London River Thames crossings, bridges and tunnels through time

A recent post about Havering riverside touched on the Three Crowns at Rainham marsh, and the fact there was a ferry across the River Thames a long time ago. As I was aware that the RSPB also had a site on the Rainham marsh, near to Wennington, and close to Aveley; I felt a first trip here would be of interest. I was also interested to see if I could find the Three Crowns.

The RSPB site is spectacular, and very well worth a visit. It has a huge visitor centre and many hives for viewing the wildlife. I was fortunate to see a kingfisher feeding nearby, a kestrel looking for prey and a marsh frog that sounded like a duck! I was very impressed with my visit. I was also interested in the trains which seemed to go past, and then disappeared from view after crossing underneath the Dartford crossing (the M25). It turns out that these trains, well some of them, are the Eurostar from Waterloo, which travels via Stratford international, through Dagenham, the marshes, under the M25 and then via a three kilometre Thames tunnel under the River Thames, travels down into Kent and via Ebbsfleet, Ashford International and the Channel Tunnel to France and Belguim.

I now turn my sites onto the actual crossings of the River Thames through history; and in particular the London bridge which for a long period of time, until at least 1750 was the only land crossing of the River Thames. It has been rebuilt many times in its history, the modern bridge being opened about 1973, as the older bridge was sold off to the Americans in 1968, and now lives in Arizona. This bridge was built between 1824 and 1831 and considerable design was necessitated to avoid steep inclines on the northern side of the bridge.

LondonBridge1827
London bridge a design in 1827 showing difficulties with steep ascents

The Mirror of Literature, amusement and instruction –  May 1827 :

“In a very early part of our work, it will be remembered, we gave a design of the New London Bridge, and having subsequently collected much information in relation to this important undertaking, we have still another grand point left, on which are founded the subsequent remarks. It has been proved, that on the completion of the New Bridge, it will be impossible to effect an ascent for a heavily laden vehicle, unless a level street be formed, as represented in the above engraving. Mr. Peter Jeffery, who has projected the important alteration, has favoured us with the following observations, and first very minutely describes the illustration we give of the new street. This view represents a continuation of the new bridge, crossing Upper Thames street by an archway. An approach to Fish street hill is also shown by a curved road leading from the north land arch of the new bridge, and passing by the front of Saint Magnus church. Owing to its curvature, this road has a longer and easier descent than can be obtained by means of a road made in a straight line from the new bridge to Fish street hill. In the act of parliament for building the new bridge, a power is given to purchase the following houses, viz. Nos. 121 to 128, in Upper Thames street, Nos. 1 and 2, on the south side of Lower Thames street, also Fresh wharf, Nos. 119 to 127, on the north side of Lower Thames street, Nos. 23 to 28, on the west side, and Nos 30 to 33, on the east side, of Fish street hill.

Such are purchases which have been deemed necessary for raising the foot of Fish street hill four feet, that the ascent to the bridge may be rendered easier; yet it rests to be objected after all, that this ascent will be as much as twenty one feet in a length of two hundred and thirty; for the centre of the new bridge is about twenty seven feet above the level of Thames street, whilst the land arch of that bridge is about twenty five feet above such level; consequently, after having raised the foot of Fish street hill four feet, according to the plan in progress, the ascent to the land arch of the new bridge will become twenty one feet.

And if all the valuable houses before mentioned should be removed, the steepness would still be such that wagon* heavily laden could scarcely be able to ascend the bridge; wherefore it may prove requisite to purchase additional houses as well in Fish street hill, as in Upper and Lower Thames streets; in other words, it must be recollected that Fish street hill cannot be farther raised without Upper and Lower Thames streets being similarly raised towards the foot of that hill. Moreover it may be doubted if the intended approach to the new bridge can be made commodious in this way, or indeed in any other which does not include land stretching north, rather than cast and west.

