Tag Archives: Pickle Herring Street

Pickle Herring Street Revisited

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

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

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

Pickle Herring Street

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

Pickle Herring Street

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

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

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

Pickle Herring Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pickle Herring Street

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

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

Pickle Herring Street

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

John Rocque map of Southwark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potters Field pottery

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

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

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

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The Lost Warehouses of Pickle Herring Street

Many of the photos I have used to illustrate how London has changed are of the more well known views of London, from the Stone Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral, from Greenwich, from Waterloo Bridge, the Royal Festival Hall etc. however sometimes to get a real understanding of how London has changed since the last war in terms of the streets, buildings, employment and people, you need only look in some of the more ordinary, mundane places.

I was unsure of where my father took the subject of this week’s post. There are two photos, taken from within the same tunnel, looking out to streets with closely packed warehouses on either side.

The warehouses with their trademark walkways over the streets were clearly along the Thames. The tunnel in which the photo was taken would be adjacent to one of the stations or bridges across the Thames.

I vaguely recognised the tunnel from many walks along the south bank of the river, and a morning exploring all the tunnels finally found the location, however the changes were such that I was still slightly unsure (I will explain how I confirmed the location later).

The first photo, and it is a Sunday, early in 1947 and a solitary man walks with his two dogs towards my father taking the photo from the middle of the tunnel.

Welcome to Pickle Herring Street, taken from the tunnel under the southern approach to Tower Bridge in 1947 and then in 2015:

Pickle 1

Pickle 2

These two photos really show how London has changed in the intervening 68 years.

In 1947, shipping was still coming this far up river to be loaded and unloaded at the warehouses that ran the length of the river. The warehouses on the right were facing onto the river, walkways over the street lead to further warehouses.

Pickle Herring Street in the 1947 photo is the street winding through the warehouses, it had been here for many years but has now disappeared along with all the warehouses lining this stretch of the Thames in the redevelopment of this area of the south bank for City Hall (the building that appears to lean backwards in the 2015 photo), the home of the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority, along with the public open space created up to Tower Bridge.

Instead of the solitary Londoner walking his dogs we now find the thousands of tourists who follow the walkway along the river and cross to and from the north bank and the Tower of London via Tower Bridge.

It took a while to take the 2015 photos, I was waiting until there were not too many people in the tunnel, such is the popularity of this area even on a chilly March morning. Not long after I took the photo, an ice cream van arrived and parked to the left of the tunnel entrance. I wonder what the man in the 1947 photo would have thought about how London would be changing over the coming decades.

The change was such that I was still slightly unsure that this is the correct location of the 1947 photo, so I checked the tiling on the roof of the tunnel. The following photos show that even across 68 years the same defects and damage to the tiling can be found.

roof compare 1

In the following map from the 1940 edition of Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London I have marked the location from where the photograph was taken with a red dot.

The tunnel is directly underneath the approach road to Tower Bridge and Pickle Herring Street is seen running to the left:

Pickle map 2

The following early 19th century map extract shows the area prior to the construction of Tower Bridge. There was also a Pickle Herring Stairs roughly where St. Olaves Wharf is shown in the 1940 map. Note also Horslydown Old Stairs. This is where Tower Bridge would be built later in the 19th century.

Pickle map 6

Despite having such an interesting name, I have not found that many references to Pickle Herring Street. The name must refer to the landing and storage of pickle herrings here at some point in the past.

Old and New London, published in 1878 describes the area:

“Indeed from Morgan’s Lane – a turning about the middle of Tooley Street, on the north side, to St. Saviour’s Dock, the whole line of street – called in one part Pickle Herring Street, and in another Shad Thames – exhibits an uninterrupted series of wharves, warehouses, mills and factories, on both sides of the narrow and crowded roadway. The buildings on the northern side are contiguous to the river, and in the gateways and openings in these we witness the busy scenes and the mazes of the shipping which pertain to such a spot. “

The buildings would be exactly the same in 1947.

Gustave Doré visited the area in 1872. The following is his illustration of Pickle Herring Street for the publication, “London – A Pilgrimage”:

gustav dore

Doré probably used some artistic license in this drawing, the buildings look rather too finely built for riverside warehouses, however it probably does give a good impression of the atmosphere in Pickle Herring Street at the time.

Return to the dot in the above map, turn to the right and you will be looking down Shad Thames. This was the scene in 1947 looking down to the next stretch of warehousing running the length of the river. This was Butlers Wharf.

Pickle 3

In 2015 Shad Thames remains as does Butlers Wharf, although converted into luxury flats, restaurants and shops, again indicative of the changes across much of central London.

Pickle 4

The excellent Britain from Above website has the following photo of the area, also take in 1947.

The warehouses on either side of the approach road to Tower Bridge can clearly be seen along with the cluster of shipping and barges up against the warehouses along Pickle Herring Street.
EAW011130

I stood for a while in the tunnel waiting to take the photos, in exactly the same place as my 18 year old father back in 1947, under the same tiled roof, but looking out on a very different world.

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