London Books Review: The House by the Thames

Some might remember historian David Olusoga’s BB2 documentary A House through Time where the programme examined a single-terraced house in Liverpool from its construction in the 1840s to the present day.

During the programme, it was implied that this was ground-breaking research. As good as the documentary undoubtedly was it certainly was not the first, nor did they delve that far back in time.

[O]VER 10 YEARS previously Gillian Tindall forensically examined a house whose history spanned nearly 450 years in her book The House by the Thames and the people who lived there.

Partly because this is an area I love, and the house analysed by Gillian Tindall is one before reading her book I’ve aspired to own, I found this to be fascinating showing, as it does, how a small area of London’s fortunes change over time.

The house is on the opposite bank of the Thames from St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the only survivor from an elegant range of Queen Anne houses.

Looking out from its elegant windows you would have seen my predecessors, the watermen, plying their charges across the water to nearby Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre; had a ringside view of The Great Fire of London; and watched as multiple crossings across The River were built, putting the watermen out of business.

The occupants of the house have ranged from prosperous traders to the abject poor; some were flamboyant, others skilled tradesmen; there was even an early film star living here.

Gillian Tindall’s meticulous research through multiple archives, early newspapers and contemporary accounts brings this old house to life, and in so doing unearths Southwark’s colourful social history.

The House by the Thames and the people who lived there by Gillian Tindall published 2006 by Chatto & Windus

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