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I hope you have had a good Christmas in whatever form that may have taken in these strange times. As well as Christmas, last week also saw the shortest day of the year, and slowly the days will start to lengthen. The weather has also been very grey and cloudy and the period between Christmas and New Year is often a good time to get out for a walk.
The Thames Estuary is an ideal place for a walk. Close to the Thames and the sea, usually a good breeze to blow away any late December lethargy, and plenty of historic places to explore.
One of these is the ancient church of Reculver on the north Kent coast. The remains of a church built in an old Roman camp, with two distinctive towers that for long were navigation markers for those sailing on the estuary.
This has long been an important location, with the first major construction on the site being an early Roman fort. A Saxon church was built at some point around the year 669, with the church forming the core of a small monastic settlement.
The towers were added when a series of alterations were made to the church at the end of the twelfth century. This work included a new, large west facing doorway.
The church was built in the centre of the original Roman fort, and the church was originally almost a mile from the sea, however erosion has taken the sea up to the edge of the church, and the land occupied by almost half of the Roman fort has been lost.
The beach (now occupied by large rocks to prevent further erosion) and the church has long been a tourist destination, and the following early postcard shows what would have greeted visitors in the early 20th century:
The Monastic establishment came to an end in the year 949 when the building took on the role of a parish church. The rebuild of the late twelfth century utilised the remains of the old monastery to construct the new church.
Over the centuries, land was gradually being eroded, and by 1780, the northern corner of the church was only 50 yards from the sea. In 1802 much of the core of the church collapsed and by 1805, the two towers were at risk.
The prominence of the two towers, on the cliff, overlooking the sea and the Thames estuary was critical to navigation. The minutes of Trinity House from 1662 record the need to make repairs to the steeples of a building that was long regarded as an “ancient sea mark”.
With the two towers at risk in 1805, Trinity House took action and purchased the remains of the old church in 1810 and built groins along the beach in front of the cliff, to break up the action of the waves. They also faced the cliff with stone to prevent further erosion, and following this work, the two towers have been able to continue to help those navigating at sea.
Trinity House also rebuilt the wooden steeples at the top of the towers, which had been blown down (it can get very windy along this exposed coast).
Navigation markers, such as the towers at Reculver, were becoming less relevant in the early 20th century for navigation on the Thames estuary, so Trinity House handed over the site to the Government’s Office of Works in 1925, and it is now the responsibility of English Heritage.
Getting closer to the church and the original west facing entrance can be seen, now blocked up.
A legend associated with the twin towers of the church is that they were either caused to be built, or where repaired around the year 1500 by Frances St. Clair, Abbess of a Convent of Benedictine Nuns at Davington.
There are a number of variations to the legend, with the majority recording that Frances, along with her sister (also a nun) were travelling on a ship that was shipwrecked near Reculver. They were brought ashore at the church. Some variations record that her sister Isabelle died in the ship wreck, other that they were both saved.
Either way, due to the shipwreck, Francis had the towers built / repaired as a result of being saved, or in memory of her sister.
The site of the church has probably been in use for well over 2,000 years. Archaeological excavations have shown that the Roman fort probably started as a small initial camp for the invading Roman forces in the year 43. Excavations have also revealed that Reculver was the site of an earlier Iron Age farmstead.
The site was occupied throughout the Roman period, and the main walled fort was built early in the third century. It became one of the line of forts known as the Saxon Shore Forts which were established along the eastern and southern coast of England, and the northern coast of France, in the late third century, to protect against raiding parties as the Roman empire started to face many of the threats that would result in Rome abandoning England in the early 5th century.
The remains of a number of the walls of the fort can still be seen around the site, and Roman tiles and stone were used in the construction of the church. The distinctive red / orange Roman tiles can be seen embedded in many of the remaining walls of the church:
My last visit to Reculver was on a brilliant sunny day, and the ruins of the church stood out against a blue sky.
Whilst today there are very few sailing ships off Reculver using the towers as navigation markers, the view from Reculver includes the Kentish Flats wind farm, roughly six miles offshore, and in the middle of the following photo, just visible on the horizon, is the Red Sands fort:
Reculver is a fascinating place to visit at anytime of year. It is also a good place to see the impact of coastal erosion, with getting on for a mile of land having been lost in recorded history. Without the work of Trinity House, it is doubtful whether the two towers, the remains of the body of the church, and some of the walls of the Roman fort would remain for us to see today.
That’s my last post for 2021. Thanks for reading over the last year, and can I wish you all a very happy and healthy 2022.
The following photo was taken by my father in 1947, from the south bank of the River Thames, looking over to the north bank, just to the west of the Tower of London (part of which can be seen on the right hand edge of the photo).
The tall building in the centre of the photo is the former headquarters of the Port of London Authority on Trinity Square. Lower, and to the left can be seen a blackened tower. This is the remains of the church of All Hallows by the Tower after the area was very badly damaged by wartime bombing.
Hard to see, but in the very centre of the photo, along the river edge is a set of stairs. I have enlarged the section of the above photo to shows the stairs below:
This was Tower Stairs – one of the many old stairs leading from the land down to the river, described in an 18th century newspaper as “the greatest plying place in all London”.
I have written about a number of these stairs in previous posts, and I must admit to be fascinated by them. They connect two very different worlds, the land and the water, although they are an integral part of both, and for so many people they have been a point of arrival or departure.
Along with City churches, they have been in the same location for centuries. They are a fixed point where we can trace events in the history and life of everyday Londoners.
The majority of Thames Stairs are not that obvious, and people probably walk by without noticing them.
A wonderful project would be plaques alongside to restore the original name of each of these stairs, and perhaps some of the key events that happened at each stair. An initiative to try and reconnect people with the river.
Tower Stairs were an important set of stairs to the river. They were adjacent to the Tower of London and they were to the east of London Bridge, therefore if you were travelling to places along the east of the river, such as Greenwich, by using Tower Stairs you would avoid having to pass through the narrow arches of London Bridge, where the fast flow of water through a narrow gap was always a risk.
The following photo is my 2021 view of the same photo taken by my father in 1947:
Tower Pier now hides the location of the stairs in the above photo, so to find them, we need to cross the river and look for them under the entrance walkway to Tower Pier:
A wide set of stairs remain, although a considerable width of the stairs has been built on to provide support for the entrance to Tower Pier. Only a narrow section on the left of the stairs runs up to street level.
The following photo is looking at the entrance to Tower Pier. The entrance to the stairs is to the lower right of the pier entrance, at the end of the central light section of paving which runs between the two dark sections.
The entrance to Tower Stairs (unfortunately locked), showing the narrow section which leads down to the wider stairs and to the river.
There are numerous newspaper reports about events happening at these stairs.
In March 1793, it was reported that “one hundred and fifty Frenchmen, chiefly officers, who had fled from Dumourier’s army, landed at Tower Stairs from Holland. They gave the most deplorable accounts of the wants and distresses of Dumourier’s soldiery”.
In May 1750, after reviewing the First Regiment of Foot Guards in Hyde Park, the Duke of Cumberland arrived at Tower Stairs , where he took to the water “to go Pleasuring for a few days in the Caroline Yacht”.
In January 1768, the stairs were described in the words I used in the title to this post as “the greatest plying place in all London” which gives some indication of their importance. The same report stated that old houses adjoining Tower Stairs would be pulled down in the spring to make the “landing more commodious”.
Tower Stairs was also the site of the numerous small tragedies that were almost a daily occurrence on the river. In May 1739 “a young lad, about 18 years of age, servant to a Druggist in Wood Street, washing himself in the river off Tower-stairs, was taken suddenly with the Cramp, and drowned, in sight of numbers of spectators, none of whom could be quick enough to save him”.
And in October 1738, “Captain Collier, Commander of a Norwayman, landing at Tower Stairs, upon stepping on shore, his foot slipped, and he fell into the river and drowned”.
Tower Stairs are very old. Although not named, they are shown on the 19th century reprint of the mid 16th century map known as the Agas map (although the original has not survived, only later, modified copies).
The stairs are not named, but in the following extract, look to the left of the Tower of London, and a wide street runs down to the river, where there is a break in the river wall. A man appears to be driving a couple of animals into the river at the point where the stairs are located.
The stairs are shown and named Tower Stairs on Rocque’s 1746 map of London. They appear right on the edge of the page on my reprint of the map so I have not included an extract.
They are also shown on Smith’s New Plan of London, dating from 1816. I have arrowed the stairs in the following extract:
The importance of the stairs can be judged by their location, adjacent to the Tower of London, and where Great Tower Hill meets the Thames. As can be seen in the above map, there was also a small inlet to the left of the stairs, which probably provided additional mooring space for Watermen, and boats loading and unloading at the stairs.
As you have probably seen from previous posts, I use newspaper archives as one of the historical sources when researching posts.
Being newspapers, they have to be read with some care, to try and see through the way the story has been edited and added to by the journalist, however they do provide an account that was written at the time.
There are numerous references to Tower Stairs, so I decided to take a few from the 18th century to see what was happening at the stairs. I have already recorded some local events, but there were four accounts mentioning Tower Stairs that tell of a wider story of life in London in the eighteenth century, based on people who walked along Tower Stairs, so for the rest of the post, four stories about Press Gangs, the Frozen Thames, the Blackheath Chocolate House and when Cherokee Indians visited London.
The Press Gangs
The danger of being taken by a Press Gang and tricked into service in the Navy was more often a risk for those living and working in the streets to the east of the City, however those sleeping in their beds in the City were at risk, but the City of London would always protect their citizens, as this report from the12th of September 1755 records:
“Monday at the Sessions at Guildhall, Robert Alsop, a Midshipman of one of her Majesty’s men of War, was convicted, upon his own confession, of riotously entering the Dwelling-House of Mr. William Godfrey at Billingsgate, a reputable Citizen, and Livery Man of London, at the Head of a Press-Gang, on the 25th of June last, in the Night-time; and for seizing him by the collar, knocking him down, forcibly dragging him through the Streets of London to the Tower-Stairs (with only one Slipper on), carrying him on board a Tender on the River Thames, and confining him in the Hold for twelve hours, without any Warrant of lawful Authority, to the great peril of his Life; when the Court were pleased to fine him £5, and to order him to be imprisoned one Year in Newgate. This Prosecution was carried on by the Directions of the Court of Alderman, at the Expense of the City, in order to vindicate the Rights and privileges of its Citizens, and to prevent such Insolences for the future.”
The City of London was always ready to defend the “Rights and Privileges” of their citizens. I suspect a fine of £5 and one year of imprisonment was a reasonably hard sentence, which also acted as a deterrent to others.
During the 18th century, the Navy was in almost constant need of men to man the ships. The Derby Mercury on the 17th March 1743 described another event at Tower Stairs, when “They press so strong upon the River Thames for Seamen, that not a Day passes but they get a great many Hands, and last Saturday, a Waterman, belonging to Tower Stairs, who had a Protection, was pressed five different times”.
Protection was mainly issued by the Admiralty or Trinity House for specific types of employment, and the bearer had to prove their protection if they were caught by a press gang. This would normally stop a person being taken, however in times of war, even protections were abandoned and almost anyone could be taken.
The 1828 edition of City Scenes by William Darton shows a press gang in operation at Tower Hill. I assume the man at the front is pointing towards Tower Stairs where the unfortunate man is being dragged. A Royal Nay ship can be seen in the background.
Having avoided the Press Gangs, there is another danger in the Thames off Tower Stairs:
The Frozen Thames
Up until the mid 19th century, a period known as the Little Ice Age had been causing very cold winters and periods when warm summers were not always dependable. This period of colder weather began around the 14th century, but the impact on London is well documented in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Whilst the popular image is of ice fairs held on the Thames, for those who had to work or travel on the river, ice would also present a danger. For those without the sanctuary of shelter and warmth, very low temperatures would also be a risk to life.
News reports referencing Tower Stairs show the dangers of the frozen River Thames. On the 12th January 1740, the Ipswich Journal reported: “On Tuesday Night an adventurous Waterman undertook to carry his Fare, a Woman and a Child, from Tower-stairs to Battle-Bridge, as the tide was coming in; but the Islands of Ice floating down upon them they were drove to the Bridge, where they lay in sight, perishing with the Cold, but out of reach of Relief from any of the Inhabitants of the Bridge, but at last were fortunately carried through to St Mary Overy’s Stairs, and taken up almost to Death. Tis thought neither the Woman nor Child can recover.”
The Bridge was London Bridge when it still had houses and businesses running along the bridge over the river. The relatively narrow arches for water to flow under the bridge caused a fast flow and it was a very dangerous place to get trapped.
In the same report was an indication of the amount of ice on the river “Yesterday morning at Low Water, the Thames was so covered with Ice above Bridge, that several Men walked over from Old Swan to Pepper-Alley Stairs”.
Although prints such as the one above show a scene of celebration on the frozen river, there was a very dark side as the Kentish Weekly Post reported on the 9th January 1740 where “Several dead Bodies float up and down with the Tide and Ice, but none of them can be taken up”.
The winter of early 1740 seems to have been a particularly bad winter for those on and off the river. On the 5th of January “Above 30 boats, twas judged lost between Tower-stairs and Woolwich, most of which were stav’d, but some sunk under the Ice and were not seen afterwards”.
The above paragraph referencing Tower Stairs was at the end of a longer description of the January weather in London: “On Saturday Night, by the Violence of the Wind, several boats were drove from their Fastenings above Bridge near Shore and stav’d to Pieces by the large Flakes of Ice that were brought down by the Tide. The same day in the morning, a Hoy laden with Malt was sunk in Chelsea Reach by the Violence of the Wind.
Two Coasters were drove from their Anchors at Horselydown upon the Sterlings at London bridge, where they lay for some time being beaten against the Houses, to the great Terror of the Inhabitants; but by the turn of the Tide they were luckily carried off, tho’ not without having sustained very great Damage.
Besides the two Vessels above-mentioned, there have been five more since cut from their Anchors by the Ice and drove down against the Bridge, where their Bowsprits have broke into several of the houses of the Eastern side and done great Damages to the Inhabitants.
On Sunday three Boys in a Boat off Rotherhithe were drove away by the great Flakes of Ice and perished thro’ the Severity of the Frost.“
As ever, what is a danger to some is an opportunity for others, although in this instance, without the hoped for outcome:
“Yesterday great Numbers of London Gunners assembled at the several Stairs leading to the Thames, to shoot Ducks, Gulls and Road Geese, which appeared in great Plenty; and many of them were killed, tho’ none could be brought off, the Frost not yet having prevented the Currency of the Tide. Dogs were of no use to bringing them off, the Edges of the Ice on which the birds settled being too weak for the Dogs to get up by.“
As well as freezing much of the Thames, the cold winter of 1740 was a danger to those without the benefit of shelter and warmth:
“A poor man without either Money or Friends, on Friday night last was obliged to take up his Lodging on a Laystall in Tyburn Road, and was on Saturday Morning found dead thereon; although he had covered himself over with Dung and loose Litter.
On Sunday Night last, about nine o’clock, a Man about 60 years was found dead in Pensioners Alley in King-street, Westminster, supposed to have perished for Want; as were also two aged Men by the Waterside at White-friars, and two Women in Old Street, all through excessive Cold and for Want of Nourishment.”
A laystall, referred to in the article was a place where “waste and dung” was deposited.
Now off to a warmer place, as my next stop from Tower Stairs is:
Blackheath Chocolate House
Tower Stairs appear to have been one of the main routes for Royalty when they headed to Greenwich. From the Newcastle Courant on the 8th September 1722:
“This day the young princesses, with a Guard, came through the City, took water at Tower Stairs for Greenwich; dined at Sir John Jennings, and after seeing the Hospital of Greenwich and other Rarities of the place, returned in the evening to Kensington”.
On the 30th June 1736, the Kentish Weekly Post was reporting another Royal visit to Greenwich, which included a visit to a place of entertainment at Blackheath:
“On Saturday evening their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales came through the City from Kensington, and taking Water at the Tower Stairs, went down the River in a Barge, attended by two others, in one of which was a fine Band of Music. Their Royal Highnesses landed at Greenwich, and went to the Chocolate House on Blackheath, where they had an elegant Collation, and about twelve returned back to Kensington.”
The Prince and Princess of Wales were the future King George II and his wife Caroline of Ansbach.
The Chocolate House was a popular place for people to meet, drink chocolate, scheme and plot in the 17th and 18th centuries. The chocolate drink was very different to the type we would drink today. It was heavily sweetened, and would be flavoured with spices and fruits.
