We’ve finished our series on London sites related to the story of Thomas Becket. Before we move on to our next special series, here’s a recap…
We’ll launch our new series next Wednesday.
We’ve finished our series on London sites related to the story of Thomas Becket. Before we move on to our next special series, here’s a recap…
We’ll launch our new series next Wednesday.
Following Thomas Becket’s brutal murder in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, King Henry II is ordered by Pope Alexander III to perform acts of penance for his death, going on a public pilgrimage to Canterbury where he spent a night in prayer at Becket’s tomb and was whipped by monks.
Becket’s renown, meanwhile, quickly grew in the aftermath of his death and miracles soon began to be attributed to him. And then, little over two years after he was killed, the Pope declared him a saint. It’s believed that soon after that, in 1173, St Thomas’ Hospital in Southwark- which had been founded a couple of years earlier – was named in commemoration of him.
The hospital was run by a mixed-gendered order of Augustinian canons and canonesses, believed to be of the Priory of St Mary Overie, and provided shelter and treatment for the poor, sick, and homeless. Following a fire in the early 13th century, the hospital was relocated to a site on what is now St Thomas Street.
In the 15th century, Dick Whittington endowed a ward for expectant unmarried mothers at the hospital and in 1537, it was the location for the printing of one of the first English Bibles – which is commemorated in a plaque at the former site of the hospital.
When the monastery at Southwark, which oversaw the hospital – also referred to as the Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr, was closed in 1539 during the Dissolution, the hospital too was closed. It did reopen a decade later but was dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle instead of St Thomas Becket (and has remained so since). The name change was political – King Henry VIII had ‘decanonised” St Thomas Becket as part of his reform of the church in England.
The hospital was rebuilt from the end of the 17th century (the long-deconsecrated Church of St Thomas in St Thomas Street, home to the Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garrett, is the oldest surviving part of this rebuild) but it left Southwark in 1862 when the site was compulsorily acquired to make way for the construction of the Charing Cross railway viaduct from London Bridge Station.
Following a temporary relocation to Royal Surrey Gardens in Newington, it moved into new premises at Lambeth – across the river from the Houses of Parliament – in 1871. It has since been rebuilt and merged with Guy’s Hospital.
Correction: Apologies – we had typo in the copy – the date Becket was made a saint was, of course, 1173!
A waterway said to have been cut by the Viking Canute (also spelled Cnut) in the 11th century, the canal, according to the story, was constructed so his fleet of ships – blocked by London Bridge – could get upstream.
The story goes that in May, 1016, the Dane Canute (and future King of England), led an army of invasion into England to reclaim the throne his father, Sweyn Forkbeard, had first won three years earlier.
Canute needed to get his ships upriver of London Bridge to besiege the city which was held by the Saxons under Edmund Ironside (made king in April after his father Athelred’s death) but was blocked by the fortified, although then wooden, London Bridge.
So Canute gave orders for the digging of a trench or canal across some part of Southwark so his ships could pass into the river to the west of the bridge and he could encircle the city.
The canal – also known as ‘Canute’s Trench’ – was duly dug and the city was besieged – although the Vikings lifted the siege without taking the city (which does seems like a lot of work for not much result in the end) and the war was eventually decided elsewhere.
Various routes of the canal have been posited as possibilities – including the suggestion that there was an entry at Rotherhithe (Greenland Dock has been sited as one location) and exit somewhere near Lambeth or further south at Vauxhall (and one possibility is that Canute, rather than digging a long canal, simply cut through the bank holding back the Thames on either side of London Bridge and flooded the lands behind).
Various waterways have also been identified with it including the River Neckinger, parts of which survive, and the now lost stream known as the Tigris.
Whether the canal actually existed – and what form it took – remains a matter of some debate (although the low-lying, marshy land of Southwark at the time surely would have helped with any such project). But whether lost or simply mythical, the truth of ‘Canute’s Canal’ remains something of a mystery. For the moment at least.
