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A River Thames Guide - Woolwich to Battersea

section 1. Woolwich Ferry to Millwall Dock
section 2. Docklands to St Katherine's Dock
section 3.Tower Bridge to Queen Boudicca
section 4.Westminster Bridge to Battersea

Westminster Bridge

The growth of Westminster meant that there was an increased call for a bridge across the river in the area. The idea had always been objected to by the watermen and the City of London Corporation but by 1721 the scheme was being seriously considered. Work finally began in 1738 with Charles Labelye as Chief Engineer. The watermen were paid 25,000 compensation and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who owned the horse ferry at Lambeth, was paid 21,025. There were some problems -with subsidence but the bridge finally opened in 1750. This was the bridge about which Wordsworth wrote; 'Earth has not anything to show more fair: Dull would be he of soul who could pass by a sight so touching in it's majesty.'

The bridge was further troubled by subsidence around the piers and Telford carried out a survey in 1823. In 1826, all the piers were encased in cofferdams to allow work to take place but no sooner was this done than Parliament decided to build a completely new bridge. In 1862 the present bridge was finished, it was designed by Thomas Page with Sir Charles Barry acting as consultant. The cast iron bridge has seven arches.

Westminster Abbey

Just behind the Houses of Parliament can be seen Westminster Abbey, also known as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter. The first Benedictine abbey was granted land there in there in 785 by King Offa of Mercia. St. Dunstan received a charter to restore the Benedictine abbey in the tenth century. It was, however, Edward the Confessor who dedicated the church to St. Peter when he moved his palace to Westminster.

William I was crowned in the abbey and all kings since, except Edward V, (one of the "Little Princes" in the Tower) and Edward VIII (abdicated). Have also been crowned there.

Henry III rebuilt the abbey after 1245. Westminster Abbey has many famous tombs and memorials including Poets Corner.

In 1540, after the Reformation, the abbey lost it's monastery and funds were taken from the abbey and allocated to St.Paul's Cathedral, which gave rise to the saying 'robbing Peter to pay Paul.'

The Palace of Westminster

Edward The Confessor built the original palace upon Thorney Island, close to Westminster Abbey. The palace, when enlarged, remained the main residence of royalty until Henry VIII, who preferred Whitehall Palace and Greenwich. Although, under Henry, it still had an important role to play as an administrative centre.

Until the death of Edward I the House of Lords and House of Commons would meet together. After this time Parliament would be summoned and after the Lord Chamberlain announced the reason, The lords would retire to The White Chamber and the commoners would go to wherever was available, usually the refectory.

In 1547, following the Chantries Act, the Chapel of St. Stephen was secularised, as were all private chapels. The House of Commons were allowed to meet there. The members sat on either side of the converted chapel and the Speaker's chair was placed where the altar was. The building had a crypt originally used by courtiers to worship in, while royalty used St. Stephen's itself. The crypt was used as a store for Parliament and, importantly, survived a fire in 1834 which destroyed every thing else with the exception of Westminster Hall. The lords continued to meet in the White Chamber and it was beneath here, On November 5th 1605, that Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators attempted to blow up James I and Parliament.

On Jan. 4th 1642, King Charles I stormed into St. Stephen's demanding to be told the whereabouts of five members. The Speaker, William Lenthall, replied 'I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as this house is pleased to direct me.' Charles had no choice but to withdraw and his actions that day hastened the onset of civil war, the first battle of which took place at Edgehill in October of that year. Since that day no monarch has set foot inside the House of Commons. When Parliament is opened the House of Commons are summoned to the House of Lords, by Black Rod, to hear the Queen's speech.

The fire of 1834 occurred during the burning of "tally sticks", a means of keeping records of accounts. This system was discontinued in 1826 and after much debate the decision was made to privately destroy the sticks in the furnaces at Westminster. Unfortunately, the whole building was destroyed with the accounts. As winds fanned the flames it was soon clear that the ancient Palace of Westminster was doomed.

The crowds that gathered were evidently not at all distressed at Parliament being razed to the ground, even if it did mean losing centuries of history, allegedly, a huge cheer was raised when the roof collapsed. However, Westminster Hall was another matter. This ancient hall, originated by William Rufus, complete with it's magnificent oak hammerbeam roof, was something worth saving. Thankfully, when the smoke cleared, Westminster Hall was almost untouched.

Ninety seven designs for a new complex were submitted. Number sixty four was finally chosen. That being submitted by Charles Barry. Building began in 1837. The House of Commons being completed ten years later. The Clock Tower was not finished till 1858 after many problems.

The building suffered badly during the war but was rebuilt between 1945 and 50, to be as close to Barry's original plan as possible.