There were several Chocolate Houses in London, but I was not aware of one at Blackheath, which if not already a popular place, would be the place to be seen after the Prince and Princess of Wales visit.
The article referenced Blackheath rather than Greenwich, so it was not close to the river or in the park, and luckily a series of articles in the Kentish Mercury in 1902 located the site of the Chocolate House, starting with the following article on the 22nd August 1902:
“THE CHOCOLATE HOUSE ON BLACKHEATH: A glimpse of the ‘manners and customs’ of some 130 years ago is obtained in the following paragraphs taken from the Kentish Express of July 4th, 1774 – ‘Friday, the Kentish Society held their annual feast at the Chocolate House in Blackheath, where there was a most elegant entertainment, and it was unanimously agreed to support the Hon. Mr Marsham and Mr Sawbridge to be the Members of the County of Kent at the General Election, being gentlemen of very considerable property in the said county, and independently to support the interest of the same. Lord North’s name was mentioned, that he is tended to offer, but they all declared to oppose him’.
Perhaps some of our readers can identify the site of the Chocolate house on Blackheath.”
The challenge of finding the location of the Blackheath Chocolate House was one that the readers of the Kentish Mercury rose to, and a series of articles followed based on reader feedback. On the 29th August 1902:
“A correspondent says that while he is unable to identify the site of the Chocolate House on Blackheath, he remembers that twenty years ago there was a pond at the top of Hyde-vale known as Chocolate Pond. He suggests that this may offer some clues.”
On September 5th, 1902: “Mr Alderman Dyer appears to put the matter to rest with the interesting statement that it was in The Grove between Nos. 4 and 5, and was a fashionable resort of the period. The beaux and belles of Blackheath much resorted thereto in the days when George the Third was King, for the purpose of drinking chocolate and discussing the scandal of the neighbourhood. The house was subsequently used as a ladies’ school, but was pulled down some years ago.”
The Kentish Mercury declared success in finding the location of the Chocolate House on the 26th September 1902, when “The question of the site of the Chocolate House on Blackheath, with a view to the definite fixing of which we some time solicited information, can now, we opine, assumed to be settled. documentary evidence in our possession goes to show that the site is now occupied by the houses 4 and 5, The Grove, Blackheath.
By the kindness of a gentleman living on Blackheath-hill we have been afforded the opportunity of inspecting a lease dated from 1776, from Mr. John Wilkinson to Mr. Charles Walker, of the property which stood upon the site in question., described in the document, which is mutilated, as in ‘Chocolate-row’.
Mr Charles Walker, aforementioned, is described as of ‘Chocolate House’. That this Chocolate House was a place of fashionable resort and entertainment we have previously mentioned. Proof is afforded by the fact that on the lease there are clauses relating to the use of the assembly rooms for ‘dancing, music and other diversions’. Our informant himself remembers the premises referred to, before the building was pulled down for the erection of those at present standing.”
The article also mentions an “Olde House” in Hyde Vale where the footmen and attendants would wait whilst their “masters and mistress were disporting themselves in the Chocolate House” – which gives a good impression of the atmosphere in the Chocolate House.
There were a number of Chocolate Houses in eighteenth century London, with Blackheath being described as one of the five most important. They were:
Blackheath Chocolate House – was much favoured by officers from Woolwich
The Cocoa Tree in Pall Mall, on what is now 87, St James’s, Pall Mall, gave its name to the Cocoa Tree Club, the oldest of existing London clubs. It was famous as a resort for Tory politicians.
Lindhart’s was in King Street, Bloomsbury
The Spread Eagle in Bridge Street, Covent Garden
White’s the most famous of any, was started in 1698, and was at the southern end of St James’s Street.
Having found the location of the Blackheath Chocolate House, there is one more story of those who had at one time passed along Tower Stairs, a delegation from the US, when:
Cherokee Indians Visit London
Reading through newspaper reports mentioning Tower Stairs, I found the following from the Oxford Journal on the 24th July 1762 – a report I was not expecting to find of some rather unusual visitors to Tower Stairs:
“This day the Cherokee King, and his two Chiefs, went in their Coach to the Tower-stairs, and about half an hour after Ten o’Clock, went on board the Admiralty Barge, in which they proceeded down the River to Deptford, Greenwich &c.”
The British had established an alliance with the Cherokee nation early in the 18th century, with both a trading and military alliance. This was important as the Cherokee were one of the major native American tribes and controlled land across what is now the states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia.
An earlier Cherokee delegation had visited London in 1730 when a group of seven Cherokee, led by chief Oukanaekah spent time in London and had several meetings with King George II at Windsor Castle. This led to a treaty where the British supplied military equipment and the Cherokee agreed to trade only with, and fight alongside, the British.
The relationship between the Cherokee and British was tense at times, and the British did occasionally attack and burn Cherokee villages.
The Cherokee fought with the British against France and during the American War of Independence.
A member of the British Virginia Militia was instrumental in arranging the visit to London. Henry Timberlake had lived with the Cherokee for a number of months and was asked by Chief Osteneco for an opportunity to visit England and to meet with the King.
After sailing across the Atlantic (during their voyage their interpreter died which caused problems until a new interpreter could be found), they arrived in Plymouth and then traveled across country to reach London, where newspapers described their appearance:
“The Cherokee Indians lately arrived in Town, are tall men, six feet high, dressed in a shirt, trousers and mantel round them and their heads adorned with Shells’ Feather and Ear-Rings, unfortunately their interpreter died in his passage and they can now only express their wants by signs. They are shy of company, especially a crowd. This King’s business here is to pay his respects to our Monarch, with whom he has lately entered into alliance. In his own country, he can raise 10,000 fighting men.”
The following print shows the Cherokee leader, Osteneco (centre) with his two chiefs:
So what would a Cherokee delegation to London do in 1762. It appears they did much the same as a delegation from a country would do in London today. They were wined and dined, taken to shows, met key people such as the Lord Mayor and visited displays of military power.
I have been able to trace some of their itinerary as follows:
11th June 1762 – An Indian King and two Chiefs belonging to the Cherokee Indians arrived in London after landing in Plymouth from America
12th June 1762 – Cherokee Indians met the Earl of Egremont at his House in Piccadilly
28th June 1762 – King of the Cherokees, with his attendants, dressed in the English fashion, walked for some time in Kensington Gardens, and seemed highly delighted with the place. They dined with Governor Ellis.
3rd July 1762 – The Cherokee Chiefs were at Sadler’s Wells, and expressed great satisfaction at the entertainments of the place
7th July 1762 – At Vauxhall where they had a very sumptuous entertainment. The wines first set before them were Burgundy and Claret, which however they did not greatly relish. Others were then placed on the table, when they fixed upon Frontenac, the sweetness of which highly hit their palate and they drank of it very freely
11th July 1762 – Dined with the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House. They seemed greatly pleased with the numerous concourse of ladies and gentlemen who crowded the windows &c. to see them pass
23rd July 1762 – Mr. Montague conducted the Cherokee Chiefs to the Parade in St James’s-Park; they happened to enter the Guard Room just as the Grenadiers were fixing their bayonets in order to Troop the Colour. The formidable appearance of the men and the business that accidently were engaged in threw them into such agitation that it was with the utmost difficulty they were persuaded to advance a step on the parade. They had a suspicion of treachery, were extremely impatient to be gone, and when they got home defined to see no more of those warriors with caps.
24th July 1762 – This day, the Cherokee King and his two chiefs, went in their coach to the Tower Stairs, and about half an hour after ten o’clock, went on board the Admiralty Barge, in which they proceeded down the river to Deptford, Greenwich, Woolwich &c. They were much delighted with the hospital. An entertainment was laid on for them at the Greyhound, and after dinner they saw the park and the Observatory
28th August 1762 – The Cherokee Indians, in a Landau with six horses, visited Winchester Camp; at its appearance they seemed greatly surprised
30th August 1762 – Arrive in Portsmouth and visit the Theatre.
31st August 1762 – They went on board the Epreuve Frigate, and the wind being fair, sailed directly back to America
Whilst in London, Joshua Reynolds painted Chief Osteneco:
Soon after the Cherokee visitors had returned to America, the War of Independence started. The Cherokee nation allied with the British, but in reality this was more against the settlers who were continually moving closer to, and taking parts of Cherokee land.
As part of the War of Independence, in 1776 Osteneco led his forces against the Province of Georgia, however this resulted in the destruction of the towns occupied by Osteneco’s Cherokee tribes. He would then lead his people to the west and he eventually settled in the town that is today Chattanooga in Tennessee.
He died in 1780 at the house of his grandson Richard Timberlake. Henry Timberlake, who had lived with the Cherokee and was instrumental in bringing the delegation to London in 1762 was the father of Richard with one of Osteneco’s daughters being the mother.
After American independence, the British had no interest in the Cherokee nation. The following decades saw frequent skirmishes and battles with the forces of the independent state of America, and they would gradually loose their land and freedoms.
Today, Tower Stairs are hidden beneath the walkway to Tower Pier, however they were one of the key river stairs. Many thousands of people would have walked along these stairs, either passing to or from the river.
Of those thousands, four tell us a wider story of Press Gangs, the Frozen Thames, London’s Chocolate Houses, and when a delegation of Cherokee Indians visited London.
I just wish there was a conspicuous plaque naming these river stairs and providing some information on their history.
The problem with research using old newspaper archives is that there is so much else of interest to read and it is so very easy to get distracted. I was looking for a totally different subject, when I found an article that referenced a long closed east London Station, in the East London Observer on the 27th August 1887:
“A MILE END EXCURSION. It was one of the jolliest and most pleasant excursions in which we have ever taken part that started off from Globe-road station, in the very early hours of Tuesday morning. There was nothing stiff and starched about either the excursion or the excursionists – it and they were as delightfully and pleasantly informal as the origin of the Association in whose aid it was held – the Mile End Old Town Victoria Park Hospital Association.”
I love these insights into London life, written at the time they happened. There is more to discover about their association in a moment, but I wanted to find out more about Globe Road station.
The full name of the station was Globe Road and Devonshire Street Station. It was located on the main line between Liverpool Street and Stratford stations and was originally part of the Great Eastern Railway’s efforts at generating traffic from the dense housing being built across east London, and growing demand for easier travel.
I have highlighted the station in the following page from the 1902 Railway Clearing House maps:
Another map showing Globe Road and Devonshire Street station on the route from Liverpool Street to Stratford. There are several other lost stations and stations that have changed name on the map.
So returning to the article that mentioned Globe Road station, where were the excursionists going on the 27th August 1887. The rest of the article:
“It was then the annual excursion which had drawn so many Mile-enders together on the Globe-road Station on Tuesday morning. In point of numbers, the gathering could scarcely be said to equal those of previous years – a result due rather to the vacillation and delay experienced at the hands of a railway company with whom the Association had first attempted to arrange, than to any lack of energy and perseverance on the part of the officers of the Association.
But no regretful consideration such as that was allowed to weigh with the excursionists; they were out for a day’s excursion to Harwich and Dovercourt, and like the thoroughly honest and hard working, genial Mile-enders as they were, they were determined to enjoy themselves to the uttermost. And everything on Tuesday seemed to favour that determination.
The day was one of the best and brightest with which the Metropolis has ever been favoured, and the round, red faced sun peered from behind the misty heat, and gave promise of even more charming weather in store. The special train too, hired for the conveyance of the excursionists, seemed to heartily enter into the spirit of the thing, and flew shrieking, past houses, villages, woods, fields and rivers, until, with a snort of satisfaction, it drew up at quiet, sleepy Dovercourt, with its breezy common, its golden sands, and its magnificent stretch of sea.”
They spent the day enjoying everything that Dovercourt had to offer before returning to Globe Road Station on their special train, a journey of a couple of hours through the Essex countryside.
Globe Road and Devonshire Street Station was a relatively short lived station, opening in 1884 and closing for passenger use in 1916.
In the 5th of July, 1884 edition of the East London Observer, a report on the opening of the station provides a detailed description of the new station:
“The station is entered from either Globe-road or Devonshire-street. It is a double station, having a spacious booking office at Devonshire-street and Globe-road respectively. The platforms are approached from the booking offices on street level, by staircases 9 feet in width, constructed of ‘Hedges patent wood treads’.
The platforms are 600 feet in length, by an average width of 25 feet, and are covered from end to end by a light ornamental glass, iron and zinc roof. The platforms are paved with ‘Victoria Stone’ throughout. This material is well-known, but these platforms will serve as an excellent specimen of the pavement. On each platform are well arranged ladies and gentlemen’s waiting-rooms for each class of passenger. A drinking fountain for the use of the passengers is placed on each platform. Offices for staff are provided, the platforms are well lighted throughout, and every improvement and modern requirement for a London suburban station, has been carefully studied and provided.
The works have been carried out by Messrs. Perry & Co. contractors, Bow, Messrs. Lead & Co. of Stratford carrying out the gas lighting arrangements. All the works have been designed and executed by the company’s engineer-in-chief and staff. There is a very frequent service of trains to Liverpool-street and Stratford, about 80 trains calling at the station on week-days. The journey to Liverpool-street is done in seven or eight minutes, and the return fares are 6d first class, 5d second class, and 4d third class.”
This was a significant suburban station for east London and if we assume services were running between 04:00 and midnight, then 80 trains a day is 2 trains an hour to Liverpool Street and the same to Stratford.
In the same newspaper, the results for the first half of 1884 of the North Metropolitan Tramway Company were reported. The area covered by the company included the trams not far from Globe Street and Devonshire Road station. The company had carried 17,428,145 passengers during the half year, however there was an outstanding issue of fares for short journeys and the report in the paper ended with a reference to the new station “We would remind the directors that the subject of penny fares for short distances is a matter worthy of consideration, especially in view of the opening of the new station by the Great Eastern Railway Company at Devonshire-street, Mile End”.
Having a local station was, as now, a benefit for those who lived and worked locally. During the years that the station was open there were numerous newspaper adverts for properties for sale or rent that mentioned their proximity to Globe Road and Devonshire Street station.
The Britain from Above archive includes a couple of photos of Globe Road station. In the following photo, the platform buildings can be seen running either side of the tracks running through the station:
The full name of the station was Globe Road and Devonshire Street Station. Whilst we can still find Globe Road, Devonshire Street has changed name and is now Bancroft Road.
I have annotated the above photo to show the local roads, a couple of key buildings, entrances to the station, and the direction to Stratford and Liverpool Street stations:
Another view of Globe Road and Devonshire Street Station, where the tracks for stopping at the station are seen on the left, and the fast tracks for trains not stopping at the station can be seen on the right:
The end for Globe Road and Devonshire Street Station came in 1916. The Great Eastern Railway had been proposing to close a number of what were classed as suburban east London stations. Presumably the long distance routes into Liverpool Street were more profitable, and stopping trains at stations in east London were taking up capacity that could be used for faster, long distance trains.
There were also a number of underground routes serving east London along with a network of trams, however many of the stations that were proposed to close were still being well used and there was much concern that closure would transfer additional passengers to already busy tram and underground services.
On the 15th of April 1916, the East London Observer announced a “Mass Meeting of Inhabitants of Mile End, Bow and Bromley and Bethnal Green”, The meeting was held in the People’s Palace on Mile End Road, and chaired by Warwick Brookes M.P. and supported by the Right Hon. Lord Burnham, along with the “Leading Public Men of the districts affected”.
In May 1916, meetings were held with the London County Council to protest the proposed closures. the “Housing of the Working Classes Committee” reported that their attention had been drawn to the closures (there were complaints that the LCC were somewhat late at looking at the impact of the closures), and they were concerned about the impact on travel times, the lack of alternative rail routes, and the problems that would be caused by additional load on the trams.
The East London Observer provided a table showing the number of users of the stations that the Great Eastern Railway were proposing to close between 5 and 9 a.m. on a typical weekday morning.
As can be seen, Globe Road was well used in the morning, with 607 passengers boarding trains during the four hour period to travel towards Liverpool Street.
Despite the meetings and protests, the Great Eastern Railway, after a short delay, confirmed their intention to close Globe Road and Devonshire Street Station, with closure on the 22nd of May, 1916. I will cover the story and fate of the other stations in future posts.
Much of the station buildings and infrastructure remained in place until 1938 when they were finally demolished leaving very little evidence that the station had existed.
Although there would be nothing much to see, I still wanted to visit the site of the station, and take some photos.
The following map shows the area today. Devonshire Street has been renamed Bancroft Road. The other street names rename the same. I have marked the locations of the entrances to the station in Globe Road and Devonshire Street:
The blue circle is around the Carlton pub which has a sad recent history.