The proposition therefore becomes, that none of the houses on Fish street hill and in Upper and Lower Thames streets ought to be removed, excepting those of Messrs. Jones and Co. in Upper Thames street, immediately facing the new bridge; for the money required to buy the property from Upper Thames street to Cannon street will not be more than the cost of purchasing and clearing away the houses already enumerated in Upper and Lower Thames streets and Fish street hill; which is to say, that the proposed level street can generally traverse retired thoroughfares, in which is much vacant ground, and where the present buildings are of inferior value. Pursuing the line from the new bridge to Cannon street, near Miles’s lane, by one from Cannon street to Cornhill, the proposed level street will pass through the present post office, which is crown property, and by giving a double frontage to such part of that office as is not wanted for carrying the proposed level street into effect, the crown may neither gain nor lose, that is, pecuniarily. It will also be proper to purchase and remove two or three houses at the north east corner of Great East cheap, that wagons, as well as heavy carriages of any description, coming from Gracechurch street and going to the Borough, may, in order to avoid the descent of Fish street hill and ascent of the new bridge, turn towards Cannon street, and proceed on the proposed level street.

Let it be observed here, that formerly Saint Magnus church and church yard were detached, whereas now they become attached. This communication can be accomplished by making an embankment of the river from the foot of the new bridge to Fresh wharf. The expense of which will be but trifling, and the object gained be of great importance.

And if a boat stairs should be made, not immediately at the east side of the new bridge, which place would become objectionable from being a great thoroughfare, but at the west end of Saint Magnus church yard, which would be more convenient, and might serve as a landing place for passengers, and wharf for steamboats. Luggage could be housed in the vaults fronting the Thames, conveyed under shelter to Thames street, and forwarded to order, and not incommode the passing above.

A boat stairs at the west side of the new bridge must be peculiarly objectionable to the Fishmongers’ Company, whose liverymen may find that fish is not the only article that comes from Billingsgate. Or shall not the Fishmongers’ Company, upon rebuilding their hall, prefix a handsome edifice of modern architecture, as well as raised on arches, to afford a finer prospect, as having a spacious terrace adorning the new bridge, and inviting the public to enjoy a healthful promenade. New Fishmongers’ Hall, besides, may have a side entrance on a level with the new bridge.

Thus does the proposed level street appear essential, whilst other considerations seem to recommend it for adoption. It must suffice to mention also the increasing population of Surrey and Kent, the actual want of a direct line of communication with the Mansion House, Bank of England, Royal Exchange, Stock Exchange, and Lloyd’s Coffee House.”

Apparently, the second bridge was the Westminster bridge which was opened in November, 1750 although possibly existed by 1740; and much to the annoyance of the watermen who earned their revenue from taking passengers across the river. It is not until you view an early map of 1746 London map that it is apparent the distances between these two bridges!

Pub history in London circa WW2

I run a pub history site, I think that is apparent. In google, I get three of the top spots for pub history, i.e. #1, #2 and #5; well sometimes I do. The sites are very boring to most people, as they just list people who were running a pub, or off licence, or similar. It is actually quite a niche market for those who are researching a specific address or person; and of little interest to the younger generation.

For the older generation, and those who are overseas who are interested in the history of London, I think it is a very useful site. All three of them!

Who cares that the White Hart was later called Lloyds No 1 and other stuff?    And then it was split into Italian restaurants, ice cream bars etc, and a pub too! Why should anyone care? The site is not a current list of pubs for the younger generation, and I doubt will never be. Most modern pubs have been renamed in the past fifteen years, and I have no way of keeping up with this detail.

Going back to the pubs which were open during 1939 to 1945, i.e. the war years; there were many which suffered catastrophic damage throughout the blitz of London and England generally. Some of these public houses, and even entire streets, were razed to the ground; others saw lives lost due to bomb damage, or occupants died in active service etc.

There were a number of pubs which did not make it through world war two; and a host of other properties. How does a pub history site which tends to run out of records about 1944 fulfill the task of adding a meaningful history of London in any sense. Well, I think it does, and in my own small way I record these details hoping it to be of intrinsic use to historians.

Where next?

Well, with this tremendous resource at my finger tips, and the random street directory listings on the sites, and my love of the history of London; this London History blog will now begin to build a vast resource of descriptive pages as how best to research the history of London, through pubs, streets and their respective names through the ages, etc etc.

