A River Thames Guide - Woolwich
1. Woolwich Ferry to Millwall Dock
section 2. Docklands to
St Katherine's Dock
section 3.Tower Bridge to Queen Boudicca
Bridge to Battersea
Although no longer the first bridge across the Thames, Tower Bridge
still provides London with the most famous gateway of any city in the
world. Completed in 1894, The bridge has recently celebrated it's centenary.
The bridge was designed by Sir Horace Jones and built by John Wolfe-Barry.
The twin towers are constructed of a steel frame clad in stone, in order
to support the huge bascules, each of which weigh 1,100 tons. The upper
span of the bridge was originally a walkway but was closed when the
thoroughfare was used as a haunt by thieves and prostitutes. It has
now been reopened and the bridge has been cleaned and restored to it's
former glory. The original hydraulic lifting mechanism has been replaced
by a more modern electrical system, however, the old lifting engine
has been preserved and can be viewed as part of an exhibition on the
south side of the bridge.
In days when London was a busy port the bridge was raised several times
in a day to allow ships to pass through. Ships wishing to navigate through
the bridge would indicate their intention by means of a sound signal,
the spans would be cleared and the bascules raised. Today, less river
traffic means that the bridge is not lifted as often and vessels requiring
a bridge lift must give at least 24 hours notice.
Just by the footway that runs under the bridge, on the north side, is
a gate and steps which leads down to the waters edge with a sign on
it that indicates that this was "Dead Man's Hole", a place where bodies
taken out of the river could be landed and dealt with.
Few buildings anywhere are so famous that they can be known, almost
worldwide, by just a two word epithet but such is the case with "The
It is this country's best example of medieval architecture and during
it's near thousand year lifetime has been: royal palace, prison, execution
site, torture chamber, armoury, astronomical observatory, menagerie,
mint, public record office, and last but not least, a safe home for
the Crown Jewels, a function which it still carries out today in the
new Jewel House.
The original fortress was built by a Norman monk called Gundulf who
was the Bishop of Rochester. Every succeeding monarch till Edward I
added to, or improved the complex. The keep or White Tower was the first
to be built. It is 15ft thick at the bottom and has just the one entrance,
which is in the south wall and is reached by a flight of steps which
could be removed when danger threatened. There is just one stair way,
in the north east tower, it spirals clockwise to give defenders the
advantage of using their swords right handed. This tower is also round
as opposed to the others which are square.
The man with the dubious honour of being the Tower's first prisoner
was Ralf Flambard, in 1101. He was also the Tower's first successful
escapee. He got away by lowering himself down by rope from a window,
having first taken the wise precaution of getting the guards drunk.
The Tower was first used as a zoo during the reign of Henry III to keep
the three leopards that were a gift to him from the Holy Roman Emperor.
In 1252, the Sheriffs of London were ordered to pay 4d. per day to feed
the King's polar bear which was a gift from Norway. They also had to
provide a chain, so that it could safely catch salmon in the river.
The Tower also housed lions and elephants. The only animals on show
at the Tower now are the ravens. The rest of the menagerie was moved
to Regent's Park in 1835.
The Tower was the prison and murder site of Henry VI, the head of the
House of Lancaster during the War of the Roses. After the Lancastrians
had suffered defeat at the Battle of Towton, which was the bloodiest
battle ever fought on British soil and left 28,000 dead. Henry was brought
to the Tower tied to his horse, with a straw hat on his head and a placard
on his back; a figure of derision who drifted in and out of sanity,
he was imprisoned for six years. The only possessions he brought with
him were; a bible, a breviary, a pet dog and a sparrow. His wife, Margaret
of Anjou, invaded England with the Earl of Warwick, defeated Edward
IV and released Henry, by now a tragic and confused figure. The victory
was short lived. Edward inflicted a final defeat on the Lancastrian
forces at Tewkesbury. Henry's son and heir, Edward, was executed in
1461 and Henry was taken, once more, to the Tower where he was found
dead shortly after. How he died is not known but it seems unlikely that
a king as astute as Edward IV would make the same mistake of letting
a rival claimant to the throne live, twice. It is likely that Henry
died on Edward's orders.
Before Edward IV's death he appointed his brother, Richard of Gloucester,
Protector; because of the youth of his son and heir, Edward V. So began
the most infamous part of the Tower's history. For whatever reasons,
Richard had designs on the throne for himself. He placed the young Edward
in protective custody in the Tower, together with his young brother
Richard. He then claimed the throne for himself on the grounds of his
brother's bigamous marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. This, of course,
meant that the two princes were illegitimate and therefore not the true
heirs. What happened to the two children is uncertain. It seems likely
that at some time during 1483 they were murdered, until then, they were
often seen playing together in the grounds of the Tower but after that
time they were not seen again.
The popular belief is that Richard III had the twelve year old heir
and his nine year old brother killed. However, historians today seem
less willing to accept this claim on face value, based as it is on anti-Yorkist
propaganda, spread by Tudor writers.
That is not quite the end of the story. In 1674, while carrying out
renovation work, a wooden box containing the bodies of two young children
was found under the entrance steps to the White Tower. These were taken
to be the remains of the two princes. The bodies were re-examined in
1933 and the experts confirmed that the remains, were indeed, likely
to be those of Edward V and his brother. The bodies were finally laid
to rest in Westminster Abbey, in an urn designed by Christopher Wren.
During the reign of Henry VIII, the complicated politics surrounding
the Reformation saw Sir Thomas More and John Fisher imprisoned in the
Bell Tower, for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy and acknowledge
Henry as the head of the Church of England. Both were executed. Sir
Thomas, on being told that he was not to suffer the "traitors' death"
said, 'God forbid the King should use any more such mercy on any of
my friends.' Having mounted the scaffold he removed his beard from the
block saying, 'pity that should be cut off which has not committed treason.'
The following year, 1536, saw the execution of Henry's second wife Anne
Boleyn. Accused, probably falsely of infidelity, she went bravely to
her death at the hands of a swordsman especially brought over from France.
In 1542, his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, followed her, also accused
On the death of the young Edward VI there occurred another of the tragedies
which are so much a part of the Tower's history. In an attempt to maintain
and increase his own power, Lord Northumberland, the Lord Protector,
arranged for his son, Lord Guildford Dudley, to marry the King's cousin,
Lady Jane Grey. The King was determined to keep his Catholic sister
Mary from the throne and named Jane as heir. Very few people other than
Northumberland's allies accepted her claim and when Mary approached
London, Lady Jane Grey was arrested. The ambitious Northumberland was
executed immediately, however, Lady Jane and her husband were allowed
to live, albeit, imprisoned separately. This did not last very long.
Mary announced her marriage to Philip of Spain; a move which sparked
rebellion, it was politically now too dangerous to allow Jane to remain
alive. In 1554, Dudley was executed on Tower Hill and shortly after
Lady Jane Grey was beheaded on Tower Green. She too went quietly and
bravely to her death, having reigned for just nine days. Her tragedy
was that she had not sought her marriage and had never wanted to be
Also implicated in the rebellions against Mary was her half sister,
Elizabeth. She was imprisoned in the Bell Tower for a time in 1554 but
was released when no evidence against her could be found.
Shortly after the Restoration, a daring attempt was made by an adventurer
called Colonel Blood to steal the Crown Jewels. Blood and his accomplices
gained access to the Jewel House by deceiving the watchman but were
disturbed and arrested while attempting to flee. Blood said that he
would speak only with the King himself. Charles II was charmed by the
man's impudence and not only pardoned him and his cohorts but gave him
an estate in Ireland and £500 a year pension.
Apart from those already mentioned, the Tower has been host to many
guests, some of whom would have entered by the watergate or "Traitors'
Gate" as it is known. Some died in the Tower or more usually on nearby
Tower Hill and some like Sir Walter Raleigh, were taken to Palace Yard,
Westminster, to face their death. A fate which he shared with Guy Fawkes
and his fellow "Gunpowder Plotters". Others, like Samuel Pepys, managed
to prove their innocence and walk out free men. The last man to be held
in the Tower was Hitler's deputy, Rudolph Hess.
Tower Pier was first opened in 1929. It soon became the most important
pier on this part of the river for embarking passenger traffic to the
estuary resorts. Today it deals mostly with shorter trips between Westminster
and Woolwich and even across to the "Belfast". The upper end of the
pier contains a PLA office and the harbour masters launch can often
be seen moored there.
In front of the Tower, in 1934, a beach was created by laying 1500 tons
of sand over the shingle. This enabled the children of the east end
to play on the water front. It proved to be a very popular pursuit for
the children and they continued to play there after the war. Today's
children seem less inclined to use the beach in that way but the sand
can still be seen there at low water.