Now situated on the seafront of the town of Swanage in Dorset, the Wellington Clock Tower was originally located at the southern end of London Bridge.
The tower was erected in 1854 as a memorial to the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, who had died two years earlier.
Its construction was funded through public subscription and contributions of railway companies with the support of the Commissioners for Lighting the West Division of Southwark. It was designed in the Perpendicular Gothic style by Arthur Ashpitel and, after the foundation stone was laid on 17th June, 1854, took six months to build.
The three level structure, which was topped with a tall spire, housed a clock with four faces. The clock was made by Bennett of Blackheath for the 1851 Great Exhibition but the constant rumbling of the carts passing its new location apparently meant the mechanism never kept good time.
There was also small telegraph office in the ground floor room of the tower. A statue of Wellington was intended to be placed within the open top level but funds apparently ran out before it could be commissioned and it never appeared (Wellington’s declining popularity at the time may have also been a factor).
The location of this rather splendid structure meant, however, that it was soon overshadowed by construction of nearby raised railway lines. When the Metropolitan Police condemned the tower as an obstruction to traffic, it was the final straw and having spent little more than a decade in position, the decision was made to demolish the tower.
It was taken down in 1867 but rather than simply being scrapped, Swanage-based contractor George Burt had the building shipped in pieces – they apparently served as ballast during the journey – to his hometown in Dorset where he presented it as a gift to fellow contractor Thomas Docwra. Docwra had the tower reconstructed in a seafront location on the grounds of his property, The Grove, at Peveril Point.
The rebuilt tower lacked the original clock – its faces were replaced with round windows – and in 1904 the spire was also removed and replaced with a small cupola (there’s been various reasons suggested for this, including that the spire was damaged in a storm or because it was felt to be sacrilegious by the religious family which then owned the property).
The tower, which was granted a Grade II heritage listing in 1952, can still be seen on the Swanage waterfront today.
The next two entries in Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts countdown…
Bookseller and philanthropist, Thomas Guy’s memory is still preserved in the London hospital which still bears his name (pictured above).
Guy was born the son of Thomas Guy, Sr, a lighterman, carpenter and coalmonger (and Anabaptist) in Southwark, in about 1644. But his father died when he was just eight-years-old and his mother Anne moved the family to Tamworth, her home town, where he was educated at the local free grammar school.
In 1660, he returned to London where he was apprenticed to a bookseller in Cheapside. Eight years later (and having lived through the Great Plague and The Great Fire), his apprenticeship completed and now admitted as a freeman to Worshipful Company of Stationers, he opened his own bookstore on the corner of Cornhill and Lombard Street in the City of London where he found success in selling illegal fine quality printed Bibles from what is now The Netherlands.
He went on to obtain a contract from Oxford University for the printing of Bibles, prayer books and other classical works – a move which saw his fortune begin to take off, so much so he apparently renamed his shop the ‘Oxford Arms’.
But Guy also became a noted investor and it was through doing so – particularly his success in investing in and then offloading shares in the booming South Sea Company (before it collapsed) – which, alongside his success as a publisher, helped to create his fortune.
He had a somewhat notorious reputation for frugality (there is a somewhat dubious story that he broke off an engagement with a maidservant following a dispute concerning some paving works she authorised without his permission) but is also known to have been a significant philanthropist.
His giving included funding upgrades to his former school in Tamworth as well the building of almshouses there in 1678. In fact, his connections with the town were still deep – he represented the town as its MP between 1675 to 1707 – he was so angry was he at his rejection in 1608 that he threatened to pull down the town hall and, later, in his will specifically deprived the inhabitants of Tamworth of use of the almshouses.
Guy had, meanwhile, refused the offer of taking up the post of Sheriff of London after he was elected, apparently because of the expense involved, and paid a fine instead.
He was appointed a governor of St Thomas’s Hospital in 1704 which he also funded the expansion of (using the money he’d made through his investment in the South Sea Company), building three new wards. Having obtained permission to build a hospital for “incurables” discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital, he began building his own hospital, Guy’s, near London Bridge in 1722.
