Tag Archives: Upper Thames Street

Puddle Dock And a City Laystall

Puddle Dock is a location that today, is a short street between Queen Victoria Street and Upper Thames Street, but for centuries was one of the large inlets along the river in the City that provided a dock for shipping. The photo below was taken by my father in 1947. I was originally unsure of the location as there is very little in the photo to identify the location today. The Thames is an obvious clue, but what confirmed this to be the original Puddle Dock is the short part of a bridge, seen to the right of the photo on the opposite bank of the river, along with the alignment of the dock and the length of the buildings on either side. All this I will explain below.

Puddle Dock

Firstly, the bridge across the river. This is the railway bridge across the river into Blackfriars Station. It is almost impossible to take a photo from the exact location as my father, however in the photo below I am standing in the middle of Puddle Dock and the bridge can be seen on the right with the arch on the opposite bank of the river in roughly the right position.

Puddle Dock

My next step in confirming this to be Puddle Dock was to check the map in the 1940 edition of Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London. The extract from the map is shown below with Puddle Dock in the centre of the map, just to the right of Blackfriars Station.

Puddle Dock

In the 1940 map, the dock is angled towards the bridge, and the building on the right of the dock angles inwards halfway down in such as way that it would appear to be a shorter building to that on the left. This is exactly as the buildings appear in the 1947 photo, although the key point is that the right and left are transposed in the photo as it was taken looking out from the dock.

I am confident therefore that the 1947 photo is of Puddle Dock. I did check the London Metropolitan Archive Collage collection, but could not find any photos of Puddle Dock so they may be few and far between. When finishing off this post, I did find one photo of Puddle Dock in volume one of Wonderful London published in 1926 / 1927. The photo is shown below on the left:

Puddle Dock

Compared to my father’s photo, the building on the left had lost its upper floors by 1947, probably as a result of wartime bomb damage. Even by 1926 Puddle Dock was viewed as a remnant from the past. In Wonderful London, the text below the two photos reads:

“Dramatic Contrast: Old Puddle Dock Lonely And Dirty And Modern Wharves Crowded And Clean – By comparing these two photographs we can appreciate the growth of London’s commerce. in other days we should have found Puddle Dock, which is seen in the left-hand photograph crowded with lighters from ketch and galliot unloading their cargoes laboriously by hand. Now it is frequented only by dingy barges; while it makes a useful rubbish-heap for the neighbourhood. Apart from its narrowness, Puddle Dock could not be visited by great steamers, since it is near Blackfriars Bridge, and only a few large ships, specially constructed, come farther up the Thames than London Bridge. In the photograph on the right we look down the river from London Bridge. The fruit wharves are in the foreground, where trim freighters are being unloaded by cranes.”

In the 1947 photo Puddle Dock is strewn with rubbish, although I doubt Londoners were still dumping their rubbish at the dock, probably rubbish washed in at high tide. In the immediate post war years there was still lots of debris along the river edge from the bombed buildings along the Thames.

Puddle Dock today is the name of the street that runs down from Queen Victoria Street to Upper Thames Street and there are plenty of name plaques to hint at the original use of this area of land running down to the River Thames.

Puddle Dock

Puddle Dock has a long history. John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the dock (circled in the extract below) as a large dock with the same width onto the river as the Fleet Ditch on the left. The way the shading is drawn probably indicates a sloping dock from the river up to Thames Street, very much like the 1947 photo.

Puddle Dock

For the last 300 years, newspapers contain many references to Puddle Dock. One article can be directly linked to the map above. If you look at the end of the dock, on the right it is labelled “Dung Wharf”. An article in the Evening Mail on the 25th November 1836 covered a legal case “The King v. Gore” which goes some way to explaining the name and purpose of Dung Wharf:

“This defendant has been indicted for a nuisance in keeping a quantity of filth and dirt at Puddle-dock. He has moved the proceedings into this court, and then suffered judgement by default. He was now brought up to receive the judgement of the Court.

The affidavits of several persons residing near Puddle-dock were read, in which they stated that their health was impaired in consequence of the stench arising from the filth which was allowed to accumulate at this dock. 

The defendant then put in an affidavit, stating that he had become a tenant to the corporation of London of the laystall at Puddle-dock; that he was obliged, by the covenant in his lease, to allow all persons to place any filth they chose there; that he was not allowed by his lease to suffer more than five barge loads to remain there at any one time, and that he had never done so; and that this had been a laystall ever since the great fire of London. He admitted that it was a nuisance to the surrounding neighbourhood, but that it could not be avoided.

The Attorney-General, for the prosecutors, said their Lordships would see it was necessary that the prosecution should be adopted. The inquest of the ward had made a presentment, and the Court of Alderman had no choice. They did not indict him for keeping a laystall, because that was authorised by act of Parliament. There were three in the city, Puddle-dock, Dowgate, and Whitefriars. With respect to the latter there had never been any complaint; but thank God, he did not live near Puddle-dock, for if he did he should have reason to complain. All the deponents to the affidavits had sworn that they suffered great inconvenience. It was not for keeping a laystall, but for the manner of keeping it, that the defendant was indicted. Mr. Gore had brought the filth from Covent-garden Market, even on Sundays. He said he must mix some vegetables up with the other filth. All the City wanted was, that the Court would pronounce such a sentence as would prevent the repetition of this mischief.”

