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Posts Tagged ‘River Thames’

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of joining two fellow Members, Victor Keegan and Hannah Renier, on a mooch around the Thames foreshore with the good people from the Thames Discovery Programme (Sunny, Eliott, John, Roger). They are a volunteer archaeology group whose mission is to discover and record as much as possible of the river’s shoreline: it is in constant flux and requires essential and frequent monitoring.

Afterwards we stopped at the local caff for much needed hot coffee and I was introduced to David Coke, co-author of the award-winning book Vauxhall Gardens: A History. I remember seeing this magnificent tome at the Vauxhall Gardens exhibition at the Foundling Museum last year, so it was nice to make the connection. My eyes popped out on cartoony stalks as David produced over a dozen historical maps of the tightly focused stretch of the river we had just explored going back many centuries and then right up until quite recent Ordnance Survey. Fascinating stuff.  David’s web site on Vauxhall Gardens is here.

On our beach stroll itself, Vic Keegan has beaten me to it (of course he has: he’s a Journalist with a capital J) and written this up on his fine blog, London My London. So I’ll simply share some captioned pictures.

If you’re a London Historians Member, we’ll be organising an outing with the Thames Discovery Programme later this year, look out for it on the web site and in your monthly newsletter.

Vauxhall

Mooching about the foreshore with the Thames Discovery Programme.

Vauxhall

Hardy LH Members, Vic and Hannah, with Ed the Dog.

Vauxhall

Wooden moldings for a concrete structure, not yet identified or dated.

Vauxhall

One of several bronze age piles thought to have supported a jetty or possibly even a bridge. As featured in the unlamented (by me) Time Team.

DSC08458b

Upriver or down, it’s impossible to take a photo of lovely Vauxhall Bridge without an ugly tower stinking up the joint.

Vauxhall

Vauxhall Bridge, very pretty. Opened in 1906, it replaced the original bridge of 1816.

Vauxhall

One of eight statues representing arts, sciences and manufacturing which decorate the bridge. This one is Pottery. Sculptors Drury and Pomeroy also made Justice on the Old Bailey.

Vauxhall

Vauxhall Bridge showing structure from the old paddle steamer jetty from before any bridge existed.

Vauxhall

Where lesser know tributary the Effra meets the Thames. Prior to embankement it was a tad upstream from here.

Vauxhall

Downstream of the bridge, the Albert Embankment, by the mighty Bazalgette. Serpentine lamposts reflect those on the Middlesex bank opposite.

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Today I spent a pleasant hour or so loafing by the Thames with a pair of fine gentlemen, Mr Woolf and Mr Shepherd.

We were there to witness the start of this year’s Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race at London Bridge, the oldest continuous sporting event in the world. Five recently-qualified young watermen (there can be up to six) row as fast as they can to Chelsea. The winner is awarded a fine scarlet coat and a silver badge. The race dates from 1715 and originally celebrated the accession the Hanoverian dynasty. It was sponsored by the Irish theatre impressario Thomas Doggett, an ardent Whig. Doggett was keen on watermen, for they who would frequently carry him from central London to his home in Chelsea, what became almost the exact route of the race. Or vice-versa, of course.

Update 15/7/2014: Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race now has its own website.

dogett's coat and badge

In those days there was no way of traversing the river upstream of London Bridge until you reached Kingston Bridge, except by boat. London Bridge itself was a difficult enough crossing anyway, clogged up as it was by houses and shops. So watermen provided a vital service to Londoners – they were the black cab equivalent of their day, as garrulous and opinionated as today’s cabbies apparently are. There were around 2,500 of them in the early 18th Century.

While wandering the dusty far corridors of the web, I found a rather nice piece of verse celebrating the Thames. It’s by the 17 century waterman John Taylor, who called himself the Water Poet. It’s an extract from an enormous piece called In Praise of Hemp-Seed , published in 1630, but probably penned a little earlier. Taylor first compares the river favourably with any in the world, he then describes the bounty it bestows and finally laments how we neglectful Londoners pay it back with shit and ordure. One can only wonder what our 17C environmentalist would have made of it two hundred years later. Anyway, it goes like this.

The names of the most famous riuers in the world.