 

River Fleet – some early ramblings

I do love a river. This river is no more, well it is underground somewhere, and I am sure others can tell you much more about its modern day rumblings. I am also very fond of a good map, particularly this one in 1746 at locatinglondon.org early map of 1746 ; and lastly of google books (try the advanced search with full view) for River Fleet; and we get these little goodies:

Printed in 1871 : The Fleet Ditch, or rather river—rendered classical by the verse of Ben Jonson, Swift, Pope, and Gay—was anciently a broad and limpid stream, which had its rise in the high grounds of Hampstead, and was further fed by the waters of certain wells, called Clerken-well, Skinners-well, Fags-well, Tode-well, Loders-well, and Rad-well; “all which said wells,” says Stow, “having the fall of their overflowing in the aforesaid river, much increased the stream.” It was from this circumstance that it anciently obtained the name of the ” River of Wells.” It was crossed by no fewer than four stone bridges in its course, by way of Kentish Town and Camden Town, to the Thames; one of these bridges standing at the foot of Holborn Hill, then called Holborn Bridge, at which point the River Fleet united itself with the waters of the Old Bourne, or stream, from which Holborn derives its name. Anciently, the tide flowed up the Fleet river as far as Holborn Bridge, the present Bridge Street being the channel of the stream. According to Stow, such, in the reign of Edward the Second, was the depth and breadth of this now filthy ditch, “that ten or twelve ships navies at once, with merchandizes, were wont to come to the aforesaid bridge of Fleet.” The other bridges of the Fleet were Fleet Bridge, Bridewell Bridge, and Fleet Lane Bridge.

In 1606 we find no less a sum than twenty-eight thousand pounds expended for the purpose of scouring the Fleet river and keeping it in a navigable state. Pennant, speaking of the performance of this work, observes—” At the depth of fifteen feet were found several Roman utensils; and, a little deeper, a great quantity of Roman coins, in silver, copper, brass, and other metals, but none in gold. At Holborn Bridge were found two brazen Lares, about four inches long; one a Bacchus, the other a Ceres. It is a probable conjecture that these were thrown in by the affrighted Romans, at the approach of the enraged Boadicea, who soon took ample revenge on her insulting conquerors. Here were also found numbers of Saxon antiquities,—spurs, weapons, keys, seals, &c.; also medals, crosses, and crucifixes, which might likewise have been flung in on occasion of some alarm.” The Fleet river was again thoroughly cleansed in 1652 at a considerable expense. About sixteen years afterwards, in hopes of its proving a lucrative speculation, another large sum was expended in re-opening the navigation as far as Holborn. For this purpose the river was deepened, wharfs and quays were erected, and the banks were cased with stone and brick. The speculation, however, proved anything but a profitable one; and, accordingly, between the years 1734 and 1737, it was partially arched over, and in consequence of further improvements which took place in 1765, was almost entirely concealed from view.

One of the last glimpses to be caught of this nauseous stream we availed ourselves of many years ago, on the occasion of the destruction of some old houses in West Street, at the south end of Saffron Hill, which had been the hiding-place and stronghold of thieves, and an asylum for the most depraved of both sexes, from the reign of Queen Anne to our own time. Here, according to tradition, the notorious Jonathan Wild carried on his crafty and nefarious traffic of plunder and human blood. We remember well how the black and disgusting looking stream flowed through a deep and narrow channel, encased on each side with brick, and overhung by miserable-looking dwelling-houses, the abode of poverty and crime. The stronghold of the thieves consisted of two separate habitations—one on each side of the ditch—ingeniously contrived with private means of communication and escape from one to the other. For instance, in the event of either being invaded by the myrmidons of the law, a plank might be readily thrown from one aperture to the other, and as readily withdrawn in the event of pursuit; or, in the last extremity, the culprit could plunge into the ditch, and pursue his course down the murky stream, till either some familiar outlet, or the habitation of some friendly companion in crime, afforded him the means of escape. The principal building, known in the reign of George the First as the Red Lion Tavern, was unquestionably of great antiquity. Its dark closets, its trap-doors, its sliding panels, and its secret recesses and hiding-places, rendered it no less secure for purposes of robbery and murder, than as a refuge for those who were under the ban of the law. In this house, about thirty years ago, a sailor was robbed, and afterwards thrown naked, through one of the apertures which we have described, into the Fleet ditch,—a crime for which two men and a woman were subsequently convicted and transported for fourteen years. About the same time, although the premises were surrounded by the police, a thief made his escape by means of its communications with the neighbouring houses, the inhabitants of which were almost universally either subsistent upon or friendlj’ to pillage and crime. At the demolition of these premises, there were found in the cellars, among other mysterious evidences of the dark deeds which had been perpetrated within their walls, numerous human bones, which, there can be little doubt, were those of persons who had met with an untimely end.

