Lost London – Queenhithe…

September 7, 2012

Not, strictly speaking, lost, Queenhithe – a dock on the north bank of the Thames – is nonetheless these days merely a shadow of its former self.

There has been a dock here since Saxon times when it is recorded that King Alfred (he of ‘The Great’ fame), established a harbour here in 883. It was then known as Ethelred’s Hythe (the Ethelred being that of his brother-in-law and ‘hythe’ being a Saxon word for a trading shore where goods could be traded directly out of boats).

Queenhithe took its name from Queen Matilda, the wife of King Henry I, who was granted dues from goods being traded at the dock in the early 1100’s – a right which was later inherited by future English queens.

The dock reached the peak of its popularity in the 13th century when it became the principal site for the landing of grain and other food supplies to feed London but in the 15th century, the dock’s importance waned as other docks downstream, better suited to larger watercraft, took over much of its trade.

Remains of the wooden timbers which in medieval times lined the Thames waterfront have been found here. The inlet for Queenhithe’s harbour (pictured above) is one of few left on The Thames.

The name these days gives itself to Queenhithe street (which leads to the inlet) and the Queenhithe Ward, one of 25 wards in the City of London. There was also a former church known as St Michael Queenhithe – it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren and then demolished in the late 19th century.

Situated close to London’s riverfront, there is believed to have been a church on this site since at least 1100, although it is believed to have been previously dedicated jointly to the apostles St James and St John.

The name of Garlickhythe can be explained by its location – the word ‘hythe’ is a Saxon word for a landing place or jetty and it is believed garlic, used as a preservative and medication, was unloaded nearby and even possibly traded on Garlick Hill where the church stands.

The church was rebuilt in the 1300s and again after the Great Fire (it was another of Sir Christopher Wren’s designs and thanks to the abundance of natural light inside was known as ‘Wren’s Lantern’) but it largely escaped damaged in World War II (the projecting tower clock was among the casualities but while a 500 lb bomb buried itself in the south-east corner of the church, it failed to explode).

What bombs failed to do, however, a death watch beetle did and when one was discovered in the roof timbers in the 1950s, the church was closed until 1963 while it was restored. The exterior clock was restored in 1988 and repairs to the south transept were required after a crane counterweight smashed into the church in 1991.

Inside, the church boasts the second highest ceiling  – 40 foot – of any churches in London (St Paul’s being the highest) and much of the carved woodwork inside, including the font cover, altar table and churchwardens pews, is still original.

There is also original ironwork including a mayoral swordrest as well as a Stuart and Georgian coat-of-arms (the Stuart arms are among a number of features which come from St Michael Queenhithe – it was combined with this parish in the late 1800s; St Michael’s was pulled down in 1894 ).

The magnificent Bernhard Schmidt organ was installed in 1718. The church also houses two rare chalices dating from the time of Edward VI in the mid-16th century and some other rare plate as well as the oldest parish registers in England (these date from the 16th century with the first entry being that of the baptism of Edward Butler on 18th November, 1535).

St James Garlickhythe, which sits in the parish of St James Garlickhythe with St Michael Queenhithe and Holy Trinity-the-Less (the latter being another now demolished church), boasts connections to 12 livery companies including the Vintners (the church is located in Vintry Ward) and the Joiners. Among those buried there are six former mayors.

The church is currently appealing for funds for a new ring of eight bells to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II next year.

And we couldn’t mention the church without referring to Jimmy Garlick, the church’s mummy. An embalmed body of an older man, this was discovered in the church vaults in 1855 and, identity unknown, was subsequently put on display so that curious onlookers could, for a small fee, look upon him or apparently even touch him. Jimmy, whose identity remains unknown, is no longer on public view.

WHERE: Garlick Hill (just off Upper Thames Street) (nearest Tube station is Mansion House). WHEN: See website for service timesCOST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stjamesgarlickhythe.org.