The final in our series on St Thomas Becket’s London is not about a static site but a pathway, one that people have been walking since the Middle Ages as pilgrims to the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury.
Famous today through its association with Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the Pilgrim’s Way actually refers to not one path but a series of routes taken by pilgrims as they made their way from London to Canterbury, linking up along the way with another route originating in Winchester.
The pilgrimage from London typically started at the now long lost St Thomas Becket Chapel in the middle of Old London Bridge and then headed south through Southwark where the Tabard Inn – where Chaucer has his pilgrims staying at the start of his journey – was located.
These days, there’s several routes – the official Pilgrim’s Way website has a couple of different routes through London. Both start at Southwark Cathedral and one then follows the line of A2 south before heading east to the Thames through Deptford where it joins up with a second route. This route, on leaving Southwark Cathedral, follows the south bank of the Thames east.
On becoming one route at Deptford, the Pilgrim’s Way then follows the Thames through Greenwich and Woolwich before turning southward to Dartford and eventually linking up with the Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester in the village of Otford in Kent (and then on to Canterbury).
Other versions of the pilgrimage route start at Westminster Abbey and take in St Paul’s Cathedral before crossing over the Thames and heading east to Gravesend and on to the Medway towns and eventually Canterbury.
Interestingly, some believe that King Henry II took the route from London to Canterbury when performing his very public act of atonement for his role in the saint’s death (although others believe he made the pilgrimage from Winchester).
Andy Sillett’s Misty Morning was the overall winner of this year’s Thames Lens competition. The Thames Festival Trust received more than 350 entries to the competition between July last year and January this year which was held under the theme of ‘Thames Unlocked’. As well as submitting new images, photographers were encouraged to consider past photos for submission given the impact of coronavirus related restrictions. Other notable images, which were selected by representatives of the Thames Festival Trust and Port of London Authority, included Fraser Gray’s LV 21 and Royal Terrace Pier Gravesend (the runner-up – pictured below), and Sarah Gannon’s highly commended image Costa del Rotherhithe (pictured far below). For more, see https://thamesfestivaltrust.org/read-watch-listen/thames-lens-2020/.
This storied Thames-side pub in Wapping has a history dating back centuries although much of the current premises dates from renovation works carried out in the late 1930s.
According to the pub’s website, the first of its predecessors was probably established in the Wars of the Roses in the 1460s and was known as The Hostel.
In the 1530s, it was known as The Red Cow, and it wasn’t until 1766 it became known as Ramsgate Old Town, finally becoming The Town of Ramsgate by 1811.
The name apparently relates to its location on Wapping Old Stairs. It was there that the fisherman of the seaside town of Ramsgate would apparently land their catch to avoid the taxes they’d have to pay if they did so at Billingsgate.
The now Grade II-listed pub is famous for its connections to the notorious “Hanging Judge” George Jeffreys who presided over the ‘Bloody Assizes’ and sent hundreds to their death following the unsuccessful attempt by James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of the late King Charles II, to overthrow King James II. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Jeffreys is said to have been captured outside the premises while attempting to escape, disguised as a sailor, on a collier bound for Hamburg. He subsequently died in the Tower of London.
There’s also said to be a close connection with piracy – at the base of Wapping Old Stairs is what some say was the site of Execution Dock where pirates were tied up to be drowned by the rising tide.
The front area of the pub – which features an etching on a mirror of Ramsgate Harbour – is the oldest part of the building. A depiction of Ramsgate Harbour can also be seen on the pub sign.
For more on the pub, see http://townoframsgate.pub.
Correction – We accidentally dropped an I off James II’s title. Our apology!
Crossing the Thames on a cold winter’s day. PICTURE: Lubo Minar/Unsplash
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.
Postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic this year, the Peter Pan Cup is a swimming event that usually takes place on Christmas Day in Hyde Park’s Serpentine.
The bracing 9am event, which is only open to members of the Serpentine Swimming Club, is a handicapped race across a 100 yard course.
While the tradition of a Christmas Day swimming event goes back to 1864, it became the ‘Peter Pan Cup’ in 1904 when JM Barrie, creator of Peter Pan and a member of the club, presented the first cup to the winner. It was the same year Peter Pan debuted on the London stage (and Barrie would continue to present the cup to the winner until 1932).
Club members have to complete a certain number of winter races to be eligible to swim on Christmas Day. These days the race, which usually starts and ends on the southern bank of the Serpentine, is usually quite a spectacle with hundreds turning out to cheer the swimmers on.