I walked down Morpeth Street (to the upper right of the station, the location of which is marked by the red rectangle), to get to the bridge that runs under the rail tracks and provides access to Devonshire Street / Bancroft Road.
To the right of the bridge is the old Morpeth Street entrance to the station.
There were originally two brick pillars on either side of the entrance, only the left hand pillar, up against the viaduct, survives today.
There was a gate between the two pillars, and a cast iron curved sign above the entrance running between the two pillars. The station name was on the sign, and a round gas lamp was mounted at the top of the curved sign above the entrance.
Turning to the left, and this is the view under the viaduct, which provides a walkway between Morpeth Street and Bancroft Road.
The viaduct carrying the tracks towards Liverpool Street has been extended and modified a number of times over the years since the lines were originally constructed in the mid 19th century.
Some of these changes can be seen by the different construction and materials in use to carry the tracks over the tunnel:
The opposite side, now on what was Devonshire Street, now Bancroft Road:
Looking towards the location of the Devonshire Street entrance to the station, now occupied by businesses using the arches and space between Bancroft Road and the viaduct:
The section of viaduct along Bancroft Road is Grade II listed. It was built between 1839 and 1840 by John Braithwaite, the engineer for the Eastern Counties Railway. The bridge that I have just walked under is included in the listing and is described as “The skew bridge is a very shallow elliptical opening, with radiating voussoirs of sandstone set above an impost band of sandstone.” (I had to look up the meaning of voussoir, and apparently it means a wedge shaped or tapered stone used to construct an arch).
Between the bridge and the area that was occupied by the station are two, small, blind arches:
The arch that was occupied by the station is now the site of Red Sun Fitness:
When in use, the name Great Eastern was above the arch, running along the brick parapet at the very top of the viaduct.
The following photo is looking back to the bridge that provides access from Morpeth Street. The Historic England listing describes the viaduct along Bancroft Road as “the viaduct is among the earliest, and longest, examples of a first-generation railway structure to survive in London.“
On the corner of Bancroft Road and Portelet Road, and opposite the tunnel under the rail tracks, is a building which appears to be a pub called the Carlton, although the pub is not what it seems.
There was a pub, originally called the Carlton Arms on the site since at least the early 1850s. A typical east London pub with a large corner advertising sign, advertising around the top of the building and wood paneling around the ground floor.
The pub closed in early 2018 and a couple of months later, Tower Hamlets Council had approved a planning request to convert the site to five flats, which would involve demolishing the first floor, adding additional floors and a new basement. Planning approval required that the historic ground floor of the pub should be retained.
Contrary to planning approval, the whole pub was then demolished. The developers argued that demolition was the only option due to the condition of the structure. It was then rebuilt with a modern wooden trim to the outer ground floor, but was substantially a new building.
The ground floor and basement are currently available to rent as an empty commercial space, and are ready to be transformed to a “traditional pub/restaurant”. If you have £2,500 per month to spare, plus the cash to convert to a pub, it is currently listed on Rightmove.
There is a very small part of the station left in Bancroft Road. As Bancroft Road and the railway viaduct head east, the land where the station entrance was located forms a small triangular site. On the edge of this site, along Bancroft Road, what was Devonshire Street, was a wall surrounding the entrance to the station, with two brick pillars on either side of the opening in the wall to access the station.
One of these brick pillars survives and is now part of a modern brick wall.
In the following photo, the original brick pillar can be seen in the centre of the wall.
View looking back along Bancroft Road, with the brick pillar on the left:
I next wanted to find the Globe Road entrance to the old station, so I walked to the junction of Bancroft Road and Globe Road, and turned right to see the bridge carrying the railway across the road.
Walking towards the bridge, and up against the viaduct, on the east of Globe Road is the old station entrance. Very similar to the Morpeth Street entrance, with brick pillars either side of the entrance, however at this entrance more pillars survive:
As with Morpeth Street, there was a curved, cast iron station name sign above the entrance from pillar to pillar, with a gas lamp in the middle.
Walking under the bridge, and this is the view looking south along Globe Road. The station entrance is just under the bridge on the left:
Only some of the brick piers at the station entrances appear to have survived, but good that there is something left from this east London station, from a time when there was a number of suburban stations as trains from the east approached Liverpool Street.
The station was only open for 32 years, and provided a fast method of transport for those who worked in the City, as well as providing a route into Essex for those such as the excursionists of the Mile End Old Town Victoria Park Hospital Association on the 27th August 1887, who were leaving the noise, congestion and smoke of east London for a very different day on the Essex coast at Dovercourt.
And if any TV production company is looking for a Victorian soap opera based in east London, then my outline for Mile Enders is ready and waiting.
Thirty five years is a relatively short time, however during that time so much of London has changed considerably. Back in 1986, a large part of east London was run down. The area was still home to some wonderful communities, people who had lived and worked there for decades, but an area that would soon change. I recently went back to Cannon Street Road to photograph the site of two shops last photographed in 1986.
This is Rogg’s at 137 Cannon Street Road:
Number 137 is today the home of Ample, a property and finance company:
Rogg’s was on the corner of Cannon Street Road and Burslem Street and had been open since the early 1940s. A typical 1980s corner shop with products piled high in the windows. Inside, there was a wide range of traditional Jewish food.
The shop was at the end of a terrace of mixed date and designs. I am not sure if the building of which Rogg’s was the ground floor shop, has had a rebuild as the bricks look too clean and the corners / sides of the building are a little too sharp and clean for a building of some age:
As well as Rogg selling Jewish food, another building that supported the local Jewish population was a synagogue that occupied the space in the above photo, to the right of the white building with part of a blue sign just above the ground floor.
The Cannon Street Road synagogue opened in 1895, but closed in the early 1970s due to the declining local Jewish population.
There was a rather infamous murder in the street in 1974, when Alfie Cohen, who ran a small all-night cigarette kiosk in Cannon Street Road was murdered during a robbery on his kiosk. The robbers got away with what was in the till and a quantity of ciggarettes, however they missed a considerable fortune.
Alfie had worked 7 nights a week for almost 50 years, and rarely took a night off. Rather than bank the money he made, he kept it under the counter in the kiosk, and when police came to investigate the murder, they found a total of around £100,000 in bags hidden in the kiosk.
A tragic story, but indicative of the characters that could be found in the street, and also of the relatively high level of crime in the 1970s.
Continuing south along Cannon Street Road, and at numbers 125 and 127 was Saad Cash and Carry:
The same building today, now home to Quality Food London Ltd:
A wider view of the terrace with 125 and 127 occupying the ground floor of the largest houses:
Cannon Street Road is a typuical east London street. Shops and businesses catering to a diverse range of local residents, and with an equally diverse range of architecture. The condition of the buildings are much better than they were in the 1980s.
Cannon Street Road runs between Commercial Road to the north, and the Highway to the south, cutting across Cable Street rouighly two thirds along the street.
The lower section of Cannon Street Road is old. The stretch between The Highway and Cable Street is shown in Rocque’s map of 1746. The upper section was then all fields with only the area between Cable Street and the Thames having much development as London’s expansion followed the line of the river.
Rocque’s map shows the street name as simply Cannon Street. I cannot find exactly when, or why, the name changed to Cannon Street Road, however the first mention of the longer name I can find is a newspaper advert from the 24th January 1803, which called for subscribers to the Commercial Road development who could collect their interest from an office in Cannon Street Road.
The following extract from Rocque’s map shows the 1746 length of Cannon Street (red oval), with the red dashed line showing the extension of the street that we see today.
What I did not realise is that the development of Commercial Road appears to have been paid for by subscribers. As well as the advert, there is the following statement in the same 1803 newspaper:
“COMMERCIAL ROAD SUBSCRIPTION – at a MEETING of the TRUSTEES under the Act of Parliament, passed in the 42nd year of the Reign of King George the Third, for making a New Road from the West India Docks in the Isle of Dogs to the City of London, held at the Cannon-street-road office this day; it was ordered, that a further Call or Installment of £25 per cent, on the several Subscriptions, should be paid into the hands of Messrs. Harrison’s, Prickett and Newman, Bankers, Mansion-house-street, on or before the 1st day of February next. Limeshouse, Jan. 18th, 1803. THOMAS BAKER”
Thomas Baker was the Clerk to the Trustees, and the office was somewhere in Cannon Street Road.
I suspect that it was down to the development of Commercial Road, that Cannon Street changed to Cannon Street Road.
As the street provided a route between Commecial Road, Cable Street and The Highway, it would be a busy street (as it is today), and perhaps “Road” was added to avoid confusion with Cannon Street in the City of London.
Just to the left of the Saad Cash & Carry / Quality Food shop is an historic building, with the ground floor converted into shops. This was Raine’s Boys School:
The history of Raine’s schools goes back to around 1719, when brewer Henry Raine opened a school for 50 boys and 50 girls. The original school was in what is now Raine Street in Wapping. The building is still there, although was in a poor state in the 1970s and at risk of demolition. I wrote about the building in this post.
As the London Docks were built, the original school found itself rather isolated from the parish that the school was intended to serve, so in 1875 the Boys element of the school moved to the Cannon Street Road building, photographed above.
The building did not serve as a school for too long, as by the first decade of the 20th century, the buildings used by the school were too small, and the school consolidated into a large building in Arbour Square, just north of the Commercial Road. The building still exists as the Tower Hamlets New City College.
Cannon Street Road had already been home to a form of school / childrens home some forty year earlier when within the street could be found the Merchant Seamens’ Orphan Asylum.
This institute was founded in 1827 to care for the children of men lost at sea.
In 1833, an advert appeared in the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser stating that the orphan asylum was ready to receive applications for the February election. This seemed to be standard practice for many institutions of the time, where applications were made and these were voted on by a Board of Management (see my post on the General Lying In Hospital, where this approach was taken with Subscribers being able to propose pregnant women for admission to the hospital).
In 1833, the orphan asylum had 41 boys and 23 girls. The advert stated that subscriptions and forms of petition for admittance could be had at the school in Cannon Street Road.
We do not often get a glimpse inside the houses of streets such as Cannon Street Road, however another advert from the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser on the 12th of September, 1833 reports on the sale of the leasehold residence and contents of number 2 Cannon Street Road, at the direction of the Executors of the late Mr. Richard Neale:
“Leasehold Residence, Cannon Street Road, with Immediate Possession. Household Furniture, Plate, three Watches, Linen, China and Effects – By W.S. FRANCIS on the Premises, No. 2, Cannon Street Road, St George’s East, on Tuesday September 17, at 11, by direction of the Executors of the late Mr. Richard Neale.
The Leasehold Residence, with immediate possession, held for a term of 17 years, at the trifling ground rent of £2. The furniture consists of fourpost and other bedsteads and furnitures, goose feather beds and bedding, mahogany double and single chests of drawers, mahogany nail-over chairs, sofa, secretary and bookcase, looking glasses, Brussels carpet, and various other articles”.
If the contents of number 2 are typical of the street, then the residents of Cannon Street Road seem to have been reasonably comfortable. The house was at the southern end of Cannon Street Road, close to the church of St George in the East.
The southern end of Cannon Street Road mainly consists of post war rebuilding. It was the southern end that received the most damage during the Second World War, the northern section of the street appears to have escaped relatively undamaged.
Much of the north of the street still appears to be 19th century terrace housing, however it can be difficult to confirm what is original and what is a later rebuild.
The following photo shows part of the street where I assume a single house within the terrace has gone, to be replaced with an entrance to a car tyre dealers. The houses either side needing some serious support as the terrace has been broken.
Cannon Street Road is part of east London’s expansion north from the original ribbon development along the Thames, and although east London streets have changed considerably over the last few decades, they are still fascinating places to walk as although wartime bombing has resulted in much new building, there is still many of the original terrace houses along the street, along with an ever changing range of shops.
Firstly, thanks for the comments on last week’s post on the Greenwich foot tunnel. Some brilliant personal memories of the tunnel, and the important part it has played in the life of those on either side of the river.
Today is one of those Sunday’s where I ran out of time to research and complete the planned post, so the location in east London will have to wait, and for this week, a photographic tour of London in the first decades of the 20th century from the late 1920s book Wonderful London.
Always good to start with a tour of some pubs, and this is the Running Footman, on the corner of Charles Street and Hays Mews, near Berkeley Square.
The building in the view above would not last much longer. originally dating from 1749, the pub was rebuilt in the 1930s using the type of brick construction typical of many pubs of the 1920s and 30s.
Wonderful London described the source of the name as “named after that special kind of servant whose duty it was to run before the crawling family coach, help it out of ruts, warn toll-keepers, and clear the way generally. He wore a livery and usually carried a cane”.
The 1930s pub is still open, but with a shorter name of just The Footman.
Another pub is the Grenadier in Wilton Mews, near Upper Belgrave Street:
Wonderful London expects that “At any moment it would seem that an ostler with striped waistcoat and straw in mouth might kick open the door and walk out of the place. Just past the wooden gate by the little boy is a doorway in the wall leading to Philips Terrace”.
I took a very similar photo back around 1972. I had been given a birthday present of a book about haunted London and the Grenadier was described as one of the most haunted pubs so it was on the agenda for a family walk where I used my Kodak Instamatic 126 camera. I still have to find and scan the negative.
I did revisit the pub a couple of years ago when writing about Old Barrack Yard and the Chinese Collection. The Grenadier looks much the same, however the tree which had not yet been planted when the Wonderful London photo was taken, now obscures much of the the early 20th century view.
That’s two pubs which can still be found today, and to add a third, this is the Bull’s Head at Strand-on-the Green:
The Bull’s Head is in a wonderful location. Facing the River Thames (behind the photographer in the above photo) and next to Kew Railway Bridge. Wonderful London claims the following “An old river tavern, probably built in the 16th century. There is a tradition that Oliver Cromwell, while campaigning in the neighbourhood, held a council of war here. There is also a record that in 1708 a certain John Newall, presumably the landlord, was so unfortunate as to have his malt house burn down. But beyond these slender records the history of the Bull remains obscure”.
The building is Grade II listed, and the pub’s website also mentions the Oliver Cromwell story, along with the statement that the evidence for his stay is disputed. Whether Cromwell visited the Bull’s Head, or not, it is still a pub in a lovely location as Strand-on-the-Green is a brilliant place for a river walk.
The next pub is the Old Doctor Butler’s Head in Mason’s Avenue in the City of London:
My father photographed the Bull and Bush in 1949, when it faced directly on to the road, and you could pull up outside and nip in for a quick drink:
I photographed the pub for a blog post on the Bull and Bush, 70 years after my father had taken the above photo. The building is still much the same, although there is now a pathway and brick wall separating the pub from the road:
All the above pubs are still open, not a bad record considering the rate of closure in recent years, however they were well known pubs in the early 20th century, and 100 years later are still well known and therefore probably profitable.
One pub that did not survive is Jack Straw’s Castle, also in Hampstead:
My father photographed the pub in 1949 after bomb damage had left the building in a very sorry state:
The building was demolished and rebuilt in 1964 as a pub, to a rather striking design by Raymond Erith, however it is no longer a pub, having been converted into apartments and a gym. The building is Grade II listed which has helped to preserve key features of Erith’s design, despite developers trying to push the boundaries of how much they could change.
Moving on from London pubs, and in the first years of the 20th century, this is Strand Lane which leads down from the rear of King’s College down to Temple Place.
The view gives the impression of being of the type of slum housing that would be demolished, however the house with the alley has been restored over the years, and still survives, including the ornate iron balcony on the first floor. The high wall on the left, and building on the right also remain, including the iron bars protecting the windows.
Just proving there are still places in London where you can imagine being back in the 19th century. Another place that has survived are the stairs leading down to the river at Wapping Old Stairs:
Even in the first decades of the 20th century, these stairs were seen as a historical location, as Wonderful London describes “the old riverside annex to the city of the days of the East Indiamen and Nelson’s Ships, has gone and there is little beside these old stairs – leading down to a muddy beach at low tide – left of this, once one of the liveliest spots in the country”.
The following two photos are titled “Present-day scenes on historic Thames-side sites”
The description from Wonderful London that goes with the two photos is as follows “The upper photograph shows Ratcliffe Cross stairs, an ancient and much used landing place and point of departure of a ferry. There is a tradition that Sir Martin Frobisher took boat here for his ship when starting on his voyage to find the North-West Passage. Ratcliffe Cross is the old name for the thoroughfare leading to this landing stage, whence Butchers Row meets Broad Street, Shadwell and Narrow Street, Limehouse.