Port of London Authority Building
The impressive white stone building overlooking Tower Hill is the old
headquarters of the Port of London Authority. Designed by Sir Edwin
Cooper and completed in 1922 it was owned by the PLA until 1971 when
diminished responsibilities due to dock closures meant that the PLA
could move to smaller offices in St. Katharine Dock.
Built in 1939, this 11,500 ton cruiser, served with distinction in World
War II where it played an important role escorting the Atlantic convoys.
It also served at the battle of the North Cape. "Belfast" continued
in service until the Korean War and was the last of the "Big Gun" cruisers.
"Belfast" was saved from being scrapped when she was turned into a museum
ship in 1971. She can now be seen in her Atlantic camouflage. Her large
guns could be accurately fired a distance of some 12 miles.
The oldest of all the private riverside wharfs. Begun in 1651 by Alexander
Hay, it was also the largest, stretching the length of the south bank
from Tower Bridge to London Bridge. It specialised in cold storage of
New Zealand dairy produce. The old wharf has now been converted into
a large new office and shopping complex which has retained some of the
All Hallows Barking, by the Tower
The original church was built on land granted to it by Eoconwold, Bishop
of London, when he founded the abbey at Barking, for his sister, Ethelburga.
Excavation, after severe war damage, revealed a 7th or 8th century,
aisleless Saxon church on the site, as well as remains of two others.
The work also revealed a Saxon arch at the west end of the church. Also,
in the undercroft, is a Roman pavement of about 45AD with Saxon walling
Legend says that Richard I had his heart buried here and many monarchs
are connected with the church. In 1644 William Penn was christened here
and Judge Jeffreys was married here in 1667, as was John Quincy Adams,
6th President of USA.
The church was entirely gutted by bombing in 1941 leaving only the walls
and spire. The rebuilding was completed in 1957.
Custom duty was first collected in 979. The first Custom House was built
in 1275 on the opposite bank. The present building was completed in
1817 and is the sixth incarnation. The building was constructed by David
Laing, however, he was sacked in 1825 when part of the building collapsed
due to rot. Robert Smirke designed the present facade and new "Long
Room" which cost a total of £200,000. It was here that vessels going
"above bridge" would change from a Trinity House pilot to a bridge pilot.
Watermen and Lightermen
Behind the Custom House lies the small street of St. Mary at Hill, here
can be found Watermans' Hall. The livery hall for watermen and lightermen.
The best way to remember the difference between the two is that lightermen
carry goods and watermen carry passengers. This distinction has caused
friction between the two groups in years gone by. Prior to 1700 there
was a dispute when lightermen carried passengers, this was resolved
when the two groups united into one, powerful body. It was the watermen
who, for many years, successfully prevented any bridges being built
above London Bridge, on the grounds that it would adversely affect their
trade. They also campaigned against hackney carriages, sedan chairs,
theatres being built in the city and against the enclosed docks, all
because they would harm their trade of carrying people across the river.
The effect that the enclosed docks would have on their business so alarmed
the lightermen that Parliament inserted the "free water clause" into
the relevant Acts of Parliament. This allowed lightermen to enter the
docks free of charge and unload goods to other quays, outside the docks
when required, meaning that duty was not paid to the dock. This was
a major blow to the success of the docks.
During the reign of Elizabeth I, 40,000 watermen worked between Gravesend
and Windsor, 3,000 of those between London Bridge and Westminster. By
the turn of the 19th century, that number had halved and 4,000 of those
spent time in the navy. The big blow to the watermen was the building
of the bridges, people no longer required ferries to cross the Thames.
The trade of the waterman however, lives on. All the crews aboard the
pleasure boats are required to be watermen and whenever the Queen is
on the river, she is attended by the Royal Watermen.
With the coming of the docks to London, the lightermen fared better
than there colleagues, however, today, the only barges regularly on
the river are carrying rubbish to recycling plants or landfill sites
and "spoil" from the Jubilee Line extension work.
Doggett's Coat and Badge
The apprenticeship for a waterman is seven years long at the end of
which the applicant may take part in Doggett's Coat and Badge Race.
Thomas Doggett was an actor who owned the Drury Lane Theatre. He would
often use watermen to travel on the river. One evening, having been
carried to his home in Chelsea on a rough night, against a strong tide;
he decided to show his appreciation by founding a rowing race for watermen
at the end of their apprenticeship. The race would be against the tide
for a distance of about four and a half miles from London Bridge to
the Old Swan Pub at Chelsea. The prize was a watermans red livery tunic
and silver badge. The first race was in 1716 and it has been rowed annually
ever since. On his death in 1721, Doggett left a legacy to enable the
race to be continued. The race is now organised by the Honourable Company
of Fishmongers and is the oldest rowing race anywhere and the oldest
annual sporting event in Britain. There is a pub at Blackfriars named
after the race.
The most important of the wharves and quays "below bridge" there has
been a dock here for over a thousand years. It was used as a general
quay for corn, malt and salt as well as fish. Captains would often prefer
to unload their ships at Billingsgate rather than attempt the awkward
navigation of London Bridge that was required to unload at Queenhithe.
Although, regulations in medieval times gave precedence to Queenhithe
Dock over all others, the duty going to the royal purse. As time went
by these restrictions were withdrawn, Queenhithe lost it's importance
and Billingsgate's increased.
The market was dedicated to fish after an Act of Parliament was passed
in 1698. The building on the site now, with it's distinctive fish weather
vanes, was built in 1877. The market itself was moved to a new Docklands
site in 1982.
Spire of St. Dunstan's.
Completed by Wren in 1671. Only the Spire remains after it was bombed
during the War.
Sir Thomas Bloodworth, Lord Mayor of London, When awoken on the 2nd
September 1666 and asked what he thought of a fire that was burning
not far away, said 'Pish, a woman might piss it out.' The Great Fire
of London had started.
Fanned by wind, the fire spread too quickly to be contained from the
baker's shop in Pudding Lane where it started. Pepys noted that by the
morning 300 houses, half of London Bridge and several churches had vanished.
Pepys went to King Charles II at Whitehall and appraised him of the
facts. King Charles told Pepys to inform the mayor to pull down houses
in the path of the fire. Pepys found the mayor in a very different frame
of mind. Now he, upon hearing King Charles' orders, 'cried like a fainting
woman. "Lord, what can I do? I am spent, the people will not obey me.
I have been pulling down houses but the fire overtakes us quicker than
we can do it"'. Pepys went to a Southwark tavern to view the fire and
'there staid till it was dark and saw one entire arch of fire from this
to the other side of the bridge and in a bow up the hill above a mile
long.' The Duke of York was placed in charge of the operation to save
London but the fire was out of all control. Within two days St Paul's
was threatened and even the River Fleet failed to halt the flames. Those
that could moved away from the calamity, including the Queen. The Tower
was saved by the navy blowing up houses in the path of the fire. On
Sept.5th Pepys managed to move his valuables to safety and on his return
climbed the spire of All Hallows Church 'and there saw the saddest sight
of desolation that I ever saw. Everywhere great fires, oil cellars and
brimstone and other things burning. The wind had dropped but still there
was a blaze at the Temple, Holborn and Cripplegate where the King himself
was seen helping the soldiers.' Later that day he and a friend 'walked
into Moorfields, our feet ready to burn walking through the hot coles.'
400 acres inside the walls, 13,200 houses, 87 churches and 44 livery
companies were destroyed.
The Great Fire of London is commemorated by the Monument. Completed
in 1677. It is a Doric column of Portland stone 202ft high with a flaming
gilt bronze urn on top to symbolise the fire. Designed by Wren. The
spiral staircase has 311 steps. The gallery is now enclosed by a cage
to prevent any more than the six, who have already committed suicide
by jumping from the top.
St Magnus the Martyr
Originally founded around the time of the Conquest, the Patron Saint
is probably Magnus, Earl of the Orkneys. Lost in the Great Fire, it
was rebuilt by Wren in 1676 with the 185ft steeple added in 1705. The
organ case, font and altar are 17th century. The organ itself dates
A bridge has existed across the Thames in the vicinity of London Bridge
since the Romans were in London. The wooden bridges were knocked down
or fell down with, it seems, great regularity. In 1014 King Ethelred
and King Olaf burned it down to divide Danish invaders. In 1091 a gale
accounted for another, in 1136, fire once again robbed London of it's
The first stone bridge was begun in 1176. Stow says this about it's
building. 'About the year 1176, the stone bridge over the river of Thames
was begun to be founded by the aforesaid Peter of Cole Church, near
unto the bridge of timber, but somewhat more towards the west, for I
read that Buttolfe Wharf was in the Conqueror's time, at the head of
London Bridge.' He continues, 'The course of the river, for the time
was turned another wayabout, by a trench cast for that purpose, beginning,
as is supposed, east about Radriffe, and ending in the west about Patricksey,
now named Batersey. This work; to wit, the arches, chapel and stone
bridge, over the river of Thames having been 33 years in the building
was in the year 1209 finished.'
