London – South of the Thames : Chapter IX

This is a digitised copy of the book “London – South of the Thames” by Sir Walter Besant

Published in London by Adam & Charles Black (1912)

This is in its raw form. Sections will be improved manually on this blog as time goes on.


As no mention is made of Rotherhithe in Domesday Book it is probable that it was not a distinct manor, but only a hamlet to Bermondsey, and this portion of the Manor of Bermondsey was reserved by William Rufus, and remained Crown land till the time of Henry I.

The derivation of the name is generally given as Rethra from the Anglo-Saxon words Rethra, a sailor, and hythe, a haven, but there are other solutions equally good. The common way of speaking of this parish was formerly Redriff or Red Rose Haven, and variations of this appear in old documents, and even to-day it is so called by many of the residents and seamen.

Formerly a vast marsh, it was reclaimed only to be inundated again and again till the continuous embankment of the Thames at lenp:th shut out the tides and the land was drained by ditches and sluices. At the beginning of this century very little building, save a fringe round the river wall, had taken place, and the vast system of docks now occupying the whole eastern portion of the district was represented by one solitary basin—the Greenland Dock of to-day. Where the docks now are, cattle had the marshy fields to themselves, the good land was taken up by market gardeners, and the majority of the sparse population were sailors.

All this is changed, for the advent of the docks and consequent better roads and the railways have built up all the available space, and the poorer, crowded portions are being replaced by tall blocks of dwellings.

Leaving London Bridge to descend Duke Street, on the right is the approach to London Bridge Station, one of the busiest railway depots of the world, and originally the terminus of the London and Greenwich Railway. This was the first line opened in the neighbourhood of London and stands on a continuous series of brick arches, 878 in all. Commenced in 1834 and opened Tuesday, November 1, 1836, the extraordinary consumption of bricks materially affected the price of brickwork in and about London. This station is jointly used by the South-Eastern, commenced in 1836, and the Brighton Railway, which was finished in 1841, and until Cannon Street and Charing Cross Stations were built was the terminus. Additions and improvements are constantly being made, and another line has just been added to the Waterloo branch, which crosses the approach.

Facing the large yard of the station, filled with cabs and omnibuses, is a row of shops, mainly catering to travellers’ wants —several are restaurants— and others to suburban dwellers as markets for meat, fish, and perishable foods. Two wide approaches—on arches lead from the Borough High Street to the station yard, but are so far little built upon. The arches of the railway viaduct are, however, all rented as shops which do a good trade.

Duke Street is lined with shops on the north side and opposite are the railway arches, chiefly taken as storerooms by provision traders. At the foot of the slope is Tooley Street — a corruption of St. Olafs Street — a busy place of wharves and warehouses, and a head-quarters of the provision trade. A flight of iron stairs leads down from London Bridge to this street, avoiding the detour of Duke Street.

Provisions of all kinds, with Colonial produce, and quantities of potatoes are on every hand, and the busy strings of wagons everywhere are loaded with foodstuffs. The Church of St. Olave was named after St. Olaf, the fierce Christian king of Norway who was killed in battle at Stiklestad in 1030. It is impossible to say when the first church was built on this site, but it was confirmed to the Prior and Convent of Lewes by William, second Earl of Warren and Surrey, a son of their founder who died in 1138, and it is recorded that Peter, Bishop of Winchester, who governed that see in 1205, appropriated the church to the Prior and Convent of St. Pancras at Lewes for the purpose of hospitality. In 1736 the building, being ruinous, was rebuilt, and completed in 1740. In 1843 a great fire which consumed the adjoining Topping’s Wharf burnt the church, but it was speedily rebuilt. This fire also consumed Lock’s shot tower which adjoined to the west and on which was Watson’s Semaphore Telegraph to the Downs. Tooley’s Stairs and Water-gate were to the west of the church, the churchyard of which reaches to the water-side, but has lately been walled up and wooden platforms erected in front of it for landing goods from barges. In the vestry of St. Olave’s hangs a picture of the ” St. Olave,” a private ship of war, fitted out by subscription in 1850.

Where Chamberlain’s Wharf now stands was the house of the Abbots of St. Augustine’s at Canterbury. It was purchased by the Abbot and Convent in 12 15, and at the Dissolution became the property of Sir Anthony St. Leger, whose name, corrupted to Sellenger, was to be found till lately in Sellenger’s Wharf. To the south where Duke Street and the arches of the railway cover Carter Lane, stood the Inn or London residence of the Priors of Lewes “with gardens extending to the White Lyon,” and which, in Stow’s time, had become a common hostelry for travellers and had for a sign “The Walnut Tree.” In Carter Lane stood in 1798 a Baptist Chapel which was the forerunner of Spurgeon’s Tabernacle at Newington.