The Clock Tower houses the Great Bell known as "Big Ben", however, the name is often given to the whole tower which is 316ft high and 40ft square. The name may derive from the Commissioner of Works, Benjamin Hall. The clock is the largest and most powerful public clock in the world, each of the four dials is 23ft in diameter and 180ft above the ground. Each figure is 2ft in length. Each minute hand is 14ft long, weighs 2cwt and travels a distance of about 100 miles each year. The hour hands are 9ft long and each weigh 6cwt. The pendulum is 13ft long and the bob weighs 4cwt. The clock's weights weigh a total of 2.5 tons and there are 394 steps from the ground to the lantern. "Big Ben" itself weighs 13.5 tons and the hammer, 4cwt. The four dials are illuminated to a power of 10,000 candlepower. At the other end of the palace is the magnificent Victoria Tower, at 336ft it is the largest Gothic tower in the world. The flagpole which surmounts it weighs some 16 tons. During the daytime a Union Flag flies to show that Parliament is sitting and during the hours of darkness, a light shines at the top of the Clock Tower. Barry incorporated the ancient Westminster Hall into his plans. The hall has had many roles, including, being the scene of the longest trial in history, that of Warren Hastings. The trial dragged on for over 7 years, ending in 1795, with his acquittal. In 1649, Charles I was tried and condemned in the hall and Cromwell was proclaimed Lord Protector there in 1653. After the Restoration, Cromwell's head was put on a spike on the roof where it stayed for 25 years until it blew down.

The Great Stink

We have already mentioned the work of Joseph Bazalgette in that he built the Victoria Embankment, However, probably his greatest work is unseen by most of the people whom benefit from it. He designed and built London's drains and sewers.

As London's population grew each year, there was an ever increasing problem. What to do with all the waste that was produced? It has already been mentioned how the River Fleet became polluted and unusable. The same thing was happening but on a much larger scale to the Thames. Domestic waste and the waste from all of London's trades and industries were either poured directly into the Thames or they were flushed into the drains and sewers which then discharged the raw, untreated sewerage into the river, which was also, of course, London's main supply of drinking water. In 1800, salmon still swam up the Thames but by the middle of the century the river was completely dead and devoid of all life, even the swans had deserted the river. The inadequate system of drainage meant that sewerage which entered the river was taken out by the ebb tide, only to be brought back by the next flood. The river had become a vast open sewer.

Persistent complaints about the situation went unheeded by Parliament until, as so often happens, something occurred which meant that Parliament could no longer put off tackling the problem. In 1858 there was a long hot summer and the river began to smell in a way that was almost unbearable for the politicians who had to work next to it. The curtains at Westminster were soaked in chloride of lime and tons of chalk, lime and carbolic acid were emptied into the river in an effort to control the awful smell but all to no effect. The "Great Stink", as it became known, forced Parliament to look for a solution.

Joseph Bazalgette was the son of a naval officer of French extraction. In 1845 he joined the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers. When he was appointed the Chief of Works, he set about constructing large brick sewers that took waste down river as far as Beckton and Crossness. The system was opened in 1865 but not complete until 1875. The effect was immediate, London's pollution problems were eased and outbreaks of cholera became less frequent. At first the sewerage was put back into the river but by 1887 the authorities began to treat the sewerage before it was re-cycled or dumped.

Bazalgette was also responsible for the building of the Albert and Chelsea Embankments.

Nobody would describe the river today as crystal clear, the reason for this is the mud and silt which is constantly disturbed by the action of the tides and boats. The water itself is, for a large urban river, quite clean and if you were to take a glass of river water and allow it to settle, the water would be fairly clear. The lack of pollution is proved by the variety of wild life that is now present in this once dead river. There are a large number of fish feeding birds, spread all along the river, I have even seen a kingfisher at Lots Road power station. To feed these birds the NRA claim that there are some 115 species of fish at present in the river, including salmon of over three foot in length, which have been caught as far up stream as Teddington.

Victoria Tower Gardens

Between Black Rod Steps and Lambeth Bridge lies Victoria Tower Gardens. This small park contains three monuments. The Six Burghers of Calais, by Rodin, depicts the occasion in 1347, during the Hundred Years War, when six citizens of the French town were saved from execution at the hands of Edward III by the intercession of his wife, Queen Philippa of Hainault. The Buxton Memorial is an ornate drinking fountain dedicated to Thomas Foxwell Buxton, who was a leader in the movement to abolish slavery. There is also a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragette, by A.G. Walker.

St. Thomas' Hospital

The hospital was originally founded around 1106, it was then probably part of the St. Mary Overie Priory. The hospital could not have got it's full name of The Hospital of St. Thomas the Martyr until after he was canonised in 1173. The hospital was destroyed by fire in about 1212 and was rebuilt in Borough High Street. In the 15th century, Lord Mayor Richard Whittington made 'A new chamber for eight young women who had done amiss,' he stipulated that their treatment must in every way be confidential, so as not to affect their chances of marriage.

In 1540 as part of his dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII closed the hospital and de-canonised Thomas Becket. In 1551 Edward VI gave the hospital to the Lord Mayor to open again but changed the name to The Hospital of St. Thomas the Apostle. ln 1859, the land on which it stood was acquired by the Charing Cross Railway Co. In order to build London Bridge Station. In 1868, Queen Victoria laid a foundation stone and in 1871 the new St. Thomas' opened on it's present site. St. Thomas' was designed by Henry Curry on a block system which was popular on the continent. The design was approved by Florence Nightingale who opened the Nightingale Training School of Nursing and in doing so she revolutionised the profession.