Later illustrations show the bridge crowded with houses. There was a
chapel dedicated to St. Thomas Becket and a span in the centre which
could be raised to allow shipping to pass through. The bridge was made
up of 19 arches which spanned the river with a drawbridge at the south
end. The arches with their starlings (bases) so restricted the flow
of water that on a strong ebb the bridge acted like a dam and a severe
drop was created on the down river side. Many people lost their lives
in attempting to "shoot the bridge".
Stow records that in about 1213, a large number of people were trapped
on the bridge when it caught fire at both ends. In the ensuing panic
some three thousand people died either by fire or drowning.
In 1264 Simon De Montfort found the drawbridge raised against him as
he marched on London with Henry III his prisoner, until the people of
London broke down the drawbridge and lowered it for him to enter, in
The heads of traitors were displayed on pikes on the southern side.
The heads were boiled and then dipped in tar to preserve them.
Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasant's Revolt, took the bridge without a
fight after threatening to burn it. In 1395 nine died in the crush to
see Isabella, Richard II's French, child bride. In 1450, Jack Cade's
rebels were allowed across the bridge, also after threatening to burn
it, Cade later had his head displayed on the bridge. Thomas More and
Bishop Fisher both had their heads put on spikes after falling foul
of Henry VIII.
In 1582 Pieter Morice turned two of the arches into mills for supplying
drinking water and was able to pump a jet of water over Magnus the Martyr
Church which was adjacent on the north bank.
In 1598, 30 heads were on the bridge. At the Restoration Charles II
rode across the bridge with a large force and the following year the
practice of displaying heads ceased.
By 1762 all houses were cleared from the bridge and the two centre arches
were replaced by a central span, to ease navigation. Also, the bridge
In 1831, a new bridge, built by Sir John Rennie, to his father's design,
was opened By William IV, about 50 yards up river of the old bridge.
This bridge was sold to America when the present bridge was built and
is now at Lake Havasu City, Arizona. The story is that the Americans
bought the bridge thinking that they were buying Tower Bridge. The cost
The present bridge opened in 1972 and was paid for by the "Bridge House
Estates", whose emblem can be seen on the centre span from the river.
When navigating down river on an ebb tide, considerable disturbance
to the water can still be found below the bridge, where the water flows
over the old original stone bridge foundations.
While travelling along the river, you may notice when going under a
bridge, a bale of hay hanging from the centre of an arch. This is a
recognised signal to indicate that the height of the arch is for some
reason less than it should normally be. The story behind the use of
hay is as follows. In the days when animals, especially horses were
an important part of London life, large amounts of hay had to be brought
into London on barges. These barges would come up river on the flood
tide piled high with hay, when they came to a bridge the skipper would
check the top of the arch to see if the last barge had navigated through
safely or if it had had some of it's load of hay knocked off. If he
saw hay left on the top of the bridge arch then he knew that he did
not have enough headroom. The correct signal should be a bundle of straw,
large enough to be visible, dangling from the restricted arch, however,
one is more likely to see a small bale of hay or, as on one occasion,
a small straw basket.
Livery Companies (Fishmongers' Hall and Glaziers' Hall)
Through London Bridge, on either side of the river are two livery company
halls, the Honourable Company of Glaziers on the south bank and on the
north bank is Fishmongers' Hall. This distinctive hall was built in
1832 and it is home to the company which is forth in seniority of all
the livery companies. The Glaziers' Company moved opposite to the Fishmongers'
Company in 1978 and the design of their hall compliments that of Fishmongers'
The history of Swan Pier stretches back for many years, it appeared
on maps of the river in the 15th century. Until the introduction of
Tower Pier it was the principal place of embarkation on this part of
the river. Today it is owned by a waterman who runs two boats of his
own, the vessels "Tideway" and "Myuki Maru" which can often be seen
tied up along side. Also attached to the Pier is the barge "Regalia"
owned by the same firm and used as a floating pub and restaurant.
The Cathedral Church of St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie. Is the forth
church to be built on the site, all the previous ones were destroyed
by fires. The first dates from the 7th century and was supposedly founded
by the local ferryman as a convent for his daughter, hence the name,
St. Mary o' the ferry. During the 10th century rebuilding took place
and a monastery replaced the original convent. Traces of a Norman church
still exist. After destruction in 1206, the church was rebuilt in 1220,
which makes it the oldest surviving Gothic church in London. In 1424
Joan Beaufort Married James I of Scotland there.
After the Reformation, the priory ceased to be and the church became
known as the Parish Church of St. Saviour, Southwark. The tower was
completed in 1689 and the whole church was extensively repaired during
the early 19th century. John Harvard, who founded Harvard University,
was baptised there in 1607.
In 1905 it was created a cathedral when Edward Stuart Talbot was enthroned
as the first Bishop of Southwark. Southwark Cathedral has many fine
ornaments one of which is a memorial to Shakespeare, whose Globe Theatre
The sailing ship which can be seen on the embankment at Southwark is
the "Golden Hind." It is situated in St. Mary Overie Dock. This vessel
is a replica of the ship in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated
the world in the sixteenth century.
Just over the back of the riverside buildings, between London Bridge
and Cannon Street Rail Bridge, can be seen the remains of a stone arched
window and wall which is just about all that remains of Winchester House,
the palace of the Bishops of Winchester. It was built originally in
1109 for the then Bishop, William Giffard. From the 14th century until
1550, the bishops usually held high office. During 1642 it was used
by parliamentarian forces as a prison for royalists. At the Restoration
it passed back to the Bishop of Winchester, however, in such a poor
state that it was never used as a palace again and was turned into tenements
and warehouses. A fire in one of these in 1814 revealed the 14th century,
13ft diameter rose window of the great hall of the old palace.
First mentioned in 1509, the Clink was a small prison within the grounds
of the Bishop of Winchester's palace, it stood in what is now Clink
Street. It was used mostly for debtors and minor offenders. After the
palace was sold it still continued to be used as a prison. In 1761 it
was said to be a 'very dark and dismal hole where debtors are sometimes
confined, but little used.' It was finally burnt down in the "Gordon
Riots" of 1780.
A small exhibition has opened on the old site.
Cannon Street Rail Bridge
Completed in 1866 and built by John Hawkshaw and John Wolfe-Barry to
carry the South Eastern Railway across the river. It has five sets of
fluted columns in the Doric style, made of cast iron. The bridge was
widened in 1896.
Cannon Street Station
John Hawkshaw was responsible for building the station, which opened
with the bridge in 1866. The original was a grand affair with an almost
semi circular roof on top of high walls. It soared 106ft high at it's
apex and was 680ft long. The roof was supported at the bridgehead by
twin stone towers. During the war the station suffered severe bomb damage
and the roof was removed. During the sixties the station was remodelled
along the lines of a modern station, however, the original walls and
stone towers remain.
The name may derive from Candlewick Street, this refers to the locality
which was home to wax and candle merchants.
On the north bank, between Cannon Street Rail Bridge and Southwark Bridge,
were the lock gates of Walbrook Dock, which, until recently led to the
depot where domestic refuse was processed before being conveyed down
river in barges. The depot has now been converted for container traffic.
A few yards up river can be seen a metal drain cover, this is all that
can be seen of Walbrook, one of London's "lost rivers". This stream,
although too small to navigate, may have played an important role for
London's first dwellers, the Romans. Part of the old Roman city was
built along it's banks, It may well have provided drinking water and
a Temple of Mithras was built adjacent to the stream. Parts of the statue
of Mithras were found in the Walbrook as early as 1889, however, the
temple itself was only discovered while digging foundations for Bucklersbury
House, in Walbrook, in 1954.
After the Roman armies left London in 410 and returned to Rome to protect
it against the invading Visigoths, London went into a slow decline and
the Walbrook, with it. As London's fortunes revived, the Walbrook seems
to have been forgotten. By the time of Stow, it had already been covered
over and nobody seemed to know the route that the river took. It had
become nothing more than a drain. We now know that this stream rises
in Moorfields and winds it's way to the Thames via All Hallows and the
The first Southwark Bridge was opened in 1819. Designed by John Rennie
and built of cast iron this three arched bridge was the largest ever
built of this material with a central span of 240ft The bridge was opened
by lamplight as St. Paul's struck midnight. The bridge was a toll bridge
and most people seemed to prefer to use the free, London Bridge, although,
Dickens describes "Little Dorrit" as crossing an "iron bridge" to get
to and from the Marshalsea Prison.
The present bridge was completed in 1921 and has five arches. It was
between Southwark Bridge and Cannon Street Rail Bridge that the "Marchioness"
pleasure boat sank after being in collision with the sand carrier, "Bow
Belle", in August 1989. 51 people aboard the "Marchioness" lost their
lives and 61 were rescued by the "Hurlingham" which was near by and
river police launches from Wapping and Waterloo Pier.