Guy never married and died at his home in the City on 27th December, 1724. He laid in state in the Mercer’s Chapel before being buried in the crypt beneath the chapel at Guy’s Hospital (a fine monument by John Bacon now stands over the site).
He left considerable bequeathments to various charitable organisations as well as to relatives but the bulk of his estate went to his hospital – which was now roofed – so that the works could be completed. The bronze statue outside the hospital, by Scheemakers, depicts guy in his livery.
PICTURE: David Adams
The name of this City of London establishment relates directly to the trade that once existed in nearby environs – namely in sugar.
Located at 65 Cannon Street, the area to the south of the pub was once a centre of the city’s sugar refinement industry.
There were several small sugar refineries there – where raw sugar was taken and transformed into cone-shaped sugar loaves – but these were apparently destroyed when Southwark Bridge was built in the early 19th century.
The now Grade II-listed pub is said to date from the 1830s. More recently, it was part of the Charrington group before becoming one of the O’Neill’s Irish-themed pubs in the late 1990s. It became part of the Nicholson’s group a few years ago.
Made of Portland stone and sitting on an angle of 19.5 degrees, it was designed by Eric Parry Architects as part of the Southwark Gateway Project which also included the creation of a new tourist information centre.
There’s been much speculation about what the pointed obelisk actually represents with some believing that the sharp spike is a kind of memorial to those whose heads were placed on spikes above the gateway which once stood at the southern end of London Bridge.
It seems, however, that the subject remembered in the monument is rather more mundane – it’s a marker and apparently points across the Thames the Magnus the Martyr church which marked the start of where London Bridge was formerly located (several metres to the east of the current bridge’s location). And for those trying to figure out how the needle points to that, word is that is the line of the base of the marker which points to the start of the old bridge – not the sharp end of the obelisk.
The needle is now commonly used as a meeting point.
Constructed adjacent to the Sessions House as a replacement for a former Tudor-era jail, it was once the largest prison in the country housing as many as 300 inmates, male and female. Quadrangular in shape, it featured three wings for criminals and a fourth for debtors and was three stories tall.
The prison had a constant turnover of temporary residents – during 1837, it’s recorded that some 1,300 debtors and 2,506 criminals spent time here.
Famous inmates included writer and intellectual Leigh Hunt (imprisoned for two years for libelling the Prince Regent – he met Lord Byron for the first time here) as well as Colonel Edward Despard, an Irishman found guilty of high treason and, along with six others, sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered (commuted to hanging and beheading and carried out on 21st February, 1803).
The prison was also a site of executions and more than 130 men and women were apparently executed here (Charles Dickens wrote to The Times of his horror after attending the hangings of murderers Maria and Frederick Manning here).
The executions initially took place on the roof of the gatehouse but were later moved inside the prison.
In the mid-1800s, the prison was renamed the Surrey County Gaol or New Gaol (Horsemonger Lane was renamed Union Road and is now Harper Road).
The gaol was closed in 1878 – it no longer met required standards – and demolished three years later on 1881 and the site is today a public park called Newington Gardens.
Erected around the turn of the 19th century to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 (some put the date of its erection at about 1897; others in about 1905), the clocktower replaced an obelisk that had previously stood in the centre of St George’s Circus in Southwark.
The rather ornate tower was designed by architect and engineer Jan F Groll and featured four oil lamps to help light the intersection, described as the first purpose-built traffic junction in England.
It survived until the late 1930s when it was demolished after being described as a nuisance to traffic.
Meanwhile, the Robert Mylne-designed obelisk had been first erected in 1771 and marked one mile from Palace Yard, one mile 40 feet from London Bridge and one mile, 350 feet from Fleet Street (Mylne, incidentally, was the architect of the original Blackfriars Bridge).