Maze, Rubicon, Elue, Volga, Ems, Scamander,
Loyre, Moldoue, Tyber, Albia, Seyne, Meander,
Hidaspes, Indus, Inachus, Tanaies,
(Our Thames true praise is farre beyond their praise)
Great Euphrates, Iordane, Nilus, Ganges, Poe,
Tagus and Tygris, Thames doth farre out-goe.
Danubia, Ister, Xanthus, Lisus, Rhrine,
Wey, Seuerne, Auon, Medway, Isis, Tine,
Dee, Ouze, Trent, Humber, Eske, Tweed, Annan, Tay,
Firth (that braue Demy-ocean) Clide, Dun, Spay,
All these are great in fames, and great in names,

But great’st in goodnesse is the riuer Thames,
From whose Diurnall and Nocturnall flood
Millions of soules haue fewell cloathes and food ;
Which from twelue houres to twelue doth still succeed,
Hundreds, & thousands both to cloath & feed,
Of watermen, their seruants, children, wiues,
It doth maintaine neere twenty thousand liues.
I can as quickly number all the starres,
As reckon all things in particulars :

Which by the bounty of th’All-giuing giuer
Proceeds from this most matchlesse, famous Riuer.
And therefore ’tis great pitty, shelfe or sand
From the forgetfull and ingratefull land,
Should it’s cleare chrystall entrailes vilefy,
Or soyle such purenesse with impurity.
What doth it doe, but serues our full contents,
Brings food, and for it takes our excrements,
Yeelds vs all plenty, worthy of regard
And dirt and mucke we giue it for reward ?

You can sift through the whole hemp-seed poem  here.

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The Diamond Jubilee royal barge Gloriana went on her maiden voyage this afternoon. The 94 foot vessel looked very pretty as she took to the water in Isleworth at high-tide shortly before 3pm. For security reasons, the whole operation was shrouded in secrecy until the last possible moment. Luckily, I live just down the road, so dashed down there. Unfortunately it was wet and rather miserable but several hundred locals turned out to see her off, delivering a damp cheer and a smattering of applause from outside the historic London Apprentice. The sixteen oarsmen – tentatively to begin with – soon got the hang of it and rowed her downriver towards Brentford.

diamond jubilee royal barge gloriana

diamond jubilee royal barge gloriana

diamond jubilee royal barge gloriana

diamond jubilee royal barge gloriana

diamond jubilee royal barge gloriana

diamond jubilee royal barge gloriana

diamond jubilee royal barge gloriana

diamond jubilee royal barge gloriana

diamond jubilee royal barge gloriana

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Yesterday a group of London Historians and friends went for an excellent historical mosey from the Embankment past Blackfriars, over the Wobbly Bridge (known by a few as the Millennium Bridge) into Southwark and the extremely popular Anchor pub. We were led by the excellent author, Blue Badge guide and true gentleman, Brian Cookson, a friend of London Historians who has encouraged us from the outset, not least by writing some superb articles on London’s bridges.

The sun was out, the tide was high. Dozens of packed pleasure craft plied their trade up and down our great river. The Embankment bustled with happy Londoners and tourists. We met at Temple tube station and headed west through Embankment Gardens, taking in Somerset House, the York Watergate, the Savoy. Through Embankment station we doubled back along the river bank past Cleopatra’s Needle, under Waterloo Bridge. The Blackfriars station redevlopment forced us to detour “inland” a bit taking in the Unilever building, the art-deco Blackfriar pub. Over the Wobbly Bridge we went, checking out Shakespeare’s Globe until we reached the Anchor pub.

And there most of us remained for the next three hours and more, happily downing away, the smokers in particular grateful for the fine conditions. This is the part of London Historians events that I enjoy the most: socialising with like-minded historians and making new friends. Everyone has their own particular interests, specialities. I love finding out what other historians are doing, what turns them on. When starting London Historians, this is exactly what we wanted it to be all about. Long may it continue.

So do look out for further London Historians events on our web site.

london historians thames walk

london historians thames walk

York Watergate marks the former position of the water's edge prior to embankment by Bazalgette.

london historians thames walk

The Art Nouveau Blackfriar pub

london historians thames walk

london historians thames walk

Brian Cookson

london historians thames walk

Sundowners. Earned.

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the frozen thames 1677

Behold the liquid Thames now frozen o’er
That lately Ships of mighty Burthen bore
The Watermen for want of Rowing Boats
Make use of Booths to get their Pence & Groat
Here you may see Beef Roasted on the Spit
And for your Money you may taste a bit
There you may print your Name, tho’ cannot write,
Cause num’d with Cold: ‘Tis done with great Delight
And lay it by, that Ages yet to come
May see what Things upon the Ice were done

These lines were written in the early 19th Century by a Southwark sculptor called Richard Kindersley. From the late Middle Ages until this time, the Thames regularly froze over during the winter. There are two reasons for this, one climactic and one topographical. The 14th to 18th Centuries are known as the Little Ice Age, when winters tended to be much more severe than subsequently. Most of the London Thames was unembanked, hence the river was both shallower and slower. Exacerbating this, Old London Bridge had very narrow arches, creating a dam effect: once the first chunks of ice floating downriver wedged themselves between the bridge’s piers, the river soon froze solid. However, we know that the Thames must sometimes have frozen downstream of the bridge too, because it is recorded that Henry VIII travelled to Greenwich over the ice.

