monitored automatically, however a monitor also provides a view of the inlet.

West India Dock Impounding Station

As I mentioned earlier in the post, the West India Dock Impounding Station managed to survive the blitz and the significant bomb damage that devastated much of the Isle of Dogs. The building included an air raid shelter for the workers in the form of a heavily protected room at one end of the building. This can be seen in the photo below with the thick concrete layer between the room and the entrance level above.

West India Dock Impounding Station

I was really surprised to learn that the West India Dock Impounding Station is not listed. Given the amount of building on the Isle of Dogs where any spare land seems to either be occupied by a recent build, or is currently a construction site this is a real worry.

The building seems surrounded by over bearing building sites at the moment which are very visible on leaving the building.

West India Dock Impounding Station

I can only hope that in a world which seems to know the price of everything and the value of nothing, the building is protected from the developments which seem to be covering much of this area.

After leaving the West India Dock Impounding Station. I crossed over Westferry Road to the Thames path and crossed over the inlet from the river. Five large wheels control the opening and closing of the inlets to the Thames.

West India Dock Impounding Station

Each with a reminder of the old London Docklands Development Corporation.

West India Dock Impounding Station

A final look back along the inlet towards the West India Dock Impounding Station.

West India Dock Impounding Station

The opening of the West India Dock Impounding Station for Open House was organised by the Canal & River Trust and their guides were incredibly knowledgeable about this historic building.

Despite not being listed, I hope that the building will be protected in the future and continue to manage water levels across the docks using the original machinery within the 1929 brick building.

Now off to Limehouse for two more OpenHouse locations which I will cover in my next post.

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The View From Blackfriars Bridge, Birds And A Fountain

This week I am on the southern end of Blackfriars Bridge, looking along the river towards the west. This was the view that my father photographed in 1952:

Blackfriars Bridge

And the view from the same location, 65 years later in 2017:

Blackfriars Bridge

The buildings on the north bank of the river stand out well in my father’s photo, he had timed the sun perfectly. Shell Mex House, the Savoy, Waterloo Bridge and Somerset House provide a contrast with the south bank of the river.

In 1952, the south bank of the river was still an industrial landscape with warehouses lining the river’s edge and jetties sticking out into the river. All this has long since disappeared and the occasional remains of some of the jetties can be seen above the water, or on the muddy edge of the river at low tide.

Whilst the south bank of the river has changed dramatically, the north bank along this stretch of the river has hardly changed. A closer examination would show there have been cosmetic changes to the buildings, but at this distance the view looks much the same.

Blackfriars Bridge is the second bridge across the river at this location. It was designed by Joseph Cubitt, who was also responsible for the original Blackfriars Rail Bridge, the columns of which can still be seen in the river between the road bridge and the later rail bridge.

It was opened by Queen Victoria in 1869, on the same day as she opened Holborn Viaduct – a perfect illustration of how much development of the city’s infrastructure was taking place in the later half of the 19th century.

The top of the bridge is rather plain. The view to the east is obscured by the Blackfriars Rail Bridge and the new building work along the top of the bridge. To the west is the open view towards Waterloo Bridge along the stretch of the river known as King’s Reach.

It is always interesting to look over the side of a bridge, and if you peer over the edge and look at the tops of the columns supporting Blackfriars Bridge you will find a series of beautifully carved birds. These were by the sculptor J.B. Philip and are carved in Portland Stone.

The birds along the west-facing side of the bridge are apparently fresh water birds and those on the eastern side of the bridge are salt water birds. I have read that the bridge marks the boundary of salt water penetration up the Thames, however I doubt this is correct, or that there is a clear boundary.  The Port of London Authority puts the boundary of river water and salt water at Barking, however this will move up or down river dependent on tides and the volumes of fresh water coming from the upper Thames. Theoretically, the river could have a gradually reducing salt content all the way to the tidal limit at Teddington Lock.

