It is remarkable how some places in London have changed beyond all recognition within living memory, and this week’s photo is a prime example. It was taken by my father in 1947 in Pickle Herring Street, a lost street that ran behind the warehouses on the south bank of the Thames, west from Tower Bridge.
I last wrote about Pickle Herring Street six years ago, when I featured a photo taken from underneath the arch on the approach road to Tower Bridge. This photo was on the same strip of negatives, but I was not sure of the location, whether west of Tower Bridge, or east along Shad Thames, so I put the photo aside to look at later.
I recently spent some time checking maps, and aligning some of the features between map and photo and can now confirm that the following 1947 photo shows an additional section of Pickle Herring Street, not seen in my original 2015 post.
It is difficult to be precise with the exact location of the photo given the total redevelopment of the area, however as best as I can estimate, my father was standing somewhere on the grass between where I am standing to take the photo, and the tree, looking towards City Hall:
The building behind the tree is City Hall, the current home of the Mayor of London, which will soon be moving to an existing building called the “Crystal” at the Royal Docks in Newham. (Strangely on the Mayor of London website, the pages describing City Hall have text that refer to the existing building, but with a photo of the new building at the Royal Docks).
To find the location of the photo, I checked the features in the scene against the 1950 revision of the Ordnance Survey map, published three years after the photo had been taken.
In the following graphic, I have aligned features in the photo with those on the map (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):
The red dot and arrow show where my father was standing to take the photo and the arrow is the direction of view.
The first two arrows point to the overhead walkways connecting warehouses on either side of Pickle Herring Street.
A patch of light can then be seen on the street, this is coming from the street Potters Fields which runs to the left of the photo.
The street than narrows with a building seen blocking part of the street, and a narrow section to the right, where in the distance, a larger overhead structure can be seen spanning the street. This is the greyed in block in the map with an X which shows this is an upper floor which runs over a street.
The southern approach to Tower Bridge can be seen on the right of the map.
So having located this 1947 photo, I can add to the photo from my 2015 post to give a fuller view of Pickle Herring Street. This was the view from under the approach to Tower Bridge:
If you refer to the 1950 map, you can see the point in the street where the building on the right juts out into Pickle Herring Street, and it was there that my father was standing to take the photo at the top of today’s post.
The following photo is my 2015 version of the above, from underneath the approach to Tower Bridge:
Pickle Herring Street is an old street, and is shown in Rocque’s 1746 map of London. The following extract shows the western extent of the street, the part in my father’s photo was in the join on my printed copy of the map so did not photograph well.
The map does show that there was also a Pickle Herring Stairs to the western end of the street. I do not know what came first, the stairs or the street, but I suspect the stairs as the river stairs are some of the oldest features along the river’s edge.
There are also multiple theories as to the source of the name of the street and stairs. I cannot find any confirmed written reference to the source, but it is probably safe to assume it has some reference to the fish herring that may have been landed at the stairs, but it is impossible to be sure.
The first written references to activities within the street date to the start of the 19th century, and a newspaper advert from the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser on the 14th of February, 1805 refers to the street, and also an interesting way of buying access to a property at the time:
“WHARF, DWELLING-HOUSE and WAREHOUSE, PICKLE HERRING STREET, Southwark, at Garraway’s Coffee-House, Cornhill. The Life Interest of Two Persons, aged 45 and 44, in the above estate, is now to be sold, and the purchaser will be entitled to the property for the life of the longest liver; both are insurable at a very trifling premium, but as there are now two lives, no insurance is necessary”.
Interesting way of buying access to a set of buildings, where the length of time you have access is entirely dependent on the remaining length of life of two people. Presumably they still held the freehold, which at the death of the last, would then pass to whoever was named in their will, and the person who had purchased the property would either have to leave, or negotiate with the new owner.
There is an earlier written reference to Pickle Herring Stairs, which dates from the 16th October 1727, when a newspaper reported that a Waterman’s Boy had fallen in the Thames at the stairs and drowned.
It is safe to assume that Pickle Herring Street has been in existence for centuries, and served the warehouses and wharves that lined the river.
That would all end not long after my father took the above photos. The 1953 edition of London Wharves and Docks, published by Commercial Motor lists the two wharves that were still in operation.
Mark Brown’s Wharf and Cold Stores are the buildings in the first photo at the top of the post. These were owned by the Hay’s Wharf Company and dealt with “provisions, dried fruit, spices, canned goods and refrigerated produce”.
As seen in the 1950 map, there was a long jetty in the river to serve the wharf, with travelling cranes. The jetty could accommodate and fully unload ships up to 420 feet in length.
The buildings seen from underneath the approach to Tower Bridge in the second photo were part of Tower Bridge Wharf, which dealt with “hides, skins, wool and leather”.
The buildings were empty and derelict for much of the 1960s and 70s, were demolished, and for some years the space became a temporary car and lorry park before the building of the area as we see it today.
The grass in the photo is part of Potters Fields green space, an area that runs from close to Tower Bridge, round the back of City Hall and up to Tooley Street.
The space where City Hall is located occupies the western end of Pickle Herring Street, at the far end of the photo at the start of the post.
It is interesting how streets dissapear, and the space occupied by these streets become part of private developments.
Large parts of London have long been owned by individuals. In the past these tended to be members of the aristocracy, who owned the land, then built and developed as the city expanded, and ended up owning large areas of streets and buildings. Many of these are still in existence, however they have reduced from their peak.
Property companies have built significant collections of buildings, and a change over the last few decades has been the rise of the foreigh property owner.
The area from City Hall, almost to Hays Galleria and up to Tooley Street now goes under the name of More London.
The area is owned by St Martins Property, which is the UK investment vehicle of the sovereign wealth fund of Kuwait.
So the space occupied by Pickle Herring Street is now under private ownership, and in common with many of these spaces, is patrolled by private security.
The name Potters Fields referred to the street that ran from Tooley Street to Pickle Herring Street and was the street that allowed light to fall on the street in the distance in my father’s photo. It can still be found as a small stub of the street remains off Tooley Street, and in the name of the green space.
Originally, Potters Fields was the name given to the space to the west of the approach to Tower Bridge, and today occupied by City hall. Part of this space was occupied by a pottery, set up by the Dutchman Christian Wilhelm in around 1618, and which went by the name of Pickle Herring Pottery.
I suspect the name of the pottery came from the street or stairs as it is a rather strange name to give to a pottery.
The pottery operated on the site for around 100 years, before moving to Horsley Down to the east of Tower Bridge, early in the 18th century.
The British Museum has a collection of what is attributed as Pickle Herring Pottery, including the following dish dating from 1668 and showing Charles II crowned and in armour (© The Trustees of the British Museum):
Much of the early output of the Pickle Herring Pottery appears to have had a delftware influence, which was probably down to the Dutch founder of the pottery.
Sad that the centuries old name Pickle Herring which referred to both the street and river stairs can no longer be found in the area, however I am pleased to have confirmed the location of another of my father’s photos and at least these two photos help to remember this lost London street.