London Bridge Station with its successive enlargements blotted out a mass of small alleys and streets extending from the Borough to Crucifix Lane and from Tooley Street to Thomas’s Street, and also covered the Flemish burial-ground where so many of the alien refugees who lived near were buried, as well as the additional churchyard of St. Olave’s. The Grammar School of St. Olave’s (1571) was also demolished, and in Crown Court, Glean Alley, the workmen came upon extensiv^e groined brick vaults, the substructure of some important mansion, probably the residence of the Duke of Burgundy, or his ambassador, about the reign of Edward IV., as on or about this spot was a place called “The Burgundy,” or ” Petty Burgundy.” The station also covered the site of Earl Godwin’s house, which with the township fell to the Waneus, at the Conquest ; the sites of the White Lion Inn; Sir John Fastolf’s “Boar’s Head” ; the “Cheques”; ” The Ship,” the prison of the Liberty known as the Gatehouse ; and the gild-house of the Brothers and Sisters of Jesus of St. Olave’s.

The portion of Tooley Street was known as Short Southwark, and sixteenth-century maps show a cage and pillory in the street at “the Borgney.” Close to this stood the Bridge House with its extensive yard to the river—probably marking the site of the old wooden bridge over the Thames—a store-place for material used in building or repairing the bridge, now covered by Cotton’s Wharf. Here also were the garners for corn and ovens for baking bread for the poor mentioned in another chapter. East of this, and now covered by Hay’s Wharf and Dock, was the City Mansion of the Abbots of Battle in Sussex, the name of which is partly preserved by the Battle Bridge Stairs.

To the south, crossing Tooley Street, lay the spacious grounds of this house, the garden and the maze, the name of which is perpetuated in the streets on the site. A broad stream, flowing from the Manor of the Maze, the seat of Sir William Burcestre in 1407, was crossed by Battle Bridge, and just beyond at the end of Bermondsey Street stood a cross, in the centre of the road to the Abbey of Bermondsey. This is now a very busy district and Tooley Street is hned with great warehouses with docks and wharves to the river. Opposite, the railway arches are used as stores and offices, and the Provision Exchange is in one of them.

Inside the gateway of Cotton’s Wharf on the wall is a monument to the memory of Superintendent Braidwood, who lost his life near this spot during the great fire which destroyed this property in 1861. The streets under the railway are merely well-lighted tunnels leading to St. Thomas Street, the arches in them also being used for storage purposes. Of these the Maze has been renamed Weston Street.

Beyond the great Hay’s Dock storehouses is Hay’s Lane, always alive with wagons loading from the tall buildings. Counter Street is a dark narrow turning with many overhead bridges between the buildings ; it takes its name from the Surrey Compter that stood in Mill Lane. This lane, now known as Battle Bridge Lane, took its original name from the mills of the Abbot of Battle, afterwards owned by Sir John Fastolf, which stood on the creek that here entered the Thames and are frequently mentioned in old documents as ” ffostales mills at Battle Bridge.” Off Mill Lane to the east runs a network of small alleys now known as English Grounds, formerly Bull Court and Brewer’s Alley. The houses are small, old, and full of working people, but judging from the improvements now going on near here they will not exist much longer.

At the riverside is Battle Bridge Stairs, hemmed in by tall buildings, a couple of wherries plying from the foot of the stone causeway to the ships in the Pool.

Peacock Alley, a narrow passage between the high warehouses, leads into Morgan’s Lane. It was formerly Magdalen or Maudlin Lane, and with Magdalen Street and Place shows some trace of the connection of Magdalen College with Southwark, to which foundation Sir John Fastolf was a magnificent donor—at least in intent. The warehouses here are old, with old-fashioned cranes and appliances for handling goods, low doorways and ceilings, and are in some instances largely composed of wood. The Gun and Shot Wharf at the river-side is also old, with high peaked tiled roofs, and passing the quaint public-house ” The Brewers,” through a narrow passage leads to the fine new warehouses of Symon’s Wharf. With its modern
rows of cranes and iron galleries on each floor goods are rapidly handled. Formerly there was a right-of-way from the Bridge House Yard all along the water front, but the erection of new warehouses has gradually shut up the thoroughfare from Morgan’s Lane westwards. South of the bonded warehouses of Symon’s Wharf, Green Bank falls into Tooley Street. Until lately a miserable street of small tenements, it has recently been rebuilt on the east side with good buildings, chiefly warehouses, whilst the western side is vacant with a few of the walls of the small houses still standing. Tooley Street here changes from warehouses to shops, and at the corner of Bermondsey Street is the terminus of the Deptford and Rotherhithe Tramways.