Starting from the northern end of the bridge, these are the four sets of birds that look out over the river, upstream towards the west:

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge

And walking back along the eastern side of the bridge, these are the birds looking along the river towards the estuary and the sea (although their view is blocked by the railway bridge):

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge

A plaque at the north-eastern corner of the bridge records that the current Blackfriars Bridge is on the site of the original 1760 bridge which was named after William Pitt the Elder who was Prime Minister during the construction of the bridge from 1760 to 1769. The name did not catch on and the location of the bridge gradually gave the name to Blackfriars Bridge.

Blackfriars Bridge

The plaque also records that the bridge was widened in 1909. This was done by adding 9 meters on the western edge of the bridge to allow tram lines to be run across the bridge. The following postcard shows a bus running along the western side of the bridge.

Blackfriars Bridge

The last time I took photos along the bridge was in 2014 and the building at the north-east corner of the bridge was empty and boarded up. I was rather worried about the wonderful fountain in front of this building after seeing building work and construction hoarding hiding the fountain from the pavement. The fountain was provided by the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association and erected by the Association in July 1861 by the Chairman Samuel Gurney MP.

The hoarding is now coming down with wire fencing remaining and it is good to see the fountain still looking good after 156 years.

Blackfriars Bridge

I have always been fascinated by the River Thames. Despite being the reason for London being where it is, and for the success of the City, today the river is often seen either as a flood risk or as a valuable scenic addition to the luxury apartments that continue to line the river.

Blackfriars Bridge is a means to cross the river, however the birds along the edges of the bridge acknowledge the river and the differences between the upstream and downstream sections of the river, pointing inland or down to the sea. The birds show that the river is not just a barrier to be crossed, but a living part of the city’s landscape.

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Old Swan Stairs

Following last Sunday’s post covering the first part of my walk around London’s West End theatres, I had been expecting to publish the second part a couple of days ago, however I must admit I have never really counted up how many theatres there are (over 40), so I am still working on the post. Therefore today, back to one of my father’s photos of London 70 years ago.

This is my father’s post war view of the stretch of the north bank of the River Thames between London Bridge and Cannon Street Station:

Old Swan Stairs

The magnificent framework of the original glass roof of Cannon Street Station is in the rear of the photo, the glass had previously been removed so this is just the metal framework.

My father was standing on London Bridge to take the photo and the river front consists of space cleared of buildings damaged by wartime bombing and some of the remaining warehouse and wharf buildings.

I took a wider photo of the scene today to set the context as the side walls of Cannon Street Station are now obscured and the station has long since lost the original roof.

Old Swan Stairs

The scene has completely changed, and the perspective of the two photos looks different due to very different lens and camera types, however there are some features remaining that allow the buildings in the original photo to be located.

The following map extract is from the 1952 Ordnance Survey map of the area (published in 1952, surveyed the previous year).

Old Swan Stairs

In the map, Cannon Street Station is the large building, partly shown on the left of the map.

The first feature to identify on the photo is Old Swan Pier. In the map, this can be seen running from a small, rectangular indentation in the river wall. In the original photo, this is the metal walkway that can just be seen running out from the river wall, with the small indentation in the river wall also partly visible.

This allows the building to be identified adjacent to the pier, this is Swan Wharf, the building has a date on the very top which I can just make out as either 1896 or 1894.

Now follow the river wall from the pier and Swan Wharf back to the right hand edge of the photo and the river wall steps back twice, once alongside the edge of the Swan Wharf building, and the second slightly further along. These two steps backs in the river wall can also be seen in the 1952 map which identifies the building to the right of the crane as the building at the end of Old Swan Wharf in the map.

The definition of the original film is not sufficient to clearly read the white writing on the side of the crane, but it appears to read “The Swan Wharf & ———“. I cannot make out the last word.

Given the level of redevelopment in this area it would be surprising if any of these features (apart from the station) remain, however there are some that allow the location of the original buildings to be placed along the river’s edge today.

Firstly, look along the river wall in today’s photo and you will see an indention in the river wall. This is the same indentation as at the location of the pier in the original photo and was retained as this gap in the river wall is the location of Old Swan Stairs, one of the many historic stairs leading down to the river.