In ancient times, the great city wall, commencing at the Tower, after taking a circuit round London, terminated nearly at the foot of the present Blackfriars Bridge; running parallel with, and to the east of, the Fleet river. Here stood a strong fortress, the western Arx Palatina of the city, the remains of which were afterwards used in constructing the neighbouring palace of Bridewell; which stood on the west side of the Fleet river, and the walls of which were washed by its waters, appears to have been a formidable fortress in the reign of William the Conqueror, and was the residence of our sovereigns at THE PALACE OF BRIDEWELL.

And in 1845, in the Doings of London, we have :

Peregrine found himself, with his friend Mentor, once more in Fleet Market. “But stop awhile,” said Mentor to Peregrine, as in all probability, by the next time you come to London, this market-place will be annihilated; for, as it appears it is soon to be removed from its present site, in order to make way for a variety of projected improvements on the spot, it may be as well to give you a little of its history. It arose about the year 1736, in consequence of the wish of the city to erect a mansion-house or residence for the Lord Mayor; and who, conceiving Stock’s Market, near the entrance to Lombard Street, the most centrical situation for that purpose, obtained permission to arch over a part of the Fleet ditch, and transfer it thither. “In a preparatory petition of the city, presented Feb.26, 1733, to the House of Commons, by the sheriffs, several particulars are stated relative to the then nature of the site, which, connected with others known of it in remote times, are highly interesting. It sets forth, that, by act of Parliament, 22d Car. II., entitled an Additional Act for Rebuilding the City of London, &c. the channel of Bridewell Dock, from the Thames to Holborn Bridge, was directed to be sunk to a sufficient level to make it navigable, under certain limitations therein prescribed, which was done; but that the profits arising from such navigation had not answered the charge of making; that part of the said channel, from Fleet Bridge to Holborn Bridge, instead of being useful to trade, as was intended, was filled up with mud, and become a common nuisance, and that several persons had lost their lives by falling into it; that the expense of cleansing and repairing the same would be very great, and a larger annual charge would be required to keep it in repair, without answering the intent of the act; it therefore prayed that a bill might be brought in to repeal so much of that act as related to the said channel, and to empower the petitioners to fill up that part of it from Fleet-Bridge to Holborn-Bridge, and to convert the ground to such uses as they should think fit and convenient.

“‘The creek or channel alluded to had its entrance from the Thames, immediately below Bridewell, and reached as far as Holborn Bridge, at the foot of Holborn Hill, where it received into it the little river Fleet, Turnmill Brook, and another stream called Oldbourne, which gave name to that vast street. The tide flowed as far as Holborn Bridge, and brought up barges of considerable burden. The Fleet river flowed in a valley, which may still be traced from this spot to Battle Bridge, near the Small-Pox Hospital, and though it might once have been celebrated for its transparent waters (and “possibly some of our very, very early ladies,” as a certain writer observes, “might have honoured it by smoothing and adorning their shining tresses from its surface),” it had several centuries back become occasionally so filthy as to be almost intolerable. So long since as 1290, we learn from the Parliament Rolls, that the White Friars, whose convent lay on its west side, complained of the putrid exhalations arising from Fleet River, which were so powerful as to overcome all the frankincense burnt at their altar during divine service, and even occasioned the death of many of the brethren. They begged that the stench might be immediately removed, lest they should all perish. The Black Friars on the opposite side, and the Bishop of Salisbury, who then lived in Salisbury Court, united in the same complaint.

