Author Archives: Andie

Guided Walk: Shakespeare Land and Southwark from Blackfriars to London Bridge by Tony Keen

College of Arms. By Andreas Praefcke, CC BY 3_0.

Our second guided walk of the season started at Blackfriars Station.  We proceeded along the Thames Embankment, pausing to admire the College of Arms which is a fine, late Georgian building with its attractive gold leaf gates and its startling embellishments, situated half way between the bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral.

Crossing the Millennium Bridge, heading south towards the imposing presence of the Tate Modern, we went to inspect the house where St Christopher Wren is often purported to have lived whilst St Paul’s was under construction, along with several other famous names from the 17th Century.  But all is not as it seems, because the house actually dates to Queen Anne, was erected in 1710, and the plaque over the door appears to have been a romantic twist dating to 1945.

Heading east, we passed Sam Wanamaker’s modern Globe Theatre replica into Park Street where the Blue Plaque on the wall proudly boasted the site of the Elizabethan Rose Theatre, where despite the modern frontage plays are performed in a time-warped atmospheric setting.  Just beyond, partially under Southwark bridge, is the original site of Shakespeare’s Globe.  There is a very good description of the site and the development of the theatre on the display boards, explaining that the theatre is known as “Shakespeare’s Globe” not merely because his plays were performed here, but because it was built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s company of players, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

We then continued to Clink Street under the railway arches and to the remains of the great hall of Winchester Palace with its magnificent medieval stone rosary window.  The famous Clink Prison dates back to 1144 was one of England’s oldest prisons, spanning over 600 years of history.  In its heyday, it was in fact a dungeon – part of the Winchester Palace estate – that provided accommodation for those who displeased the Bishop.  It is now open to the public as a tourist attraction, showcasing some of the darker and more gruesome stories of life in Medieval London.

Francis Drake’s Galleon Golden Hinde. By Jose L. Marin. CC BY 2.5

A replica of Sir Francis Drake’s astonishingly small and brightly coloured galleon Golden Hinde greeted us next, always a remarkable sight as one turns the corner from the Thames Path.  The information boards gave informed us that he had navigated under the orders of Elizabeth I to  negotiate new trade agreements with nations never before encountered, to acquire land, to discover new shipping routes and to acquire treasure from Spanish ships.  This project, led by Drake, who was accompanied by five other ships, was designed to undermine Spanish dominance in South America and improve British links across the globe.  thereby weakening the Spanish dominance of South America. He did this successfully, and to liberate treasure from Spanish ships.  As well as securing around £600,000 in Elizabethan money, Drake was the first navigator to successfully circumnavigate the globe.  He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth aboard the Golden Hinde.  Although it was intended that she be preserved as a museum to commemorate the Queen’s achievements, Golden Hinde was not maintained and had disintegrated by the mid-17th century.  Today it is a popular tourist destination and wedding venue, due both to its novelty and its link to an important historic event.

Southwark Cathedral’s Shakespeare Window. Source: The Looking At London website

Tracing our way through the streets behind London Bridge we entered the precinct of Southwark Cathedral.  This beautiful majestic and imposing monument, with its colourful effigies, is London’s oldest and finest Gothic structure.  From the early 1100s it was the church of the Augustinian Southwark Priory, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  It was badly damaged in a fire of 1212 and the following rebuild gave it its present form.  Following the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th Century, it became a parish church dedicated to St Saviour.  Entering the building, we encountered the memorial stained glass window dedicated to many of Shakespeare’s most well beloved plays, designed by Christopher Webb in 1954, with a reposing figure of the bard beneath.  Shakespeare’s elder brother Edmund is buried in the nave and there is a memorial slab in the floor.  We were treated to a wonderful organ recital whilst we were there, the decibels alone impressing with their sheer magnificence.

Outside the group continued through the sights and smells of Borough Market. There has been a market on the site since at least 1014, and its millennium was celebrated in 2014.  More formally it dates to 1756 when the Borough Market website reports that in February 1756 advertisements were placed stating that a “commodious place for a market is now preparing on the backside of Three Crown Court on the west side of the high street of the Borough and will be ready by the 25th March next for the reception of all country carriages and others bringing any kind of provisions to the said market.”  Today it is a vibrant hive of busy stalls selling high quality food products, visited by serious buyers and tourists alike.