Shadwell (lower view) is next to Wapping, and its name is supposedly derived from (St) Chad’s Well. It was once famous for its rope-walks”.
Ratcliffe Cross stairs are sort of still there, as there is still river access where the stairs were located. They are today where Narrow Street curves to a dead end just before the Limehouse Link Tunnel. Ratcliffe Cross stairs are on the list for a future post, as these old river stairs have a really fascinating history.
The Sir Martin Frobisher mentioned as using Ratcliffe Cross Stairs was a 16th century sailor and privateer who made a number of attempts at discovering the north-west passage across the north of Canada from Atlantic to the Pacific. As well as allegedly using the stairs, another connection with London is that he was buried at the church of St Giles, Cripplegate, and is why Frobisher Crescent in the Barbican is so named.
The next photo is in the east of the City where “In Houndsditch, where bargains are driven for inexpensive clothes”:
Houndsditch was the location for shops and a market selling every conceivable item of clothing, both new and secondhand. The name came from the ditch that once surrounded the City wall, and was frequently used as a dump for everything, including dead dogs.
Houndsditch continued discount trading into the 1980s, and if you listened to either Capital Radio or LBC during the late 70s / early 80s there were frequent adverts for the Houndsditch Warehouse where “five floors of bargains can be found at our store”. The street is very different today.
Wonderful London included some night photos of London, including the nightly cleansing of the streets at the base of the Monument, where at “2 a.m. hoses are fitted to hydrants, and men in oilskin aprons wash the day’s filth into the gutter. The neighbourhood of Billingsgate is notoriously unsavoury, but these ministrations keep the fish like smell from becoming too ancient”.
Milk churns being unloaded at Clapham, ready for the city’s tea drinkers:
The following photo is titled “The coffee stall at Hyde Park Corner and some of its various patrons”;
Where “just before ten o’clock every night the coffee stall trundles up to its pitch opposite St George’s Hospital. There it remains till about eight o’clock the next morning, and during that time the men behind the little counter watch, as from a box at the theatre, the hundred different types who act in the nightly drama of London after dark. The medicals student from over the way, the tattered nondescript who hopes for a free coffee, a taxi-driver and his two fares, or perhaps a couple of revelers in fancy dress to whom the visit to the coffee stall is the epilogue to their night’s entertainment; all these types pass during the cold, still hours which the coffee stall serves”.
The following view from Wonderful London is of St Dunstan’s, Fleet Street:
What I like about these photos is not just the overall scene, or the people and vehicles in the streets, but small details like the telegraph poles mounted on the roofs of buildings with telephone cables slung across streets and buildings.
In Tower Wharf (the area between the Tower of London and the Thames), Wonderful London has photographed “one of London’s lunch-time gathering grounds”:
The caption to the photo illustrates the popularity and history of the place “Despite the tremendous number and variety of eating places, many hundreds of those who work in the City and its surroundings, prefer , in fine weather, to eat their lunch on a park-seat, or as here, seated on the slippery surface of an old cannon. Tower Wharf, whatever its merits as a restaurant is a fine place from which to view the Tower and also the shipping in the Upper Pool and the opening of Tower Bridge. The wharf was built by Henry III, who also made Traitors Gate. The wharf gave the fortress one more line of protection. On the very ground where the crowd is sitting another London crowd assembled day after day to scream for the trembling Judge Jeffries to be thrown out to them, in quittance for the Bloody Assize”.
Up until the start of the COVID pandemic, the area was usually crowded with tourists rather than City workers having their lunch, and many of the cannons have disappeared. My father photographed the cannons in 1947:
The same view a couple of years ago:
in the background of the Wonderful London photo, ships can be seen passing along the Thames, and the same view could be seen in 1947:
Rather than cargo ships, the view today would be off tourist boats and Thames Clippers.
This was the scene in Carmelite Street, which runs from Tudor Street to the Victoria Embankment. The street is a continuation of a street that runs down from Fleet Street, and was the home of newspapers and printing. The photo is outside Carmelite House and shows rolls of paper arriving and being lifted into the building ready for printing.
Today, the evening papers sold across the streets of London are transported by van, however in the early decades of the 20th century there was a very different method.
The following photo shows newsvendors gathering to collect newspapers. The newsvendor collects a quantity of papers along with a voucher for those papers. The publisher also retains a copy of the voucher.
The newsvendor then distributes the papers among his newsboys, who would then sell them on the streets.
At the end of the day, the newsvendor meets his newsboys, collects unsold copies and the money from sales. The next day he then has to pay the publisher the amount specified on the voucher when he collected the papers.
Some of those newspapers could have been transported abroad via the recently opened “Airport of London”, or more popularly known as Croydon Airport.
The following photos shows the arrival facilities for passengers with customs facilities and passport control, with the two doors on the right for “British” or “Non British”:
Back to London after dark, and the following photo is showing “An incident at the Yard”:
Apparently a plain clothes officer talking to a Constable at Scotland Yard. It is always difficult to know how many of these old photos were posed or were a real event when the photographer was on site.
The text with the photo does though claim that “The gate is open all night, and anyone in need of police will find ‘The Yard’ ready and waiting”.
Policing in London during smog conditions must have been rather difficult. Wonderful London describes such an event as “When the minute particles of dust which are always overhanging London become coated with moisture and the temperature falls below what is called the ‘dew-point’, that is, the temperature at which the moisture in the atmosphere condenses, fog blankets the streets”.
When this happened, a number of methods were used to help guide people and traffic around the city, one of which was lighting acetylene flares at key traffic locations as shown in the following photo:
Those who may have needed the help of an acetylene light to navigate the streets of London were those leaving Murray’s Club late at night in Beak Street, Soho:
The sewers of London have always been a fascination (at least for me). A parallel world beneath the city’s streets. The following photos show part of the sewer system at Hammersmith. This was the main sewer under Hammersmith Road. Known as the Counters Creek Sewer due to its proximity, and in parts, integration with Counters Creek, the old ditch / stream / sewer / canal that ran from Kensal Green cemetery down to the Thames near the old Lotts Road power station.
The book describes a sewer control system that is basically in use today. Sewers such as the Counters Creek Sewer run north – south, taking water down to interception sewers that run east – west and transport the water for treatment.
When there is too much water for the system to handle, an overflow is needed into the Thames. In the above photo, the overflow sewer is on the right. The device covering part of the sewer entrance is known as a “penstock”, and has been lifted to lower the water level for the photographer.
Normally, this would be lowered to divert water to the tunnel on the left which takes water to the intercepting sewer. When water rises to the top of the penstock, it overflows into the overflow tunnel which then flowed into the river at Chelsea.
The photo below is the other side of the penstock and shows the two tunnels. The penstock has been lowered, and the overflow channel on the left is dry, with water in the Counters Creek sewer on the right.
Over one hundred years later, the construction of the Tideway Tunnel or Super Sewer is intended to end discharges into the Thames by adding additional capacity on the east – west route
What makes Wonderful London so fascinating is the sheer variety of subjects. There are a couple of photos of the remains of the old Merton priory, but a strange photo is of when a workmen digging in allotments near the mill alongside the River Wandle at Merton discovered an 800 year old coffin underneath the cabbages:
No idea if there was any occupant, what happened to the coffin, or whether any further excavations were carried out. Just one of the random photos in the book that came with just a brief description.
The following photo is of Poplar Almshouse with presumably one of the occupants standing outside:
The almshouses were in Bow Lane (which has been renamed as Bazely Street, and runs south from East India Dock Road, and is to the east of All Saints Church).
The almshouses were founded around 1696 when Hester Hawes left six almhouses on the west side of the street for six poor widows, with a monthly allowance of 2s 6d for each widow.
The almshouses were demolished in 1953, so I suspect they were on the site of the flats, just south of the Greenwich Pensioner pub.
Back to the City, and these are members of the Langbourne Club for City Women relaxing on the roof of Fishmongers Hall, or one of the adjacent building, as part of the parapet of London Bridge can be seen in the gaps between the wall.
On the river was a Thames Barge:
The text with the photo comments on the apparent confusion of multiple ropes, chains, buckets, fenders and pieces of canvas. I suspect if you sailed these barges there was no confusion, and you knew exactly where everything was, and it was in the correct place.
To finish this rather random survey of early 20th century London, a visit to north London and Alexandra Palace:
The Grand Hall which ran back from the taller part of the central façade:
The Alexandra Palace photos are an example of why I love second hand books, as you never know what previous owners have left between the pages.
Alexandra Palace suffered a severe fire in 1980, and the previous owner of my copy of Wonderful London put a number of newspaper clippings next to the page with the original photos. These report on, and show the extent of the 1980 fire:
I love the understatement within the last paragraph, that whilst today’s jazz festival had been cancelled, a decision would be taken on the following day’s show.
The damage to the building was extensive:
The old Grand Hall was almost destroyed. Compare the following post fire photo with the photo of the hall from Wonderful London.
With the decline in newspaper readership as the Internet takes over, the habit of taking clippings from newspapers and putting them between the relavent pages of books will become a dying art.
A shame, as they provide an extra dimension to the life of a book. Whilst a book is a snapshot of the time it was published, additions by owners over time tell the story of the journey the book has taken to get to its current owner.
Wonderful London offers a brilliant snapshot of the city as it was in the early decades of the 20th century. Around 100 years later, many of the places featured, the way people lived and worked have changed considerably, however many of the views are much the same.
What the book does prove is how rich and diverse the city has always been, and how there is something of interest on almost any street corner, or in the case of Merton, even under the cabbages in an allotment.
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The hosting provider for the blog moved the blog to a new server infrastructure earlier last week. Apart from problems getting e-mail working again, everything seems to be working, however this will be the first post to be sent out via the e-mail subscription service, so I hope it is received. As well as the blog being moved, the weather last Wednesday was wonderful, so I did what seemed a good choice on a day of sunny weather, I headed to the Isle of Dogs and the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.
The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is at the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs, to the western side of Island Gardens, one of the best places to stop and take in the view across the river to Greenwich:
Island Gardens are relatively small, but a very welcome area of green, open space facing onto the river. View through the trees of the four chimneys of the old Greenwich power station across the Thames:
It would have been easy to stop and watch the river for some time, however after a walk from Poplar Station on the DLR, I wanted to cross to the other side of the river before the sun set too low on a late autumn day.
There are almost identical entrances to the Greenwich foot tunnel on both sides of the river. This is the entrance in Island Gardens, with a low sun directly behind the entrance:
On the opposite side of the river, the translucent glass roof of the Greenwich entrance can be seen alongside the Cutty Sark:
The Greenwich Foot Tunnel was one of a number of tunnels constructed under the River Thames in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those wanting to travel between the north and south sides of the river had long been restricted to a ferry, or long journey to the nearest bridge in central London.
A single tunnel Blackwall Tunnel had opened in 1897, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel in 1902, the Rotherhithe Tunnel in 1908 and the Woolwich Foot Tunnel in 1912.
A period of fifteen years that had opened up a range of new routes to travel between opposite sides of the River Thames, no doubt one of the benefits of having the London County Council responsible for major works across the city.
A foot tunnel for those who lived and worked on different sides of the river, or who had business that needed a crossing, had been identified as an urgent need for a number of decades in the second half of the 19th century, however it was not until the final five years of the century that the scheme would get underway.
On the 12th May 1896, newspapers were reporting that a Bill for the tunnel was to be put before Parliament:
“PROPOSED NEW THAMES TUNNEL. A LONDON COUNTY COUNCIL SCHEME – The Bridges Committee of the London County Council have prepared a report, to come before the Council today, recommending that application should be made to Parliament for power to construct a foot passenger tunnel to connect Greenwich and Millwall, at an estimated cost of £75,000, and that the Parliamentary Committee of the Council be instructed to prepare the necessary Bill, to be introduced in the Session of 1897.
The report states that, in addition to the above amount, which is the estimated cost of land and works for the proposed tunnel, a sum of not less than £25,000 as the law at present demands, would have to be paid as compensation to persons interested in a ferry which exists at the spot in question; but it is hoped that the Council will succeed in obtaining a clause by which ‘improvement of interest will be considered, thereby reducing this amount very considerably.’
The plan is to have a tunnel with a footway of eight feet, and a headway of rather more than nine feet in the centre, reduced to a minimum of seven feet and a half at the outsides. Electricity is to be used for lighting the tunnel, as also for working the ventilating and pumping machinery. The time required for the execution of the works is expected to be about twelve months, Calculations are given to show that the proposed tunnel would be a more economical provision than establishing a free ferry.”
The London County Council estimated a cost of £75,000 for the construction of the tunnel, and this was the value put forward in the Bill to Parliament, however as with almost every major civil engineering project since, the cost would turn out to be much higher.
The council invited tenders for the construction of the tunnel, and the winning tender was from Messrs. J. Cochrane with a price more than one third above the estimated cost. The Bridges Committee recommended that the council accept the bid, however the council were not happy and wanted the additional third of the estimated cost to come from “local or other sources”, however when put to the vote, the recommendation of the Bridges Committee was accepted and the work would soon commence.
The new tunnel was opened on the 4th of August 1902.
The route down to the tunnel is via several flights of stairs from the entrance in Island Gardens. The lifts are currently out of use.
Spiral stairs line the inner wall of the shaft, with the central space being used for the lift:
From the bottom of the Island Gardens shaft, the view along the tunnel towards Greenwich:
In the above photo, a cream coloured section can be seen a short distance along the tunnel.
The section is the temporary war time repairs following damage caused to the tunnel by the nearby explosion of a high explosive bomb. A closer view is seen in the photo below, and there is an information panel on the left:
The damage to the tunnel happened on the evening of the 7th September 1940, when a bomb exploded on the foreshore, over the route of the tunnel.
Within the tunnel, the blast caused the outer tiles and inner concrete lining of the tunnel to collapse over the length of the tunnel now covered by the temporary repairs. The outer iron lining appears to have held, however this was now leaking and water was entering the tunnel to such an extent that a week after the bombing, the tunnel was full of water.
The tunnel was such a key part of the local infrastructure, providing workers living on the south of the river with easy access to the docks, ship yards and factories in the Isle of Dogs and east London, that a repair of the tunnel was essential.
It took around ten days to pump out the majority of the water, enough that work could start on repairs.
Being wartime, a temporary repair was put in place, consisting of a length of iron collars bolted together to line the damaged area, and effectively form a smaller tunnel within the larger tunnel. At the time, these repairs were considered sufficient to last the war, following which, more permanent repairs could be put in place, and the tunnel restored to its original size.
As well as infrastructure projects always running well over their initial budget estimates, temporary repairs also often become permanent, and so it is with the repairs in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, and the cream coloured iron rings, reducing the diameter of the tunnel, are still the result of the original 1940 repair work.
Walking through the temporary repairs and at the end we can see the tunnel continuing on down to the lowest point roughly under the center of the Thames.
Now we are roughly in the center of the tunnel, it is a good place to stop and consider the original construction.
I have a fascinating little booklet called “The Greenwich Footway Tunnel by William Giles Copperthwaite and Subaqueous Tunneling Through The Thames Gravel: Baker Street and Waterloo Railway by Arthur Harry Haigh”.
The booklet is an extract of the proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and was published in 1902, the year the Greenwich foot tunnel opened. It is a wonderful little booklet with details of tunneling below London and the impact of the geology through which the tunnels are constructed.
The first part of work to build the tunnel was the sinking of the shafts down to the point where the tunnel could start to be bored under the Thames.
The shafts were formed by sinking a caisson around the edge of the shaft, as the shaft was gradually excavated. A caisson is basically a hollow ring of iron or steel that forms a tube from top to bottom of the shaft and provides the strength to stop the sides of the shaft collapsing inwards, or the walls deforming.
The shafts, as with the whole of the tunnel, were constructed in an environment of compressed air. This method was used to control the ingress of ground water and to provide some support to the ground through which the tunnel is being bored. The use of compressed air did require some additional support for the workers, and faclities such as air locks to provide access to the work face.
The following diagram shows the method of sinking the caissons. The shaft was sunk through the water level which was found at a depth of 35 feet, from which point, construction continued using compressed air.
The caissons, today the walls of the shaft, are made up of two steel rings. The outer diameter of the shaft is 43 feet, and the inner diameter is 35 feet. Allowing for the width of the two steel rings (one outer, one inner), there was a four foot gap between the two rings of the shaft. This was filled with a mix of 6 to 1 Portland cement concrete. The use of concrete as a filling between the two rings meant that accurate construction and fitting of the rings was essential as once the concrete was poured, there was no way to make any further adjustments.