Old London Bridge was pulled down in 1831 and replaced by a structure with fewer and much wider spans; by the 1860s, the London Thames was fully embanked.

Frost Fairs.
From the early 17th to the early 19th Century, frost fairs were held on the frozen Thames. These were festivals which involved winter games, markets, dancing and revelling. The first “official” frost fair took place in 1608 and these continued until 1814, the last time the London Thames froze over. However it is known that Elizabeth I enjoyed attending games and revels on the frozen river, so the tradition pre-dates 1608 by some time.

frost fair 1683

The Frost Fair of 1683

Severe Winters.
There have been many. Some are noted below, but for a good comprehensive list, you’ll find an excellent reference here.

1708-09
The Great Frost of 1709 was believed to be the coldest winter for 500 years with temperatures measured at -10 Centigrade in Upminster. Widespread death of people, livestock, flora and fauna resulted.

1860-61
Coldest winter for 50 years. On 29 December, the ironclad HMS Warrior – under construction – froze to her slipway on the Thames and had to be released by tugs.

1946-47
Two cold snaps occurred in December and January, but the major freeze kicked in on 21 January, threatening power and supplies in an already-stretched austerity environment. The government applied severe rationing of goods and services, public morale plummetted. Conditions did not ease until mid-March, when the thaw causes severe flood damage throughout the country.

1962-63
The Big Freeze started on 22 December 1962 and lasted until 5 March 1963. Snow remained on the ground in most areas for a full two months.

 

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Crossing the River by Brian CooksonSetting up London Historians this past two months has seriously curbed my book reading. Whereas I’d normally expect to do a book in a week, it has taken me nearly a month to read Brian Cookson’s Crossing the River, subtitle: The History of London’s Thames Bridges from Richmond to the Tower. The more eagle-eyed among you will have noticed articles on Old London Bridge and Westiminster Bridge which Brian wrote for us, which are posted on the web site here. (Acrobat (.pdf) files).

So does this allow me to write a balanced item about the book? Absolutely. If I didn’t like it I simply would not have covered it. In fact, you will never see a negative book review on this blog, because what’s the point? I’m not a professional book reviewer and besides,  I’m only interested in spending time on a blog post to share something I think you’ll enjoy.

Cookson has arranged the book in geographical order, west to east, as the title suggests. This can be a little disconcerting for those used to reading history chronologically, but I think it works rather well. Each bridge has its own story, all are fascinating and no two are remotely similar. There are intriguing tales behind the funding of the structures (a dry topic amply and often amusingly redeemed by the author);  arguments, lobbying, tolls and vested interests; war; the architects and engineers; the local areas and how bridges affected them.

What struck me is how cheaply the earlier bridges were constructed compared to the mid-20th century onwards, even taking into account inflation. Also notable is how late the Thames got properly bridged, given its pre-eminent global status from the 18th Century onwards. Up until the early 1700s, Old London Bridge stood proud as the only road crossing in what is now the greater London area. Of the 40 or so bridges described, 19 were built during the Victorian period and a further 12 in the 20th and 21st Centuries. When it comes to feats of engineering, once again it was the Victorians wot done it.

A very pleasing feature is that most of the prominent builders are given separate pen portraits covering their careers, among them Rennie, Barry, Jones, Clark, Locke, Walker, Page and, of course, Bazalgette and Brunel.

Cookson has an informal, easy style which pushes you along Crossing the River‘s 300 pages with ease and pleasure.

Crossing the River: The History of London’s Thames River Bridges from Richmond to the Tower. Mainstream Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1840189762.

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Just a reminder, as part of Local Waterfront London this weekend, four guide organisations are giving free walks this Saturday, 16 October. They run every hour on the hour from 10.00 to 16.00.

Rivers of the City by City Guides.
Meet at the Monument, 18 Fish Street Hill, EC3R 6DB, next to Monument Station.
www.cityoflondontouristguides.com

Knights, Nuns and Naughties by Clerkenwell and Islington Guides.
Meet outside “The Castle” 34-35 Cowcross Street, EC1M 6DB, next to Farringdon Station.
www.ciga.org.uk

Waterfront Greenwich by Greenwich Tour Guides.
Meet at the “Gate Clock”, 210 Creek Road, Greenwich,m SE10 9RB.
www.greenwichtours.co.uk

Tyburn to the Thames by Westminster Guides.
Meet at the “Willow Walk”, 25 Wilton Road, Victoria, SW1V 1LW.
www.westminsterguides.org

Great opportunity, hope the weather’s good. Enjoy.

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