The George Inn, Borough. Photograph by Ewan Munro. CC BY-SA 2.5

We wrapped up our walk with a visit to London’s oldest surviving galleried inn, The George, built in 1570.  Although damaged by fire and having suffered the indignity of the loss of its north wing to the railways, the inn retains many original features and was frequented by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Pepys, Johnson, and thousands of their contemporaries.  Today it rejoices in the presence of the likes of you and I, tired and hungry after a satisfying sightseeing expedition.

With many thanks to Tony Keen for leading us through the winding streets of north Southwark and introducing us to so many superb insights into the Port of London’s rich and fascinating history and heritage.  Shakespeare was a recurring figure in our travels, but the echoes of many other voices were heard too.

Panorama of London, with Southwark in the foreground by Claes Van Visscher, 1616

Guided Walk: The Highway and its Byways by Ian McBrayne

The Royal Foundation of St Katherine. By John Salmon. CC BY-SA 2.0

Ian launched our summer term of visits and guided walks with a fascinating walk through the old riverside districts of Ratcliffe and Shadwell, exploring the area around two parallel east-west roads, The Highway with its thundering traffic and the much quieter Cable Street.

Our first stop was outside the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine, a religious house founded by Queen Matilda in 1147, whose royal origins saved it from dissolution by Henry VIII.  As some of us discovered, its café in a yurt in the grounds serves rather good coffee.  We then passed artists’ studios in a former sweet factory, two charming rows of Victorian cottages and two late 18th century warehouses converted into flats – an early indication of the very mixed past and present economy of the area.

We then walked through the first public park in Stepney, opened in 1922 close to Ratcliffe Cross where several 16th century explorers set sail in search of the North West Passage.  This brought us to Shadwell Basin, the easternmost and best surviving part of the former London Docks, and Shadwell’s parish church, St Paul’s.

The funeral of the Marr family, victims of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders. London Chronicle 1811.

A little further west, we heard the gruesome story of the Ratcliffe Highway murders, which shook London in December 1811.  A seaman was convicted posthumously of the seven very violent killings, but the evidence was flimsy and the truth has never been established.  Walking on through the welcome greenery of the recently created Wapping Wood, we then admired the house where wealthy local brewer Henry Raine set up a free school for poor children in 1719.
We speculated on the prospects for the Grade I listed warehouse at Tobacco Dock.  When the docks closed, it was turned into a top-end shopping centre, but this was one of the slowest areas in Docklands to regenerate and the shops failed.  Twenty years later it is being marketed as a business and events venue, but uptake seems slow.

Back on The Highway, we came to the site of Jamrach’s Animal Emporium, set up in the 1840s to import exotic animals for onward sale to zoos and menageries.  We heard the high Victorian tale of the tiger which escaped and captured a small boy.  Thanks to the quick-witted bravery of Jamrach and his staff, the story had a happy ending.

Modern mural of the Battle of Cable Street. By jo-marshall CC BY 2.0.

We continued to St George’s in the East, a Hawksmoor church rebuilt within its shell after bombing in the Blitz.  We were divided on the success of the new design.  On the side of St George’s Town Hall, we admired the large mural which commemorates the 1936 Battle of Cable Street, when local people turned out in numbers to prevent a Fascist march from passing along the street.

In Cable Street and Cannon Street Road, we saw houses and shops surviving much as they were in the early 19th century.  By contrast, we then passed through the area where two fashionable squares were built in the 17th century: Prince’s Square, completely obliterated in the 1960s; and Wellclose Square, where the layout remains but the original buildings have all been lost.

Our last two stops provided contrast.   At the first we admired a survivor of the 1960s purge which destroyed the nearby squares: Wilton’s Music Hall, created out of a row of four houses in the 1840s and 1850s and functioning as a theatre today, though with a long period in between as a Methodist meeting hall, followed by decades of uncertainty and gradual restoration.  The final stop was the site of a short-lived disaster, the Royal Brunswick Theatre, built in 1828 and demolished after collapsing three weeks later.  The subsequent 1830 building, originally a seamen’s home, largely survives, alongside the 1890s home of the Mercantile Marine Office, which regulated the employment of seamen – a fitting reminder at the end of our walk of the maritime origins of the area.

Our many thanks to Ian for all his research and planning, and for a very enjoyable and informative guided walk.

The front entrance to Wilton’s Music Hall. Photograph by James Perry CC BY-SA 3.0.

Our Summer Programme Commences

Jamrach and the Tiger. Source: BBC

Jamrach and the Tiger. Source: BBC

Our finalized summer programme of splendid walks and visits is now available on our Programmes page.