There’s several candidates for the title (and, of course, it depends on what exactly we mean). So here we go…
First up is the Clattern Bridge, which crosses the River Hogsmill (a small river which runs into the Thames), in Kingston upon Thames in the city’s south-west.
The earliest known reference to this three-arched bridge dates back to 1293 and the medieval name, ‘Clateryngbrugge’, is thought to refer to the sound horses’ hooves made as they clattered across.
While the bridge (pictured above and right), which had replaced an earlier wooden Saxon bridge, was altered in the 18th and 19th centuries, its Historic England Grade I listing notes that it remains a “good example of a medieval multi-span bridge which survives well” and includes some “impressive medieval masonry”.
Second is another Grade I-listed bridge that doesn’t even cross a river but rather a moat at Eltham Palace in the city’s south-east.
The stone north bridge, now the main entrance to the palace, is described by English Heritage as “London’s oldest working bridge” – although it’s not as old as the Clattern Bridge.
It was constructed in 1390 on the orders of King Richard II, replacing an earlier wooden bridge (it was apparently Geoffrey Chaucer – yes, that Geoffrey Chaucer – who supervised the building works as part of his job as Clerk of the Works to Eltham Palace).
The bridge features four arches, pointed cutwaters with chamfered tops on the outside and a red brick parapet on top.
Thirdly, is the Richmond Bridge which, although not in the same (medieval) league as the previous two, is the oldest bridge crossing the Thames.
The now Grade I-listed structure was built between 1774 and 1777 as a replacement for a ferry crossing and while it was slightly altered in 1939-40, it remains substantially original.
PICTURE: Top – Clattern Bridge (Maureen Barlin/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – Julian Walker (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Middle – The bridge at Eltham Palace (John K Thorne/Public domain); Bottom – Richmond Bridge (Marc Barrot/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
This historic pub in Farringdon bears a common enough name (and it’s not to be confused with the Hoop and Grapes located in Aldgate which we’ll look at in an upcoming post).
The hoop in the name refers to the metal bands binding together barrels staves and the grapes are obviously a reference to wine. But the ‘hoop’ could be a corruption of hops with the sign possibly once featuring a garland of hops and a bunch of grapes.
The pub, the current sign of which depicts grapes wrapped around a hoop (pictured below), is located in a four storey building first constructed for a vintner in about 1720 as a terraced house and converted to a pub more than a century later in the early 1830s.
Located on ground which one formed part of the St Bride’s Burial Ground, the brick vaults underneath are said to pre-date the rest of the building, having been built as warehouse vaults in the 17th century.
Its location on 80 Farringdon Street means it stood near the Fleet River (now covered) and close by to the former Fleet Prison (largely used as a debtor’s prison before its demolition in 1864).
As a result, it has been claimed that it was one of a number of pubs which hosted so-called ‘Fleet Marriages’, secret ceremonies performed by dodgy clergymen – for a fee – and without an official marriage license. But, as has been pointed out to us, the timing of the passing of the Marriage Act in 1753 outlawing such activities – and this only becoming a pub, according to its Historic England listing, much later – does make this seem unlikely (we’d welcome any further information on this claim).
The location also meant it was popular with printers who worked in nearby Fleet Street (in fact, it was apparently given a special licence to serve such customers at night or in the early morning).
The pub was scheduled for demolition in the early 1990s but saved with a Grade II-listing in 1991.
A rare survivor from an earlier time among the street’s more modern buildings, it is now part of the Shepherd Neame chain and it’s during renovations held after this purchase that burials were uncovered (the remains were moved into the British Museum). This has apparently led to rumours that the pub is haunted.
For more, see www.hoopandgrapes.co.uk.
Sorry for the confusion – We’ve corrected references to grapes in the second paragraph (and amended our comments on the current sign). And we’ve also clarified comments that the pub was used for Fleet Marriages given the timing discrepancy.
River inspired artwork created by young people from across London, the UK and around the world is one show on South Bank as part of the Totally Thames festival. The art for Rivers of the World was created during the coronavirus lockdown under the guidance of professional artists who provided briefs and films to help the young artists. The outdoor exhibition, on Riverside Walkway near the Tate Modern, is free to visit. For more on Totally Thames, London’s annual month-long celebration of its river, head to https://thamesfestivaltrust.org. PICTURES: Young artists with work created as part of ‘Rivers of the World’ (Courtesy of Totally Thames).