Lambeth Palace

Lambeth Palace is the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and has by far the oldest buildings in Lambeth. The site was first purchased in 1190 by Archbishop Baldwin. However, he died while away fighting in the Holy Land and did not live to see his home. Nothing was built there until about 1200 when Archbishop Hubert Walter built Lambeth House as a meeting house for his canons and a residence for himself.

Lambeth Palace was added to over the years and stood intact until 1829 when part of it collapsed. Edward Blore designed the new palace which was mock Gothic and cost 60,000. Certain parts of the original palace did survive the collapse and the subsequent enthusiasm of Blore to demolish most of what was left. The Norman crypt where Anne Boleyn was cross-examined by Cranmer and the chapel above it which dates from Henry III, survived as did the Lollards' Tower which dates from 1432. The tower derives it's name from the belief that it was used to imprison the members of the religious non conformists who followed John Wycliffe. The Tudor gateway is also original and was built around 1500. Here, a farthing loaf was distributed to everyone who applied on a Friday and Sunday, often there were as many as 4,000. This "Lambeth Dole" was continued until 1842.

One of the most unpopular of Archbishops was Simon Sudbury, in 1378 he was the head of a committee set up to examine John Wycliffe, the 'Morning Star of the Reformation' for 'Prepositions that were clearly heretical and depraved.' Wycliffe's followers forced their way into the chapel and made the prelates release Wycliffe. Three year later Wat Tyler's rebels sacked the palace looking for the hated Sudbury, who had fled to the Tower of London. The peasants found him there a few days later and executed him.

In 1534, Thomas More was interrogated in the guard room by Thomas Cromwell for refusing to sign the Oath of Supremacy. On his death in 1601, Archbishop Bancroft left his extensive book collection to his successors and this formed the basis of the palace library. During the Civil War the palace was used for public service and the chapel left desecrated. They also broke open the tomb of Archbishop Parker and threw his bones into the rubbish heap. After the Restoration his bones were reinterred. At this time the palace was used as a prison. In 1649, the poet, Richard Lovelace was held there, he wrote of his time in prison: 'Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage,' in his poem, "To Althea from prison".

St. Mary at Lambeth Church

The church next to the palace is St. Mary at Lambeth. The origins of the church go back even further than Lambeth Palace. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book when it was owned by Countess Goda, Edward the Confessor's sister, after that it was owned by the Bishops of Rochester. It passed to Canterbury in 1197. In 1378 the church was rebuilt in stone and in the 15th and 16th centuries rebuilt yet again except for the 14th century tower, which remained. The church has been restored after damage sustained during the war. In the South Chapel is the "Pedlar's Window", this depicts a pedlar and his dog. The pedlar left the church an acre of land on the understanding that he and his dog would always be remembered in a window inside the church. In 1910, the land was sold for the sum of 81,000 to the LCC who built County Hall on the land. The present window is the forth in the church and it is referred to as the "Luck of Lambeth". Amongst those buried here are Archbishop Bancroft, who left his books to the palace and John Tradescant, the botanist and gardener to Charles I. He is credited with introducing several types of flora to this country. Also buried here is Captain William Bligh, the Captain of HMS "Bounty".

The Tradescant Trust have now converted the church into the first museum of garden history.

Lambeth Bridge

The only means of crossing the river at this point, prior to the building of Lambeth Bridge, was by the horse ferry which was first mentioned in 1533. The ferry could accommodate a coach and six horses and is remembered in the name of the approach road on the north bank, Horseferry Road. The crossing could be hazardous. In 1633 the ferry sank under the weight of Archbishop Laud's belongings, again in 1656, this time with Oliver Cromwell on board. The ferry closed in 1750, after Westminster Bridge opened.

The first bridge at Lambeth was built in 1861. It was a suspension bridge with three spans each of 268ft. It was designed by P.W. Barlow. In 1932 it was replaced by the present five arched steel bridge, designed by George Humphreys, with Sir Reginald Blomfield as consultant. On the pillars at each corner of the bridge and on top of the lamp posts on the bridge can be seen pineapples which are often thought to represent the work of John Tradescant, who is buried in St. Mary's and who is thought to have introduced the fruit into the country. However, the people in the Tradescant Trust are unable to confirm that this is the case.

Imperial Chemical Industries

The large buildings at the northern end of the bridge on either side of Horseferry Road were designed by Sir Frank Baines as the headquarters for ICI. The block on the east side of Horseferry Road is still owned by ICI. The block to the west of the junction (Thames House) is a home to MI5.

Doulton Pottery

Just after the bridge and either side of the Fire Brigade pier can be seen arches cut into the wall on the south embankment. These are just about all that remains to be seen of the docks that served the factory that made Lambeth Doulton pottery. The clay used to make the pottery was brought up river in barges that were moored against the embankment wall. When the tide was right the barges would be worked through the barge holes and under the road to the factory's White Hart Dock which was on the far side of Albert Embankment. The remains of the dock can be seen next to the "Old Father Thames" pub. An ornately tiled red brick building that was part of the factory can be seen in Lambeth High Street and Black Prince Road.