Bermondsey Street leads under the arches of the railway to Crucifix Lane, so named from a tradition that Sir Thomas Pope had set up the Rood of Bermondsey on the Common in Horsleydown at the end of this lane, and there is no doubt that on the day of St. Matthias the Apostle in 1558, when the Bishop of Rochester preached at Paul’s Cross, it was taken down and destroyed. This Rood was said to have been brought from Rome in 599 by Augustine, and had the reputation of effecting marvellous cures. Between Tooley Street and the railway are many small and clean streets, full of working people. Strand Street, late College Street, is exceedingly narrow. Magdalen Street contains a large Board School. In Unicorn Passage is a Roman Catholic School, and at the north-east corner of Stoney Lane a Fire Brigade Station. This is a busy lane although much of the eastern side is vacant as far as Vine Street. One block containing 57,000 square feet is to let and others have notices on them. The west side of the lane is mainly wool warehouses and the road is full of wagons discharging. This turning was once a Roman road leading to the trajecttis or ferry over the river to the Tower, and here was the palatial mansion of Sir John Fastolf the distinguished soldier.

Vine Street, the next turning eastwards, is narrow and contains several alleys, built in 1823, full of small houses, badly kept and dirty, with very poor tenants.

The Surrey Shaft of the Tower Subway adjoins the Vine public-house. This way to the Middlesex Shore at Great Tower Hill has been abandoned since the building of the Tower Bridge, and the owners of the property have been compensated by the Corporation. The Subway was built in 1871 by a joint-stock company, and was a circular iron tube seven feet in diameter, and intended by the engineer, Peter Barlow, for a rope-drawn car, but in consequence of several accidents it was latterly used only by foot-passengers. The toll was one halfpenny, which was paid by a million passengers a year. The Board of Works of St. Olave’s district have an office and stone-yard here (1893). At the river-side are wharves and warehouses, and Pickle Herrins: Stairs. The narrow street which follows the water-side wharves is named Pickle Herring Street as far as the Tower Bridge, but how this name arose is not known. It is natural to suggest the herring trade, but in the register of St. Olave’s Parish, 1854, is recorded the death of Peter Van Durannte, alias ” Pickell Heringe, brewer,” from whom the place might have been named. This portion of the river-side is very narrow and full of old wharves with new ones gradually displacing them. The roadway is composed of granite blocks which are always greasy, and there are no footways, while the overhead bridges connecting the buildings reduce the light to a deep gloom.

Opposite the Tower of London was the ” Rosary,” a mansion belonging to the family of Dunlegh, who appear to have been of some consequence in Southwark at an early period. At Weaver’s Lane and Tooley Street is an open asphalted space of a quarter of an acre—once the burial-ground of St. Olave’s Church—used as a playground by the children of this crowded parish, and known as the Tooley Street Gardens. St. John’s School for Girls looks out on this space from the corner of Potter’s Fields. In the north-west corner is a parish mortuary, and beyond, down Weaver’s Lane, tower the fine blocks of the Vine Street buildings. Facing the main road at Potter’s Fields stands the Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth belonging to the united parishes of St. Olave and St. John. It is built of red brick in the Tudor style and contains a residence for the master, as well as the school- rooms. There is a clock tower over the main buildings, which date from 1894- 1895.

Besides the open playground, the western class-rooms are built on arches, thus giving the scholars a covered ground for bad weather. The original endowment of the school was ^8 per annum from a bequest of Henry Leake, a brewer of the parish of St. Olave in 1559, and from this beginning the School was established in 1561, and stood where London Bridge Station is now. After many removals, being again ousted by the railway from Bermondsey Street, it has finally settled down here. In 1581 Horsleydown was conveyed to the governors of the school,
and this common-land, which was then rented at ^6 per annum, had increased so in value as to produce in 1860 an annual income of over ^3000. Originally this tract was purchased by the parish in 1552 from the owner — one Hugh Egglefield — for jC20 and twelvepence, and the privilege of grazing two kine on the land for his life.

Potter’s Fields contain many wool warehouses and storehouses. On the west side large freehold property is for sale, which will result in great improvements in buildings. The old Horsleydown Fair Street formerly cut right across the Horsleydown and was a private road, a map dated 1544, in the possession of the Governors of St. Olave’s Schools, showing the gate at the Southwark end. Here were the parish archery butts, and the river-side portion was taken up by bleaching and washing grounds, gardens and orchards. On the river-bank, where Pickle Herring Street now is, was Bermondsey House, probably a house belonging to the Abbey of Bermondsey. Horsey or Horsleydown was originally an eyot or island formed by two streams which flowed into the Thames, the one at St. Saviour’s Dock—the port of Bermondsey—and the other at Battle Bridge. The district formerly belonged to Bermondsey Abbey and was the resort of French and Flemish refugees in Elizabeth’s time, who improved the gardening, tanning, and brewing trades. Eastwards to the school is the approach to the Tower Bridge, which covers the site of Freeman’s Lane and Hatley s Wharf. On both sides of the Bridge approach there is considerable vacant ground to be let for building, and on the western side foundations are being built for large premises.

