10 (more) curious London memorials…10. Memorial to 16th century navigators…


In the final of our series looking at London memorial, we head out to Shadwell in the city’s east where on the bank of the Thames, we find a memorial tablet dedicated to a group of 16th century navigators who set sail from near this point.

Located in Edward VII Memorial Park, the tablet can be found – rather oddly – on the landward side of the Wapping cupola, built to disguise a ventilation shaft and spiral staircase for the Rotherhithe road tunnel which opened in 1908 (the road is the A101). The cupola has a twin on the other side of the river in Rotherhithe.

Erected in 1922, the memorial specifically names arctic explorers Sir Hugh Willoughby, Stephen Borough, William Borough, and Sir Martin Frobisher but then goes on to state that it is also dedicated to the “other navigators who, in the latter half of the sixteenth century, set sail from this reach of the River Thames near Ratcliff Cross to explore the Northern Seas.”

Sir Hugh and his crew died while on an expedition in 1553 after becoming separated from the other ships on the expedition (Stephen Borough, master of one of the other ships, survived that expedition) while Sir Martin Frobisher made several unsuccessful attempts to find the North West passage in the late 1500s.

Ratcliffe Cross was a point on the northern bank of the river located just to the east of the park at the top of Ratcliffe Stairs and was an important navigation point for Thames watermen.