International Maritime Organisation

The new building just before the Fire Brigade headquarters is the International Maritime Organisation. This organisation is an agency of the United Nations. It is responsible for monitoring all matters relating to safety at sea and making recommendations on how safety can be improved. The IMO also have a brief for monitoring pollution at sea. Their recommendations, although not binding on governments, do however, carry much weight and are usually implemented.

London Fire Brigade

The fire station on the south shore is the LFB headquarters, from inside it's control room it is in contact with it's stations all over London. The pier in front of the building is where the brigade moors it's two fire boats, "London Phoenix" and "Fire Hawk".

Millbank Tower

Built in 1963 this block of offices is 370ft high and has 34 floors. The building is the headquarters for Vickers and used to have a spitfire on the forecourt.

Tate Gallery

Opened in 1897, designed by R.J. Smith, the Tate Gallery was built on the site of the old Millbank Penitentiary. The cost was 80,000 which was paid by Sir Henry Tate, the sugar refiner, who also donated his collection of pictures and sculptures.

The gallery houses two main collections, a British collection and a modern collection. It contains work from the best British artists as well as a fine collection of 19th and 20th century art from all around the world. The Tate Gallery also houses the Turner Collection.

The Queen Alexandra Hospital, which opened in 1905 as a military hospital, occupied a site adjacent to the Tate. It has now been taken over as part of the gallery.

Peninsular Heights

This was built as offices for a chemicals firm but has now been converted into luxury apartments. Lord Jeffrey Archer owns the penthouse. The building used to be called Alembic House.

Tintagel House

Offices belonging to the Metropolitan Police.

Camelford House

Offices used by BT, housing telecommunications equipment.


The new, unusually shaped building, just below Vauxhall Bridge is the recently built headquarters of MI6. The building is simply known as 85, Vauxhall Cross.

Riverwalk House

This eleven storey block on the north bank was built as government offices in 1966. The sculpture at the front of the building is by Henry More and is called "Looking Piece" (1968).

Vauxhall Gardens

Looking at the area on the south bank it is difficult to imagine thousands of pleasure seekers making their way to the vicinity for a night of fun and sophistication. Yet, from around the time of 1660 this is exactly what happened when the Vauxhall Gardens, then known as the New Spring Gardens, opened.

Before the opening of Westminster Bridge, access could only be gained by river and hordes of people came to sample the delights in these free gardens. Evelyn and Pepys made regular visits to the gardens. Jonathan Tyers, from 1728 to 1768, managed the gardens and from 1758 owned them. During his time they reached a peak of popularity. He installed a Chinese pavilion, orchestras, fountains, supper boxes and lamp lit walks. Special events were also held here; such as, in 1749, a rehearsal of Handel's Firework Music, which attracted 12,000 spectators.

Boswell summed up the gardens. 'Vauxhall Gardens is peculiarly adapted to the taste of the English nation; there being a mixture of curious show, gay exhibition, music, vocal and instrumental, not too refined for the general ear, for all which only a shilling is paid.'

In 1836 Charles Green, Monck Mason and Robert Holland MP ascended in the Royal Vauxhall Balloon. They took with them provisions for three weeks, including 40lb of beef, ham and tongue; 40lb of bread, sugar and biscuits; 45lb of fowl and preserves and six gallons of sherry, port and brandy. They only managed to get as far as Germany and came down the next day.

In 1813 a grand fete was held to celebrate Wellington's victory at Vittoria. The crush was so great that it took coaches three hours to cross from Westminster Bridge. In 1827 the Battle of Waterloo was
re-enacted by 1,000 soldiers.

By 1840, the gardens had become tawdry and had lost much of their appeal, they closed and reopened on several occasions, finally shutting down in 1859, after which the gardens were built over.

Vauxhall Bridge

In 1816, the Vauxhall Bridge Company opened the Regent's Bridge. The cast iron bridge was the first of it's kind across the river and was designed by James Walker. In 1881 the two central piers were removed, thus converting three of the spans into one and easing navigation. In 1906 the bridge was replaced by the present structure. Designed by Sir Alexander Binnie, this has five steel arches on granite piers. The most striking part of the bridge are the statues on the abutments. Designed by F.W. Pomeroy and Alfred Drury, they commemorate women's achievements in society. On the up river side are pottery, engineering, architecture and agriculture. On the down river side are science, fine arts, local government and education.

The Effra

Running into the river very close to Vauxhall Bridge is the River Effra, another of London's "lost rivers". Like the others the Effra has been reduced over the years to nothing more than a drain. there are, however, stories that King Canute once sailed up the Effra and that Queen Elizabeth once did the same when visiting Sir Walter Raleigh. These may not be true but what is certain is that in 1664 the Effra was of sufficient size and importance for Lord Loughborough to propose converting it into a navigable canal from Brixton to the Thames.

Grosvenor Road

This road runs west from Vauxhall Bridge. A riverside footpath runs in front of the red bricked Crown Reach Apartments. The small white houses further on are Rio Cottage and Tyburn House, built in 1832. An arch can be seen between the two and this is where the Tyburn meets the Thames. At this point the Tyburn is called Kingschoole Sluice. The new, large building, close to Pimlico Gardens is St. George's Wharf, it is owned by an Arab family and it is the largest and most expensive post war house to be built in London.

