10 historic stairways in London – 10. Nancy’s Steps…

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed CC-BY-2.0)

We close our series of historic London stairs with a stairway that has raised its share of controversy in recent years, largely due to the plaques associated with it.

The steps, which are located in Southwark at the southern end of London Bridge and which lead down to Montague Close, are a remnant of the John Rennie-designed London Bridge which was completed in 1831 and which was replaced in the mid-20th century (and which was sold off and relocated to Lake Havasu in the US).

The plaque at the base of the steps. PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed CC-BY-2.0)

The controversy arises through the plaques associated with the steps which state that the steps where the scene of the murder of Nancy in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. There’s a couple of problems with that claim.

The first is that Nancy wasn’t murdered here in the book – it is in their lodgings that Bill Sikes kills Nancy believing she has betrayed him. The confusion probably comes about because the musical Oliver! did set Nancy’s murder on the steps.

The bridge does, however, play a role in the book and have a connection to Nancy and its probably due to this connection that it has its name, Nancy’s Steps.

Because it was on steps located here – “on the Surrey bank, and on the same side of the bridge as Saint Saviour’s Church [now known as Southwark Cathedral]” that Nancy talks to Oliver’s benefactors while Noah Claypole eavesdropped on the conversation (which leads him reporting back to Sikes and eventually to her murder).

The second error made in the plaque is that Rennie’s bridge (and hence the steps) was completed in 1831 and with Oliver Twist published in serial form just a few years later can’t be the “ancient” bridge referred to in the text. The reference can only relate to the medieval bridge which occupied the site for hundreds of years until it was demolished following the completion of Rennie’s bridge.

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