The court case does not seem to have made any progress, as at the end of the article it states that “After a good deal of discussion, it was directed that the judgement should be suspended with leave to file fresh affidavits.”

The term “laystall” referenced to in the article is a place where “waste and dung” are deposited. The five barges at Puddle Dock obviously taking away the city’s waste and dumping somewhere down river. It must have been a horrible place to be in the summer and it is easy to understand the impact that the laystall had on nearby residents.

William Maitland writing in The History of London in 1756 states: “On the Banks of the River Thames are the Wharfs of Puddle-dock, used for a Laystall for the Soil of the Streets, and much frequented by Barges and Lighters for taking the same away, as also for landing of Corn and other Goods.”

Most written references to poor Puddle Dock I have seen associate the location with rubbish and filth.

The earliest newspaper article referencing Puddle Dock was from the 5th July 1722 which highlights both the graphic reporting of the time and just how dangerous it was on London streets:

“Another Misfortune happened Yesterday at Puddle-Dock, where a little Boy was killed by a Cart loaded with coals. The Child was stooping down to take up some thing from the Ground when the Cart Wheel ran over his head, and crushed it to Pieces. The Carman is absconded”

The origin of the name Puddle Dock can be found in Stow’s Survey of London from the 1603 edition where he writes: “Then is there a great Brewhouse, and Puddle wharfe, a water gate into the Thames, where horses use to be watered and therefore filed with their trampeling, and made puddle, like as also of one Puddle dwelling there: it is called Puddle Wharfe.”

The name “Puddle” is therefore from at least the 16th century and pre-dates the Great Fire of London. I have not had the time to find how far further back the name was in use – one of the ever-expanding list of things to check.

Puddle Dock today is rather a sterile place, however reading what has happened here in 300 years of newspaper reports really does bring home that for centuries this was a place of work, where people lived and where life in general played out between the City and river.

Tangible evidence of those who have worked around Puddle Wharf can be found in the trade tokens issued by businesses in the area. The British Museum has a collection of these tokens and the following is one issued by Thomas Guy at Puddle Wharf in 1668 (©Trustees of the British Museum):

Puddle Dock

In the decades after my father took the photo of Puddle Dock, the area has changed dramatically. The old dock was filled in, the Mermaid Theatre was built on the eastern edge of the dock, the river embankment was extended into the river and Upper Thames Street was rerouted to pass under Blackfriars Station to provide a direct link with the Victoria Embankment. See my post about the lost road junction between Queen Victoria Street and Upper Thames Street for more photos and history of the area.

The photo below is looking up from the river’s edge into what was Puddle Dock:

Puddle Dock

It is easy to walk past Puddle Dock. There are few reasons to walk along the street today, it is mainly a convenient route for traffic between Queen Victoria and Upper Thames Streets, but at least the name remains. One positive point is that despite the pollution from traffic along the streets on either end of Puddle Dock, it probably does smell far better than it has done for many centuries, when Londoners would have piled up their waste and filth at the laystall ready for disposal along the river.


The Lost Wharfs of Upper Thames Street and St. Benet’s Welsh Church

This week’s post is about one small area of London which has changed considerably since the 1940s. The following map is taken from Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Great London  published in 1940.

Between Upper Thames Street and the River Thames was a network of streets and wharfs leading down to the river. Small inlets such as Puddle Dock, Wheatsheaf Wharf and Castle Baynard Wharf were part of the central London network of docks where goods were unloaded to the warehouses that stood along this stretch of the river.

1940 map
The following photo is one my father took in 1948 and is one that I was having trouble trying to locate despite the very obvious landmark of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The streets are sloping down from St. Paul’s, a clear sign that this photo was taken from the southern side of St. Paul’s, where the land slopes down towards the river. Apart from the cathedral, the only other building with any distinguishing features is the building further up the road with the white brickwork down the corner of the building.

dads st bennets photo 2

On the building on the left is a small crane located towards the top of the building. A further demonstration of activity in these narrow streets. I imagine that goods being taken to or removed from the warehouse by road would be loaded onto lorries in this side street using the crane to lower from the warehouse. Typical activity that could be found in all the streets and wharfs leading down to the Thames.

Following a walk around Upper Thames Street and Queen Victoria Street, I finally found the location of this photo, however the surrounding area has changed so significantly and the street my father took the photo in does not now exist.

The building with the white brickwork on the corner is the church of St. Benet and the road in which the photo was taken and is running up to the church is Pauls Pier Wharf. I have repeated the map below and circled the area. The church is in the centre of the circle and Pauls Pier Wharf can be seen running down to the river.