Pimlico Gardens

These small gardens are home to an interesting statue, that of William Huskisson, MP for Morpeth and President of the Board of Trade, he was the first man ever to be killed in a rail accident when he was run over by Stephenson's "Rocket" in 1830, during the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway. The statue was originally presented by his wife to Lloyd's, eighteen years after his death, they in turn presented it to the LCC in 1915. The statue was sculpted by John Gibson. The figure, dressed in a Roman toga is inscribed 'Opus Ianis Gibson 1836.'

Also in the garden is the entrance to the Westminster Boat Base, this institution provides facilities for youth organisations to take part in various boating activities on the river.

New Covent Garden Market

The new fruit, flower and vegetable market opened in 1974 and replaced the old market which had been in Covent Garden since 1656. The windowless cold store which is before the market dates from around 1964 and is disused. At one time it stored a large amount of the frozen food which came into London.

Battersea Wharf (RMC Wharf)

This "sand wharf" is used by vessels which come up the river from ports like Colchester, loaded with sand which is used in London by the building trade.

The Battersea Barge

The moored barge has been used for some years as a floating restaurant. Of late it has become a fashionable venue for young people to gather in the early hours of the weekend to meet after an all night party.

Nine Elms Marina

This "marina" is a rag-tag collection of boats moored against the old gas jetty on the south side of the river. Various attempts to get the occupants to leave have failed and the owners of the site now appear to have come to an amicable arrangement with the residents.

Metro Greenham Wharf (Bennet Wharf)

This is another sand and aggregate wharf. It was this wharf that the "Bow Belle" and the other "Bow" boats used when they operated on this part of the river.

Cringle Dock

This is another depot where household rubbish is collected and taken by barge down river.

Battersea Power Station

Like Bankside, this power station was designed by Sir Giles Scott, who also designed Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. Each of the four chimneys stands at 337ft above the ground. The station was gradually phased out of use but the building was preserved for it's architectural interest. Various schemes have been suggested to use the building, however, they have all fallen through. The building is now a ruined and empty shell which appears set to deteriorate further as time passes.

Dolphin Square

The large red brick building on the north bank is Dolphin Square. It contains some 1,250 apartments many of which are owned by MP's. The building was designed by Cecil Eves and Gordon Jeeves and was opened in 1937. The grounds cover seven and a half acres and the complex contains squash courts and a swimming pool. When it was built it was the largest residential block in Europe. During the war it was the headquarters of De Gaulle's Free French Army.

The Churchill Gardens Estate

The large residential estate is an award winning complex of apartments and maisonettes designed by A.J.P. Powell and J.H. Moya to house some 6,500 people. Opened in 1962 the complex was designed to be heated by the waste hot water generated by the Battersea Power Station, opposite.

Grosvenor Rail Bridge

This bridge, often called the Victoria Rail Bridge was built in two parts. The down river part was completed in 1860 by Sir John Fowler. It carried the London Chatham and Dover Railway into Victoria. The up river part was completed in 1866 by Sir Charles Fox, it carried the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. Both parts have five wrought iron arches. The whole bridge was reconditioned between 1963/7.

Grosvenor Dock

Between the rail bridge and the road bridge is Grosvenor Dock. Look along the inlet on the north shore and one can see the lock gates which cut off what remains of the old Grosvenor Canal from the Thames. The canal was built in 1823 by the Chelsea Waterworks Company, as part of a scheme to improve it's supply of water to central London. It was last used as a depot for loading rubbish on to barges for taking down to Rainham and Erith. On the other side of Grosvenor Road stands the Western Pumping Station (1875), travellers crossing the rail bridge can see a pumping engine still inside.

Grosvenor Dock is also the site where the eastern branch of the River Westbourne flows into the Thames. Another branch enters the Thames a little further up river, close to the Royal Hospital at Chelsea.

Chelsea Bridge

The first bridge at Chelsea was opened in 1858 and designed by Thomas Page, it was a suspension Bridge with cast iron towers. A large quantity of human bones and weapons dating from the Roman occupation were found during excavation, indicating that a battle was fought nearby. The bridge was a toll bridge which sparked comments that the government 'gave a park (Battersea) to the people and then put a toll gate across the bridge to keep them out.' The tolls were stopped in 1879. The present suspension bridge replaced the old one in 1934.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

In 1681 the Paymaster General, Sir Stephen Fox, suggested to Charles II the idea of setting up a hospital to care for army veterans. Sir Christopher Wren was appointed architect and in 1689 the Royal Hospital was opened to it's first patients. The building was completed in 1692.

The Hospital was constructed around three courtyards. The statue of Charles II, by Grinling Gibbons, has stood in the middle since 1692.

In 1852, the Duke of Wellington laid in state here for seven days, so many people filed past the coffin that two were killed in the crush. The chapel is decorated with flags that were captured in battle, and royal portraits line the walls of the state room, including a picture of Charles I and his family by Van Dyke.

The Royal Hospital contains a small museum which details it's history. It also has in it's grounds the National Army Museum which has been here since 1961. A granite obelisk, erected in 1853, stands in the grounds as a memorial to the men who died at Chillianwalla in 1849. Every year in May, the Royal Hospital hosts the Chelsea Flower Show.

