Going South of the River for a shilling

They would ply for hire from designated locations along the Thames, with the cry of “Oars! Oars!” which later was forbidden as the cry could be confused by tourists with “Whores! Whores!” . . . . . . . . . .

Exclusively for Patrons, here is List 16: Run 252 the next ‘run’ from my travelogue Pootling around London: Manor House to Gibson Square, again I hope you find it both amusing and informative.

Thank You again for your support.

London Bridge Station SE1 to Squirries Street E2

The urban myth about when the Americans purchased for $2.5 million, London Bridge in the belief they had bought its younger neighbour Tower Bridge, was put about by mischevious pranksters. Robert P. McCulloch certainly had a good idea about this portable piece of real estate, for some illustrated sales brochures had been produced prior to the sale showing exactly which bridge was up for sale.

We seem to have got the best of the deal though, for only the shell was shipped off to Lake Havasu in Arizona, the bulk of the stone ended up in Merryvale Quarry in Devon, no doubt to this day still being sold off as souvenirs.

What we probably didn’t tell our colonial cousins, that for sentimental reasons we kept a bit of the old bridge back, it can be found spanning Montague Close (which, of course, isn’t a cul-de-sac), on the south side of the bridge. And to labour the point about our acumen in selling a second-hand bridge to those gullible Yanks, the pub now housed in its arch is called The Mug House.

The first and only bridge until Putney Bridge in 1726 and then Westminster Bridge in 1738, to cross London Bridge could take over an hour with so much traffic, it would only take two carts trying to pass, each insisting they had right of way, to snarl up the flow of pedestrians and people. The jams precipitated an urgent rule that all traffic should drive on the left. The rule by the City Fathers would later be incorporated into the Highway Act of 1835 and was adopted throughout the British Empire.

Admirably the tradition of slow vehicular traffic seems to have been maintained into the 21st century. For by reducing from three lanes to one, with a bus lane and building construction one today may have ample time to recreate bygone London and to make it crystal clear whom may use the bus lane a sign now reads: At any time and taxis; Midnight-3 pm; 9 pm-Midnight.

Another fine tradition, often mentioned but never witnessed, is the right to drive a flock of sheep across London Bridge, but only if you are a Freeman of the City of London, and, of course, you have the need to transport sheep into the world’s financial centre.

Leaving London Bridge Station, the thought has occurred to me, of just how big was the road naming committee? Railway Approach is the generic name given to – well the approach to the railway – and we leave by London Bridge Street. It must have taken hours of debate to come up with those two names.

Above are the lines running into the station, and it’s pretty apparent who, in Victorian England, held the upper hand, the Church or the railway companies. Southwark a religious centre, in various incarnations, has stood on this site, just south of London Bridge since the 7th century, and jolly impressive to the devout it must have been. Then along came the railway; opening in 1836 first and oldest of the current London railway termini, and for trains to enter the terminus a viaduct was built spanning the cathedral and only 50ft away from its roof.

Shakespeare’s brother Edmund is buried in the grounds of the cathedral and had the Bard been around during the railway’s construction he might have dedicated these lines from sonnet 10: Seeking that beauteous roof to ruinate/Which to repair should be they chief desire.

After eventually reaching the north side of London Bridge turning right into Fenchurch Street, which must rank as the City of London’s most boring thoroughfare. It’s only the recent addition of the Walkie-Talkie building which briefly enlivened this street when, due to its concave shaped windows it managed to direct the sun’s rays, producing temperatures in excess of 200ºF and frying the local populace. Alas, the propensity of this building to fire death rays has now been curtailed and Fenchurch Street returned to its old prosaic self.

At the end of Fenchurch Street, I come to the Aldgate pump, which reminds me just how small London seems to be, and thankful the last wolf has now been killed here, just in case I’m still moving my flock of sheep.

Soon turning left I find myself in Brick Lane and the centre for artisan immigrants. After the Great Fire of London, a decree was announced that stated all building should henceforth be constructed of brick and not wood, I think you might be ahead of me here.

As the London Guilds had pretty much sewn up London, both literally and metaphorically any immigrant wanting to set up a trade needed to work outside the City’s walls.