“‘But little redress, however, appears at this time to have been obtained, for the great Henry Earl of Lincoln, who had his mansion somewhere near Shoe Lane, strongly reprobated the existence of this nuisance, in a Parliament held at Carlisle in 1307, in which he was joined by the city of London, who represented, by petition, that the course of the water which ran at London under the bridge of Holborn, and the bridge of the Fleet into the Thames, was wont to be so large and broad, and deep, that ten or twelve ships used to come up to the said Fleet Bridge with merchandize, &c., some of which ships went under the said Bridge unto Holborn Bridge; but that the course was then obstructed by the filth of tanners, and other stoppages made in the said water; but chiefly by the raising of a quay, and by diverting of the water, which they of the New Temple had made for their mills without Baynard’s Castle, and praying for an inquest as to the same. And this was further explained by the commission itself for such inquiry; which states it to have been asserted, that the course of the water of Fleet, running down to the Thames, as well by dung and filth, as by the exhalation of a certain quay by the master, &c. of the New Temple, for their mills upon the Thames, near Castle Baynard, newly made, was so stopped up, that boats with corn, wine, faggots, and other necessaries, could not pass up as thentofore.

These representations occasioned the removal of the nuisances complained of, and we hear little of the Fleet River until the year 1606, when nearly £28,000 was expended in cleansing it. On this occasion, numerous Roman vessels, coins, and other antiques, were discovered, besides remains of the Saxons, in spurs, weapons, keys, seals, &c.; also, medals, crosses, and crucifixes, most of them supposed to have been flung in at different times of alarm. “‘It changed, after this period, its nobler name of Fleet River for Bridewell Ditch, and Fleet Ditch, which designations were applied respectively to those parts of the stream which ran next Bridewell and the Fleet Prison, near each of which was a wooden bridge for foot passengers. And in this condition it continued until the small tenements, sheds, and laystalls, on the banks of it, were burnt down in the fire of London. A commission and inuiry to make it navigable to Holborn or Clerkenwell were moved for two years after this calamity by the celebrated William Prynne, in consequence of which, in the act for rebuilding London, just mentioned, it was enacted, “that the channel of the River Fleet to Holborn Bridge should be sunk to a sufficient level to make it navigable;” and it was accordingly finished and re-opened in 1673. “‘By the directions of this act, a passage was to be left on each side the channel of not less than 100, no more than 120 feet wide. The stream itself was 2,100 feet long, and 40 feet in breadth; so that two lighters might meet, and pass each other without difficulty in any part of it; and the style of finishing it, with its roads, wharfs, bridges, &c. must have rendered, at first, the appearance of the whole extremely handsome. It was wharfed on both sides with stone and brick, laid with terras; had a strong campshot all along on both sides, above the brick wharfing, with land-ties in several places; and was guarded with rails of oak breast-high, above the campshot, to prevent danger in the night. The depth of water, at the head at Holborn Bridge, was five feet, at a five-o’clock tide, which is the slackest of all tides; but, at spring and other neap tides, there was much more water. It had wharfs on both sides its whole length, constructed in a uniform manner, with appropriate buildings, and four stone bridges; viz. Fleet Bridge, Holborn Bridge, a bridge facing Bridewell, and another, anciently called “Smalee Brigge,” opposite the end of Fleet Lane. The Fleet and Holborn Bridges were of stone, before the fire, but were afterwards enlarged and beautified with iron gratings, and carved work in stone; those opposite Bridewell and Fleet Lane are described as “two fair bridges standing upon two stone arches, over the river; having two steps to ascend and descend on either side, and half a pace over the arches, all of Purbeck and Portland stone.” “‘That it became subsequently much neglected, we learn from the city petition in 1733; and though great sums of money are said to have been, from time to time, expended on this Stygian Lake, the task of keeping it clean appears to have been as fruitless as that of Sysiphus, for we find Pope, near the period mentioned, inviting his heroes in the Dunciad to its filthy stream:

“Here strip, my children—here at once leap in;
And prove who best can dash through thick and thin.”