The building on the north bank after Southwark Bridge is Vintners Place.
The building which can be seen from the river has only been completed
since 1992. It was built for the Sumitomo Corporation with the co-operation
of the Vintners' Company and is Sumitomo's London headquarters. Vintners'
Hall itself is behind the new building and dates from 1671 when it replaced
the previous hall which was destroyed in the Great Fire. The Vintners'
Company have had a hall on this site since 1446.
The Honourable Company of Vintners share with the Honourable Company
of Dyers and the Queen the ownership of all the swans on the river.
This privilege dates back to Edward IV and 1473. Each year in July the
ceremony of "swan upping" takes place. At one time the ceremony used
to start at Southwark, now however, it begins at Sunbury and finishes
at Pangbourne. The event is presided over by the Keeper of the Queen's
The swan keepers from the three parties and their swanherds proceed
up river in their colourful uniforms and skiffs, marking all the swans
they come across. Swans belonging to the dyers have one nick on the
bill, vintners two nicks and royal swans remain unmarked. Over recent
years the number of swans has declined due, probably, to anglers using
The name derives from south work or warke, meaning an earthwork or fortification,
probably built by the Saxons against the Danes. The area runs from London
Bridge to Lambeth. It was an area famed for it's taverns, theatres and
houses of ill repute. A sort of medieval version of Soho.
Southwark was also an important route into London from the south. Two
Roman roads converged on what is now Borough High Street. Stane Street
and Watling Street. Chaucer's pilgrims met at the "Tabard Inn", and
the "George Inn" is London's only remaining galleried, coaching inn.
It was mentioned by Dickens in "Little Dorrit" and is now owned by the
National Trust. When John Harvard sold the "Queen's Head" tavern it
gave him the money he needed to fund Harvard University. Along with
Theatres like the "Globe" and the "Rose" and the taverns, there were
other entertainments available such as bull and bear baiting. These
pastimes are remembered in the names of local buildings such as Bear
Wharf, immediately west of Southwark Bridge, and Bull Wharf, on the
opposite side of the river. Also close to London Bridge were no fewer
than seven prisons such as the Marshalsea, where Dickens spent so much
time when his father was a debtor and the Clink, which although only
a small prison, gave it's name as a slang expression for all prisons.
There has been an inn on this site since the 15th century. It may well
have been the tavern where Pepys sat and watched as the Great Fire left
London in ruins and would certainly have been known to Shakespeare.
The present pub dates from the 18th century and boasts a gallery, oak
beams, and cubby holes. It also displays a selection of Elizabethan
artefacts found during renovations.
On Bankside stands the rebuilt Globe Theatre. It is designed to be as
close as possible in appearance to the original. The first Globe Theatre,
opened in 1598, was a round, wooden theatre which, having no roof only
opened in the summer. The theatre's sign depicted Hercules carrying
the world on his shoulders. Shakespeare was an actor and a shareholder
at the Globe and some of his most famous plays were performed there.
During a performance of Henry VIII, in 1613, the thatch roof caught
fire when a cannon was fired and the theatre was destroyed. It was rebuilt
and opened again the following year. The theatre was eventually closed
in 1642 by the Puritans.
The rebuilding of the Globe was the scheme of Sam Wanamaker. The theatre
is as close as possible to the site of the original and resembles Shakespeare's
theatre as closely as modern building restrictions and materials will
On the north bank, opposite the new Globe Theatre is an area of waterfront
which is recessed from the building line. This is the site of London's
oldest dock, Queenhithe. The dock has been in existence since at least
Saxon times. It was originally called Ethelredshythe after King Alfred's
son in law. The dock was given the name Queenshithe after Henry I's
wife, Queen Matilda, who, in the 12th century, had constructed London's
first public toilet, 'for the common use of the citizens.'
The dock passed into royal hands under King John who gave it to his
mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who, of course, controlled all the duties
collected there. Successive queens maintained the privilege.
Henry III's wife, Eleanor of Provence, was particularly fond of the
dock or rather, the money it provided her and she made sure that all
the most valuable cargoes were unloaded at her dock, this of course,
did not endear her to people trying to earn a living at other docks.
In the uncertain world of medieval England the throne was never very
secure on any king's head and Eleanor was given a nasty shock when she
felt the anger of London's citizens at first hand. She boarded a barge
at the Tower to proceed up river but, as she tried to go through London
Bridge, the people on the bridge showed their dislike of this French
queen and threw stones at her. In the panic, the barge almost sank.
Protectionist policies continued to be operated as vessels were forced
to use Queenhithe whenever possible in preference to other docks such
During the 15th century the dock began to lose it's importance and privileges.
It was no longer owned by royalty and as vessels became bigger they
preferred to use Billingsgate, below the bridge, when no longer forced
to use Queenhithe.
During The Great Fire of London, the dock was used as a place for ferrying
fleeing citizens across the river to safety. In their hurry to escape
with their belongings many ferries were overloaded and sank. To this
day objects of value are still discovered on the foreshore and this
site has been declared a national monument and nobody is allowed to
dig in the area.
Bankside Power Station
This huge brick building was designed by Sir Giles Scott. It was opened
in 1963 but had a fairly short life. It's fate seemed to be that it
would be left abandoned and eventually demolished like most of the other
power stations along the Thames. The power station at Battersea, also
by Scott, was thought to be architecturally more important. The feeling
was that if a piece of Scott's work was to be preserved, then it should
be Battersea. There were advanced plans to sell Bankside off to a power
company to allow them to sell the land for redevelopment. However, a
battle to save the building has succeeded in achieving listed building
status for Bankside and there are plans to convert it into an art gallery
as part of the Tate.
This area of waterfront has now been pedestrianised. Digging in 1974
revealed a 14th century, oak waterfront which had been preserved in
the Thames mud. It is named after a local family from the 14th and 15th
centuries called Trigge who were fishmongers. It was previously called
This is an old term given to anyone who searches along the river front.
There are no restrictions on people walking along the foreshore but
nobody is allowed to dig on the foreshore, anywhere within the PLA area,
unless they have a written authority. In addition to this, no person
is allowed to dig between the Tower and the Houses of Parliament unless
they are bona fide members of the Society of Mudlarks. This group of
people work closely with the Museum of London and often come up with
interesting discoveries which they must always declare.
City of London School
In 1442, upon his death, John Carpenter, the Town Clerk of London, left
a bequest which would pay for four boys, who were born within the City
of London, to assist in the choir of the Guildhall chapel on festive
days and to pay for their education. By the 19th century the endowment
had grown so much that it was decided that the city should use the money
to found it's own school. The school still provides for "Carpenter Scholars".
In 1883 the school moved from a building in Cheapside to a fine new
premises on Victoria Embankment, where it stayed for over a century.
The school has now moved to a new, purpose built complex overlooking
the river at Trig Lane.
St. Paul's Cathedral
The steps that lead down to the riverside walk give a wonderful view
of St. Paul's. It is thought that the cathedral is built upon the site
of the Roman, Temple of Diana. According to the Venerable Bede, the
first cathedral on the site was dedicated to St. Paul in 604 by St.
Ethelbert, King of Kent, England's first Christian king. The present
St. Paul's Cathedral is the fifth on the site.
In 1087 the third Saxon cathedral was destroyed by fire and work began
on the new building. This became one of the largest buildings in the
country and was topped by the tallest spire yet built. The building
was considerably bigger and taller than the present building. St. Paul's
Cross was a large lead covered, wooden pulpit which was famed as the
place to hear sermons outside of the church and also a place where important
secular declarations were made.
The Civil War saw the parliamentary forces take over the cathedral as
barracks and misuse it terribly. By the Restoration, the old building
had fallen into an awful state of neglect and decay. The brilliant 31
year old Christopher Wren was asked for his ideas and he recommended
demolition and rebuilding. The commission rejected his scheme and asked
him to submit plans for restoration. This he eventually did. Six days
later the Great Fire of London began.
Wren submitted three plans for a new cathedral to Charles II, who, agreed
to accept the third. Building began in 1675 and was finished in 1710.
Wren's original design included a steeple, however, he decided that
his masterpiece should have a dome instead. This gave him a constructional
problem, he solved it by creating two domes. The smaller dome could
be viewed from inside the cathedral. Above that he built a brick cone
which is covered by the outer dome and supports the lantern and cross.
The outer dome is built upon a timber frame, covered with Derbyshire
lead. The inner dome was of brick and painted with frescoes from the
life of St. Paul. The cross is 365ft above the ground.
It seems that even St. Paul's was not exempt from government penny pinching.
Wren guessed that they would try and make him cut costs whenever possible.
So, instead of building east to west as was usual, he built from the
ground up, in sections, so that it was impossible to change his plans.
