A River Thames Guide - Woolwich
1. Woolwich Ferry to Millwall Dock
2. Docklands to St Katherine's Dock
3.Tower Bridge to Queen Boudicca
section 4.Westminster Bridge to
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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".
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.
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.
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.
Offices belonging to the Metropolitan Police.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.