1940 map 2

So what is there today? The church remains, but everything else has been lost. When this whole area was redeveloped, Upper Thames Street was widened and rerouted slightly to the south. I could not get to the position where my father took the 1948 photo, however to give some idea of the area now, the following photo is from the elevated Queen Victoria Street. If you go back to the original photo, this is roughly from the same position as from the first floor window of the building at the very top of the street, looking past the church and straight down Pauls Pier Wharf (which is now covered by the building behind the church).

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The cobbled road is the remains of Bennets Hill and where it turns right, behind the church, that is the original position of Upper Thames Street. The whole area south of the church, where once Pauls Pier Wharf, Pauls Wharf and East Pauls Wharf used to be is now the 1980’s City of London School which occupies the entire site.

As part of the development of the entire area, Upper Thames Street was moved slightly south and along this stretch it is enclosed within a concrete tunnel with the school being built across the tunnel and down to the frontage on the Thames. The nearest I was able to get to recreate my father’s original photo was up against the wall of the school looking back up Bennet’s Hill. This shows how much of the original street has been lost. To take this photo I was standing roughly where the person crossing the road in the original photo is standing.

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If you walk round to the other side of the church, it is possible to see the original route of White Lion Wharf. Again, this street has been lost and we are looking down into the concrete tunnel that carries Upper Thames Street (the first road in the tunnel is Castle Baynard Street and on the other side of the concrete wall is Upper Thames Street, also in the tunnel). Castle Baynard Street did not exist and is a creation of the redevelopment. It has continued the use of the Castle Baynard name as Castle Baynard Wharf, which was slightly to the west has also been lost. The eastern extremity of Castle Baynard was on this location. More on this in a future post.

On the right is the elevated White Lion Hill which leads from Queen Victoria Street down to the Blackfriars Underpass. Interesting that the White Lion part of the original street name has been retained but is now a Hill rather than a Wharf.

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If you walk along the Thames Path a short distance in the direction of Blackfriars Station, and look to your right the road coming down from Queen Victoria Street is what was Puddle Dock as shown in the 1940 map. The road still retains the Puddle Dock name.  This is what the old dock looks like now:

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A further example of the re-use of the names of the streets and wharfs along this short stretch of the Thames, the Thames path in this section is named Pauls Walk. There were three wharfs with the name Paul; Pauls Pier Wharf, Pauls Wharf and East Pauls Wharf.

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Returning to the church of St. Benet’s, this is an interesting church and well worth a visit. As with many City churches, first records of the church are from the 12th Century. The original church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and the current church is one of Wren’s rebuilds of the City churches (although probably the design of the church was by Wren’s assistance Robert Hooke). Unlike many of the City churches, it was not damaged in the 2nd World War, indeed unlike so much of Queen Victoria Street and the docks onto the Thames, the small area between St. Benet’s and the river did not receive any significant damage. The church is one of the very few in the City that has not changed that much since construction after the Great Fire.

There was a time though when St. Benet’s was almost lost. In the later half of the 19th century there was a wave of church demolition of those that were perceived to be redundant and St. Benet’s was one of the churches scheduled for demolition, however Welsh Anglicans petitioned Queen Victoria for permission to use the church for services in Welsh. This right was granted and since then services have been conducted in the Welsh language. The Welsh connection is a very strong part of the identity of the church.

An old street sign, now stored inside the church:

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The Welsh Dragon as a candle holder:

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The interior of the church is bright, but with plenty of wood panelling and a large carved, but simple reredos behind the altar.

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The 17th century altar / communion table with winged angels supporting a rich cornice and under the table is a figure of Charity with her children:

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The view from the gallery:

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Back outside the church, and standing on Queen Victoria Street we can look down on the church and Bennet’s Hill. The area north of the church was the original churchyard, however this was lost in the original 19th century widening of Queen Victoria Street.
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There is some confusion as to the spelling of Benet in the name of Bennet’s Hill. The church has a single “n” in the name as does the hill in the 1940 street map, however as can be seen below, the modern day street name has “nn”. I have been unable to find whether this spelling change was for a reason or an accident with the new street signs.

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Good to see that the original stone carvings above the windows still survive.

Names though do change over the centuries. Stow in 1603 stated that the church was called St. Benet Hude (or hithe) and was up against Powles Wharffe (presumably the same as Pauls Wharf in the 1940 map). Whilst the names change slightly in their spelling it does demonstrate that they have been in existence for many hundreds of years, and for the wharfs and streets they lasted down to the reconstruction of the area in the decades after the war.

Old ghost sign on the side of the church:

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Which seems to read:


Whoever commits NUISANCE against …. church … otherwise injures the WALL will be PROSECUTED ….

One wonders whether the church’s current position, squashed between Queen Victoria Street, the Upper Thames Street tunnels and the elevated White Lion Hill would be considered as committing a nuisance against the church?

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published 1940
  • The Old Churches Of London by Gerald Cobb published 1942
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878
  • Stow’s Survey of London. Oxford 1908 reprint