This method of construction created a pair of incredibly strong shafts on either side of the river, and the weight of the caisson forming the wall of the Poplar shaft was a remarkable 2,560 tons.
Compressed air was put in place from the 2nd of May, and the following table records the depth below the surface achieved each day until completion of the Poplar shaft on the 31st May, 1900.
The table also shows the accuracy of the excavation by the very small amounts that the cutting edge was out of level. The increasing weight of the caisson can be seen by the load on the shaft.
The following drawing shows the route of the tunnel between the Poplar and Greenwich shafts. Note that just above the Greenwich shaft is the Ship Tavern. This pub was badly damaged during the war, demolished, and the Cutty Sark is now on the site of the pub.
The following drawing shows a cross section of the tunnel. As will be seen in my photos of the tunnel today, the tunnel descends from both shafts with a gradient of 1 in 15 feet, down to the central part of the tunnel where it passes under the deepest part of the Thames.
The diagram also shows the type of material that was being excavated through, and was a key consideration in the tunneling method used.
The drawing is a text book example of how to present lots of information in a single drawing. As well as the key lengths, gradients of the tunnel, high and low water level of the Thames, depth of water, dimensions of the shafts etc. the Progress of Tunneling at the bottom of the drawing shows how the tunnel was making its way under the river through 1900 and 1901 as it started from the Poplar shaft and headed to the Greenwich shaft.
Newspapers reported on reaching the half-way point:
“IT IS NOW HALF-WAY TOWARDS COMPLETION – A new tunnel between Poplar and Greenwich is another step in the piercings of the river bed which the London County Council splendidly inaugurated with the making of the Blackwall Tunnel.
The new tunnel will be opened to the public in about a year’s time, and, inasmuch as it is being made wholly in the interests of working men, it might be called the ‘Working Men’s Tunnel’. From shaft to shaft it will measure 1217 feet in length, and will cost about £109,500. The depth of the tunnel at the centre of the river is about 72 feet below the ground line, while the shafts have been sunk to an average depth of 63 feet.
At no part will the top of the tunnel be less than 13 feet below the river bed. No fewer than 1600 tons of cast iron tubing will be used in building the tunnel which will be lighted by electricity. You will approach the tunnel from the Greenwich side from the north end of Church Street, in the rear of the famous Ship Tavern; and on the Millwall side at the Western end of Island Gardens. Some such easy means of communication between one shore and another has long been needed, and many thousands of people will daily find it very handy once it is opened to the public.”
The lining of the tunnel was made up of cast-iron segments, of which eight segments and one key piece formed a complete ring around the tunnel. The lining was 12 feet, 9 inches in outer diameter and 11 feet 9 inches internal diameter.
The following drawing shows a cross section of the tunnel, including the lining, and ducts for services such as electrical wiring, ventilation pipes and cable conduits.
The interior of the tunnel was lined with white glazed tiling, which is still in place today.
The booklet includes some wonderful detail of sections of the tunnel lining:
The washers where the bolts secured the sections together were made using a short section of lead pipe. When the bolt was tightened, the lead would compress forming a water tight seal around the bolt.
Lead wire and iron filings were used to fill any spaces between sections, and the method of construction was so successful, that when air pressure was removed at the end of construction, only a dozen places had a small problem with water ingress and needed repair.
The tunnel was constructed using a shield of the type known as a trap or box shield, which the booklet describes as follows:
“The trap consisting of two diaphragms, the front one filling the upper half and the back one the lower half, of the circle enclosed by the cylindrical skin of the shield.
The bottom of the front diaphragm is a few inches lower than the top of the back one. In the event of an inrush of water from a ‘blow’ occurring at the face, the water must flow over the top diaphragm to get into the tunnel, and before it rises high enough to do this, the bottom of the top diaphragm is under water, and all escape of air through the shield is stopped. the water in fact becomes a seal to hold the air.”
The above description simplifies the design, construction and use of the shield, and cross sections through the shield as used at Greenwich are shown in the following drawings.
The central box formed a water tight chamber, and the shield consisted of thirteen rams for pushing the shield forward, and together exert a pressure of 1.5 tons per square inch, and a total thrust to push the shield forward of 750 tons.
The design of the shield was changed as it progressed on its route under the Thames, as improvements were identified and as different types of strata were encountered.
This included putting doors in the upper part of the shield, as well as the lower, giving workers an additional method of exit if there were problems at the face of the tunnel. It was noticed that after these additional doors were added, workers were more inclined to stay at the face of the shield after there had been a fall of material, as they had a higher route of exit than before.
As well as the safety of workers at the shield face, another consideration was the conditions of working in an environment where compressed air was used. As well as care of their workers, there was also probably a financial motivation as the Act of Parliament authorising the tunnel included compensation to those whose health had been damaged by working in compressed air. Compensation seemed rather limited though as a total of £20 had been awarded to three workers.
Two medical officers were appointed to oversee the construction of the tunnel. Those working in the tunnel were examined at least once a week and before anyone could commence work, they had to have a certificate of health from the medical officers.
Of those who applied to work on the tunnel, 13.9% were found to be unfit to work on initial examination, and of those who passed the medical, a further 5.7% were found to be affected by the increased air pressure, and forbidden to continue work in the tunnel.
Men worked an 8 hour shift with a rest period of 45 minutes, during which time they had to exit the tunnel.
Rooms were available with washing facilities at the construction site for the workers, and hot coffee was served as they left the tunnel.
A “medical lock” was available for treating those with “caisson-sickness”, probably similar to today where a diver has to decompress in a chamber. Only three workers needed to make use of this facility during the construction of the tunnel.
A concern with tunnel construction was the potential build up of carbon dioxide, and as the construction of the tunnel progressed, an experiment was approved whereby an apparatus was made and installed to removed carbon dioxide. This consisted of a series of wooden boxes bolted together. In each wooden box there was an amount of crushed pumice stone. Air was passed through the boxes, and it was found that deposits of carbonate of soda were found on the pumice stone, and that the experiment did result in the removal of some of the carbon dioxide in the air within the tunnel.
Construction of the tunnel was relatively straight forward given the technologies of the time, and construction methods were able to adapt to the changing sand, clay and ballast through which the tunnel was being bored. For a period between the 22nd February and the 1st May 1901, an impressive 10 feet per day was being achieved in driving the tunnel forward.
The tunnel met the Greenwich shaft without any problems, and minor precautions were made to stop any fall of sand or ballast from the area around the shaft as the tunnel was completed.
The Isle of Dogs and Greenwich were finally connected by a walking route.
In the following photo, the incline up to the Greenwich shaft from the centre of the tunnel can be seen:
I am not sure whether it was my imagination, however standing in the centre of the tunnel, it seemed possible to hear the sound of the occasional passing boat on the river above.
At the start of the incline where the tunnel rises by 1 foot in every 15 feet, up to Greenwich:
Almost at the Greenwich end of the tunnel looking down the incline:
Approaching the Greenwich end of the tunnel, and it looks as if we are approaching an entrance to some secret infrastructure below London – unfortunately it is only the closed entrance to the lift which should be operating.
The tunnel today is brightly lit and there is a frequent flow of walkers through the tunnel. It has not always been this way, and as the docks and industries closed on either side of the river the numbers walking through declined and there were times during the 1980s when you needed to be cautious when using the tunnel.
A final look down the Greenwich foot tunnel:
The Greenwich shaft is slightly deeper than the Island Gardens shaft. I counted 87 steps down from Island Gardens, and was rather surprised to count a round number of exactly 100 steps up the Greenwich shaft:
Whilst walking up the shaft, a look up shows the cantilevered steps of the spiral above:
At the top of the steps, one of the current landmarks of Greenwich confirms that you have arrived on the south bank of the River Thames:
But before leaving, another look up shows the wonderful construction of the glass dome that covers the entrance to each shaft:
As well as the bomb damage to the tunnel, the entrance buildings and shafts were also damaged by bombing, with an oil filled incendiary hitting the Island Gardens shaft, causing considerable damage to the lift control equipment. The Greenwich entrance was also hit by an incendiary bomb, but did not suffer as much damage as at the northern shaft.
Plaques above both entrances to the tunnel record the opening in August 1902, along with key figures in the London County Council responsible for the tunnel:
A view of the Greenwich entrance to the tunnel, with the Island Gardens entrance across the river, just to the right:
The original lifts were added in 1904, two years after the tunnel opened, these were attendant operated until the early 21st century. New lifts were installed in 2012, however there have been periods when the lifts were not that reliable, with significant problems with the glass doors closing reliably, and they are currently closed.
A major problem with the lifts is that they are almost a custom design, having to fit inside the original lift space in the centre of the shaft, and also within such a historic structure.
Special parts for the lifts are sourced from Germany, and it is still expected that the lifts will be closed for some months.
Outside the tunnel entrance is an excellent view of the Cutty Sark:
And looking across the river is the ever expanding collection of towers that are growing across the Isle of Dogs:
View to the west, towards the City of London from close to the Greenwich entrance to the tunnel:
Looking east from the entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel:
The Greenwich foot tunnel was certainly a success, and a major improvement on the ferry which the tunnel replaced.
A ferry had been operating between the Isle of Dogs and Greenwich for hundreds of years, and such was the level of traffic, that from 1883 the Thames Steamboat Company operated a steamboat ferry, which did have problems operating in a very crowded section of the river (hard to believe when looking at the view today just how busy the river has been).
On the South Bank, where York Road meets the large junction with Westminster Bridge Road, and just south of Waterloo Station, there is a building that today stands out among the surrounding new hotels. This is the General Lying-In Hospital, an institution founded in 1765 by Dr John Leake.
The building we see today was constructed in 1830, after the death of Dr John Leake, however it is here because he was instrumental in founding the first dedicated maternity hospital, which originally was a very short distance away on Westminster Bridge Road.
John Leake was born on the 8th June 1729 at Ainstable in Cumberland. There is not that much written evidence of his early life, however he went to Bishop Auckland Grammar School, and became a Doctor of Medicine at Rheims at the age of thirty four, and was admitted to the College of Physicians three year later.
In the mid 18th century, the requirements for entry to the medical profession were rather basic. The ideal candidate was a “cultured and highly educated gentleman”, who only needed an adequate knowledge of medicine. One could become a Doctor via an apprenticeship, and a physician would need only one year’s training in medicine, although up to 1812, the College of Physicians required only six months hospital practice.
There is no record as to how Dr John Leake became interested in child birth, but on Wednesday the 7th of August 1765, he was calling together a meeting of the sponsors of the new hospital at Appleby’s Tavern in Parliament Street.
The new hospital was to be called the Westminster New Lying-In Hospital, and at the meeting Leake reported that sufficient funds had been received to purchase a plot of land for the new hospital, on Westminster Bridge Road, probably today under the railway bridge leading into Waterloo Station.
Dr John Leake:
The new hospital was to be for “the Relief of those Child-bearing Women who are the wives of poor Industrious Tradesmen or distressed House-keepers, and who either from unavoidable Misfortunes of the Expenses of maintaining large Families are reduced to real Want. Also for the Reception and Immediate Relief of indigent Soldiers and Sailors Wives, the former in particular being very numerous in and about the City of Westminster”.
The first stone of the new hospital was laid on the 15th August 1765 during a Governors visit to the building site. A view of the hospital when complete:
The location of the original hospital is shown in the following extract from Smith’s New Plan of London from 1816:
In 1766, there were problems with cash flow and raising sufficient funds to complete the hospital. As well as subscriptions from individuals, events were planned, including a benefit play. The play appears to have taken place at Covent Garden on Boxing Day, 1766, when £114 was raised. There had also been an earlier benefit play at Drury Lane Theatre.
Dr John Leake must have been very busy during the 1760s. As well as the challenge of funding and building the new hospital, he was also a practicing doctor as well as training and lecturing. An advert in the papers of 1767 provides a view of how his lectures were carried out:
“On Monday the 5th October next, at seven in the Evening, will begin, A Course of Lectures on the THEORY and PRACTICE of MIDWIFERY, and the Diseases of Women and Children, in which the true principles of that Science will be distinctly laid down and the several Operations clearly demonstrated, by an artificial representation of each difficult Labour, upon Machines of a new Construction, exactly resembling Women and Children.
By John Leake M.D. Member of the Royal College of Physicians, London and Physician Man-Midwife to the Westminster New Lying-In Hospital. Where the Students for their more expeditious and effectual Improvement, will be admitted to attend as Pupils.”
The title “Physician Man-Midwife” for John Leake came into force on the 2nd June 1767 when he was unanimously elected to the position, as the first medical appointment for the new hospital.
Whilst the earlier statement about who would be admitted to the hospital implies quite an open policy, it did require an introduction from a subscriber and a standard letter had been prepared where a subscriber would request a named person to be admitted as a patient and was “an Object worthy of Charity”.
Governors would have to approve an introduction, and as in the mid 18th century anti-natal care was almost non-existent, Governors would only admit a patient in their last month of pregnancy.
Between the 20th April 1767 and 20th April 1769, the hospital had delivered 218 babies, three of which had been still born. The hospital had an infant death rate of 90 per 1,000 births, and a maternal mortality of 4.7 per 1,000 births. Very much higher than today, but believed to be considerably better than giving birth outside of such an institution.
The hospital would only allow women entry in the last month of their pregnancy. This resulted in over ten percent of women who had been approved to give birth in the hospital, not attending as they had delivered at home, prior to the last month. There is no record of the results of such home births.
An ongoing problem for the hospital came from the Parish in which the hospital was located. At the time, the Parish would become responsible for children where the mothers could not support them, and on the 6th December 1769, Lambeth Parish made a complaint to the hospital about ten children born in the hospital who had become chargeable to the parish.
It even appears that some mothers were claiming their babies had been born in the hospital to get the support from the parish, as the parish were checking names with the hospital to confirm they had been a patient.
Dr John Leake died in 1792, and newspapers on the 16th August carried a rather simple notice of his death: “Yesterday died, in Parliament Street, Dr John Leake, Physician to the Westminster Lying-In Hospital, of which he was the founder, and the author of several useful publications”.
It was a rather underwhelming tribute given his achievements, the main one being instrumental in setting up the hospital.
After John Leake’s death, there were a number of months when the hospital went through an unsettled period. People competed for positions within the Governors and for medical appointments in the hospital, and new management started to change some of the hospital’s processes, however by mid 1793, the hospital had settled down into a new phase of running without the key founder.
A critical issue for the hospital for the following few decades seems to have been having sufficient funds to maintain operations, with regular appeals for donations and subscribers.
A report at the start of 1827 provides an indication of the number of patients both within the hospital, and being seen as out-patients:
By the early 1820s, there was a need to find a new location for the hospital. The existing site had a complex set of leases with different owners, which each had to be renewed at different times. The old building was also becoming unsuitable given advances in midwifery and maintaining hygiene within a hospital environment.
After some searching, a site was found, that would become the site of the hospital we see today. To help with funding, more subscribers were needed, and the search for subscribers sheds some light on how they were involved with the selection of patients “That is future Subscribers of Twenty Guineas at one payment be allowed to recommend yearly two in-patients and two out-patients and one for advice”. Ten guinea subscribers could only recommend one patient for each of the categories.
The move to the new hospital seems to have taken place in 1828, however the hospital has the date 1830 on the far right of the façade in the photo below. This seems to be when the Common Seal was affixed to the lease for the land which had been given by the Archbishop of Canterbury. By this time, Westminster had also been dropped from the name of the hospital and it became simply the General Lying-In Hospital.
Care during pregnancy during the first half of the 19th century was almost non-existent. Recognition of complications during pregnancy was very limited unless such complications were catastrophic. Standards of hygiene were poor in many of the Lying-In Hospitals. Many of the approaches to complications were horrendous and carried out without anesthetic. The mortality rate for Caesarian section was dreadful. Of the fifty-two operations carried out in 1838, only thirteen women survived.
The General Lying-In Hospital published numbers of deliveries and maternal deaths for the years 1855 to 1875, as shown in the following table:
The figures recorded by the hospital do not state whether a delivery was a single child, or whether a delivery covered twins where these were born.
Assuming each delivery is a single child per mother, then the average death rate of mothers was fifteen per thousand. For comparison, I checked the World Bank statistics for Great Britain, and today the mortality figure is seven per 100,000 live births. A phenomenal improvement since the first half of the 19th century.