The veterans cared for in the hospital are known as "Chelsea Pensioners". Their famous scarlet uniforms date back to the 18th century. The tricorn hat is worn on ceremonial days such as Oak Apple Day (May 29th). On this day veterans parade in honour of their founder, Charles II's, birthday. The statue of Charles II is decorated in oak foliage and pensioners carry a sprig of oak because it was in the Boscobel Oak that Charles II hid when he escaped from the Battle of Worcester.

Battersea Park

There is evidence of habitation at Battersea since before Saxon times. The name first appears in 693 in a charter granting Batrices Ege (Badric's Island) to the Abbess of Barking. Objects dating from the stone and bronze ages have been found, mostly in the river. The most important archaeological find to date, is the "Battersea Shield", which now belongs to the British Museum.

Battersea Common, on which the park was later built, is mentioned in the Domesday Book. It was here in 1671 that Colonel Blood hid in the reeds with the intention of shooting Charles II as he bathed nearby. He stated at his trial that he was 'checked by the awe of majesty.' It was here also, in 1829, that the Duke of Wellington fought a duel with the Earl of Winchilsea, who accused him of treason to the Protestant faith and the nation over the matter of Catholic emancipation. When the order to fire was given Lord Winchilsea, probably wisely, kept his arm to his side and Wellington fired wide. Lord Winchilsea then fired in the air and later apologised.
The area consisted of marshy ground and ditches separated from the river by a small embankment and causeway. The area had an unsavoury reputation which was not helped by the "Red House Tavern" nearby, which had attracted London's riff-raff from miles around since Elizabethan times.

In 1846, following a suggestion by Thomas Cubitt to improve the area, an act was passed enabling the commissioners to purchase the land, and create a royal park for a cost not exceeding 200,000. 320 acres were purchased, 198 acres of which formed the park. The rest of the land was leased for building. The land was raised and then set out in a park by Sir James Pennerthorne. Battersea Park was opened in 1853, gardens and buildings were added after that date. In 1951 The Festival of Britain Gardens were laid out in Battersea and the fun fair remained for some years. The pier in front of the park also remains from the Festival of Britain. Battersea Park contains sculptures by Henry Moore, (Three Figures Standing), a stone sculpture from 1948 and Barbara Hepworth, (Single Form), a bronze from 1962. From the river can be seen the London Peace Pagoda, this was a gift to London in 1985, from Most Venerable, Nichidatsu Fuji, the founder of the Buddhist order Nipponzan Myohoji. It is 33.5 metres high and Buddhist monks and nuns helped in the construction.


The area of Chelsea is first mentioned in about 787AD when Offa, king of the Mercians held a synod in the area. The name possibly derives from "chalk wharf" which refers to the chalk that the area is built on. In the Domesday Book it is simply, 'a village in Middlesex.' During the 15th and 16th centuries Chelsea gained a reputation as a fashionable, residential area after Thomas More built a large house in the area. The Duke of Norfolk and Henry VIII also had mansions nearby. Chelsea gained the title, "village of palaces". It retained it's reputation as a bohemian village in the 18th and 19th centuries with artists such as Whistler and Rossetti choosing to reside there. The area of modern Chelsea still retains a fashionable feel to it and a visit to the Kings Road is a "must" on many visitors itinerary.

Chelsea Embankment

The road which runs along the river is a fine example of what Chelsea is famous for. The Chelsea Embankment was built by Bazalgette and opened in 1874. Below ground runs the main sewer for the area, but above ground is a fine, wide, riverside road which contains some of the most fashionable houses and flats in the capital. Houses which were once homes to people like Shelley and Turner. One of the houses on the embankment, number 17, is Old Swan House, this house, with latticed bow window, was built in 1875 by Norman Shaw on the site of the Old Swan Inn which was the finish of Doggett's Coat and Badge Race.

Running off of Chelsea Embankment, close to the Royal Hospital, is Tite Street, named after Sir William Tite, who, as a member of the Board of Works was largely responsible for Chelsea Embankment. This is another Chelsea Street with famous connections. Whistler lived here prior to going bankrupt following a libel case. Oscar Wilde also lived here from his marriage in 1884 till his arrest in 1895, he completed "Lady Windermere's Fan" and "The Importance of Being Earnest" there. He particularly liked Tite Street because he could be close to his mother, who lived in Oakley Street and because one day he saw Ellen Terry on her way to sit for her portrait, which was being painted by Whistler, Wilde claimed 'the street that on a wet and dreary morning had vouchsafed the vision of Lady Macbeth in full regalia, magnificently seated in a four wheeler can never be as other streets: it must always be full of wonderful possibilities.'

At Embankment Gardens is a statue to Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish essayist who wrote "French Revolution" in 1837. His house nearby in Cheyne Row is now open to the public.