Following its removal, it was taken to Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park where it stood until 1998 when it was moved back to its position in St George’s Circus where it now stands. It was Grade II*-listed in 1950.
There’s a replica of the obelisk in Brookwood Cemetery – it marks the spot where bodies taken from the crypt of the Church of St George the Martyr, located in Borough High Street, in 1899 were reinterred to ease crowding.
But after the statue of Dr Salter – MP for Bermondsey for many years – was stolen in 2011 (presumably for scrap value) and the statues of Joyce and the cat subsequently put into storage, it was decided to reassemble the group but this time adding in a new figure – that of Dr Salter’s wife Ada, whose story was certainly as significant as his.
A social reformer, environmentalist and pacifist, Ada Salter (1866-1942) was co-founder and president of the Women’s Labour League, one of the first women councillors in London (she was elected to Bermondsey in 1909) and, on being appointed Mayor of Bermondsey in 1922, the first woman mayor in London and the first Labour woman mayor in Britain.
In 1931, she was elected chair of the National Gardens Guild. Together the couple, who were both Quakers, dedicated much of their lives to helping the people of Bermondsey, regenerating slums, building model housing and planting thousands of trees.
A campaign was subsequently launched to raise funds to replace the statue of Dr Salter and install a new one of Ada and, on raising £120,000 (the £60,000 raised was matched by Southwark Council), artist Diane Gorvin, who had designed the original statue of Dr Salter, was commissioned to make them.
The resultant statues – known collectively as ‘The Salter Statues’ and ‘Dr Salter’s Daydream’ – were unveiled where the previous grouping had been found at Bermondsey Wall East near the Angel pub, in November, 2014.
While Dr Salter sits on a granite bench looking toward the river and his daughter Joyce, who leans against the river wall watched by the family cat, Ada stands nearby – also looking at her daughter – but with a spade in her hand.
Writes the artist: “The idea was to show Dr Salter in old age remembering his young daughter when she was still alive. Ada is represented with a spade as she was so instrumental in tree and planting schemes for Bermondsey. Her left hand is designed to hold real flowers. It was important to celebrate the work of this couple who dedicated their lives to helping the local community.”
There’s a poignant aspect to the statues in that Joyce, the couple’s only child, had died at the age of eight from scarlet fever in 1910.
Ada Salter also has a garden named after her in Southwark Park.
PICTURE: Top – Loz Pycock (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 – image cropped and lightened); Right – Marc Pether-Longman (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0); Below – Steve James (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0).
The site of the find, on the corner of Harper Road and Swan Street in Borough, is located in what is known as the ‘Southern Cemetery’, one of a number of distinct burial grounds located on the outskirts of the Roman city of Londinium. Some 500 Roman burials have been found in the southern site but the stone sarcophagus was the first discovery of its kind there.
The 1,600-year-old sarcophagus measures approximately 2.4 metres long, 75cm wide and 65 centimetres high. The lid of the coffin had been partly pushed to one side, indicating that it may have been disturbed by grave robbers during the 18th century. The interior was left partly filled with soil and small bones and a damaged Roman bracelet were found nearby – a possible indication that it was a child buried there.
Gillian King, senior planner for archaeology at Southwark Council, told the BBC at the time of the find that the grave owner must have been “very wealthy and have had a lot of social status to be honoured with not just a sarcophagus, but one that was built into the walls of a mausoleum”.
The sarcophagus is only the third to be discovered in London – one was discovered at St Martin-in-the-Fields near Trafalgar Square in 2006 and another in Spitalfields in 1999.
Roman Dead is running at the Museum of London Docklands until 28th October. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands.
PICTURE: Top – The sarcophagus being prepared for display; Side – The sarcophagus as it was found (© Southwark Council).
PICTURE: Tom Coe/Unsplash
It was 90 years ago this month – 6th and 7th January, 1928 – that the River Thames flooded disastrously in what was the last major flood in central London.