We begin the new term with a walk led by Ian McBrayne, entitled “The Highway and its Byways”.  During the walk we shall explore the history of the two small districts of Ratcliffe and Shadwell.  The districts are based around two roads which run east-west, parallel and very close to each other, The Highway and Cable Street.  We shall be looking at places of interest on or just off those two streets.  Among other things, we shall be considering two great pieces of real-life 19th-century melodrama, the Ratcliffe Highway Murders and Jamrach and the Tiger.

If you would like to join us for our summer walks and visits, please get in touch with our secretary Frances Bulwer:


End of Term Art Shorts

Amelia Curran’s portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

We usually end the term with a series of short presentations on a literary or arts theme followed by lunch. Today did not disappoint – on 20th March we had a very varied programme followed by a delicious lunch in Wapping.

Tony began with a reading of Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias”, which was inspired by the British Museum’s acquisition of a seven and a half ton portion of a statue of Rameses II from Thebes in 1816. It offered Shelley an opportunity for reflection on greatness and its passing. His poem is well known – unlike the poem written by his friend and rival poet, Horace Smith. Tony drew our attention to this poem as a comparison with Shelley’s. Interestingly, Smith’s poem is related to London and envisages a time when the great city no longer exists – all is impermanence – a melancholy but sobering thought perhaps…..

Sarah discussed an art installation created by Stephen Willats in 1978 sponsored by the Port of London Authority and bought by the Museum of Docklands in 2006 – displayed until recently on Floor 2 of the Museum. This work was commissioned at a time of great change in the Docks (and Britain). The traditional industries were disappearing and the impact on communities – like those in the Docklands – was hugely significant. The old landscapes would disappear for ever.  Willats believed that art should be created in the community and that the community should participate in its creation. This work – like the parallel work involving the women of the Ocean Estate in Stepney/Mile End – made use of hours of oral interviews. For this work entitled “Concerning our Present Way of Living”, he interviewed dockers as their industry was coming to an end. He produced 4 large panels 5ft tall x 2ft overlaid with photos, quotations and geometric designs still in the Museum’s ownership and occasionally displayed elsewhere – for example in the Whitechapel Art Gallery at exhibition in 2014.

Lorries Transporting Landing Craft, Royal Albert Docks, London (1945) by Rupert Shephard (Imperial War Museum ART LD 5293). Source: Wikipedia

Continuing an art theme, Fran introduced us to two examples of the work of Rupert Shephard (1909-1992). Shephard trained at the Slade and became part of the Euston Road School for a while with Pasmore and Coldstream. He spent some time in South Africa and during WW2 he was on the Artists Advisory Committee. The two shown were “Lorries Transporting Landing Craft, Royal Albert Docks, London” – a watercolour – and a lino cut from 1975 of the River Lea from the “London: the Passing Silence Series.”  His grandson is the newly appointed Director of the V&A, Tristram Hunt.

Ian gave us an excellent quiz on artists visions of London Bridges from Canaletto’s “Westminster Bridge” (1746), via Fox Talbot, Whistler, Atkinson Grimshaw, Pisarro and Monet, Brangwyn and William Wylie to André Derain and Hugh Casson. He finished with the startlingly colourful John Duffin’s “Albert Bridge” from 2014.

Sue followed up her excellent presentation on Royal Navy Victualling with the unexpected treat of home baked ship’s biscuit and a further discussion of this very basic naval fare!

Barry took us along the Thames from central London to Richmond on a leisurely 18th Century boat cruise. Samuel Leigh was a publisher of travel books and itineraries – his illustrated panorama, some 50ft long, gives a rare, illustrated view of both banks of the Thames as it was developing in the 18th Century. We see the Millbank Penitentiary, the colour works at Chelsea, Mark Brunel’s Saw Mills and the beginnings of a number of industrial manufacturers and isolated villas on the almost empty banks of the River towards Richmond.

Peter concluded the morning with his own panorama of photographs which he is producing as part of his ambitious and continuing plan to walk across London from east to west.

We begin our own series of walks and visits with the Group in the Summer Term on Mondays from 8th May.

Canaletto’s Westminster Bridge with the Lord Mayor’s Procession on the Thames. Source: Google Art Project

Royal Navy Victuallers and the Port of London by Sue Littledale

Sue’s presentation to the Group on the 13th March 2017 took us into the world of naval provisioning, called victualling.  Early histories of the Royal Navy tend to focus on the building of battleships and the growth of the naval dockyards in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  What is sometimes overlooked is the huge and complex administrative system required to keep that navy adequately fed and watered.  Henry VIII built more than forty battleships and all the sailors on those battleships had to be fed for protracted periods, particularly at times of war.  In 1546 he set up the Navy Board, which originally had responsibility for victualling the Royal Navy.