Chelsea Physic Gardens

Established in 1676 by the Apothecaries Company, these are the second oldest gardens of their type in the country. In 1684, John Evelyn visited the garden and spoke to Mr. Hall, the keeper, and was much impressed by the underground heating system which had been installed in the conservatory, which, enabled him 'to keep the doors of the conservatory open, even in the hardest frost.' In 1732 cotton seed was sent from the gardens to James Oglethorpe, a colonist in Georgia, which helped to start the cotton industry there. A statue to Sir Hans Sloane, by John Rysbrack, stands in the garden. He was the landlord who, in 1772, presented the garden to the Apothecaries Company, on the undertaking that they present 2,000 dried plants, at the rate of 50 per annum, to the Royal Society. Since 1683 there have been frequent exchanges of plants with other botanic institutions all over the world. The garden contains the first rock garden ever constructed, using stones from the Tower of London. The garden contains many exotic botanic species from all over the world, including a 30ft olive tree, and a Chinese willow pattern tree.

Cadogan Pier

Cadogan Pier consists of a landing stage and moorings which are privately owned. On these moorings can be seen some of the finest boats on the lower reaches of the river. One of the boats that can often be seen here is "Bluebird of Chelsea", this boat was built in 1931, on the Thames near Hampton for Sir Malcolm Campbell, who held world land and water speed records. Bluebird was later called upon during World War II to take part in "Operation Dynamo", better known as the Dunkirk evacuation, when dozens of "little ships" crossed the Channel to rescue the expeditionary force, which was stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. Several boats still on the Thames took part in the operation and they can be identified by their association pennant which they often fly, or by the flag of St. George, which they are entitled to fly when in harbour.

Albert Bridge

Albert Bridge is one of the most striking bridges across the river; particularly at night when it is illuminated by thousands of bulbs. It was built in 1871 by R.M. Ordish. Although a three span suspension bridge, it is built as a cantilever structure, with elements of both in it's construction. A sign can be seen at either end of the bridge, instructing marching soldiers to break step when crossing the bridge, this was to avoid the damaging vibrations that at one time it was thought might be caused by hundreds of soldiers in heavy boots.

On the northern side of the bridge are two statues. On the far footway is "Boy with a Dolphin" by David Wynne (1975). The other, on the Chelsea Embankment footway, is a nude female figure by F. Derwent Wood, (1871-1926). This was donated by members of the Chelsea Arts Club.

Cheyne Walk

Cheyne Walk runs alongside the river from Albert Bridge. Like so many streets in the Chelsea area it has it's fair share of fashionable houses and famous inhabitants. It is named after the Cheyne family, who were lords of the manor from 1660 to 1712. George Elliott lived at No.4 towards the end of her life and Lloyd George lived at No. 10. In 1924. Rossetti lived at No. 16, known as the "Queen's House" it was built in 1719 by John Witt. Rossetti moved in during 1862 and kept a small zoo there. The noise made by the peacocks caused such annoyance to his neighbours that subsequent leases on property in the area specifically forbade the keeping of the birds. The house became a famous meeting place for artists and poets. Henry James lived and died in Carlyle Mansions, Whistler lived at No.96 and 101, he is renowned for his paintings of local views of the river. Mark and Isambard Kingdom Brunel lived at No. 98 and Hillaire Belloc lived at No. 104 from 1901 until 1905. Another artist famous for his paintings of the Thames, Turner, lived at No.119.

From Battersea Bridge to Cremorne Gardens can be seen the houseboats of Cheyne Walk. These boats have become very much part of the Chelsea scene over the years, the residents come from a wide cross section of society, from nurses to retired concert pianists and they add much to the colour of local life. The boats are administered by the Chelsea Yacht and Boat Co. In front of the houseboats at low water can be seen some wooden pilings. It is thought that these are the foundations of a Saxon riversde palace.

On the south shore, west of Albert Bridge is Ransome's Dock, here can often be seen a number of barges undergoing repairs. Next to the dock can be seen an open plan office block which overlooks the river. This is the London headquarters of Norman Foster, the architect. The distinctive building is to his own design.

Chelsea Old Church (All Saint's)

It seems that a church has existed on this site since at least 1157. The church was called All Saint's in 1290. The chapels in the church were originally private and the north chapel dates from 1325. The south chapel was rebuilt by Sir Thomas More in 1528 for his own use and there is a monument to More in the sanctuary. More's two wives are buried here and it was to be his resting place also, however, after his execution in 1535 his head was taken to Canterbury.

In the porch is a bell that was a gift to the church from William Ashburnham who presented it to the church in 1679 as thanksgiving for having been saved from drowning. He is one of several locals who are remembered in the embroidery on the kneelers which have all been made since the war. Other locals include Batholomew Nutt, the ferryman of Chelsea Reach and Thomas Doggett, the founder of Doggett's Coat and Badge Race. Also included is Henry VIII, who married Jane Seymour at the church before the state ceremony in 1536.

Badly damaged during bombing in 1941, when five fire watchers lost their lives, the church was restored on the old foundations, the architect being Walter Godfrey. In royal jubilee year, a peal of eight bells were installed, these were built around the third bell, which is believed to date back to the reign of Elizabeth I.

Crosby Hall

Crosby Hall in Danvers Street, just before Battersea Bridge, is all that remains of the mansion that was built in Bishopsgate in 1475 for the grocer, John Crosby. In 1483, Richard III was allegedly in residence when he heard of the murder of the "Little Princes" in the Tower. Thomas More owned it from 1532 until 1534. Sir Walter Raleigh lived here in 1601and from 1621 until 1638 it was the first headquarters of the East India Co.