Many of the problems with child birth in the first half of the nineteenth century were not just through medical complications, but were caused by the level of poverty that was effecting so many of London residents at the time. Malnutrition and rickets resulted in a disproportionate size of fetal head and that of the pelvis. This resulted in many cases of difficult delivery.
The rates of child mortality were also high, and whilst the working population was most effected due to poor diet, housing conditions, poverty etc. child death also affected all levels of society and could influence history.
When King William IV died in 1837, he had no legitimate heirs. His wife, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen had suffered the death of five children. Three, including twin boys were stillborn and two died within six months of birth. Perhaps because of these deaths, Queen Adelaide was a sponsor of the General Lying-In Hospital, contributing £10 per annum to the charity.
As William therefore had no legitimate heirs, the crown would pass to Victoria, who would reign from 1837 to 1901 and stamp her name on two thirds of the 19th century, a significant period of the industrial revolution, and when the basics of the modern world were formed.
Above the main entrance to the hospital is an inscription – “Licensed for the public reception of pregnant women pursuant to an Act of Parliament passed in the thirteenth year of the reign of King George the Third”.
This act, passed in 1773, long before the new hospital building was constructed, attempted to address the problem with local parishes objecting to taking on the expense of illegitimate babies, by making the Governors of such hospitals apply for a licence to continue. The hospital could therefore claim that it was operating legally under an Act of Parliament.
The issue of unmarried mothers had long been troubling for the hospital and in 1774 the Governors decided to exclude unmarried mothers from the hospital, however to moderate this decision, the Governors retained the ability to admit unmarried mothers at their discretion.
The second half of the 19th century did see considerable improvement in the practice of midwifery, hygiene, and general medical practice, and at the start of the 20th century we can get a remarkable glimpse into the life of the hospital.
When researching this post, I found a series of photographs of staff at the hospital in 1908, held by the Wellcome Collection. Fortunately these can be used under a Creative Commons licence.
The General Lying-In Hospital had run training sessions, which included work at the hospital, since Dr John Leake had originally founded the hospital and the following photo from 1908 shows the Labour Ward Nursing Staff and Pupil Midwives:
By the time of the above photos, the treatment of patients had improved considerably. This included the use of anesthetic. There had been much clerical objection to the use of pain relief during labour – no doubt from those who did not have to suffer such pain, however the use of anesthetic during child birth gained popularity after Queen Victoria used chloroform for births in 1853 and 1857.
There were still challenges, for example in 1877, the hospital was suffering high mortality rates of 1 in 19. The cause was believed to be overcrowding, dirty linen and poor ventilation. Recommendations to address these problems included moving the toilets outside of the main building, replacing sacking which had been used on the base of bedsteads with iron battens, more space between patients and improved ventilation.
Despite the challenging issues in 1877, the 19th century saw gradual improvements in care, as the following table of the maternal death rate shows;
As had been the practice of the hospital since founding, there was a continual training programme and in 1907, the numbers trained covered 33 Midwives, 83 Maternity Nurses, and in the district for house calls, 16 Maternity Nurses had been trained.
The procedure whereby subscribers could recommend patients had been in force since the opening of the hospital and lasted a remarkably long time. It was only in 1922 that the Governing Committee decide to abolish the use of the procedure, however probably to keep subscribers financial support, they still had a route where they could apply to the Lady Almoner of the hospital if they had a patient they wanted to recommend.
The hospital did try to run an open access approach, however as seems to have been the problem since opening – funds were always tight and additional support was always wanted.
In the early decades of the 20th century, the General Lying-In Hospital had been expanding. There was a Post-Certificate School in Camberwell for advanced training, and the hospital had opened up a unit at St. Albans, and it was the St. Albans operation which grew in use from 1940 when 50 patients a month were being transferred from York Road to St. Albans due to the dangers of bombing.
The end of the General Lying-In Hospital in its charitable form came with the National Health Service Act of 1946, when the hospital became part of the NHS in July 1948. The hospital was no longer dependent on subscribers and charitable donations, and the Board of Governors was disbanded.
The Ministry of Health had arranged for the General Lying-In Hospital to come under the Board of Governors of St Thomas’s Hospital, and an indication of the future loss of independence came in 1949 when the hospital was informed that it would become part of the Obstetric and Gynecological Department of St Thomas’s Hospital.
St Thomas’s was also the site where all new high-tech diagnostic equipment would be housed, so the long term future of the General Lying-In Hospital was starting to look rather limited.
in the mid 1960s there were three local hospital’s with facilities for child birth. Lambeth and St Thomas’s as well as the General Lying-In Hospital. The late 1960s also saw a reduction in the number of births and the number of children born per mother was also decreasing. Changing social attitudes, increased use of contraception and the introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1961, initially for married women, but generally available for all from 1967 resulted in the viability of three hospitals for child birth being questioned.
The end of the General Lying-In Hospital came in 1971 when the hospital closed, and services moved to St Thomas’s.
Today, the building is part of the adjacent Premier Inn, and although there is a Premier Inn sign on the side of the building, there is no plaque or sign commemorating the founder of the hospital – Dr John Leake.
To find Dr John Leake’s name we must walk a short distance from the General Lying-In Hospital.
The name change was due to early 20th century attempts to reduce the number of duplicate street names across the city, as reported on the 28th September 1920 in the Westminster Gazette: “There are five streets within a radius of 1.5 miles from Piccadilly Circus all named York-street. It has been decided to re-name York-street, Lambeth, Leake-street in honour of Dr John Leake, who was largely instrumental in founding the general lying-in hospital in the street”.
I went to take a look at the street named after Dr John Leake, and this is where this is a post of two very different halves:
To find Leake Street walk past the hospital, and past the adjacent Premier Inn, then an office block until you find a street heading towards the arches beneath Waterloo Station. Unfortunately there are no street name signs to confirm that this is Leake Street, however this is the current view of the street from York Road:
The first part of the street has a somewhat derelict feel, and this is an indication of what is to come:
The entrance to Leake Street Arches where Leake Street runs underneath Waterloo Station. At least here we can find Leake’s name, although I doubt very much whether many of those who pass this way realise the association of the name and hospital.
Looking down Leake Street Arches:
Almost every available space is covered in graffiti.
This dates back to May 2008 when the artist Banksy, along with 29 other street artists decorated much of the tunnel with graffiti.
Up untill then, Leake Street had been a rather gloomy, disused road. The arches on either side were generally used for storage, including a rather unusual use as an oil company kept core samples retrieved during drilling in a couple of the arches.
The Leake Street Arches are today a bit of an institution, with bars occupying many of the arches that lead off from the main tunnel.
As well as the side walls, the brick roof of the tunnel has been used as a canvas:
A riot of colour:
Graffiti is not static and is continually being refreshed. During my walk through the tunnel a couple of weeks ago, an area of wall had been prepared for a new work, and paint cans were ready on the floor:
New works are not just painted in isolation, they frequently have a film crew ready to record the process.
A glimpse inside one of the side arches that is not in use shows the size of the space and the wonderful brick work that makes up the arches and tunnel that support the station platforms and tracks above:
Almost every surface has been painted:
Graffiti changes regularly and is actively encouraged throughout the tunnels of Leake Street.
Walls, ceiling and occasional parts of the floor are covered in graffiti:
At the far end, there are steps up to Station Approach Road which runs alongside Waterloo Station, or follow the walkway on the left, under Station Approach to get to Lower Marsh. The road curves to the right as shown in the following photo to a fenced off dead end.
Looking back along Leake Street Arches:
Apart from the sign for Leake Street Arches at the entrance to the tunnel, there is no further mention of the name, and no reference as to the source of the name. The web site for the tunnel and arches. Leake Street Arches, makes no reference to the source of the name, focusing instead on the cultural, entertainment, food and drink venues within the tunnel.
I have no idea what Dr John Leake would have thought if he could see the only place on the South Bank where his name can be seen. What would be good is if Premier Inn could add a plague to the building.
As well as the tunnel and arches, I am sure Dr John Leake would be fascinated by how much the care of women during pregnancy and childbirth has developed, how the mortality rate for mothers and babies has reduced to levels perhaps unimaginable during the mid 18th century, and that care is now available to all via the NHS without any need for subscribers recommendations.
As well as old newspapers, I have used a fascinating book to research this post. In 1977 Professor Philip Rhodes published “Dr John Leake’s Hospital”. Just under 400 pages of detailed history of the hospital, Leake, social conditions across London and attitudes to pregnancy and child birth, as well as the development of this specialised area of care.
Professor Philip Rhodes was on the consultant obstetric staff at the General Lying-In Hospital, eventually becoming Dean of the Medical School and Governor of St Thomas’s Hospital.
His book is a fascinating history of an aspect of London life, and an institution where over 150,000 people where born from 1767 to 1971 – all thanks to Dr John Leake.
I have written about New River Head in a previous post, as well as a number of posts about how water has been key in the development of Clerkenwell and parts of Islington.
New River Head was the point where water delivered by the New River was collected and treated, then sent on through an extensive pipe network to London consumers from the east end to Soho and the west end.
The New River was built in the early 17th century, opening in 1613. A very innovative and complex bit of civil engineering for the time as it transported water from springs near Ware in Hertfordshire all the way to New River Head. Helping to transform London’s water supplies, that had depended on water from the Thames along with small local wells and springs, to a constant, high volume supply of clean water.
What is remarkable is that this 400 year old artificial river is still in use, and for the same purpose. Today, the New River provides around 8%, or 220 million litres a day, of London’s water, so if you live in London, there is a good chance that you have drank or showered in water that has reached you via the New River.
The New River no longer runs to New River Head. It terminates at the east and west reservoirs around Woodberry Wetlands, just south of the Seven Sisters Road.
Starting in 1992, Thames Water created a New River Walk that follows the 28 miles from the source to New River Head. 25 miles follow the river from source to the reservoirs, and a further 3 miles makes up a heritage walk that follows the original route of the New River through to New River Head.
I have long wanted to walk the route from the source of the New River, and a few weekends ago, had the opportunity to spend a weekend walking the New River with a small group from Clerkenwell and Islington Guides and the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, who will be moving into the historic buildings at New River Head.
My post on New River Head and London’s Water Industry covers the history of the New River, so I will not focus on this aspect in this post, however before starting the walk, a quick look at why a former army officer from Bath, Edmund Colthurst, who had served in Ireland, in 1602 proposed a scheme to bring in water from Hertfordshire springs to a site to the north of the city.
The following map is a heat map (from the excellent topographic-map.com) showing the height of the land around the town of Ware. Blue the lowest, through green, red and to the highest land shown as white:
I have circled the source of the New River. It is here where the New River draws water from the River Lee, and where the Chadwell Springs rise and feed the river. The Chadwell Springs were the original source, with the link to the River Lee added later when more water was required to support London’s growing population.
As can be seen in the map, the source is in a low lying area, there are multiple streams running through the area as well as the River Lee which follows the low lying land to the lower right of the map.
The surrounding land rises, and water collects in the area, providing a significant source for the river.
The Chadwell Spring is the original source of water for the New River. The spring is a large pool of water which is filled with water rising from below ground.
The geology of the area is interesting. Some of the water that rises at the spring comes from the Mimmshall Brook, which, ten miles to the west near Hatfield, drains into a sink hole.
The sink hole forms part of a large underground drainage network called a Karsitic network – an area where the underlying chalk has been dissolved by water forming sink holes and sub-surface drainage networks, which around Hertford and east to the Chadwell Springs covers an area of 32 square kilometers.
The geology of the area means that it was a perfect choice for Edmund Colthurst to propose for the source of the river in 1602.
I refer to the River Lee a number of times in the post. The name can be found with spellings of Lee and Lea. The River Lea is frequently used for the natural river and Lee Navigation for parts of the river where it has been turned into a navigable canal. For simplicity I will use River Lee to refer to any part of the Lee / Lea water system.
The blue circle in the above map marks the location of the Chadwell Spring.
The first day’s walk from the source to Rye House is shown by the red dotted line n the following map:
After walking from Ware station, along the River Lee, the first sign of the New River comes with New Gauge House on the banks of the River Lee:
At the side of New Gauge House are two signs, the one on the left is part of the original signage covering the path alongside the river, the sign on the right shows that this is still a working bit of water supply infrastructure, with appropriate safety precautions.
Looking west along the River Lee, with New Gauge House on the left, and on the right in the river is the infrastructure that allows water to be drawn off from the Lee into the New River.
The following view shows New Gauge House, with the start of the New River coming from the arch below, where water from the River Lee starts its journey south to provide water for the population of London.
New Gauge House was built in 1856. The equipment that controls the flow from the Lee is in the ground floor of the building, and accommodation for a Gauge Keeper was in the floor above.
Looking back along the New River to New Gauge House, slightly hidden by trees, with the higher ground, part of the higher ground that surrounds the area, seen in the background.
As shown in the heat map at the start of the post, this is a low lying area, with large amounts of water lying across the surface of the land:
Signposting from the creation of the New River Path:
A straight stretch of the New River with the A10 road crossing:
Underneath the A10:
It is theoretically possible to get to the Chadwell Spring, however the area around the spring is very overgrown and wet, and required a detour from the main path. The Chadwell Spring rises into a circular pool.
This is the view looking in the direction of Chadwell Spring from the walk alongside the New River:
This is the White House Sluice. The building originally contained the equipment to control water levels on the river:
The most historic building here though is the Marble Gauge photographed below:
The Marble Gauge was built in 1770 to control the water taken from a former inlet to the River Lee. Today, the Marble Gauge does not have any function, and water flows through a couple of iron pipes to bypass the structure.
The Marble Gauge was designed by Robert Mylne, the architect and engineer to the New River Company. The structure, along with the railings shown to the left of the above photo are both Grade II listed.
“This Belongs To New River Company” – stone in the undergrowth to the side of the river:
When completed in 1613, the Chadwell Spring was the furthest north of the sources feeding the New River. The connection to the River Lee would not come until Parliament approved a 1738 Statute that allowed the company to take up to 102 megalitres a day from the River Lee (a significant additional source compared to the original 10 megalitres a day from the Chadwell and Amwell Springs).
Whilst the River Lee provided a considerable additional supply of water for London, it did not please barge and mill owners who were concerned about the impact that such a loss of water would have on their use of the Lee.
The photo below shows the channel from the Chadwell Spring where it joins the New River:
A significant additional source of water was added to the New River during each of the river’s first three centuries.
During the 17th century, the springs at Chadwell and Amwell provided the water. In the 18th century, water from the River Lee was added, and in the 19th century a number of pumping stations were built along the northernmost stretch of the New River. These pumping stations extracted water from bore holes to add to the river.
The first of these is the Broadmead Pumping Station, built in 1881:
Whilst many of the pumping stations are still in use, Broadmead seems to have been converted to offices, and is currently the offices of a car hire company. The building and adjacent chimney are Grade II listed.
The New River then passes through Ware, just to the south of the station, and continues on parallel to the A1170 London Road:
In the above photo, there is a concrete wall projecting out into the centre of the river. A small figure can be seen at the end of the wall:
The figure is part of the Chadwell Way Sculpture Trail, which consists of 31 small bronze sculptures made by a class of 7 and 8 year old children from St John the Baptist Primary School in Great Amwell.
The river soon moves away from the London Road, and we reach the village of Amwell, where the Amwell Spring adds water to the river. To mark the location, there is a small island in the river:
The monument in the above view has the following inscription:
An appropriate inscription to think about whenever we turn on the tap.
Walking past the island, and at the opposite end is another monument, with a Latin inscription facing the path:
And the following inscription on the other side of the monument:
A short distance along the New River is Amwell Marsh Pumping Station, a Grade II listed building, completed in 1883:
The British Geological Survey have the bore hole record for the boreholes under the pumping station. The record dates from 1899 and details two boreholes 5.25 feet diameter at the top, reducing to 4 feet diameter at the bottom of the boreholes, which are 109 feet deep.
The combined boreholes had a total pumping capacity of just over 7 million gallons in 24 hours, and that when pumping stopped, water rises quickly within the boreholes.
A note in the record shows that the water pumped from below ground is part of a much larger underground water system as the record states “Pumping here affects Amwell springs, Amwell Hill Well and Chadwell spring”, so whilst water can be pumped from the boreholes, the total impact on the water system needs to be considered.