Two dolphin structures can also be seen in the river, these are a couple of the remaining supports from the Old Swan Pier.

To the right of the stairs in today’s photo is a large tree, this is the location of the Swan Wharf building in the original photo.

From the tree to the right of today’s photo there are two step backs in the river wall. These are the same as those in the post war photo, with the old building to the right of the crane being the building at the end of Old Swan Wharfe in the 1952 map.

Old Swan Stairs have been here for many centuries. The following extract from John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Old Swan Stairs.

Old Swan Stairs

In the 1746 map, the stairs are at the end of Ebbgate Lane, in the 1952 map this lane was then Swan Lane with Old Swan Lane to the left in both maps.

Swan Stairs were mentioned in the diaries of Samuel Pepys and in Stow’s 1603 Survey of London there is a mention Old Swan: “This ward turneth into Thames streete westwarde, some ten houses on a side to the course of the Walbrooke, but East in Thames streets on both sides to Ebgate lane, or old Swan.” in his description of the boundaries of Downegate (Dowgate) Ward.

In Old and New London, Walter Thornbury writes about how Swan Stairs were used to avoid the dangers of passing under the old London Bridge by boat: “The Swan Stairs, a little ‘above bridge’ was the place where people coming by boat used to land to walk to the other side of Old London Bridge when the current was swift and narrow between the starlings, and ‘shooting the bridge’ was rather like going down the rapids. Citizens usually took boat again at Billingsgate, as we find Johnson and Boswell once doing, on their way to Greenwich in 1763.”

Old Swan Stairs were also the starting point for the Swan Upping ceremony when it started in central London. My father took some photos of Swan Upping starting around Old Swan Stairs and in the following photo is Mr Richard Turk who was the Vintners Swan Marker and Barge Master, with the Old Swan Pier in the background. The sign on the right of the piers indicates that boats to Greenwich could be boarded here. My full post on Swan Upping can be found here.

Old Swan Stairs

I am not sure exactly when Old Swan Pier opened, however the first adverts I can find for sailings from the pier are from 1838, when on the 21st May the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette carried an advert for “Steam – Cheap Fares from Old Swan Pier” . The sailings were:

  • To Gravesend – every morning at 9 o’clock, precisely. Cabin 1s: Saloon 1s 6d
  • To Richmond – Daily at half-past 9, calling at Hungerford at 10 o’clock, and to Twickenham every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Week days 1s 6d; on Sundays 2s.
  • To Woolwich – Every Sunday at 10, 2 and 5, calling at West India Dock Pier, Blackwall, at 11, 3 and 6. To Woolwich 1s, to Blackwall 9d, from Blackwall to Woolwich, 6d

The earliest newspaper report I could find referring to Old Swan Stairs is from the 9th August 1729, when it was reported that:

“Last Monday a Waterman, naked all but his shirt, rowed in a Butcher’s Tray from the Old Swan Stairs, to Greenwich, for a Wager of four Guineas, and won the same”

There are frequent mentions of Old Swan Stairs in newspaper reports since the early 18th century, and they describe the life and tragedies that must have been day to day experiences along this stretch of the Thames.

From the London reports of the Ipswich Journal on the 12th February 1743:

“Sunday Morning a young Man, dressed in a Sailor’s Jacket with Trowsers and a speckled Shirt was found in the Mud near the Old Swan Stairs; his Buckles, which were supposed to be Silver, were taken out of his Shoes. He was carried into the Church-yard, near the Stairs, till own’d, or a Warrant granted for his Burial”.

The implications being that either he was murdered for the silver shoe buckles, or he had died accidentally and his shoe buckles had been stolen.

Standing at Old Swan Stairs would have provided a fascinating view across to what would later be Southwark Cathedral with London Bridge to the left. John Cleverly made the following drawing  (©Trustees of the British Museum) of the view from Old Swan Stairs in 1792. Old Swan Stairs

Despite the land along the river having changed so dramatically over the last 70 years, we can still find features that date back hundreds of years and allow us to accurately place events from centuries of London’s history.

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