East on Shad Thames the ground between the Bridge and the Anchor Brewhouse is vacant, and then comes Old Horsleydown Stairs, now built over by an extension of Courage’s Brewery, but still used by a few watermen. This establishment stands on the site of the house of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem and formerly belonged to St. John’s Hospital in Clerkenwell, and was afterwards known as the Manor House. At the river-side was the Mill of St. John’s, the name of which is still carried in Jerusalem Wharf and the dedication of the parish to St. John. Between this and Dockhead formerly stood a Hermitage, of which little is known, but it was probably belonging to the order of St. John. From here Shad Thames follows the water-side to Dockhead. Narrow, badly paved, and dirty, it is crossed overhead by many bridges from the wharves, and is full of flour, corn, and rice merchants and mills. Everything and everybody is covered with fine white powder. There are a few eating-houses and shops sandwiched in among the great warehouses. The curious name is said to have been derived from the quantity of shad formerly caught and brought ashore here, although a corruption of St. John-at-Thames is also suggested. Between this and Tooley Street —excepting Gainsford Street—is a poor neighbourhood, dirty and crowded, while many of the houses, such as those in New Square, are largely built of wood and in bad condition. At the north-east corner of the Tower Bridge approach and Tooley Street the vacant ground has just been covered by a large and imposing public-house in the latest flamboyant style.

From Horsleydown Lane to Dockhead the north side of the street is mainly shops, and opposite are the massive blocks of artisans’ dwellings known as Hanover Buildings which continue as far as Dockhead. They are the houses of the best class of working people and are well built.

South of Tooley Street to the west, Barnham Street—old Dog and Bear Yard—still contains a few wonderfully old houses, and in Parish Street is the workhouse of St. Olave’s Union. This occupies the site of the old Artillery Hall, erected in 1639 and superseded by the workhouse in 1725. The remains of the old Hall were pulled down about 1835. Here the train-bands of Southwark were drilled, and their old martial grounds are now partly covered by the church and churchyard of St. John. This was one of the fifty churches built under the provision of the Act of Queen Anne in 1736. The churchyard is laid out as a garden, contains a Parish Vaccination Station, and in the north-east corner stands the Clergy House of the parish.

Across Church Street stands a new Board School which covers the entire angle, and here the commencement of a fine broad street from the Tower Bridge south to the Bricklayers’ Arms in the Old Kent Road can be seen, which will still further relieve pressure on London Bridge and provide for the constantly increasing local traffic. As far as the railway to the
south is a poor locality, but a few of the small turnings contain fairly well-to-do people. Tanner Street leads up to the Dockhead, so named from being the head of St. Saviour’s, or Savory’s, Dock. It was so named from the Abbey of St. Saviour, Bermondsey, to which the stream was formerly navigable for barges and boats. The Convent Mill, which stood near Mill Lane, indicates the spot where the Abbey corn was ground. The dock to-day is filthy, although formerly noted for its fishing and swans. A deed of the Abbot of Bermondsey dated 1536 relates to a mill near St. Saviour’s Dock which was devised to John Curlew for grinding purposes.

There is still a Curlew Street near Shad Thames. The sluices of the mills on the Thames at this point were the cause of vast litigation between the millers and the tanners, who had been used to a free supply of water for their trades and who ultimately regained their ancient rights. Later the mill was transformed into a water machine which raised the Thames water and delivered it to the locality through two main pipes of a six-inch bore. To-day the dock is crowded with barges to the Dockhead, loading and unloading their cargoes at the wharves that line both sides. At the Tooley Street end are seen gangs of labourers and loafers who lounge at every corner all the way to Greenwich, using a language of their own
and obliging respectable people to walk on the road. East of the dock is Mill Street, with Mill Stairs at the foot, full of flour mills and with a poor neighbourhood opposite.

This was Jacob’s Island, and comprised London, Jacob, and Mill Streets, with part of George Row and the enclosed alleys. Formerly surrounded by the Mill Stream which ran close to St. Saviour’s Dock, and the Neckinger, now underground with many laterals, this island was the home of the worst classes and full of tumbledown wooden rookeries. The cholera epidemic finally cleared it in 1850 ; the houses were pulled down and the ditches filled up. Now, although the neighbourhood is still a very poor one, the houses are large and better than in many neighbouring streets. In Jacob Street there stood till lately an old mansion called the ” Bridge House,” bearing the date 1700, which was in the period when the island was still
built over. Mill Street was originally the way to Rotherhithe before Jamaica Road was cut through, and from it entrances to the island were by means of wooden bridges.

To the south of Hickman’s Folly, a dirty, narrow, and poor street, was Bermondsey Folly, and there is a tradition that a public garden existed here. Down through Jacob’s Island with its loafers and crowds of women waiting for sack material to be given out by the mill contractors to be worked up at home, George’s Row—old Nutkin’s corner—leads to Bermondsey Wall. This is a narrow, greasy, and badlypaved thoroughfare that follows the twisting of the river-bank and is lined with grain wharves and warehouses. This and Rotherhithe Wall get their names from being on the river-wall. There seems to be no mention of the original embankment, but in 1250 it is recorded that the lands “behind the beach” at Rederhith were begun to be again closed. In 1298, through neglect, the gaps had grown larger and the marshes in the neighbourhood were “drowned.” In 1309 the park and lands of the prior of Bermondsey, which adjoined the very bank of the river, were so badly damaged by inundation that the Convent was exempted from purveying hay and corn. Another flood took place in 1326, but from this time forward the banks were kept up better although the ” Breach ” is still named in 1376.