Tower Hill Yard site. Source: Ian Grainger and Christopher Philpotts ‘The Royal Navy Victualling Yard, East Smithfield, London‘ (MOLA 2010 – used with kind permission)

It was his daughter Elizabeth I who, on acceding to the throne in 1558, first created the post of Surveyor General of the Victuals ‘to take care always to have in store a stock of victuals to supply a thousand men at sea for one month at a fortnight’s notice’.  In 1560 Elizabeth also established a Victualling Office and Yard at Little Tower Hill after purchasing the manor of East Smithfield and a former monastery for £1200.  The complex included storehouses, ovens, brew houses and bakeries. Milling took place across the river at Rotherhithe. Most of the other supplies came from private agents.  This yard served the navy with varying degrees of success for the next hundred years, although shortages often arose.

The Victualling Office was put under more and more strain as the size of the navy increased, particularly during the Anglo-Dutch wars of the mid seventeenth century.  By the end of the second Anglo-Dutch War in 1667 the number of seamen to be supplied had risen to 35,000 and the Tower Hill Victualling Yard had long been inadequate.  In 1672, therefore, a new victualling yard was established at Deptford, where a slaughterhouse for the navy had already been acquired in 1650.

The Royal Victoria Victualling Yard in 1937. Source: PLA collection/Museum of London

New lodgings for the workforce were also built at Deptford and in 1683 an independent Victualling Board was set up.  During the wars of Spanish succession (1701-1714) it met in the Tower Hill offices on a daily basis, and strict regulations and instructions were introduced.  However, it wasn’t until 1742 that the Board took the first step toward making Deptford the centre of its operations.

The move to Deptford took some time but the Victualling Yard at Little Tower Hill was finally closed in 1785. The buildings became government warehouses before the Royal Mint was transferred to the site from the Tower of London in 1806.

In 1742 the Victualling Board had leased 11 acres of the Red House estate to the north-west of Deptford.  Stretching up river from the northern wall of the dockyard, it was part of the Evelyn family estate.  The site already had an 800 foot timber wharf that could accommodate four vessels as well as a collection of warehouses and storehouses.  Recent fires meant some of these would have to be rebuilt although some could be repaired.  By the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars in 1793 the yard’s slaughterhouse could accommodate up to 260 oxen; the hog hanging house 650 pigs; the bakehouse had 12 ovens and the spirit vats held 56,000 gallons.

During the Napoleonic wars the navy expanded from 125,000 men in 1800 to over 140,000 in 1810.  The common seaman’s weekly ration in Nelson’s navy was:

  • 7 lbs (3.2 kg) of ship’s biscuit,
  • 4 lbs (1.8 kg) of beef, 2 lbs (907 g) of pork,
  • 2 pints of peas, 3 pints of oatmeal,
  • 6 oz (180 g) of butter,
  • 12 oz (360 g) of cheese
  • a gallon of beer a day

Victualling Yard gates at Deptford, 1841. Source: Old Deptford History website

The relative peace that followed the Napoleonic wars saw a dramatic decline of boat building and maintenance in the Deptford dockyard.  It finally closed in 1869.  However the Victualling Yard just to the north of it continued to thrive and eventually grew to 35 acres as more land was acquired.  The demands of warfare were replaced by the demands of empire and in 1848 it was renamed the Royal Victoria Victualling Yard.  According to the National Archives Deptford remained the largest of the home victualling establishments in the 19th century.  Biscuit, chocolate, mustard, pepper and other foodstuffs were manufactured on site and large supplies of clothing, food, tobacco, rum and naval stores were maintained.

It was not until the mid-20th century that the yard eventually outlived its usefulness.  It finally ceased operations in 1961. The Pepys Estate in Deptford, built in the same decade, now occupies the site. The yard’s few surviving 18th century buildings have been incorporated into the estate.

Our new Summer Term programme is now available

Our new Summer Term programme of visits and walks is now available.  See our Programmes page.  Thanks to everyone who has volunteered to organize and lead each of these.  It is going to be a great summer with plenty to see and do.   Short summaries of our visits and walks will be posted afterwards, but if you would like to join us for our visits on a Monday morning between 11am and 1pm, please see our Join Us page – we would love to welcome you.