Brick Lane was just outside the wall: Huguenots, French Protestants fleeing persecution arrived to bring their sewing skills; the Irish came to escape the potato famine; Jews from Eastern Europe’s escaping the pogroms came as tailors and shoemakers; now South Asian immigrants bringing with them – well curry,

But I can’t hang around for a curry, however tempting the smell. Turning right up Bethnal Green Road and on the left is Squirries Street. No stopping at the junction, however, we’re off to a funeral director. My favourite establishment for the dead is W. H. Wigley in Northcote Road, Battersea, When you have need of their services, being buried by Wigley has got to be a good choice at least the mourners will all have a smile on their faces, even if you don’t.

No were off to check out a much more somber, and traditional funeral directors. It looks like an upmarket village hall, single storey, pitched roof, painted black and white while all its neighbours are the usual bland terraces to be found on every high street. East End villains like to mark the death of one of their own’ in style, after all, they have probably hastened some of their rivals to an early demise. W. English & Son in Bethnal Green Road provides a service to gangsters they have come to expect, or demand with menaces; black plumed horses; glass hearse and floral tributes from their customers, the likes of Ronnie, Reggie and brother Charlie Kray.

In the 16th Century, the Company of Watermen were the equivalent to today’s cabbies. Created by an Act of Parliament in 1556 and given a grand of a Royal Patient in 1585, their trade like ours today was carefully licensed. They would ply for hire from designated locations along the Thames, with the cry of “Oars! Oars!” which later was forbidden as the cry could be confused by tourists with “Whores! Whores!”

When the watermen were not transporting people they would turn their hand to salvage and found a brisk trade in finding bodies, either suicides or those who had accidentally drowned or been murdered.

By a curious quirk of history, the origins of which are now lost, bodies were almost always landed on the south side of the river because the authorities would pay a shilling for a body landed in Southwark but only a sixpence paid for one landed on the north bank. Clearly, waterborne cabbies were not averse to “going south of the river” in those days.

A nice little earner would be from the City to as far upriver as Hampton Court, and by 1700 over 10,000 watermen plied for hire. The trade was not without its dangers; if you wanted to travel downstream below London Bridge you risked life and limb. A major feature of London Bridge was the effect it had on the Thames. The location of the bridge’s 19 timber pier supports (called starlings) was determined by riverbed conditions and this meant that they were varied in spacing across the river. Consequently, the arch spans varied in size too and boats navigating the arches encountered different currents and river conditions at each one. Some were more dangerous than others. Over the years, boatmen christened the arches with various names, such as Gut Lock and Long Entry.

Navigating through the bridge in a boat could be very dangerous because the closeness and number of starlings backed up the river water, creating rapids. In some places, the drop in water height from one side of the bridge to the other was more than the height of a man. Many people lost their lives ‘shooting’ the bridge and ‘Drowned at the Bridge’ became a common entry in the registers at nearby graveyards.

Most Londoners took Cardinal Wolsey example. On his frequent visits to Greenwich to see Henry VIII, he would have his barge stopped above the bridge and get out and travel to Billingsgate by mule, where he would rejoin his barge, providing it had successfully negotiated the rapids.

Much like today watermen would queue – or rank in today’s parlance – at various river stairs, often fighting with unlicensed boatmen, and like today questioning the safety of the interlopers. Known for being rowdy and hurling abuse at passing craft they had a curious culinary taste of ’broil’d red herring’ and ’bread and cheese and onions’. Presumably, their customers would spend as little time in their company.Memory is one of the things our brains do for us: they take information from all around us and store it so we can retrieve it at a later time. The part of the brain most responsible for our memory is called the hippocampus, and if you haven’t heard about how London’s cabbies have larger a hippocampus than the rest of the known world you soon will.

Back to our memory test. If you succeeded in remembering every word in your selected paragraph you’re wasting your time on The Knowledge. With a super brain like that try becoming an actor, you’ll be a whizz at learning a Shakespeare soliloquy or become a barrister you’ll make much more money.

So how can you turn this quirk of nature to our advantage when on The Knowledge?

When out on your runs limit yourself to completing just a few, say 4-6 in a day. At each change of direction or road name change write down what you see at that time. That way when calling over, i.e. relating a route to your partner in the correct sequence, the image will act as a trigger to remember the name of the next road.

You should also when completing your allotted daily runs run the images back through your memory when you get home, trying to get them to stick.

With points trying imagining a bizarre occurrence. Therefore when trying to remember the location of Frankie Howard’s blue plaque (27 Edwardes Square, Kensington, London W8 6HH, if you’re interested), just visualize Up Pompeii! in Edwardes Square with Frankie in a Toga. “Nay, nay and thrice nay.”

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