This meant that the first service in the growing church was later than
planned. The parliamentary committee halved his salary to £100. It was
not until he petitioned Queen Anne, in 1711, that he was fully paid,
by which time he was 80 years old.
Placed immediately below the centre of the dome is Nelson's tomb, in
the cathedral's crypt.
It is said that while Wren was building St. Paul's he stayed in a house
on Cardinal's Wharf, Bankside, which gave a clear view of his great
work, the house is still there.
The name derives from the founding, in 1221, of a monastery for Dominican
monks in Chancery Lane. In 1278, they were given the use of Baynard's
Castle, on the river. Baynard's Castle dated from the Norman period
and was a gift from Henry I to Robert Fitzwalter. The monastery grew
wealthy and with royal patronage it exerted considerable power. It was
finally dissolved in 1538. The plate and valuables were seized by the
King and the building was given to Sir Thomas Cawarden, the "Keeper
of the Royal Tents and Master of the Kings Revels". He demolished most
of the monastery and what was left was destroyed in the Great Fire.
During the 17th century Blackfriars became a fashionable residential
area; Shakespeare, Van Dyke and Ben Jonson all owned houses in the area.
A short distance before the bridges is an area known as Puddle Dock.
Before the present embankment was built it was a small but busy inlet
from the river created after the demise of Baynard's Castle. When the
area was redeveloped, The City of London decided to allow the first
new theatre for over 300 years to open within it's limits. In 1959,
Sir Bernard Miles' Mermaid Theatre gave it's first performance. The
theatre retains some of the walls from the original warehouse from which
it was built. During later redevelopment on the near by underpass, close
to this site, a Roman galley was uncovered. When it was excavated it
was found to be a keelless, flat bottomed, carvel built barge, about
55ft long, carrying a cargo of Kentish ragstone for use in building
the London Wall. The barge was dated by artefacts found with it at around
the late 2nd century.
Blackfriars Rail Bridges
The bridge which is still used was built in 1886 by John Wolfe-Barry
and H.M. Brunel. It has five wrought iron arches that are faced with
cast iron. It was originally called St. Paul's Bridge and it carried
the Holborn Viaduct Station Company railway across the Thames from St.
Paul's Station, which is now called Blackfriars Station.
The pillars which stand between the two bridges are what remains of
another rail bridge. This was opened in 1864 and was built by Joseph
Cubitt and F.T. Turner. It carried the London Chatham and Dover Railway
over the river and the company insignia can still be seen at the southern
end of the bridge. This was a lattice bridge built to match the road
bridge, it has now been removed leaving only the pillars.
Blackfriars Road Bridge
The original bridge was built of stone with nine arches and was the
third of all the bridges to span the river. It was opened in 1769 and
was officially known as William Pitt Bridge but was always called Blackfriars.
In 1780 the toll gates were broken down during the Gordon Riots and
the money stolen, in 1785 it became a free bridge.
In 1869 the present bridge replaced the old one. Designed by Cubitt
and H. Carr the bridge was opened by Queen Victoria and there is a bronze
statue of her on the northern approach. The bridge has five arches and
is constructed of wrought iron, faced with cast iron, the bridge stands
on granite pillars. It is said that this bridge marks the official boundary
between salt water and fresh water, the birds, which decorate the pillars,
depict sea birds on the down river side and fresh water birds on the
up river side.
Underneath the first arch on the north side is where Roberto Calvi,
known as "God's Banker", was found hanged. Calvi was the head of the
Vatican Bank and was alleged to have had strong masonic links. The circumstances
of his death have never been satisfactorily explained.
Also under the first arch, when the water is low enough, may be seen
a large, metal, arch shaped drain cover. This is all that can now be
seen of where the River Fleet flows into the Thames.
The Fleet was the largest and most important of all London's other rivers.
It rises in Hampstead and flows down through the city to the Thames.
The name is Saxon for tidal inlet and it formed the western boundary
of the original Roman city. The Fleet, where it joined the Thames, was
wide and shallow but certainly navigable for a considerable distance.
During the 12th century, the Knights Templar owned a wharf near St.
Bartholomew's Hospital which they allowed patients to use who were too
sick to travel by road.
Stow describes five bridges over the river, including, Bridewell Bridge,
where the Fleet meets the Thames. This was a wooden bridge, built in
the Venetian style in 1522, on the orders of Henry VIII for the visit
of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. The bridge was to link the Bridewell
Palace on the west bank, with the Blackfriars monastery at Baynard's
Castle, on the east bank, where he was lodged.
From medieval times the river was used by the tradesmen and merchants
who worked by it's side with little thought to the damage or pollution
that they might cause. In 1290, monks from a Whitefriars monastery complained
to King John of the smell that came from the Fleet and as time went
by the river became smaller and increasingly polluted. By 1652, the
river was deemed impassable to navigation on account of the offal and
other waste material thrown into the water.
After the Great Fire, Wren set about trying to save the Fleet and created
a deep canal out of the initial 700 yards up from where it joined the
Thames. Despite the wharves being 30ft wide the idea was a failure and
vessels still refused to use the Fleet. By 1766 the Fleet was covered
over and had become a sewer that trickled into the Thames rather than
the 600ft wide river that had once provided Roman Londinium with it's
western defensive boundary.
Named after a local well which was dedicated to St. Bride, the Bridewell
began it's life as a palace built in 1520 for Henry VIII. It was a large,
brick building, built around three courtyards and situated on the west
bank of the Fleet where it meets the Thames.
Negotiations took place here concerning Henry's divorce from Catherine
of Aragon. In 1553, Edward VI gave it to the City of London, it was
then used for the reception of vagrants and as a home for orphans as
well as a prison for minor offenders. It survived, fulfilling a similar
function until the Great Fire after which it was rebuilt and used mostly
as a prison until its demolition in 1864. The site was then used as
a hotel. Since 1931, Unilever have had their headquarters here. The
stone figures at either end depict "Controlled Energy" and are by Sir
William Reid Dick.
St. Bride's Church
Known to many as the "Wedding Cake Church", this example of Wren's work
disguises the fact that St. Bride's has a history which goes back to
the earliest days of Christianity in London.
The excavations of Professor Grimes, carried out after an air raid in
1940, confirmed old rumours and legends that St. Bride's Church dated
back to the Romans. Grimes uncovered a substantial Roman house, the
body of a Roman woman who had been given a Christian burial and the
remains of no fewer than seven churches dating from the 6th to the 17th
centuries. The churches were dedicated to St. Bride, a 6th century Irish
saint from Kildare. Churches dedicated to her are usually close to a
well. The earliest Saxon church bears a striking resemblance to another
church of the same period in Kildare, making it likely that St. Bride's
was originally built by some of the earliest Irish settlers in London.
The future churches on the site proved to be important and the church
had some notable parishioners. In 1205 King John held a Parliament in
the Norman (towered) version of the church, which was one of the four
allowed to ring the curfew bell within the city. In the 15th century,
Wrynkyn De Worde, an apprentice of Caxton, brought a printing press
to Fleet Street. He is buried at St. Bride's. Writers and artists, attracted
by De Worde's press, lived in the area, people like Dryden, Milton,
Evelyn and Lovelace. Pepys and his eight brothers and sisters were all
baptised in the church. In 1665/6 the church suffered terribly; first
from the plague, Pepys describes how they buried 238 people in the parish
in one week. The following year the church was destroyed in the Great
Wren designed one of his greatest churches to replace it in 1671. The
church was completed in 1678, without the steeple. The cost was £11,430,5s.11d.
The spire was added in 1703 and was referred to as a 'madrigal in stone.'
It received it's epithet, the "Wedding Cake Church" because of Mr. Rich,
a Fleet Street cook who modelled his wedding cake decorations on the
church, until his death in 1811.
The spire was 234ft tall, however, it lost 8ft after lightning struck
it in 1764.
So many years after De Worde's press was installed in Fleet Street,
St Bride's continues it's association with printers and journalists.
It is still very much their church and much of the work carried out
has been paid for by the press and it's associated industries.
Clearly visible in the distance, on the north bank, is the bronze statue
of "Justice" which stands 212ft above the ground, atop the dome of the
Central Criminal Court, commonly called the "Old Bailey". The first
session house was built there in 1539, beside Newgate Prison. The present
building dates from 1907.
From Blackfriars to Westminster Bridge runs Victoria Embankment. Until
this road was opened in 1870 the Thames was considerably wider. In years
gone by, the river lapped the back gardens of the mansions along the
Strand. The York House watergate in Victoria Embankment Gardens, is
all that now remains of these residences. Until the embankment was built
the river went right across to Somerset House, as painted by Cannaletto.
The Victoria Embankment was constructed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, who
is also largely responsible for London's sewer and drain systems. He
built a wall 14ft below the low water mark and up to 20ft above the
high water mark. The cost was £1,260,000. Close to the Embankment Station
is a plaque to the memory of Bazalgette, by George Simonds.