With the impact of the new rules being put in place to counter the coronavirus outbreak still being assessed, some scheduled events may be subject to change. As we would always advise anyway, please check with organisations before making any plans…
• The ‘Havering Hoard’ goes on display at the Museum of London Docklands on Friday, the first time it’s ever been on public display. Havering Hoard: A Bronze Age Mystery features all 453 objects found during an archaeological investigation in Havering in London’s east, in September, 2018. Dating from between c900 and c800 BC, the cache of items – the largest Bronze Age hoard ever found in London and the third largest find in the UK – includes fragments of swords and spears as well as tools including axeheads, sickles, gouges and awls, and terret rings, believed to prevent reins from tangling when horses were pulling a cart (these are the first examples found in England). There are also bracelet fragments, part of a double-sided razor, a ceramic loomweight and bronze pin decorated with amber which may have been used to secure a cloak. The display will explore questions surrounding who buried the hoard and why as well as why it was never recovered. Runs until 18th April. Admission charge applies. For more – including how to prebook tickets to the museum – see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/haveringhoard. PICTURE: Part of the hoard found in Havering (© Archaeological Solutions).
• Totally Thames – London’s annual celebration of its river – is once again underway with a program featuring art exhibitions and installations, tours and online performances. The events include an online performance of Whittington about the life of the City’s famous mayor, ‘Words on the Wind’ – an outdoor art installation in Kingston featuring a soundscape of recorded poets, and online tours of The Golden Hinde, a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s famous ship. Many events are free and the festival runs to the end of the month. For more, see https://thamesfestivaltrust.org.
Send all items for inclusion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A blue plaque on a building in Euston marks one of the former sites of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases – a short-lived episode in the life of a hospital which started life aboard a ship on the Thames.
The hospital, the idea for which originated with the Seamen’s Hospital Society and was funded by public subscription, was founded in 1821 aboard the former naval ship, the HMS Grampus for the relief of ill seamen with none less than King George IV himself as patron.
It was moved aboard the HMS Dreadnought in 1831 and then to the HMS Caledonia, renamed the Dreadnought, in 1857, before finally moving into a section of the Royal Greenwich Hospital in 1870 which in turn became known as the Dreadnought Hospital.
In 1919 the hospital moved to the Endsleigh Palace Hotel at the corner of Endsleigh Gardens and Gordon Street in Euston which was at the time being used as a hospital by the Red Cross. There it was joined by the School of Tropical Medicine which had been founded at the Albert Dock Seamen’s Hospital in 1899 (although this merged with the School of Hygiene in the 1920s and moved out).
It only remained there, however, until the start of World War II when it was temporarily relocated back at the Dreadnought Hospital where it remained for the war’s duration.
After the war – with the hotel damaged during then Blitz, the hospital relocated to 23 Devonshire Street in Marylebone before, in 1951 it became part of the National Health Service and moved into the then vacant St Pancras Hospital as part of the University College of London Hospital group.
It remained located there until 1998 when it moved to new purpose-built premises in Capper Street in Bloomsbury and then in 2004 made the move to its current location in the University College Hospital Tower in Euston Road. The hospital remains the only dedicated institution of its kind within the NHS.
The plaque on the Gordon Street property (the blue dot seen in the image above) was erected by the Seamen’s Hospital Society.
Located on the Albert Embankment outside St Thomas’ Hospital just to the south of Westminster Bridge, is a small plaque commemorating the victims of Human BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), sometimes referred to as the human form of ‘Mad Cow Disease’.
The memorial, which was erected by the now defunct Human BSE Foundation, reads: “In loving memory of the victims of Human BSE (vCJD). Always in our thoughts.” There’s also an image of a chrysanthemum, a flower sometimes placed on graves to honour the dead.
It was reported in March, 2010, that since 1990, 168 people have died from Human BSE, also known as vCJD (variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease).
There has in recent years been a push to relocate the plaque from its position on the Albert Embankment to a more prominent place.
PICTURE: CC BY-SA 4.0)(licensed under
Located at White Hart Dock on Albert Embankment in Lambeth is a plaque with a rather lengthy inscription commemorating residents who died in the cholera epidemic of 1848-49.
More than 1,500 inhabitants of this waterfront district died in the outbreak first reported in September, 1848. The River Thames was believed the cause – with people drinking the river water due to lack of alternatives – and the absence of sanitation in the area and close living conditions were seen as exacerbating factors.
The plaque records that the first victim was recorded as John Murphy, a 22-year-old unemployed labourer who lived at of 26 Lower Fore Street. He fell ill on 30 September, 1848, and died the following morning.
The inscription also states that at least 1,618 Lambeth waterfront residents perished in the outbreak and and were buried in unmarked graves in the burial ground in Lambeth High Street, now the Lambeth Recreation Ground. However, the plaque adds that “it is likely many victims were unrecorded and the death toll was much higher.”