Fourteen people are reported to have died and some 4,000 made homeless when the river burst its banks and spilled over the top of the Thames Embankment. Part of the Chelsea Embankment collapsed.
The flood – which was blamed on a range of factors including a sudden thaw upstream, heavy rain, a tidal surge and the impact of dredging – peaked at about 1.30am on 7th January at a height of 18 foot, three inches (5.56 metres) above ordnance datum.
The city saw extensive flooding on the City of London itself as well as in Southwark and as far upriver as Putney and Hammersmith and downriver in Greenwich and Woolwich as well as beyond.
Most of the deaths occurred when the embankment gave way near Lambeth Bridge and a wall of water swept through the slums on the Westminster side of the bridge with 10 people losing their lives.
Among the buildings flooded were the Tate Gallery at Millbank – where many works including some by JMW Turner were damaged, parts of the Houses of Parliament including Westminster Hall and the House of Commons, numerous Underground stations and Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels. The moat of the Tower of London, dry for 80 years, was filled.
While the flood waters receded by the end of the day, the damage took years to repair with many buildings in Millbank, the worst affected area, demolished. Embankments were raised in the wake of the flooding but it wasn’t until after the North Sea flood of 1953 that authorities took action to build the Thames Barrier (it was eventually completed in 1982).
Above – A marker recording the height of the flood outside Trinity Hospital in Greenwich (the plaque below right records the details).
• The life of gladiators in Roman Londinium and that of those who watched them are explored in a new exhibition opening in the remains of the city’s 7000 seat amphitheatre under the Guildhall Art Gallery. Featured as part of the display will be a Roman skull uncovered during excavations in the Walbrook Stream which, dated to around 150 AD, shows evidence of substantial head trauma at the time of death and is the closest archaeologists have come to identifying a potential gladiator in Londinium. Trauma, which is free to enter, opens tomorrow and runs until 29th October. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/guildhallartgallery.
• A landmark exhibition examining what it was like to be a black artist in the US during the civil rights movement and the purpose and audience of art during the emergence of ‘black power’ has opened at the Tate Modern. Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power spans the era from 1963 to 1983, a time when race and identity become major issues across many spheres of society including music, sports and literature thanks to the likes of Aretha Franklin, Muhammad Ali and Toni Morrison. The display features more than 150 works by more than 60 artists, many of which are on display in the UK for the first time. Running until 22nd October, it is accompanied by a programme of talks and events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Muhammad Ali by Andy Warhol/Tate Modern
• The future of the world’s major cities – including London – is the subject of a new major exhibition which has opened at the Museum of London. The City is Ours is split into three sections: ‘Urban Earth’, centred on a 12 minute infographic film with comparative data about megacities such as London, Sydney, Tokyo, New York and Sao Paolo; ‘Cities Under Pressure’, which provides an overview of the risks, challenges and demands facing global cities through digital and physical interactive displays; and, ‘Urban Futures’, which presents solutions to the challenges increasing urbanisation poses. In addition, the exhibition takes a look at 25 innovative projects which are now taking place across London to improve life for its inhabitants. The free exhibition, part of the year-long City Now City Future season, can be viewed until 2nd January. For more, check out www.museumoflondon.org.uk/thecityisours.
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This prison dates from the time of King Richard II (1377-99) and stood off Borough High Street (just to the north of the Church of St George the Martyr) in Southwark until the mid 18th century when it moved to a new premises.
The prison, originally based in two houses apparently known as the Crane and the Angel (Angel Place bears witness to the latter), was first used for those convicted at the travelling court of the King’s Bench.
The prison was burned several times during periods of unrest and was upgraded during the reign of King Henry VIII. Among those imprisoned here were the reformer and martyr John Bradford who was held here before being burned at the stake in 1555 during the reign of Queen Mary (when it would have been known as the Queen’s Bench).
By the 1600s, it had become a debtors’ prison and in the mid-17th century – during the Commonwealth it was known as the ‘Upper Bench’ – it reportedly held around 400 inmates who carried a collective debt of £900,000.