There are also several other statues and memorials on the embankment.
Near the Temple are two silver painted, cast iron dragons which mark
the city boundary. Before they were placed here in 1963 they guarded
the Coal Exchange. There is a memorial to the occasion in 1935 when
George V allowed the PLA to name this part of the Thames, "King's Reach".
Close by is also a war memorial to submariners who lost their lives
during the wars. On the other pavement, past Charing Cross Bridge, is
a statue to Samuel Plimsoll MP ('The Sailor's Friend'), by F.V. Blundstone
(1929), erected by the National Union of Seamen in honour of a man who
dedicated most of his life to the safety of seamen. Plimsoll it was,
who brought in the "Plimsoll Line" on the hulls of ships. Opposite Temple
LTE Station is a plaque to W.T. Stead, journalist, by Sir George Frampton
and near to Hungerford Bridge are memorials to Sir Walter Besant, historian
and author, and W.S. Gilbert 'Playwright and poet. His foe was folly
and his weapon wit.' Both of these are also by Frampton. Outside the
Ministry Of Defence are statues of Lord Trenchard, Lord Portal of Hungerford
and Gordon of Khartoum there is also a war memorial to those who lost
their lives whilst serving in the "Chindits". Along the walls of the
Victoria Embankment are ornate lights with dolphins coiled around the
bases, these are by Timothy Butler and date from 1870.
City of London
The beginning of the City of London can be dated to AD43. The Roman
commander Aulus Plautius arrived on the south bank of the Thames at
a point close to where London Bridge now stands. His destination was
probably the Roman town of Colchester. He found that he was unable to
ford the river, so his troops built a bridge to enable future armies
to cross without detouring miles to the west. His engineers would have
found that this was one of the few stable places in a marshy area on
which a bridge could be built, this may have affected his decision to
establish a small fort on the north bank. That small fort and settlement
would become known as Londinium.
Over the next 367 years the Roman town of Londinium grew prosperous
within it's walls. Then, in 410, the Roman armies withdrew and London
went into decline for about a century until the arrival of the Saxons.
They held London till the Norman invasion of William I, he began to
build his own fortifications in the shape of the Tower of London.
London began to grow at pace and it's merchants and tradesmen grew wealthy.
Henry I allowed the citizens of London to appoint their own sheriff
and their rights were further confirmed by King John who allowed them
to elect a mayor and corporation. The tradesmen were represented by
their guilds and livery companies and grew increasingly powerful. More
than one monarch or would be monarch came to realise that it was a serious
mistake to anger the people of London, as they often had a considerable
say in who wore the crown.
During the 15th and 16th centuries the City became even more of an international
commercial power as large companies such as the Levant Co. The Virginia
Co. and the East India Co. brought huge profits to Britain. Despite
plague and fire London continued to exert great influence within the
country and the buildings within the City of London reflected it's wealth
Today the City of London, although only about a square mile in size,
is still the financial and economic heart of the country, and within
it's offices and trading institutions millions of pounds are traded
Sea Containers House
The large modern building on the south bank, just up river from Blackfriars
Bridge is Sea Containers House. The building was originally built as
a hotel, however, the scheme proved to be unsuccessful and the building
was turned into offices. The building is also used by HM Customs and
Excise. Behind here is King's Reach Tower, home of International Publishing
Corporation, one of the worlds largest publishers of magazines.
Also on the south bank, at Stamford Wharf, can be seen the Oxo Tower
which is one of the landmarks in the area. It stands above wharves and
a warehouse once connected with that famous product's company. The tower
was used as a very obvious advertising site.
Before that the site was used as a barge house for the state barges
of Queen Elizabeth I, this is commemorated in the name of the small
street at the back, Barge House Alley.
Still on the south bank of the river, up from the Oxo Tower is an area
which is known as Gabriel's Wharf. The name dates back to when this
was a working wharf and the name lives on today. The area is a small
community of local craftsmen and traders who organise local events for
the area. There are also restaurants and cafe's which cater for the
nearby South Bank complex.
Independent Television Centre
A short distance further on are the buildings which make and broadcast
television programmes for the independent networks, particularly Carlton
and London Weekend. Next door are the headquarters of IBM.
Old City of London School
On the north side of the river is the old building of the City of London
School. This distinctive building marks the second site of the school
which was founded by John Carpenter. He is remembered in the name of
the street next to the school. The statues on the front of the building
are of Bacon, Shakespeare, Milton and Newton.
The ecclesiastical looking building near the old school is Sion College.
The name is misleading as it is not a college at all but a society of
clergymen. It was founded in 1624 in the will of Dr. Thomas White who
left £3,000 to fund a college for City of London clergy and almshouses
for ten men and ten women. The college also contained a valuable library.
The college and a third of the library were destroyed in the Great Fire
but were rebuilt in 1678. In 1779, the almshouses were dropped.
In 1884 the present building was opened, designed by Arthur Blomfeld,
it is now a theological library with over 100,000 books and thirty medieval
The stained glass window which can be seen, contains images of literary
and theological worthies such as: Shakespeare, Milton, Caxton, More,
Chaucer, Bacon, Wycliffe and Erasmus.
The college building is also used by the City Livery Company Club, as
The Temple now houses two of the four Inns of Court. It's history is
rich, fascinating and dates back to medieval England. The Knights Templar
were a religious/military order founded in 1118 by a French knight,
Hugues De Payens. Their solemn oath was to protect Christian pilgrims
travelling in the Holy Land from attacks by the "infidels". King Baldwin
of Jerusalem, much impressed by the knights, rewarded them with a base
on the Temple Platform of Mount Moriah. The space which lies between
the famous Dome of the Rock and the Mosque El Aksa. Baldwin's own palace
was called the Temple of Solomon of Jerusalem and so the knights became
known as the Knights of the Temple of Solomon of Jerusalem. Later this
became Knights Templar. When they began to build their own churches
they were round, in the shape of the Dome of the Rock.
The Templars became established in London in 1162, they moved their
base to a position near the river in 1185 where they built their round
church which they called the New Temple. They built a monastery with
two halls, one for priests and one for knights. The Temple Church is
a fine example of it's kind and retains some of the original stonework.
The Templars grew to be rich and powerful and even royalty cast envious
eyes at the order including King Philip the Fair, of France. He persuaded
the Pope to persecute the order on the grounds of heresy and blasphemy.
Edward II was certainly not one to fight on their behalf. He confiscated
their valuables and gave their buildings to the Knights Hospitallers,
who, in turn, leased them to London's lawyers. The Temple stayed in
their hands until Henry VIII confiscated it for his own use. James I,
in 1608, returned it to the lawyers on the understanding that they maintain
the Temple Church and it's services forever.
The Temple Church was badly damaged by bombs during the war but has
now been well restored.
The first of the two large ships moored on the north bank is "President."
This was built as an escort ship and saw service in the 1914/18 war.
At that time she was called HMS "Saxifrage" and was one of seventy two
ships built for the Royal Navy in the Anchusa type "Q" class. These
were known as "Q" ships. The vessels were constructed to resemble merchant
ships and thus attract the attentions of marauding German "U" boats.
If a submarine attacked it would be reluctant to waste a valuable torpedo
on a vessel that could not fight back, so, it would surface and threaten
the proposed victim with it's deck gun. The "Q" ship would then throw
back the covers which concealed it's own array of guns and deal with
the submarine accordingly. We must assume that the ploy was successful
as she is still around to tell the tale. After the war she was renamed
"President" and used as a base for the London Division of the Royal
Navy Reserve until they moved to their present base below Tower Bridge.
"President" is at present home to Interaction, a charity which carries
out work in the third world.
The second ship is "Wellington", built in 1934 as a Royal Navy sloop,
she served with distinction in the Second World War. She now serves
as the livery hall for the Honourable Company of Master Mariners. Every
year it plays a part in the Lord Mayors Show when the procession stops
at the "Wellington" and his Lordship is offered a glass of sherry.
St. Katharine and Wilfred
Just below Waterloo Pier, at Temple Pier, are moored two vessels connected
with the river. The larger is "St. Katharine", this was once owned by
the PLA. It is now used as a floating club. The Thames sailing barge
on the inside is "Wilfred". It has now been fitted out and is used as
a floating pub.
The original Somerset House was completed in 1550 and standing on the
Strand, was the first Renaissance palace to be built in England. The
Earl of Somerset however, did not live long enough to get much enjoyment
from it. The Lord Protector of the young Edward VI was executed after
his argument with the ambitious Northumberland. Elizabeth I owned the
house for a while but in 1604 it passed to Anne of Denmark and was the
scene of lavish masques and parties.
Under parliamentary forces the house was occupied and the chapel smashed,
Cromwell laid in state here. After the Restoration it was home to Catherine
of Braganza, who lived here until she left to become regent in Portugal.