Amwell Marsh pumping station is still extracting water. The steam pumping engine has been replaced with electric, and looking into the New River we can see the turbulence created by water being pumped into the river:
A Metropolitan Water Board sign warning that fishing is strictly prohibited, trespassers and persons throwing stones will be prosecuted, and that any person bathing, washing an animal, or otherwise fouling the water is liable to a penalty of five pounds:
Not sure of the age of the sign. The Metropolitan Water Board was formed in 1903 when it took over the New River Company. The notice is signed by A.B. Pilling, Clerk of the Board. Pilling was authoring books about the new Chingford reservoir in 1913, so the sign must date from the early decades of the 20th century.
A quiet stretch of the New River:
Rye Common Pumping Station, another Grade II listed building, constructed in 1882.
As with the other 19th century pumping station on the route, it was originally steam powered, but was converted to electricity in 1935. As can be seen from the water gushing from the pipe into the river, Rye Common is still contributing to the New River and London’s water supplies.
The New River, running alongside a housing estate:
The New River is now approaching Rye House, with the three chimneys of Rye House Power Station in the distance.
And at Rye House, the first day of walking the New River ended, with the conveniently located Rye House station a very short walk from the river.
An overcast and grey Saturday was followed by a sunny Sunday. Not long after leaving Rye House, the route reached Essex Road Pumping Station (difficult to photograph, just a very small part of the brick wall is on the right of the following photo), with new building on an old industrial site in the background.
Two large pipes from Essex Road Pumping Station discharging water into the New River:
Essex Road Pumping Station draws water from a borehole beneath the building. The borehole consists of an upper shaft of depth 54 feet and average diameter of 7 feet, followed by a bore hole which extends to a depth of 403 feet below the surface.
The bore hole record demonstrates that there is a considerable volume of water not that far below ground. In 1920, water would rise to a level 2 feet below the surface, and without pumping, this standing water level does not vary.
The record stated that the bore hole would yield 2,160,000 gallons of water a day.
A short distance after Essex Road Pumping Station is a new road bridge that carries Essex Road over the New River:
The walkway alongside the New River carries on under the bridge, with some appropriate artwork lining the under side of the bridge:
After passing through some housing and industry around Rye House, the New River regains its rural setting, with views helped by the sunny weather after the previous day’s rather grey walk:
It is rather hypnotic watching the flow of the water in the river. Leafs and twigs are carried along at the equivalent of a fast walk. The only turbulence at the occasional sluice and where pumping stations add water to the flow.
To the west of this stretch of the New River are some rather nice houses that make the most of having the New River passing the end of their gardens:
Before returning to a tree lined river:
We then come to the 1887, Grade II listed, Broxbourne Pumping Station:
This is a pumping station that is still in use, extracting water from deep below the surface and adding to the New River. Some turbulance can be seen at the right edge of the photo where water is pouring into the river. There are two other pipes pointing onto the river which must have been used in the past, as this was a pumping station that produced a considerable quantity of water.
The bore hole records for the Broxbourne Pumping Station state that there is a shaft below the building to a depth of 197 feet. It is a large shaft of 14 feet diameter at the top down to 10 feet diamter at the bottom. The bore hole record implies that there are additional bores heading out from the shaft.
The 1909 record states that the standing level of water is only 8 feet below the surface, again indicating how high the water table is along the route of the New River. The 1909 record stated: “Great quantity of water, the temporary pumps being drowned in sinking when 2 to 3 million gallons a day were got out. The yield has been returned as 4,500,000 gallons a day”.
There was a chimney at the pumping station which has been demolished, as along with the other pumping stations along the New River, it was converted from steam to electric. There is though a considerable amount of infrastructure to the side of the building. No idea whether this is still in use, however (if you like that sort of thing, which I do), there are some wonderful green painted tanks to the side. The Historic England listing makes no mention of these, only referring to the building.
It is not just the pumping stations that are listed along the route of the New River, also one of the train stations. This is the rather wonderful Grade II listed Broxbourne Station, built between 1959 and 1961 by the British Railways Eastern Region Architect’s Department:
Broxbourne Station is next to the New River. In the above photo, the New River embankment is the grass seen at the lower left corner.
Whilst this is the closest station to the New River, stations are not that far away for the majority of the walk, and the rail line is here for the same reason as the New River.
The New River needed to follow a route that was almost flat, with a very shallow drop in height from the springs to New River Head. This would ensure a smooth flow of water without any need for pumps.
The valley created by the River Lee and associated water systems had created a relatively low and flat wide channel of land between higher ground on either side.
This enabled the New River to follow the 100 foot contour (height above sea level) almost from source to destination, and the height of the river dropped by only around 20 feet along the entire route. Given the surveying methods and equipment of the early 17th century, it was a remarkable achievement.
This relatively flat land was also ideal for the rail network, which avoided the need to construct tunnels or large embanked routes for the railway, so the New River and railway ended almost parallel to each other.
The following map from topographic-map.com shows the lower land as the blue in the centre, with Walthamstow towards the bottom of the map and Ware at the top. The New River follows the light blue along the left of the blue of the Lee Valley.
Continuing along the New River into Broxbourne, and the river runs around the church of St Augustine’s.
As the New River Path gets into more built up areas, there are now sections where it is not possible to walk alongside the river. Fortunately these are for short lengths, and a quick diversion is needed to get back to the river.
The following photo shows one such section where the river runs through private gardens, A 1926 road bridge crosses the river.
In the following photo, the Mylne Viaduct (part of which is the low wall to the left) carries the New River over the Turnford Brook which runs below the New River, left to right.
The New River has been straightened in places from the original early 17th century route. I have not yet had the time to compare the route today with the original, however I suspect the view in the above photo is of one of the later, straightened sections.
The river is carried on a high earth embankment, which may have been too difficult for the original entirely manual construction method, but easier with later mechanical earth moving.
The New River then passes under the A10. The walkway has a slight diversion through a pedestrian tunnel under the road.
The New River then returns to a rather rural environment, with a large bush growing over half the river. Not sure how much maintenance of the New River is needed today, or is carried out by Thames Water to keep the course of the river open.
Although the New River passes through a number of built areas on the way to Cheshunt, it continues with a rather rural appearance with trees lining the banks. Small foot bridges ensure crossing points as the river winds through communities.
Sluice to manage water levels on the outskirts of Cheshunt:
Passing alongside a new housing estate:
The creation of the New River Path dates back to the early 1990s, and the path continues to be well sign posted with only a few places where some careful reference to the map is needed. This may well change as we get into the built areas of north London.
At the end of Day 2 – an autumn scene in Cheshunt:
From here it was a walk into Cheshunt to return home. The end of a brilliant weekend walking the New River.
Each day was just under 8 miles (which included getting to and from each day’s starting and end point). The early stages of the walk around Ware were wet and muddy in places, after Ware the path was mainly dry and easy to walk.
My thanks to those also on the walk for making it such an enjoyable weekend. We have a second weekend booked in a few weeks time, with an aim of walking from Cheshunt to where the New River currently terminates at the East and West Reservoirs, just south of the Seven Sisters Road.
The next stage will include the symbolic crossing of the M25, where rather surprisingly the New River crosses over, rather than under the M25.
One of the strangest headings I have used for a post, however, this was the title of a wonderful booklet published in 1945, where Edward Julian Carter (Librarian of the Royal Institute of British Architects) and Erno Goldfinger, (the architect of buildings such as the Balfron Tower in Poplar), explained the London County Council, 1943 County of London Plan.
The idea for a County of London Plan came from Lord Reith, the Minister of Works and Planning. In 1941 he asked the London County Council to prepare a plan “without paying overmuch respect to existing town planning law and all the other laws affecting building and industry but with a reasonable belief that if a good scheme was put forward it would provide reasons, the impulse and determination to bring about whatever changes in law are needed to carry the plan into effect”.
The County of London Plan was published in 1943, and provided a view of what the city could become after the devastation of wartime bombing.
As is always the way with long term plans, many of the recommendations were not implemented. Money was a considerable post war problem, many changes were long term, and in the decades following the 1940s, changes not foreseen by the plan, such as the exodus of industry from the city and the closure of the docks, would result in a new approach to city planning.
The impact of the County of London plan can though be seen across London today, with, for example, the South Bank being the combination of cultural (Royal Festival Hall, National Theatre etc.), gardens (Jubilee Gardens), office (IBM) and housing recommended by the plan.
The 1945 booklet by Carter and Goldfinger was an attempt to provide a concise view of the plan in a more readable format, and to get the buy in from Londoners to the future of their city as proposed by the plan.
Trying to get the support of Londoners for the plan did though display a bit of “central authority knows best”, as shown by the following two sentences from the introduction to the plan in the booklet:
“So when the L.C.C. plans for London it is not merely planning these things in an abstracted way for Londoners; it is London’s own people through their own democratic government planning themselves”, and;
“The Plan was generated by the people of London and created by architects and planners aware of what the people want. Now it is before the people for them to turn it into reality”.
There is no indication in the booklet how architects and planners were aware of what the people wanted, however the booklet does highlight many of the problems experienced by people living and working in the city.
The booklet was published by Penguin and cost 3 shillings and 6 pence. It would be interesting to know how many Londoners actually purchased and read the booklet.
As with the County of London Plan, the booklet makes some brilliant use of diagrams, what we would today call infographics, use of colour, and plenty of maps, including a wonderful fold out map at the end of the booklet.
The booklet starts by positioning London in Britain, including that London’s population was almost equal to the number of people living in the whole of the British countryside, as well as the significant percentage of imports and exports that went through the city’s docks.
The booklet identifies a number of themes under “What is Wrong”, which includes traffic congestion, depressed housing, inadequacy and maldistribution of open space and a jumble of houses and industry. Another problem is the sprawl of London, with ribbon development along the roads leading to the counties surrounding London, an approach which would gradually leads to urbanising the countryside.
The report illustrates five of these problems. Slums and the Muddled use of land:
A lack of open space, traffic problems and architectural squalor:
Interesting that the book identifies the “absence of coherent architectural treatment in recent building”. A problem that still exists and demonstrated by the towers that are descending on Vauxhall at the moment.
The booklet reviews the growth of London, from 1660 when the city had a population of 450,000:
In 1862, population estimates now include the County of London area, as well as outside the County area to provide a view of the population of Greater London which was 3,222,720 in 1862 rising significantly to 8,203,942 by the time of the report:
The booklet shows some of the data that was used in the County of London Plan to develop the plan’s proposals. The following diagram shows Family Grouping in London, with the number of people in family groups for a sample size of 100 families.
The above diagram was based on the 1931 census, and shows that the highest numbers of families were in the size of three to five persons per family (which also included lodgers and dependents).
This was not so different to the late 19th century. When I looked at the 1881 census data for Bache’s Street (see this post), the average number of members of a family was 3.15, however this figure hid the real problem of houses of multiple occupancy where more than one family would occupy a single house.
Blocks of flats would be a key feature of post war housing development, the booklet goes some way to explaining why this approach was taken.
In the following diagram, the heights of blocks are shown, the height is used to determine the spacing between the blocks.
Whilst smaller, 2-storey houses can have their own garden, this arrangement does not give any land over for public gardens, and will require longer roads.
The justification for larger blocks of flats was the large amount of public open space that could be provided, along with uses such as allotments, with very little space wasted for roads.
Whilst the booklet does recognise the lack of private gardens, it does not really appreciate the impact of high rise living, and that large areas of public open space can become a bit of a windswept wasteland if not carefully managed.
The problem with London was the limited amount of space available for everything that could be expected to be included within the city. Homes, schools, factories, shops, public buildings, offices, roads, railways and services for visitors.
The definition of the County of London for the 1943 plan resulted in an area of 74,248 acres available for every use London was expected to support.
This resulted in some serious decisions on population densities, which again influenced the house / flats discussions.
The following diagram shows the different combinations and their resulting density of people per acre:
However, even achieving these population densities would cause rehousing problems. Open space was also a consideration as many areas of London had very little public open space. The upper map shows the areas of London where housing is most crowded and there is a negligible amount of open space:
The lower map shows the target population densities defined by the County of London Plan.
The central area would have the highest population density of 200 people per acre, however this figure was much below many areas of London which had densities up to 360 people per acre. This would require the challenge of rehousing and averaging out population densities if a reduction was to be achieved.
As well as housing, London at Work was a key consideration of the plan. At the time of the plan, an estimated 2,990,670 people was employed in Greater London.
The trade with the most people was the Distributive Trades with 563,540, followed by Engineering and Metal Trades at 443,380 and Building and Public Works Contracting at 280,440.
Interesting that the majority of people were involved in some form of manufacturing industry. We tend to think that the city had always been a centre for finance and the professional and service industries, however the report listed 55,360 people in Finance and Commerce, 71,080 in Professional Services and 184,170 in Hotels, Restaurants, Club Services etc. Today, I suspect the numbers for manufacturing and those for the finance, professional and hotel services have swapped.
The booklet includes a map showing the built area of London, with the division of industrial and built areas:
What is interesting is how the growth of industry has followed the rivers of London. Not just the Thames, but the Lea in east London, and if you look in south London, the string of industry along the Ravensbourne and Wandle.
The following map shows the future locations of industry and commerce proposed by the plan. Red being industry and Yellow for Commerce.
National Government focused on Westminster, Local Government on the South Bank (County Hall), Law to the west of the City, Bloomsbury being the centre for University education and Kensington being the location for museums.
The County of London Plan was concerned with the lack of public open space. During the 19th century London had grown exponentially, with industry surrounded by dense housing estates and very little land available for those living in the city. Whilst to the west there were the Royal Parks, the east of the city was very poorly served as illustrated by the following map, where the dark area indicates areas deficient of open space:
The County of London Plan proposed a system of new parks, mainly in the east and south of the city as shown in the following map:
It would be interesting to compare how many of the sites marked in the above map are open space today (adds projects to ever increasing list of things to write about).
The growth in traffic was a key consideration of the County of London Plan. The post war growth in car and lorry traffic was a theme of the majority of post war city development plans. The City of London’s plans proposed dual carriageways through the City (of which the section of London Wall between Aldersgate Street and Moorgate was one of the very few sections to be built, along with underground car parks and raised pedestrian ways.
The County of London Plan offered a desperate view of what could become of the city if measures were not taken:
Pre-war, many of the city’s streets were not designed to support the expected volumes of vehicle traffic, or the speed at which these vehicles were expected to travel – much faster than the horse drawn transport of previous centuries.
This was illustrated by the increasing numbers of cars in the country up to 1938 (blue) along with the increasing number of road traffic accidents (red):
To address the problem, the County of London Plan proposed a series of arterial and ring roads that would help take traffic from the smaller surrounding roads, and speed this traffic to their destinations. The following map shows the proposed new roads on the south-east of London, marked in red:
Note the intention for a new road to the west of the Isle of Dogs, that would cross under the river to the south of London. Many of these plans would not be built, or would be built along different routes.
The route through the Isle of Dogs was part of an inner arterial road that would ring the city. The following map shows this road, along with the arterial roads that would connect this ring road out to the rest of the country.
The black area in the centre is the City of London. The red dashed lines between the City and river represent the arterial road that would be created with the construction of the dual carriage ways along what is now Upper and Lower Thames Street. This, as shown in the map, would create a the main east – west route through the City.
The arterial roads stretching out from the city are roads such as the A1, A2, A13, A3, A4 etc. all of which have been rebuilt as major routes into and out of the city to the wider country.
Railways were also considered in the report. A major concern was the impact that railway viaducts had on the city. Viaducts cut through neighbourhoods, dividing areas, and as the booklet described “were signs of incredible squalor, with trains rumbling in front of bedroom windows, day and night”.
The booklet used an aerial photo of Southwark as an example of the impact of viaducts:
The booklet has a bit of a negative view of rail transport, which probably influenced the following decades of under investment in rail and investment in road transport.
For example, the following paragraph from the booklet covering the London Underground:
“In recent years the Underground Railways have contributed an additional problem for planners. Without thought for the total welfare of London they have pushed their lines out to the open country, encouraging uncontrolled speculative development. It was said at one time that London Transport needed a London of 12,000,000 inhabitants if it was to operate profitably. growth to such dimensions in the districts to the present railway network is the worst possible thing from the point of view of London as a whole.”
The plan makes a number of recommendations for London’s railways, including “increased electrification, better interchange between main lines, underground and suburban services; removal of viaducts; better receiving and distributing services for goods; and possibly the use of air-freight services”.
It is interesting comparing the 1943 plan, with today’s approach, where in 1943 air travel was being suggested as an alternative method for transporting freight, rather than the railways.
The booklet complained that whilst the County of London Plan “tackled the railway problem boldly”, the Central Government or Local Authorities did not have the powers to plan railway companies activities.