From Bermondsey Wall to Jamaica Road run several very straight streets between George’s Row and Farncombe Street. These are the sites of old rope walks which have gradually been built upon since the advent of machinery in the business. East of George’s Row and south to Abbey Street is also poor. Christ Church, consecrated in 1848, stands at the north-east corner of Abbey Street, and diagonally opposite is the old Neckinger House adjoining the drill hall, from the bow window of which, overlooking the garden, in 1804, Joanna Southcott sometimes
addressed her followers.

At the river end of Farncombe Street is a small square brick building, dated 1822, with a ventilating shaft, formerly the Duffield Sluice of the Kent and Surrey Sewers, but not used since the main drainage went to Crossness.

From here following the river south to Jamaica Road and the limits of the Docks the whole district is a mean and squalid one, in some places full of very poor, dirty, and criminal people, and again in others the people are hard-working, but owing to the conditions of their birth and surroundings the best are scarcely able to do more than exist. From Farncombe Street to Marychurch Street is a network of small streets and alleys full of miserable houses, many of them old and dilapidated—some dated 1734, as in Gillham’s Court—with crowds of loafers and women thronging the sidewalks and the gutters and streets full of dirty, neglected children.

Rotherhithe Wall, once a busy street, is now almost deserted by trade, most of the shops being boarded up and used as dwellings. There are two Board and two National Schools and a police station in this locality, and at Cherry Garden Pier a floating Fire Brigade station and large land depot adjoining. This pier, now utilised by steamboats, was formerly a noted landing-place for the Cherry Garden, a place of public resort in the days of the Stuarts. Pepys was here on June 15, 1664, and again coming to visit Jamaica House on April 14, 1667, landed here. The House stood at the foot of Cherry Garden Street and was also called the Cromwell House and was a well-known place of entertainment. Jamaica Road is very busy, and being a main thoroughfare from the Docks is constantly crowded with wagons of every description laden with timber. From Abbey Street the road is closely built up in places with
shops, and again with terraces of good houses not yet transformed. Great numbers of eating-houses are in this road, and here the teamsters draw up in long lines along the side of the street, which also carries a line of trams between Tooley Street and Deptford. This road was named in the days of the Commonwealth from the West Indian island, which had just come into English possession, and originally began at the north-west corner of St. James’s Road, where it formed a junction with the Spa Road, but at the commencement of this century communication was made with the Dockhead by Parker’s Row.

At Spa Road is St. James’s Church—consecrated in 1829—standing in a large yard now thrown open to the public as a garden. The parish engine stood in a house in the churchyard, now supplanted by a London County Council fire station, and stretching across the main road at the corner of St. James’s Road — formerly Blue Anchor Lane—was the gate known as Denday’s Turnpike, abolished in 1826. As late as 1852 all to the south as far as Peckham and Deptford was open fields and market gardens, with Rotherhithe Marsh and Fields to the east of Lower
Road, and a few houses, principally at the junctions of the main roads. The site of Southwark Park was Jamaica Level, and the broad Commercial Road, also called Prospect Row, Bermondsey Lower Road, and Paradise Road, contains Jamaica Chapel opposite the Keeton Road on the site of the old Jamaica Barn, built in the Restoration period. It was here that Janeway and Rosewell ministered for so long. The Barn was demolished and the pulpits seized on July 22, 1670, by Christopher Wren, who was then Surveyor-General to Charles II., but the place was at once rebuilt and further attempts made to suppress the meeting were not successful. South of Jamaica Road to Southwark Park Road the streets are of a much more respectable class.

The houses are better and the people superior to those nearer the river. Storks Road and Keeton Road with their cross streets are poor but clean. Drummond Road, a fine wide street, contains the vast biscuit factory of Peek, Frean & Co. which covers many acres at the southern end of the road and runs back to the railway arches. The office buildings with their towers and graceful architecture are a relief to the general monotony of the district. West of the railway the Galleywall is comparatively new and clean, with small houses each with a morsel of garden attached.

Beyond New Road all the ground is taken up by the railways. High embankments, broad bridges crossing the road at short intervals, carriage sheds and sidings cover the ground opposite South Bermondsey Station. Easy access to the City at cheap fares has built up this neighbourhood, and the greater proportion of the dwellers in the roads are employed in the City. From here to Southwark Park, with the exception of Raymond Road, which contains a poor class, the streets are good and filled with well-to-do people. New Road running to Deptford Lower Road has on both sides of it a mixed district. Many streets are clean and others are small and poverty-stricken.

Corbett’s Lane is dirty, full of a poor labouring class and badly kept. Renamed St. Helena Road, from the once famous tea gardens at the eastern end,
this was formerly Roger’s Lane and ran to the river. These gardens were established in 1770, and after many ups and downs, and much music and dancing, were closed in 1881 and the ground was built over. In the extensive grounds there was a large lake and shady promenades.