As with other prisons, the comfort of prisoners depended very much on their financial circumstances – those with money were able to live quite well. Those imprisoned here during this period included the dramatist Thomas Dekker and the King of Corsica, imprisoned in 1752 for debt (he died only four years later).
A Parliamentary inquiry in the 1750s revealed a host of problems with the prison including overcrowding, the practice of extortion by prison officers, promiscuity and drunkenness among prisoners and other irregularities, all of which led, in 1758, to the prison being closed (and later demolished) and moving to a new premises in St George’s Fields, Southwark (we’ll deal more with that facility in an upcoming post).
PICTURE: St George the Martyr on Borough High Street near where the first King’s Bench stood.
A towering figure of the scientific world, Faraday made significant contributions to understanding the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry and was a key figure at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in the 19th century.
Faraday was born in Newington Butts in Surrey (now in south London, part of the Borough of Southwark) on 22nd September, 1791, and, coming from a poorer family, received only a basic education before, at the age of 14, he started an apprenticeship as a bookbinder.
The job proved, however, to be something of a godsend, for Faraday was able to read a wide range of books and educate himself – it was during this time that he began what was a lifelong fascination with science.
In 1812 at the end of his apprenticeship, he attended a series of lectures at the Royal Institution by the chemist Sir Humphry Davy. Subsequently asking Sir Humphry for a job, he eventually was granted one the following year – in 1813 – when Sir Humphry appointed him to the post of chemical assistant in the laboratory at the RA (the job came with accommodation).
Faraday’s ‘apprenticeship’ under Davy – which included an 18 month long tour of Europe in his company – was critical to his future success and from 1820 onward – having now settled at the RA, he made numerous contributions to the field of chemistry – including discovering benzene, inventing the earliest form of Bunsen burner and popularising terms like ‘cathode’ and ‘ion’.
But it was in physics that he made his biggest impact, making discoveries that would, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “revolutionise” our understanding of the field.
Faraday, who married Sarah Barnard, the daughter of a silversmith, in 1821 and was thereafter an active member of the Sandemanian Church to which she belonged, published his ground-breaking first work on electromagnetism in 1821 (it concerned electromagnetic rotation, the principle behind the electric motor). His discovery of electromagnetic induction (the principle behind the electric transformer and generator) was made in 1831 and he is credited with having constructed the first electric motor and the first ‘dynamo’ or electric generator.
Faraday, who would continue his work on ideas concerning electricity over the next decade, was awarded numerous scientific appointments during his life including having been made a member of the Royal Society in 1924, the first Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution, from 1833 until his death, scientific advisor to lighthouse authority for England and Wales – Trinity House, a post he held between 1836 and 1865, and Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, a post her held between 1830 and 1851.
He also, in 1825, founded the Royal Institution’s famous “Friday Evening Discourses” and the “Christmas Lectures”, both of which continue to this day. Over the ensuring years, he himself gave many lectures, firmly establishing himself as the outstanding scientific lecturer of the day.
Faraday’s health deteriorated in the early 1840s and his research output lessened although by 1845 he was able to return to active research and continued working until the mid 1850s when his mind began to fail. He died on 25th August, 1867, at Hampton Court where he had been granted, thanks to Prince Albert, grace and favour lodgings by Queen Victoria (she’d also apparently offered him a knighthood which he’d rejected). He was buried in Highgate Cemetery.
Faraday is commemorated with numerous memorials around London including a bronze statue at Savoy Place outside the Institution of Engineering and Technology, a Blue Plaque on the Marylebone property where he was an apprentice bookbinder (48 Blandford Street), and a rather unusual box-shaped metallic brutalist memorial at Elephant and Castle. And, of course, there’s a famous marble statue of Faraday by John Henry Foley inside the RI (as might be expected, the RI, home of The Faraday Museum, have a host of information about Faraday including a ‘Faraday Walk’ through London’s streets).