The plan suggested the use of underground loops to link stations, an inner and outer ring for goods traffic and the removal of viaducts. Some of the proposed new routes are shown in the following maps from the booklet:
The plan used the South Bank as an example of what could be achieved. The area between Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges had long been the target for improvements. In the late 19th century, newspapers moaned that the area was the first view of London that Americans arriving on the boat train from Southampton would see, and it was an industrialised area with dense, poor terrace housing.
Improvements along the South bank had started in the first couple of decades of the 20th century with the construction of the London County Council’s County Hall, and the plan proposed the South Bank up to Blackfriars Bridge should be transformed as a cultural centre, offices, improved housing, open space and a river walkway.
The plan’s vision for the South Bank was shown using the following model:
As well as the development of the South Bank, proposals included the removal of Hungerford Railway Bridge, and two new road bridges; a new Charing Cross road bridge and a new Temple Bridge. The car rather than the railway was seen as the post-war future of transport.
The booklet includes a section titled “Putting Theory Into Practice”, which deals with the challenges of implementing the complex and extensive plans proposed in the County of London Plan.
It makes a comparison with Russia, stating “We all know the great Russian Plans were actually named by the number of years work they involved – the Stalin Five Year Plans – so in due course the County Plan must be divided up into periods and, if we secure sufficient means and powers, we can get the planners a real confidence that each stage will be completed within a limited and stated time.”
To illustrate how this might happen, the booklet includes a series of maps showing how a area could be transformed, starting of with a “Survey of present conditions”:
Followed by Housing as the first priority:
Places of work would be key:
With the need to re-plan the places of work so they move from being packed within areas of housing (above map), to dedicated industrial areas away from residential areas (following map):
The following diagram shows an aerial view of the completed transformation. A planned and completely rebuilt area of London consisting of ordered residential areas with plenty of public open space. Industrial areas along the edges of the residential to provide local jobs, but not on top of where people lived.
A map titled “Period Planning” identified the priorities for the first period of development, with the key arterial roads and the areas that needed the most attention. The areas outlined in red are those where the plan recommended that work should start immediately.
The rear cover of the booklet has a diagram of the proposed road system, with the first indication of an outer ring road, a proposal that many years later would evolve into the M25, although further out from the city than shown in the diagram.
On the inside rear cover of the booklet is a wonderful fold out map titled “London Today”. the map shows a high level view of the use of land within the County of London. What is interesting is that the map shows the boundary of the County of London, with east London places such as Canning Town, Stratford and West Ham being outside the boundary. These were originally within the County of Essex (click on the image to open a larger version).
The booklet provides a really good summary of the 1943 County of London Plan, and it is interesting that the architect Erno Goldfinger was one of the two authors of the booklet. The planned developments of housing probably aligned with Goldfinger’s view of the possibilities of new residential buildings as can be seen with those he was responsible for, such as the Balfron Tower.
The County of London Plan and the booklet used some really creative graphics to illustrate the key themes of the plan.
Many of the developments proposed within the County of London Plan would not take place. Some would still be debated decades after the plan. If you go back to the map titled period Planning, you will see at the right edge of the map, there is a road in yellow routing under the Thames. This was the original East London crossing that caused major controversy in the early 1990s when the proposed route would take the road through the ancient Oxleas Wood.
That scheme was cancelled, but it is interesting that over 40 years later, there were still plans to implement some of the recommendations of the 1943 County of London Plan.
Planning for London has always been a challenge. Never enough money, changing politics and changing public attitudes.
The current strategic plan is a total of 526 pages and after wading through it, it would really help if an equivalent to Carter and Goldfinger could produce a booklet explaining the key points of the plan.
I do wonder how much of the current plan will be implemented. The word “should” is used a total of 1,540 times in the document to describe a recommendation or target, rather than words such as “will” or “must”.
There are some fascinating statements in the 2021 plan, for example at paragraph 10.8.6:
“The Mayor will therefore strongly oppose any expansion of Heathrow Airport that would result in additional environmental harm or negative public health impacts. Air quality gains secured by the Mayor or noise reductions resulting from new technology must be used to improve public health, not to support expansion. The Mayor also believes that expansion at Gatwick could deliver significant benefits to London and the UK more quickly, at less cost, and with significantly fewer adverse environmental impacts.”
I always wonder how much politics is involved in these decisions. Are there fewer voters for the London Mayor under Gatwick’s flight paths than under those of Heathrow?
The 2021 plan includes proposals for major transport projects such as the Bakerloo line extension and Crossrail 2. In the section on funding the plan, there is the statement that:
“There is a significant gap between the public-sector funding required to deliver and support London’s growth, and the amount currently committed to London. In many areas of the city, major development projects are not being progressed because of the uncertainty around funding.”
The Covid pandemic has really hit Transport for London’s finances, and a long term reduction in those working five days a week in London will further reduce fare revenue. The national Government also has a focus on the so called “leveling up” agenda which may focus funding on developments outside of London.
Long term planning for a city with the complexity of London is extremely difficult. Funding, politics, the impact of external and unforeseen events all contribute to the very high risk that plans will need to change, will not be implemented, or will be implemented in different ways.
What these plans do help with though, is an understanding of the city at the time the plan was developed, challenges facing the city, and how these challenges were expected to be addressed.
As such, booklets such as that by Carter and Goldfinger really help with understanding how London has developed.
They also include some wonderful graphics and maps.
For today’s post, I am returning to one of my favourite subjects, the old stairs that lined the river and provided such an important connection between the Thames and the streets of London on both the north and south banks of the river. The stairs for today’s post are Old Barge House Stairs:
In the above photo, there are some modern steps descending from the river wall, just to the left of the large OXO sign. The remains of a wood and stone causeway can be seen to the left of the base of the steps towards the river.
The causeway is all that is left of Old Barge House Stairs. The following view shows the stairs from the opposite direction to the above photo:
The name Old Barge House Stairs comes from their proximity to the King’s Barge House, along with accommodation for the Royal Barge Master. It was here in the time of Henry VIII that the King’s Barge was stored.
The stairs appeared on maps as early as 1720, as shown in this extract from “A Plan of the City’s of London, Westminster and Borough of Southwark”, where Old Barge House Stairs are shown in the centre of the map:
I do like the way that the map shows the boats that were probably used by the watermen associated with the stairs, clustered around the stairs.
If you visit Old Barge House Stairs when the tide is high, you will find just the top of a modern set of metal stairs that run down from the walkway in front of the north western corner of the Oxo building. Visit at low tide, and the causeway that would have once led from the original stairs is visible:
I doubt that the causeway we see today dates back to the time of the above 1720 map. These stairs and their causeways were remade several times over the centuries due to continual erosion by the river, as well their changing importance relative to other river stairs.
What I find so fascinating about these river stairs is that they provide a fixed point between two very different worlds – the land and the river. They are where people moved between the two, and they provided a fixed point of reference to understand what was happening in these two very different worlds.
On the land around the stairs, they would be used as a reference to events happening near-by. This would help people find a location, or the best way to travel. For example, the following advert from the Morning Chronicle on the 5th September 1806 is the equivalent of today using an underground station as a point of reference:
“Oak Scantlings, Mahogany Plank and Boards, and Two Thousand Deals &c. By Mr Farebrother at Mr Gresham’s Wharf (late Gales) near the Old Barge-house-stairs, Narrow Wall, Lambeth, on Monday next at 12.”
Newspapers mainly report bad news, and the River Thames has been the scene of so many tragic events over the centuries. A quick scan of old newspapers reveals an almost daily report of accidents and deaths on the river. It was a very dangerous place, as well as the scene of tragedies such as that reported in the Morning Chronicle on the 8th April 1831:
“On Tuesday evening, about five o’clock, a middle aged French lady, elegantly attired, hired a waterman, named Oxley, belonging to Waterloo-bridge stairs, to row her to the Old Barge House stairs. On the man being about to land her, she desired to return back and proceed to Westminster-bridge. He instantly pulled round, but previous to his arriving near the bridge, he asked the lady which stairs she would like to be landed at? To which she replied the lower one. When nearing them the lady placed her muff and purse in the boat and taking a portrait out of her bosom, and her bonnet off, she precipitated herself into the river before the waterman could prevent her. By great exertion, however, he succeeded in catching hold of her after she floated through the second arch, and by prompt assistance, she was rescued from the death she meditated. She was conveyed into the Swan tap, where every attention was paid her, but she would neither give any explanation of her rash conduct, nor her name or place of residence. her friends, however, by some means, became acquainted with the circumstance and they sent a coach for her, the coachman being desired to drive to Thornhaugh-street.”
And this very sad report from the Kentish Mercury on the 16th February 1847:
“On Wednesday an inquest was held by Mr. W. Carter at the Mitre, Broadwall, Blackfriars-road, relative to the death of a newly-born male child, found under very remarkable circumstances. Mark Marten, a lighterman, deposed that he was proceeding down the river on Friday morning last, and whilst passing Raymond’s-roads on the upper side of Blackfriars-bridge, he saw a market basket floating down with the tide.
He pulled it into his boat, and rowed ashore at Old Barge House Stairs, where he opened it, and found the body of a child wrapt in a piece of flannel, and covered with meadow hay. On the top of the basket was a label, to the following effect ‘to be opened with care, from an old friend’. Witness gave the body to the police, and inadvertently destroyed the label, which in a moment of excitement, threw into a fire. Mr. E. Doubleday, surgeon, said that he had examined the body, which was that of a male child, fully developed. There was sufficient evidence of the child having breathed, but he was unable to say to what extent. The deceased from the appearance of the body, had clearly received the necessary attention at his birth.
The coroner remarked that the fact of the paper being destroyed by the first witness was an unfortunate occurrence as all chance of tracing the guilty party was lost. He left the case in the hands of the jury, who returned an open verdict of Found Dead in the River Thames.”
The above two reports cover some of the more unusual events where the stairs were involved. There were also very many more tragedies at the river in the vicinity of each of the stairs, for example in August 1880 at old Barge House Stairs, 16 year old John Thomas Glue, who drowned after simply going for a swim during his dinner hour. Ten or eleven yards from the bank, he suddenly had cramp, was swept by the tide under a barge near the steps where he drowned.
What would not have been reported in the newspapers are the thousands of people who have used these stairs, using the services of the watermen who gathered around the stairs like taxis in a taxi rank, waiting to take their fare to their destination of choice.
Today, Old Barge House Stairs are found between the Oxo building and Bernie Spain Gardens. The gardens are one of the few places of grassed, open space in the immediate area as this is a very built up area.
The old ITV Studios buildings, IBM Offices and the National Theatre are found to the west. Housing, offices and streets inland. In terms of London’s development, building around Old Barge House Stairs has been relatively recent, with the majority taking place during the 19th century.
For centuries the land around Old Barge House Stairs was part of Lambeth Marsh, an area of land roughly between Lambeth and Blackfriars Bridges and inland to St George’s Circus.
In the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map of London, Old Barge House Stairs is marked in the centre of the map:
The map shows that by 1746, the land along the river had been built on, however inland it was mainly fields and agriculture. The Tenter Ground was an area used for the drying of newly manufactured cloth. Frames were set up across the field and the cloth was stretched across the frame to dry. If you look on the left side of the map, there is a building marked Dye House, so it is possible that cloth dyed in this building would be dried on the Tenter Ground.
The street running from the left is called Narrow Wall. This street ran from the current location of Westminster Bridge, running along the length of the south bank. The first written mentions of Narrow Wall date back to 1443, and it seems to have been a raised causeway or walkway with the sandy foreshore to the north. The name describes its original appearance as a Narrow Wall which would have helped prevent high tides coming too far inland.
Today, Narrow Wall is better known as Belevdere Road and Upper Ground. This later street name can be seen continuing to the right of the map, with the name again describing the physical characteristics of the street, when so much of the surrounding land was low lying, marshy, and would have been regularly threatened with flooding.
A long street called Broad Wall runs south from Old Barge House Stairs for the length of the map.
The name Broad Wall again defines how this street originally formed. It was also along the line of the western boundary of an area of land known as Paris Garden. The boundary was formed by one of the branches of the River Neckinger, which also seems to have gone by the name of Widefleet.
There was a syndicated article about Paris Garden in a number of newspapers in March 1890, which mention the boundary, and how the stream eventually became a sewer which entered the Thames at Old Barge House Stairs:
“Paris Garden, known as the King’s manor as appertaining to its lord and copyholders, formerly lay in St. Saviour’s Parish, and was famed for its mill, water-courses, pastures and wild plants. In 1670 nearly all of it was taken for the new parish of Christchurch, as constituted under the will of John Marshall, who had died 40 years before. Comprising the ancient hide of Wideflete, and covering nearly 100 acres, it had been given in 1113 by one Robert Marmion to the Cluniac Monastery of Bermondsey, whence, almost fifty years later, it passed to the Knights Templar, who set up a chapelry there, and from them to the Knights Hospitaler of St. John.
In the early years of the fifteenth century it became a sanctuary for offenders. Ultimately passing to Henry VIII, it was granted as dowry for Jane Seymour. Lord Hundens and others, who got the manor from Queen Elizabeth, conveyed the land and manor house to Thomas Cure, a benefactor to the parish. The manor house has been identified with the Holland’s Leaguer, or Nob’s Island, one of the many houses of ill-fame that formerly flourished on Bankside. The moated and castellated ‘Leaguer’ which was kept by one Susan Holland, in 1630, stood south-westwards of the present Falcon drawing dock. Latterly known as Beggars Hall, it was pulled down in making the southern approach to Blackfriars Bridge; yet some authorities question the survival of the original building to that time. The Widefleet was converted into a sewer, having its outlet by Barge House-stairs.”
The outline of streams can be seen in the 1746 map, however these can be more clearly seen in the Agas map which shows London in the mid 16th century. The map does not show Old Barge House Stairs, however the land of Paris Garden is shown as the built and cultivated area in the centre of the map, with Paris Garden stairs to the right of the line of buildings along the river. In the following extract of the Agas map, I have marked the location of Old Barge House Stairs (red circle):
The map does illustrate the number of streams in this part of the south bank, and running south from the future location of the stairs is a street (Broad Wall), with a stream running along the west side of the street, one of the branches of the Neckinger, or the Widefleet, which drained into the Thames at the location of the stairs.
The Neckinger / Widefleet is not visible today and does not drain into the river next to the stairs. Presumably any running water from the stream is now part of the sewer system.
The river walls here are high, protecting the low lying land from the waters of the Thames:
The causeway will gradually erode over the years as the daily tides cover and roll back from the structure. It would be interesting to know if the causeway extends further towards the river wall, under the sand of the foreshore.
Thames stairs are so much more than the physical remains we see today. They are a reference point between the land and river, which help tell a story of the area, and the many thousands of people who have in some way come into contact with them.
The problem with researching these posts, is finding a reference to the subject of a post which raises a whole set of new questions, which I frequently do not have time to follow up. One example concerns a potential bridge across the River Thames which would have landed at Old Barge House Stairs.
In 1862 the London Gazette reported on the incorporation of a new compnay, for the making of new bridges over the River Thames. Application was being made by the new company for a new Act that the company was intending to bring before Parliament. The Act proposed a range of new bridges, including:
A bridge, to be called the Tower Bridge, for horses, animals, trucks and passengers across the River Thames. Works to commence at Irongate Stairs near the Tower of London, and to terminate at Horseleydown Old Stairs.
A bridge, to be called St Paul’s Bridge, for horses, animals, trucks and passengers across the River Thames, commencing from the foot of St Paul’s Steam-boat Pier and terminating at Mason’s Stairs, Bankside.
A bridge, to be called the Temple Bridge, for horses, animals, trucks and passengers across the River Thames, commencing on the north side at a point distant 100 yards or thereabouts in a south-easterly direction from the commencement of the Temple Steam-boat Pier near Essex Street, and terminating at certain Stairs called Old Barge-house Stairs at the end of Old Barge-house Alley
As well as the above, the Act also proposed the New Chelsea and Battersea Bridge and the Wandsworth Bridge.
Tower Bridge would be built, however construction was not started for a further 24 years after the above Act.
St Paul’s Bridge continued to be a proposed solution in the early decades of the 20th century, but was never built.
As well as the 1862 Act, a Temple Bridge was proposed in the 1943, Abercrombie County of London Plan, published by the London County Council, but would also not be built.
Today, there is a short stretch of Barge House Street from Upper Ground to behind the Oxo building, and there is a stretch of Broadwall from Upper Ground to Stamford Street, so some of these old street names, and reminders of the history of the area can still be found when walking today.