Toilets, tantrums and The Tower

The city had just one river crossing, resulting in taking over an hour to cross the river. Combined to this was the additional hazards of mugging in the slow-moving traffic and getting contents of chamber pots which were lobbed out of the ramshackle houses lining the bridge . . . . . . . . . . .

Exclusively for Patrons, here is List 4: Run 51 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.

Southwark Bridge EC4 to Goldsmith’s Row E2

The view from Globe Walk is one of the greatest in London. Positioned across the Thames with St. Paul’s opposite, the panorama takes in most of the City of London. Christopher Wren thought as much as they were building his masterpiece and lived in a house a few yards upriver, sadly the building no longer exists contrary to claims made by modern-day owners of a nearby property.

We English are rather reticent to boast and despite Shakespeare being regarded as the world’s greatest playwright, who introduced dozens of sayings that now are in common use, we choose not to tell anyone that here, in London, many of his greatest works first saw the light of day.

A few years after gaining my badge I happened to pick up the actress Zöe Wannamaker from the National Theatre, on the journey to her house I couldn’t resist telling her that we owe her father, American director Sam Wannamaker, a huge debt. The Americans are not as shy as we Brits, I took Sam years to get a reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre built on the banks of the Thames, to celebrate the genius of William Shakespeare.

This area of Southwark was outside the city limits and owned by the Bishops of Winchester. Many entertainments were on offer, ladies offering their services were nicknamed ‘Winchester Geese’, bear and bull baiting gave punters the opportunity for a flutter and theatres for entertainment, advertising their production of the day with red, white or black flags flown denoting history, comedy or tragedy. At the original Globe wishing to thrill audience with pageantry and effects, it was decided during a production of All is True (known today as Henry VIII) to fire a cannon to announce the arrival of King Henry. A spark ignited the thatched roof and the theatre burned to the ground. Unsurprisingly its modern counterpart, which is the first thatched building completed in London since the Great Fire of London, has sprinklers along the roof’s ridge and fireproofed reeds have been used in the thatch.

Unfortunately, the city had just one river crossing – London Bridge – the result of which caused jams, resulting in taking  over an hour to cross the river. Combined to this was the additional hazards of mugging in the slow-moving traffic and getting contents of chamber pots which were lobbed out of the ramshackle houses lining the bridge.

For the gentleman who wished to go ‘South of the River’ to reach the tempting entertainments on offer, punters usually chose to cross the river by boat, ferrymen, our predecessors, made their living crossing the wide Thames.

A short walk from Shakespeare’s Globe is Bear Gardens, taking its name from the pastime once performed here by the unfortunate creatures. Situated near its original location is a stone ferryman’s seat, it is quite narrow and very uncomfortable, presumably early cabbies were more stoic – and considerably thinner than today, for I couldn’t squeeze my posterior onto the ledge.

Although the exact age of the seat is unknown, it’s most likely to have been established around the 12th or 13th century; a period when London was beginning to spread south, where Southwark was gaining that reputation as a seedy but popular entertainment district. The Thames was originally wider here and so the ferryman’s seat would have been located about 100 yards further south down Bear Gardens.

Above the seat is a short description:

‘The Ferryman’s Seat, located on previous buildings at this site, was constructed for the convenience of Bankside watermen, who operated ferry services across the river. The seat’s age is unknown, but it is thought to have ancient origins.’

Most cabbies have a favourite place to stop for a break, as ‘rest ranks’ where they can legally stop to recuperate are few and far between. The prerequisites for taking a break are: fairly immune from traffic wardens; somewhere providing refreshments; and most importantly a toilet. This last necessity has also proved a problem on The Knowledge, as motorcycle gear prevented access to one’s privates. The ‘Iron Lung’ at Regency Place, a urinal in the style of a Parisian pissoir is one of the few public toilets left accessible to cabbies in London. It also has the benefit of a nearby barbers, a corner shop and Portuguese Tony’s Astral cafe much frequented by cabbies.

The 5-star Corinthia Hotel supports cabbies, even allowing the most desperate to have a comfort break as their American guests would describe it, likewise the Goring Hotel had a basement toilet available for our use. Yet the more down market Thistle Euston, now being demolished for HS2 actually tasked a member of staff to prevent cabbies using their facilities. The Elizabethan ferrymen presumably had the nearby Thames should they be caught short.

Having checked out points around the Globe I need to ride across Southwark Bridge. Crossing the river today, riding my small Honda 90, seems as hazardous as it was for our ferrymen predecessors. It is late winter and the wind is whipping up the Thames trying to knock me off my bike and carrying with it flecks of snow which have a propensity to adhere to my visor.

Turning right into Upper Thames Street I am making my way to the now trendy Brick Lane. Upper Thames Street changes its name so I have to note where they occur: Upper Thames Street, Lower Thames Street, Byward Street and Tower Hill are all ridden down in less than half-a-mile. Passing the ominous Tower of London, it’s a fact to remember that more executions took place here in the twentieth century than in any other century.

On the corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street there stands a remarkable place of worship. Built in 1742 as a Huguenot chapel, missionaries then used it to promote Christianity to the expanding Jewish population, it then became a Methodist chapel before being converted into the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. Today the Grade II* listed building is the Great London Mosque.

My destination today, and considering the weather conditions it can’t come quick enough, is Goldsmith’s Row. It takes it name from a row of almshouses built in 1703 belonging to the powerful Goldsmiths’ Company, its six residents paying £21 per annum. Unfortunately the well-known bun-house selling Hackney Buns which were one as famous as today’s Chelsea buns, is now lost. As far as I can tell the only point around here worth checking out is the now abandoned Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children in Hackney Road, the building has now joined he ranks of ubiquitous executive flats.

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