Southwark Park, covering an area of 63 acres, was laid out on the old market gardens, and opened in 1869. This very valuable open space stretches north to Union Road, and east between Southwark Park Road—the old Blue Anchor Road and Deptford Lower Road. There are several entrances, and at that from the Hawkstone Road stands the Lady Cower Mission House (1885). The Park is well laid out, with grounds for recreation, and has also a lake with fowl of all descriptions, aviaries, and a band-stand. It is a blessing to the children of the crowded river-side alleys. On the western side the small streets between the Park and the Park Road stand on the site of the old Mill Pond which emptied into the Thames at the foot of West Lane and which, with its sinuous creeks and laterals, made what was known as the Seven Islands. Some of the older houses are dated 1843, 1851, 1868, but most of the buildings are about fifteen years old. St. Crispin’s Church, facing this broad road, was consecrated in 1889, and stands on the site of the old Jamaica House Gardens. The tower of the church is unfinished and is without a spire. East of the Park are the tall buildings of St. Mary’s Workhouse and Infirmary, isolated on the pavilion principle, but joined by iron bridges. The original building, an old double house with tiled roofs and approached by a flight of stone steps, faces the Lower Road with a wing on each side added in 1812. One glance from these to the enormous new buildings tells at once of the growth of the Borough since 1800.

The latest returns for the district show that one person in every twenty-two is a pauper! Across the road is the unfinished Town Hall, a beautiful building of red brick with stone dressings, surmounted by a lofty clock tower. The balcony over the entrance is of stone, supported by massive carved, figures. Farther south is the Church of All Saints, consecrated in 1840, with a brick spire. The Vicarage adjoins the churchyard, which is extensive, has very few grave-stones. Adjoining is one of the main gates to the Surrey Commercial Docks, and facing this are the Parish Baths and Wash-houses, erected in 1880, with a station of the Fire Brigade immediately behind.

On account of the docks traffic Lower Road is very busy and is constantly full of timber-laden wagons. At the junction of Union Road there are many small shops and numerous eating houses, but lower down houses in terraces with gardens in front line the road, to be again displaced by shops at Deptford Station. Almost opposite the top of Hawkstone Road there formerly stood a suburban place of entertainment known as the China Hall, and it is not unlikely that this was the same place which, in the summer of 1777, was opened as a theatre, but was burnt down the following year. A pathway—or Halfpenny Hatch—led from Blue Anchor Road past this house and across the fields behind the old Greenland Dock to the river at the ” Dog and Duck.” North of China Hall is an old square house, “Lime Tree Cottage,” standing in a large open space by itself, with a notice advertising the ground for sale. On the other side of the road is the Rotherhithe Public Library.

Below Deptford Station the roads on the east side are clean, though the people are not well off Cope Street leads into Baltic Place, once the main road, and on the west side stood the “Seven houses” mentioned in connection with Canute’s ditch, which flowed past them. Plough Road, with a few shops at the western end and many of the houses marked 1868, leads past St. Barnabas’s Church and the Grammar Schools (1872) over the Plough Bridge of the Grand Surrey Canal and through London Street to the river at St. George’s Stairs and Deptford.

From the Plough Bridge can be seen the great works in progress for joining some of the basins of the Surrey Commercial Docks. These docks are the union of the Commercial Docks and Timber Ponds, the East Country Dock, and the Grand Surrey Canal Dock, an improvement carried out in 1865, so that the basins now cover practically the whole point of land from Lower Road to the river. The water area is at present 189 acres, and the land and wharfage area about 260 acres, making in all about 450 acres in this property. There are six miles of quayage in these docks, and they have four entrances from the river at different points extending over a length of nearly two miles. The present improvements (1897) consist of the excavation of a great new basin on the site of the Commercial basin to form a future junction between the Greenland and Canada Docks, forming a grand dock of 2350 feet in length and having an area of 21 acres. The chief trade of these docks is in timber, corn, hemp, flax and tallow, and they include immense timber-yards, huge granaries, and spacious warehouses. Originally the timber coming here was in sailing ships, but now the bulk of it arrives in steamers, which are yearly increasing in size, and to meet which the docks at the south-west corner of the property are being remodelled.

At the ” Plough ” corner a new main road is being built to the south of the present Plough Road on an easy gradient over the Canal, necessitated by the change in the Canal locks and docks. Towards the river-side London Road winds past huge granaries on the north side, alive with great flights of sparrows flying in and out of the open sides, with the railway yards opposite. This muddy, sloping roadway leads to the river at St. George’s Stairs. The Earl’s Sluice, the great sewer which drained the adjoining land, was formerly here.