The plaque also features the text of a letter to the editor written concerning the cholera outbreak which had waned by autumn 1849.
The plaque, the text of which was written by Amanda J Thomas – author of two books on the subject of cholera in the Victorian era, was erected on a public artwork commemorating the former White Hart Dock in 2010.
PICTURE: White Hart Dock with the plaque on the right-hand side (via Google Maps).
This Pimlico establishment consisted of a tavern and attached tea garden which were famous for their interactive wonders.
There were also floating models on an adjacent reservoir designed to give the impression of mermaids or great fish rising up out of the water. Other attractions in the garden included its many arbors, a grotto, bowling green and the chance to take part in skittles or duck hunting.
The red brick property, which was located at the end of Ebury Bridge (apparently also referred to as “Jenny’s Whim Bridge”), is said to have been named for an early proprietor or, among other alternative stories, after a famous pyrotechnician from the era of King George I.
While the gardens were popular with the middle classes during the 1700s, this popularity had waned by the turn of the 19th century and by 1804 only the tavern remained. It was demolished in 1865 to make way for an extension of Victoria Station.
PICTURE: Guy Bianco IV/Unsplash
PICTURE: Marcus Lenk/Unsplash
Woodlands, former churches and secluded city parks are all among the top 10 most tranquil places in London, according to the Tranquil City Index. According to a list published by the London Evening Standard, the top 10 puts Woodberry Wetlands in Stoke Newington (pictured above) at number one followed by the church ruins (now a park) of St Dunstan-in-the-East in the City of London (below), Cody Dock at Bow Creek and Beckenham Place Park. Postman’s Park in the City of London comes in at number five, followed by the Red Cross Garden in Southwark, Myatt’s Fields Park in Camberwell, Southmere Lake at Thamesmead, the Japanese Garden in Hammersmith Park (pictured) and, at number 10, the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal. The index is the work of Tranquil City, an organisation which explores “our relationship with tranquillity in the urban environment to promote health, wellbeing and balance”. PICTURE: Top – diamond geezer (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – James Stringer (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).
This rather long square in Pimlico was laid out in the mid-19th century and is, like the church parish in which it stands (St George Hanover Square), named after the patron saint of England.
Development of the area, owned by the Marquess of Westminster, was underway by 1835 and by the early 1840s, the formal square had been laid out. The construction of homes – and the lay-out of the square itself – was supervised by Thomas Cubitt and the first residents moved in the 1850s.
The north end of the square is home to the Church of St Saviour, designed by Thomas Cundy the Younger and constructed in 1864, which shields the remainder of the square from Lupus Street.
The square, now looked after by the City of Westminster, was apparently popular thanks to its being the only residential square open to the Thames (across Grosvenor Road. Until 1874, it had its own pier for watercraft to pull up to.
Famous residents in the square include Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, who died at number 26 in 1912, author Dorothy L Sayers, albeit briefly, and Nobel laureate and scientist Francis Crick, who lived at number 56 between 1945 and 1947.
The Thames is located opposite the square’s southern end, across Pimlico Gardens. The gardens feature a statue of MP William Huskisson, the first person to be run over and killed by a railway engine. The work of John Gibson, the Grade II-listed statue, which depicts Huskisson in Roman dress, is a copy of one which was originally placed in Huskisson’s mausoleum in St James’s Cemetery. It first stood in Liverpool Customs House but Gibson wasn’t satisfied with the location so it was moved to the office of Lloyds of London in the Royal Exchange and then again to its current location in 1915.
This year marks 125 years since the opening of Tower Bridge.
The bridge, which took eight years to build and was designed by City of London architect Sir Horace Jones in collaboration with engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry, was officially opened on 30th June, 1894, by the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra).
Others among the tens of thousands who turned out to mark the historic event were the Duke of York (later King George V), Lord Mayor of London Sir George Robert Tyler and members of the Bridge House Estates Committee.
A procession of carriages carrying members of the royal family had set out from Marlborough House that morning, stopping at Mansion House on its way to the bridge.
Once there, it drove back and forth across before official proceedings took place in which the Prince of Wales pulled a lever to set in motion the steam-driven machinery which raised the two enormous bascules and allowed a huge flotilla of craft of all shapes and sizes to pass under it.
The event was also marked with a gun salute fired from the Tower of London.
Plaques commemorating the opening can be found at either end of the bridge. The event was also captured in a famous painting by artist William Lionel Wyllie who had attended with his wife. The painting is now held at the Guildhall Art Gallery.
Tower Bridge has been running a series of special events to mark the anniversary this year. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk.
Tower Bridge today. PICTURE: Charles Postiaux/Unsplash