“By the act for converting the site into a market (6 Geo. II. c. 22.), i. fee simple of the ground and ditch is vested in the Lord Mayor, commonalty, and citizens of London, for ever; with a proviso that sufficient drains shall be made in or through the said channel or ditch, and that no houses or shed shall be erected therein exceeding fifteen feet in height. The ditch was arched over with a double arch, with a common sewer, from Holborn to Fleet Bridge, and the market finished, and proclaimed a free market, on the 37th of September, 1737, of which the following notice is given in the Gentleman’s Magazine for that month: “Friday, 30. The stalls, &c. in Stocks Market being pulled down, the Lord Mayor, &c. proclaimed Fleet Market a free market.” “‘From a contemporary publication, describing it as then erected, it seems to have since undergone but very little alteration. “In the middle a long building is covered in, containing two rows of shops, with a proper passage between, into which light is conveyed by windows along the roof. Over the centre is placed a neat turret, with a clock in it. From the south end of this markethouse, piazzas extend on each side of the middle walk to Fleet Bridge, for the convenience of fruiterers. At the north end are two rows of butchers’ shops; and from thence to Holborn Bridge, a spacious opening is left for gardeners and herb-stalls. The whole market is well paved.” “‘The north end has been of late years improved by a good pavement, and the erection of many convenient stalls, and the south by two handsome shops; but the centre part, with its pretty little spire, remains in its original state. This market is busy at all times, but particularly so in the fruit and vegetable seasons. Considerable quantities of earthenware are also sold within it, besides every kind of flesh and fish. The never-ceasing hammers of the undertakers, for which this spot was formerly noted, appeared at one time to have almost driven away the more quiet inhabitants, but there are now a variety of good shops carrying on other trades, at its sides. “‘The market ceases at Fleet Street; from whence Fleet ditch continued open till 1764, when the building of the new bridge at Blackfriars suggested the expediency of converting the remainder into an open street, and the archwork was continued (but with a single arch only) from Fleet-Bridge downward to the river, and Bridge Street and Chatham Place were built.

This improvement, exclusively of other reasons, seems to have been in a great measure a matter of necessity, from the accidents passengers were liable to: for on Thursday, Jan, 11, 1763, we find from the papers, that “a man was found in Fleet Ditch, standing upright, and frozen. He appears to have been a barber, from Bromley in Kent; had come to town to see his children, and had unfortunately mistaken his way in the night, had slipped into the ditch, and, being in liquor, could not disentangle himself.”

“‘The negotiation for the loan of £150,000 for the removal of Fleet Market from its present site, was closed on Wednesday, July 14, 1824. Alderman Sir Charles Flower took it. Bonds of £100 were issued, and the whole sum was taken by the baronet at 3% per cent. interest. “‘The new market is to occupy nearly the whole of Shoe Lane, on one side; it is then intended to build a new prison in St. George’s Fields, between the King’s Bench and Bethlehem Hospital, and take down the present Fleet Prison; to remove most of the houses; to open, on the north side of the foot of Holborn Bridge, a grand street to Islington, to be on a line with the Obelisk in Bridge Street, Blackfriars. This, when completed, will certainly be one of the greatest and most useful improvements in the city since the rebuilding of the houses after the great fire.

In 2018 :  And now you know!

Havering riverside

One of my first trips out, as soon as the weather improves, will be to the Havering riverside. This is near to Rainham, and alongside the River Thames. I am a big fan of rivers, but this is a bit different. It has quite an interesting history, and of most interest is the Three Crowns which was an old public house by the ferry. This map is from Careys survey around London in 1817, you can see Rainham Ferry between the words Rainham marsh.
RainhamFerry-CarysSurvey1817
That’s right, there was once a ferry, and a beach where East Londoners would come for day trips, a bit like Southend now. I am not absolutely sure when the pub ceased trading, but I have it recorded until at least 1937; and I am sure I have a modern picture, but this will have to wait until I visit fairly soon.

RainhamFerry-Ebay
Here is an earlier picture of the pub and the ferry:

There is also the RSPB site nearby on Rainham marshes. Not quite of interest to myself, but is in the vicinity.