A narrow passage leads across the mouth of the South Dock past the Dog and Duck Inn and Stairs, and large builders’ and shipwrights’ yards, to Greenland Dock. This was the original ” Wet Dock,” first called Howland Dock, and was the first excavated in England. Commenced in 1696, it was finished in 1700. In 1725 the South Sea Company leased it and undertook to revive the Greenland whale fishery, and the dock from this was called the Greenland Dock, but the undertaking failed. The outlet of Canute’s Trench may have been here, and the dock probably indicates the course of the channel through which the Thames was diverted at the building of London Bridge in 1173, the trench beginning “about Radrife and running west to Battersey.” Canute’s Trench is supposed to have followed the same line, and in digging this Greenland Dock piles and trundles of willows were unearthed which were said to have been used to retain the wall of the Canal. There is said to have been a ford across the Thames at this point, and that the Roman causeway discovered when digging the Canal across the marshes led directly from Camberwell to it. Farther on along the river- front past great warehouses the way leads into Derrick Street — formerly Russell Street —a busy little thoroughfare of old-fashioned houses. Most of the people here are poor, and obtain a precarious livelihood by working at the docks and wharves. At the corner of Swing Bridge Road — Rogues’ Lane —which runs between high, tarred, open fences to the ” Plough,” stands a trim little Scandinavian church, and to the east down a long lane past timber-yards and vacant plots is the Commercial Dock Pier—the old Greenland Stairs. Up the river is seen the landing-place and long covered way from the shore of the Metropolitan Asylums Board at South Wharf, and the steamers lying alongside are used to convey smallpox patients to the Hospital at Erith. Adjoining Greenland Stairs was the Condemned Hole, where ships were formerly broken up. Rotherhithe Street commences here and runs all around the point as far as Bermondsey Wall. This was formerly Trinity Street to Cow Lane, Queen Street and Lavender Street past Cuckold’s Point, then Jamaica Street, and from ” The King and Queen ” to the Globe Stairs it was Wright Street. Now it is one long street of one name. At the bend in the road is Trinity Church (1838), with a churchyard of three-quarters of an acre open for recreation purposes, with a National School adjoining. Now the way lies past wharves of all descriptions, some new and large, with others old and in bad repair, and facing these is a long line of small houses which back on to the dockyard. These contain poor people, and though some seem very clean the majority are not.

An alley on the river-side leads to Cuckold’s Point and Stairs, or Horn Stairs, which are directly opposite the Limehouse entrance to West India Docks. This Point is associated with the story of Horn Fair at Charlton, and in former times as a reminder of the fact a pair of horns was attached to a tall post on the river-bank here. They could be plainly seen from the stream, and were still there in 1840, but had disappeared before the advent of the wharves. Horwood’s Map (1799) shows very few buildings on the river-side—wharves were frequent, but were merely landing-places, leaving the river-bank open. Here and there through the houses are glimpses of the docks with ships, stacks of timber, and loaded waggons, and a sight is obtained of an immense unoccupied piece of land, the actual river-wall, a vast bank of solid earth high above the street level. Past the Pageant Stairs over the Lavender Lock of the docks many public rights-of-way, carefully guarded now and legibly marked, are noticed. Thanks to this care of the river rights, no more of the old landing-places can be closed as encroaching builders had previously done.

Horseferry Stairs —the old Shepherd and Dog Stairs—are busy, and the road gradually bends to the west past the Globe and King and Queen Stairs and past the mouths of dirty alleys alive with children and women, then rounding another sharp curve in the road the bridge over the lower entrance to the docks is crossed.

Before the Surrey Lock of the docks was built, Russell’s Mill stood near this spot, past which a large stream, drained from the present site of the docks, found its way into the Thames. The King’s Mill also stood close by.

Hanover Street, formerly Wintershall Street and now known as Nestor Street, was long claimed as the birthplace of Admiral Benbow, but he was really a native of Shrewsbury. Behind are works and gasometers of the South MetropoHtan Gas Company, with overhead railway bridge for conveying coals from the ships at their wharf. The houses are poor and badly kept, and the numerous alleys from the main road are below the street level and full of wretched houses. After passing the docks and the busy wharves it seems hardly possible that a century ago this place was famous as the possessor of one dock, three small docks for shipbuilding, a corn-mill worked by the Thames, a copperas works, and eleven stairs to the river. Of the eleven stairs those at West Lane and Russell’s Mill are no more. At Swan Lane, which is narrow and dirty, the old Rotherhithe shaft of the Thames Tunnel is seen, dirty and neglected, with railway bills on the main doors.

This tunnel, built by Brunei, which reaches the Middlesex shore at Wapping, was commenced in 1824, and after many mishaps and standing idle for some years was completed in 1841, and opened for foot-passengers on March 25, 1843. It cost about 454,000 and consists of a brick arched double roadway, and is 35 feet wide by 20 feet in height. Each archway and footpath has a clear width of about 14 feet. It was not adapted for vehicles, and finally was purchased by the East London Railway Company, who made the required improvements and formed a
railway junction between the north and south sides of the river. The shaft is 63 feet deep, and Rotherhithe Station adjoins the mouth of the Tunnel.