The house fell out of favour with future queens and became grace and
favour apartments until the house was demolished.
In 1776, William Chambers drew up plans for the first ever block of
purpose built government offices. He designed a block around a central
courtyard with a separate north wing. The river would flow along the
Somerset House has had many uses since then, such as; a home for the
Royal Academy, Royal Society and Society for Antiquaries. All in the
north wing. The Royal Navy used the west wing and some of the river
terrace. The Stamp Office used the rest. Also housed here were the Hackney
Coach and Barge Master. In 1836 the Register of Births and Deaths was
held here until 1973 when it moved to St. Catherine's House. The building
is now used by the Inland Revenue.
In front of Somerset House and just before Waterloo Bridge is Waterloo
Pier, a station of the Metropolitan Police's Thames Division. There
has been a police presence on this part of the river for almost as long
as the river police have been operating. The present pier is the only
floating police station in this country and one of the few that exist
in the world. The pier itself dates back to 1873. Before the pier existed,
officers performed duty based on an ex-navy hulk that was converted
to serve as a police station. The vessel was a 16 gun frigate called
"Royalist" and was moored close to Norfolk Street which was close to
what is now Temple Pier. "Royalist" was later moved down river to replace
the vessel moored close to Blackwall, called "Investigator".
Waterloo Pier was not simply a place where officers travelled to in
order to work. The small pier was home to the superintendent and his
family and the present layout of the pier is not so very different to
the way it was in those days.
Officers from Waterloo Pier patrol the Thames from Tower Bridge to Richmond.
Because of it's central location this area of the river is much favoured
by persons wishing to commit suicide and at least two officers are always
on stand-by at the pier in order to crew an emergency rescue boat.
South Bank Complex
The first part of the complex is the most recent addition to the South
Bank. The National Theatre. It was formed originally in 1907 as the
Shakespeare National Theatre Committee. It's aim was to perform Shakespeare,
classic British and contemporary drama. In 1944 it was decided to merge
the "National" with the Old Vic and a grant of £1,000,000 was awarded.
In 1951 the foundation stone was laid by Princess Elizabeth. In 1963
the group moved to the Old Vic as a temporary home. The National Theatre
itself was not completed until 1976. There are three auditoriums inside;
the Cottesloe, the Lyttleton and the Olivier.
National Film Theatre
The first cinema was established on the South Bank as part of the Festival
of Britain which began in 1951, it was called the Telekinema. It's aim
was to demonstrate the latest technological advances in filming. It
proved to be so popular that it was kept on after the festival finished.
Five years later it moved a short distance, to it's present site under
Waterloo Bridge. A second auditorium was added in 1971. A film festival
is held annually. Also on the site is the Museum of the Moving Image.
Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room
The Festival Hall was the centre piece of the South Bank complex for
the Festival of Britain, It was designed by Sir Robert Matthew and J.L.
Martin. The Royal Festival Hall can accommodate an audience of over
The Queen Elizabeth Hall was opened in 1967 by the Queen. It is used
for small orchestral concerts, and seats 1,100. The Purcell Room is
much smaller and seats just 372. It is used for recitals by soloists.
Completed in 1817, the bridge was originally to be called Strand Bridge
but was named Waterloo Bridge the year before it was officially opened
on the second anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The bridge was
designed by John Rennie. It was made of granite, had nine arches and
pairs of Doric columns at the piers. The bridge charged tolls until
1877. The bridge was described by a chap called Canova as 'the noblest
bridge in the world, worth a visit from the remotest corners of the
earth.' In 1923 two of the piers had sunk into the riverbed, possibly
due to the increased effect of the tide after the building of the Victoria
Embankment, a temporary bridge was built along side the original. It
was however, then decided to construct a replacement bridge and the
old one was demolished in 1936. Work on the present bridge started the
following year. Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, The bridge was
completed in 1942 and is made of cantilevered, reinforced, box concrete
girders and faced with Portland stone.
Moored just above Waterloo Bridge the "Queen Mary", built in 1933, first
worked as a Clyde ferry. When Cunard wanted to use the name "Queen Mary"
for their transatlantic liner, they had to borrow the name from the
ferry, which was then called "Queen Mary II". When the famous liner
was taken out of service and pensioned off to Long Beach, California,
the ferry was able to claim her name back again, which she did. She
is now used as a floating pub and restaurant.
Beyond Waterloo Bridge and at the back of Victoria Embankment Gardens
lies Savoy Place and it's impressive line of buildings.
The Institute of Electrical Engineers
Completed in 1889 and designed by Stephen Salter, this building was
the first home of the BBC. It was from here that the first transmissions
were made in 1922. A statue of Michael Farraday stands
at the front.
Richard D'Oily Carte opened his Savoy Hotel next to his Savoy Theatre
in 1889. Designed by T.E. Collcutt, the hotel was built on the site
of the Savoy Palace built by the Count of Savoy during the 13th century.
John of Gaunt's later palace was destroyed during Watt Tyler's Peasant
Revolt. The Savoy Hotel was the first in this country to include electric
lights and lifts. The first manager was Cesar Ritz and the first chef
was Auguste Escoffier. The forecourt in the Strand is the only street
in England where traffic drives on the right.
Shell Mex House
Shell Mex House, built in 1932, is one of the two large buildings owned
by Shell in the area, the other is the Shell Centre in the South Bank
complex opposite. The huge clock tower is 220ft tall and the clock face
is the largest in London.
The Terrace has now been converted into offices but the size of the
building gives some idea of the grand nature of the 18th century Adam
building in the days when it used to run down to the river front. Robert
and James Adam themselves lived here as did David Garrick. Also here
was a "temple of health" run by the "quack" doctor, James Graham, which
contained such wonders as a "celestial bed", for conceiving perfect
children. This was hired out at the down to earth price of £100 per
night. Emma Lyon, later Lady Hamilton, posed for him as the "Goddess
of Health". Later residents were Richard D'Oily Carte who produced the
Savoy Operas and Thomas Hardy, who was a student of architecture here
under Sir Arthur Blomfield. He had to return to Dorchester when the
stench of the river at low water made him ill. Adelphi Terrace was also
a home to the London School of Economics until 1902 and George Bernard
Shaw until 1929.
Victoria Embankment Gardens
Running from Savoy Street to the Ministry of Defence buildings on the
north footway, Victoria Embankment Gardens were opened on July 13 1870.
They cover an area of some 20 acres and were designed by Alexander McKenzie.
The subsoil was taken from the building of the Metropolitan and District
Railway and the topsoil was taken from Barking Creek. These pleasant
gardens have several statues and memorials worthy of note, including,
The Belgian War Memorial and memorials to Arthur Sullivan, Lady Henry
Somerset and Henry Fawcett, the blind Postmaster General. There are
statues to Robert Burns, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, William Tyndale; who
translated the Bible into English, Sir Wilfred Lawson; orator and advocate
of temperance, William Edward Forster; educationalist, Sir Bartle Frere;
colonial administrator, John Stuart Mill; economist and philosopher
and General Sir James Outram; soldier and administrator. Finally, there
is also an interesting memorial here to the men who served in the Camel
Corps. Also to be found in these gardens is the ornamental watergate
that is all that remains of York House, the watergate dates from 1626.
In 1819 the Turkish Viceroy of Egypt, Mohammed Ali, decided to offer
a gift to the British. The gift he decided to give was a 186 ton, 60ft
long, granite obelisk which had lain for centuries in the sands of Alexandria.
It was originally hewn from the quarries of Aswan around the year 1475BC.
The obelisk had then been erected at Heliopolis. Inscribed with dedications
to several gods and the Pharaoh, Tethmosis III, the names of Ramses
II and Cleopatra were added later.
General Sir James Alexander had seen similar objects in France and asked
that the engineer, John Dixon, should consider a way of moving the obelisk
to England. The surgeon, Erasmus Wilson, gave £10,000 towards the project
which eventually cost £15,000.
Dixon constructed a cylindrical pontoon in order to tow the obelisk
back to England, however, the tow broke during a storm in the Bay of
Biscay and six seamen lost their lives trying to retrieve it. It was
eventually landed in Spain and brought to England. It was to be placed
outside the Houses of Parliament, but subsiding ground prevented the
plan. It was finally erected on the Victoria Embankment, with a time
capsule in the foundations. This included four Bibles in different languages,
Bradshaw's Railway Guide, copies of that days newspapers and photos
of twelve of the most attractive women in the country.
The name Charing possibly derives from the old English or Norman French
term "cierran" which means turning place, the area is certainly a major
cross roads. The cross derives from the "Eleanor Cross" that was placed
here by order of Edward I after the funeral procession of his wife,
Eleanor of Castile, halted here for the last time on it's way from Harby
in Nottinghamshire to Westminster.