Emirates Air Line. Source: Nick Cooper at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Marshes: Erith, Slade Green, Crayford and Dartford by Peter Luck

On Monday Peter talked to us about the Thames Marshes of Erith, Slade Green, Crayford and Dartford.  He says that the title of this talk is a little misleading; these places do not appear in their own right but do ring around the land side of the marshes which survive as mostly open land on the south shore of the Thames and were the subject of a 2005 masterplan for keeping them that way.

Howbury Manor from The remains of Howbury Manor from Moat Lane. Photograph by Marathon CC BY-SA 2.0

There had probably been a presence on the marshes from at least Roman times and certainly an Anglo-Saxon presence from the 5th century.  Following the Norman conquest the manor of Hoobury was given to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux (who also took Erith, Plumstead, Charlton, Lea and Eltham –  a large chunk of present day southeast London). The manor passed down through centuries, its name slightly changing to the present Howbury and at the turn of the eighteenth century being in the ownership of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell who, aside from naval duties was also the Commissioner for Sewers, having responsibility for the upkeep of Thames embankments from Deptford to Gravesend. I am not sure when the marshes were first drained and embanked but almost certainly several centuries before Shovell’s day. They have since been raised twice, in 1879 and after the great flood of 1953 along with the construction of a raising barrier to the river Darenth where it enters the Thames.

The manor of Howbury survives in the form of a moated enclosure  near to Slade Green. The house within the moat, of uncertain date, probably 17th century, does not survive but a large Jacobean tithe barn remains in the adjoining farmyard.

In the westerly angle between the Darenth and the Thames aerial photographs from 1953 show a more-or-less orderly scatter of small, well-spaced buildings typical of works making or handling explosives. The Thames Ammunition Works had been opened here in 1879, one of several firms operating in the Erith area concerned with armaments. Vickers were in Erith, later in Crayford, and the local industrialist Sir William Anderson, co-founder of the firm Easton and Anderson, initially concerned with hydraulics, moved into ordnance and became Government Director of Ordnance Factories.  Thames Ammunition Works took advantage of its being quite near Woolwich and having a location on the river which enabled it to bypass risky road transport. In WW1 it was taken under government control and after the war passed to W.B. Gilbert Ltd who broke munitions there. Taking apart munitions is every bit as dangerous as putting them together and an explosion in 1924 killed twelve women workers. Very briefly, during WW1 the works had a rail link known as the Trench Warfare Light Railway. Nothing of it survived beyond the end of the war and it seems never to have appeared on an OS map. The works themselves remained until the 1970s since when the sheds and yards of an industrial estate have taken over the ground.

Long Reach Tavern. Source: Museum of London Collections

On the opposite bank of the Darenth an isolated pub, the Long Reach Tavern stood, being strangely well-patronised both by river workers and by devotees of cock-fighting and bare knuckle boxing, both illegal. The pub survived into the post WW2 era latterly popular with off-duty workers from the isolation hospitals. In 1911 the Vickers company took an area of marsh extending south from the pub and foreshore, boarded over the drainage ditches to make runways and used it as an airfield for testing their new aircraft. This was taken over for use as an air force training facility. Sheds were built to house the tiny planes, and various ancillary buildings. This was not a very sensible location for such a facility: rookie pilots having trouble with their plane could crash into the explosive works or an isolation hospital or a sewage farm or the Thames and the attempt to turn back could itself lead to a crash. The accident rate and death toll were both far too high. The site closed at the end of the war.

Opposite the Long Reach Tavern smallpox hospital ships were moored, in use until 1903 when the Long Reach Hospital was opened on the neighbouring shore, a little downstream from the airfield. This lasted until 1974 ever less used and was demolished in 1975. Nothing of the hospital stands but the line of the tramway which connected it to the two isolation hospitals Joyce Green and Orchard built on the slightly higher ground at the back of the marsh. These too no longer stand and have been the subject of other talks in PLSG and are not described here.

Close by the track which leads out onto the marsh and the site of the airfield is an orderly scatter of small corrugated iron huts now falling apart and being invaded by vegetation. This was the factory of Joseph Wells, makers of firework. The company was founded in 1837 in Dartford and operated until the 1970s producing both domestic fireworks and major display works with a world-wide clientele. On its closure, some of the staff had taken the name to West Sussex. The company continues active there, specialising in stage and special effects pyrotechnics.