From the Tunnel a sharp bend in the road leads into the narrow Marychurch Street. St. Mary’s, Rotherhithe, was built in 1714-1715 and stands in a large monument-crowded churchyard, formerly open to the river-bank, but built in. The first church is said to have been built some 400 years before, and it appears that in the beginning of the seventeenth century the main fabric of the church was supported by chalk pillars of very large proportions, which, being much decayed, were replaced with timber columns. Gradually becoming ruinous, it was pulled down. In the vestry there was a portrait of Charles I. in royal robes, kneeling at a table and holding a crown of thorns. The spire of this church is a well-known landmark for navigators on the river. Among the monuments is one to Prince Lee Bo, a son of the chief of the Pelew Islands, who died here of smallpox in 1784. Across the road stands the Rectory House, and by it is the Free School, founded in 161 3, used as a charity school till 1742 and removed here in 1797. Over the door are two figures, a girl and a boy, dressed in the old costume of the institution. Next to this house is an additional churchyard purchased and laid out in 1820-182 1. On the left of the gate is the old watch-house, with windows heavily barred, in size about 12 feet deep, and to the right is the parish fire-engine house, almost 12 feet square and low in the roof, both of which were built in 1821. Behind the churchyard, which is laid out as a garden, is a new parish mortuary. In 1705 the tide came in and overflowed Rotherhithe, and flooding the church, lowered the floor and settled the pews. The parish was badly damaged by fire on the 1st of June 1765, when a conflagration, which started near the church, burnt 206 houses and did damage.

Following the curving street from the church the houses are old and well built and show signs of better days, but now this region is poor, and off the main street the alleys are squalid and dirty. A great deal of wood has been used in building and the streets are generally narrow. To the south is also poor with a big chemical factory at the dock limits. Princes Street, bearing a tablet stating that it was erected between 1721 and 1726, is a street of excellent houses, but like the others has fallen on evil days, though a portion still contains fairly well-to-do people. Union Road, once Paradise Row, meets Lower Road here at a right angle, and both are lined with prosperous small shops. Here again at the street corners are groups of hungry men who stand in knots discussing the prospects of employment and the hardship of their lot. The numerous beer-shops in these poor streets are all doing well, while the women and children are ragged, dirty, and often half-starved.

In Union Road, opposite a gate to the Park, is Christchurch, consecrated in 1839. One of the most distinguished of our veteran generals was buried in the church in 1875—Field- Marshal Sir William Gomm, Constable of the Tower.

From the church to West Lane was Mill-pond Row, and at the junction of Mill Lane and Paradise Street was the Mill-pond bridge over the stream, and a turnpike gate ; for this was the main road until the beginning of the nineteenth century. The neighbourhood of Christchurch is the most crowded portion of Rotherhithe.

In 1801 the parish contained 17,169 persons, or with Bermondsey a total of 27,465.

In 1891 the census of the parish, with an area of 754 acres, was 39,255, or including the parliamentary borough, 73,915. It is still growing, as larger houses supplant the present tenements.

Passing west to Dockhead, where the old houses are being demolished, Fair Street or Charles Street leads under the arches of the railway into St. Thomas’s Street. Here leather and hops are the staple trades, and great warehouses line the south side. Behind them are many small streets and yards full of poor people, and everywhere tall warehouses darken the narrow ways. At the eastern end of Maze Pond is St. Olave’s Girls’ School with a life-sized figure of a scholar in her regulation dress. Maze Pond Terrace with its queer little apartment houses and Ship and Shovel Inn, like some of the adjoining streets, is full of medical students.

Facing on St. Thomas’s Street, and with the new additions running down Great Maze Pond to Newcomen Street, is Guy’s Hospital. This great institution was founded by Thomas Guy, whose statue stands in the forecourt, a bookseller of London, born at Horsleydown in 1645. The present buildings were ready for use in 1725 and the founder lived to see them almost completed. Constant additions have been made to the accommodation of the hospital, and even now further building is in progress. Almost opposite, but removed from the station approaches, stood St. Thomas’s Hospital. This Hospital was founded by Peter de Rupibus in 1213 by joining the ” Almery ” of the Prior of Bermondsey with that of St. Mary Overies, on the land belonging to Amicius the ciistos of the latter. It was dedicated to St. Thomas the Martyr and was the parent of the present St. Thomas’s Hospital, which was removed to its present site at Lambeth about 1S65. This was also a sanctuary, and within its walls James Nicolson in 1539 produced a second edition of Miles Coverdale’s first edition of the Bible printed in English. It was in folio and ” newly oversene and corrected.” A row of good houses, used as offices, part of the old foundation, still stand, and at the west end is the old entrance to the Hospital, with double iron gates. Adjoining is St. Thomas’s Church—originally part of the Hospital, erected in 1702, like the present St. Paul’s Cathedral, mainly by a duty on coals. Plainly built of brick with a square tower, it is also devoid of ornament within.

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