In 1908 it was purchased by the University and City Association of London and it was moved in it's entirety to Chelsea and erected in what used to be Thomas More's garden. The hall has a hammerbeam roof and oriel windows. Behind the high table is a painting by Hans Holbein of More and his family. Crosby Hall is now owned by a millionaire, Christopher Moran. He has incorporated the hall into a controversial new mansion which he has built in a Tudor style.

Battersea Bridge

The original Battersea Bridge, when built in 1772, was made of wood to the design of Henry Holland, and was the only bridge between Westminster and Putney. It had the effect of transforming the village of Chelsea into a town. The restriction caused to the flow of water by the many arches made it difficult and dangerous to "shoot the bridge" at certain states of tide and many boats were wrecked by colliding with the piers. The old bridge was one of the favourite subjects for Whistler to paint, and is remembered in his hazy "nocturnes". In 1890 the present five arched, cast iron bridge, designed by Bazalgette was opened.
Cremorne Gardens

The gardens began operating in about 1840. Covering about 12 acres, they provided a theatre, a banqueting hall, orchestras, grottoes and bowers which could accommodate 1,500 customers at a shilling a time. One of the most popular attractions were balloon ascents and one of the most noted aeronauts was Charles Green. On one ascent he was accompanied on a flight by a lady and a leopard. Other attractions included a circus with side-shows and regularly staged pageants. In 1855 the stage collapsed beneath the weight of 500 bayonet carrying soldiers re-enacting the siege of Sebastopol. In 1861 Madame Genevieve Young, 'The Female Blondini,' crossed the Thames on a tightrope. In 1864 a Mr. Goddard, planned an ascent to 5,000ft in his balloon, "Czar". Unfortunately, he drifted on to the spire of St. Luke's Church and died in the fall. The gardens had acquired an unsavoury reputation and the minister of the Chelsea Baptist Chapel wrote in a pamphlet that the gardens were a 'nursery for every kind of vice.' The owner, John Baum, sued and won but was awarded only a farthing damages and he was left bankrupt, the gardens closed in 1877.

The gardens are now the site of the LTE power station of Lots Road. The balloon ascents are still remembered in the name of a pub nearby called "The Balloon".

Lots Road Power Station

Opened in 1905, the station provides power for the London underground. Its original purpose was to provide power for the District Line, which, until that time was steam powered. The design provoked angry response at the time from those who did not want a large power station in Chelsea. Flowing into the Thames, next to the power station is yet another of London's "lost rivers", Chelsea Creek or Counters Creek. At high water it can be navigated for a short distance. In 1829 the creek was the start of the Kensington Canal which ran for two miles of the creek's length. The canal was a failure and in 1845 it was drained and ownership passed to the West London Railway Company. Water from the creek is used to cool the power station.

St. Mary's Church

St. Mary's, by Battersea Draw Dock, was first given as a gift to the monks of Westminster Abbey by William I. The church was added to as it grew in importance and a tower was added in 1639. The whole church was rebuilt in the style of a simple village church in 1777. The east window has scenes depicting Henry VII's grandmother, Margaret Beauchamp, as well as Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. This was to display the royal connections of the St. John family, who were, at one time, an important local family. William Blake was married here to Catherine Boucher, daughter of a local market gardener, she signed the register with a cross.

The church was a favourite location for Turner to paint his river scenes from.

Amongst those buried at the church is Benedict Arnold, the American traitor, who died exiled from America, in 1801.

Old Battersea House

Close by is Old Battersea House. It is thought to have been built around 1699, possibly by Wren. The house had a number of wealthy owners. The council bought the site in 1930 and planned to demolish the premises. Fortunately, they were stopped from this act of municipal vandalism by the public outcry which was raised against their scheme. A family called Sterling took over the house and brought with them a fine collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. When they died in 1965, the house had become somewhat dilapidated but in 1971 it was restored to it's full and former glory. Also close by is the "Raven", a Dutch gabled inn which is at least 300 years old.

Chelsea Harbour

At about the same time as Docklands was being developed down river, a similar fate was befalling Chelsea. The land around Chelsea Dock was earmarked for redevelopment, the plan being to build luxury apartments and a hotel, making use of the view provided across the Thames. Thus the area from Chelsea Creek to the old rail yard, covering some 18 acres, has become the Chelsea Harbour complex.

The dock itself has now become a 75 berth marina which is overlooked by the Belvedere Tower, a 20 storey block with a pyramid shaped roof, topped by a brass ball which rises and falls on a mast as an indication to the height of tide. Each floor consists of a luxury apartment. The rest of the site is given over to offices, shops and restaurants. There is also an all suite hotel, unique in London.

Albion Quay

Opposite Chelsea Harbour are these recently installed moorings for houseboats.

Battersea Rail Bridge

Built in 1861 and designed by William Baker, The bridge was jointly owned by the London and North West Railway Company and the Great Western Railway. The bridge carried the West London Extension Railway, which connected the West London Railway with Clapham Junction.


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 and Wilson.
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 Ltd.
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.


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