The major redevelopment that has occurred at Charing Cross Station has
converted the station into a modern complex of shops and offices. It
is all far removed from the days in 1822 when Charles Dickens at the
age of 10 was employed at 80, Hungerford Stairs as a "shop drudge" in
a blacking warehouse. Dickens wrote: 'No words can express the agony
of my soul as I sank into this companionship and felt my hopes of growing
up to be a learned man crushed in my breast.' In his spare time he would
be found playing amongst the coal barges and among the alleys of the
Adelphi with his friends Bob Fagin and "Poll" Green. When he finally
left the area he could not bear to return until Hungerford Stairs had
Charing Cross Pier
Before the completion of Victoria Embankment the pier was out further
into the river and access to the pier could be gained by stairs from
the bridge where passengers would board the steamers, doors can still
be seen on the old bridge piers.
Charing Cross Rail Bridge
Charing Cross or Hungerford Rail Bridge was completed in 1864 to the
design of John Hawkshaw in order to carry the South Eastern Railway
over the Thames to it's new terminus at Charing Cross Station. It is
a nine span, wrought iron, lattice girder bridge which incorporates
a foot bridge. It replaced Isambard Kingdom Brunel's suspension bridge
which had spanned the river since 1845 and was built to provide access
to Hungerford Market. The new bridge used the same piers as the old
bridge and the chains of the old bridge were used for Brunel's, Clifton
Suspension Bridge. The new bridge did not meet with universal acclaim
and has often been called the ugliest bridge on the river.
This former Scottish passenger vessel used to be known as "Maid of Ashton"
It has now been converted into a floating restaurant.
This paddle steamer used to be a ferry on the River Humber. It is now
moored permanently on the Thames and is used as a floating pub.
National Liberal Club
The distinctive pinnacled buildings on the up river side of Hungerford
Bridge are part of Whitehall Place. The National Liberal Club was built
in 1887 and designed by Alfred Waterhouse. It's decoration makes much
use of intricate and ornate tiling. Lord Birkenhead used to make a point
of using the toilet facilities at the club, although, not himself a
member. When he was asked why he used the club in this way, he claimed
to be surprised that it should be 'a club as well as a lavatory.' The
first president of the club was Gladstone and members still have to
undertake not to engage in anti-Liberal activities. Next door to the
club is the Royal Horse Guards Hotel.
Ministry of Defence
The large white building set back on Victoria Embankment is the Ministry
of Defence. Designed by E. Vincent Harris in 1957, it cost £5,000,000
to build, and accommodates over 5,000 civil servants.
The building was constructed on the site of Henry VIII's Whitehall Palace,
although, it is known that a large house has existed on the site since
the time of Henry III. That house belonged to Hubert De Burgh, Earl
of Kent, who, on his death, passed it on to the "Black Friars" of Holborn,
they in turn, sold it to the Archbishop of York and it belonged to the
See of York until it passed, in Henry VIII's time to Wolsey, who turned
it into 'one of the most sumptuous palaces in England.' Hardly surprising
then that Henry decided to relieve Wolsey of possession of it in 1531.
Here, Henry celebrated his weddings to both Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour.
It was here also, that Hans Holbein constructed a large, ornate gateway
to the palace as well as completing a number of his finest works of
During the reign of James I, Inigo Jones drew up plans for a splendid
new palace, however, only the Banqueting House was ever constructed.
Charles I built up a huge art collection here, and was later beheaded
at the Banqueting House. Cromwell lived and died here. In 1689, the
crown was offered to William and Mary here and after accepting it they
moved their court to Kensington. Wren completed a new terrace for the
palace in 1695 but three years later the palace burned down except for
the Banqueting House. Parts of Wren's terrace, including some river
steps, were discovered during building work in 1939 and have been preserved
in front of the ministry building.
Royal Air Force War Memorial
Designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield and Sir William Reid Dick, and erected
in 1923; it is a memorial to the dead of the Royal Naval Air Squadron,
the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force, in both world wars.
Surmounted by a golden eagle atop a globe, the motto reads 'Per Ardua
Ad Astra.' 'Through hardship to the stars.'
New Scotland Yard
The Metropolitan Police Force moved into their famous headquarters in
1890. Before that, they had used Great Scotland Yard. This was originally
part of the Palace of Westminster, it was set aside as lodgings for
the kings of Scotland by King Edgar in 959, hence the name. In 1829,
subsequent to the forming of the Metropolitan Police Force, Sir Robert
Peel chose it as the headquarters for his new police force.
When accommodation became too cramped a search began for new premises.
Interest centred on the newly completed Victoria Embankment, however,
there were problems with subsidence. A gap of eight years from the date
when they originally showed an interest saw the price rise from £25,000
to £186,000. Eventually, buildings were designed by the architect Norman
Shaw on the Victoria Embankment. Called New Scotland Yard, Shaw's building
was described by A.P. Herbert as a 'Very constabulary kind of castle.'
The building was faced with red granite, quarried by convicts on Dartmoor.
The move took place in 1890. The Building next door became Cannon Row
Police Station. In 1967, The Met. Police moved for the third time, New
Scotland Yard is now in Victoria.
In 1905 the London County Council decided to move from their offices
in Trafalgar Square. It opted for a new building on the south bank of
the river and a competition was held to find the best design. The winner
was Ralph Knott whose only large building this was to be. Almost as
soon as excavations had begun the remains of a Roman boat were found
preserved in the mud. The boat was about 20 metres long and is thought
to date from around the third century.
Work had to stop during the war but continued in 1919. The building
was opened in 1922, although not completely finished until 1933. The
whole design is in free "Edwardian" style.
County Hall served as home for London's local government until the GLC
was abolished after allegations of mis-management were made by central
government. The building has now been sold to a Japanese consortium
who are building a hotel and aquarium on the site.
Coade Lion (South Bank Lion)
This much travelled beast is also sometimes called the South Bank Lion.
It is made of Coade stone, this is a Lambeth made, artificial stone,
developed in about 1720 by Richard Holte. Mrs. Eleanor Coade took over
the factory around 1760 and manufactured the stone. The factory closed
in 1840 and the secret of the stone's composition was lost. The lion
was one of the last pieces made in the factory in 1837. Painted red,
it stood on the entrance arch of the Lion Brewery, close to Hungerford
Bridge. It was lost for a time when the brewery was demolished in 1949
but reappeared at the Festival Of Britain in 1951. George VI asked that
it be placed at Waterloo Station, where it stayed until 1966, when it
was moved to it's present site by Westminster Bridge. The lion weighs
13 tons, is 12ft high and 13ft long.
On the north bank, opposite the lion is Queen Boudicca in her chariot
attacking the Romans. Boudicca was the leader of the Iceni tribe. By
the year AD60 the Romans had settled but Londinium was still unwalled
and remained vulnerable to a determined attack. Tacitus wrote that London
'did not rank as a Roman settlement but was an important centre for
businessmen and merchandise.' The Governor, Suetonius Paulinus was in
Wales when he heard of Boudicca's rising. He hurried to London but on
his arrival found that he had no reinforcements and that his men were
in no shape to fight a battle. Boudicca had already sacked Colchester
and Verulaniuum (St. Albans). Suetonius left London to it's fate. It's
citizens were slaughtered and the city burned. Traces of this fire are
still evident in places today. It is said that 70,000 perished. We are
told that the leader who failed to send reinforcements, committed suicide.
Suetonius was recalled to Rome and Boudicca poisoned herself and her
daughters. It is said that they are under what is now King's Cross Station.
The statue dates from around 1850 and is by Thomas Thorneycroft.
click here for the next section of the Thames
The following publications have been used in compiling this guide book.
A Survey of London, by John Stow. / Dent Publications.
Americans in London, by Nicholas Barton. / Macdonald, Queen Anne Press.
Bluebird, by Martin Summers. / Collectors Books Ltd.
London River, by Gavin Weightman. / Guild Publishing.
London Under London, by Richard Trench and Ellis Hillman. / Guild Publishing.
London's Lost Riverscape, by Chris Elmers and Alex Werner. / Viking.
London's River, by Michael Leapman. / Pavilion.
London's Secret History, by Peter Bushell. / Constable.
London's Waterway Guide, by Chris Cove Smith. / Imrie, Laurie, Norie
Mayhew's London Underworld, by Henry Mayhew. / Century.
Old London, by Edward Walford. / Alderman Press.
River Thames, / London Tourist Board and the Thames passenger Service.
Rogue's River, by Frank Martin. / Ian Henry Publications.
The London Encyclopaedia, by Christopher Hibbert and Ben Wienreb. /
Book Club Associates.
The Lost Rivers of London, by Nicholas Barton. / Historical Publications
The Shorter Pepys, by Robert Latham. / Guild Publishing.
The Tower Of London, by Derek Wilson. / Constable.
The Wonderful Story Of London, by Harold Wheeler. / Odhams Press.