London Meet Recce
Sunday, 18 November 2018
Today Susan and I met with our friend, Siobán, at Tower Hill tube station in London to do a recce of a walk that Siobán was planning for a forthcoming Walking For Pleasure group meet in London.
Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street
Siobán was keen for us to get to 20 Fenchurch Street before 10:00 am because she wanted us to visit the Sky Garden at the top of the skyscraper which is informally known as the “Walkie Talkie” building because of its distinctive design.
Access to the Sky Garden is free but if you can get there before 10:00 am then you do not need to book in advance. There is an express elevator that takes you directly to the 35th floor in less than a minute.
This morning, it was bright and sunny with just a little haze and the views in every direction from the Sky Garden were fantastic. I could literally stand and stare at the views for hours. The gardens are spread over three floors from the 35th floor to the 38th floor with 360-degree views of the city.
We made our way back down to street level and crossed over Eastcheap and on to Saint Dunstan in the East Church Garden.
The Church of St Dunstan
During the London Blitz of 1941, the Church was, once again, severely damaged with only the tower and steeple added by Wren surviving the bombing. The Church was never rebuilt. The Garden and ruins therein are all that remains of The Church of St Dunstan which is a Grade I listed building. The first church to be built on this was built around 1100 AD. It was severely damaged in 1666 by the Great Fire of London. It was repaired rather than rebuilt, presumably because so much of the city had been damaged or destroyed by the Great Fire and in 1695 Sir Christopher Wren added a new tower and steeple.
Today you can access the Garden free of charge and spend a little time in this remarkably quiet and calm space and enjoy the feeling of seclusion.
We left St Dunstan and walked over to the Tower of London and around to Traitors’ Gate and the bank of the River Thames. The Tower of London is an iconic building that is synonymous with London and its history but for me, the star attraction here is Tower Bridge. Nothing says “London” like Tower Bridge and if you are lucky you might just see a bright red double-decker bus crossing the bridge while you are taking in this magnificent landmark.
Gloriana is a Royal Barge and when construction started back in 2011, it was the first to be built in over 250 years. She was privately commissioned as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II for her 2012 Diamond Jubilee and was the lead vessel in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant. We walked under the bridge and over to St Katherine’s Dock. There are usually several Thames Barges moored in the dock and today was no exception but we were all surprised to see the Gloriana moored there.
We left the dock via Mews Street and headed around to Spirit Quay. The original name for the basin here is Hermitage Basin and it formed part of the Western Dock. It was added in 1821 as an alternative to using the larger Wapping Basin entrance for smaller vessels. The entrance closed in 1909, but the basin was not filled in and survives today unlike Wapping Basin, which was filled in and is now a football pitch and sports centre.
The Royal Barge Gloriana
Wapping Basin was the main entrance to the Western Dock and Tobacco Dock. Today you can still see Tobacco Dock by following the Discovery Walk around to the Tabacco Warehouse. That small basin just before Wapping Lane is the partially filled in Tobacco Dock.
Tobacco Dock then went into the Eastern Dock which, if you look at a map today, you will see as Wapping Woods. Shadwell Basin was added at a later date and connected to Eastern Dock. Together, these docks were known as the London Dock. Today, only the Shadwell Basin and Hermitage Basin survive with Tobacco Dock just holding on!
London Docks closed in 1969 and were filled in. In the 1980s the land was purchased by the London Docklands Development Corporation.
We followed the Thames Path down as far as Pier Head and joined Wapping High Street to pass Wapping Old Stairs and the Town of Ramsgate before crossing over to St John’s Churchyard.
Town of Ramsgate
The Town of Ramsgate has been a pub since the 1460s and is believed, by the Pub itself, to have originally been called The Hostel. In 1533 it was renamed the Red Cow and by 1766 Ramsgate Old Town and finally, in 1811, the Town of Ramsgate. The reference to Ramsgate being due to the fact that the fishermen of Ramsgate landed their catch at Wapping Old Stairs to avoid the high taxes imposed at Billingsgate.
The pub has also seen its share of historical figures. According to Stephen Inwood’s “Historic London: An Explorer’s Companion” Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian had their last drink in the pub before the Bounty set sail and convicts were even kept in the basement.
To be honest, I am not sure how true that is. Admiralty records do show that the Bounty was moored at Old Wapping Stairs but she was called Bethia at the time and had been purchased by the Navy and moved to Deptford on May 26th 1787.
On June 8th Bethia was renamed Bounty and registered as a Royal Navy Ship and it wasn’t until the 16th August 1787 that the Admiralty appointed Lieutenant William Bligh to command her (she was not large enough to require the commander to hold the post of captain).
On the 10th October, the Bounty started to “onload” arms and weapons at Long Reach, Gravesend and on the 15th October, she sailed to Spithead before finally leaving English waters on the 23rd December 1787.
What is believed to be true, however, is that Judge Jeffreys was apprehended outside of the Town on Ramsgate while trying to escape disguised as a sailor.
As we exit the Church Yard we find ourselves opposite St John’s Church.
St John’s Church was built in 1790 but was destroyed by bombs during the Second World War leaving only the church tower standing.
St John’s Old School
Opposite the Church is the Turks Head on the wall of which is a plaque with the following:Next to the Church is St John’s Old School which dates from the same period. Above the doors are two statutes of students wearing blue uniforms or “blue coats” which were worn by students at charity schools because blue was the cheapest dye at that time.
"Welcome to the Turk’s Head
This former public house has a special history. During World War II it was run by its eccentric landlady, Mog Murphy, and stayed open all hours for service personnel seeking news of their loved ones. After a vigorous campaign in the 1980s led by Maureen Davies and the wild women of Wapping, the Turk’s Head Company, a charity they set up to improve local life, bought the derelict building from the Council and restored it. The income from the rents of the cafe and studios above pays for charitable activities."
The Turks Head
We walked down Greenbank and returned to Wapping High Street via the Wapping Rose Gardens. This brought us out opposite the Metropolitan Police Marine Policing Unit. Originally formed as the Marine Police Force, they have occupied this building since 1798.
We continued down Wapping High Street and passed Wapping Station. Wapping Station was built on the northern end of the Thames foot tunnel, built by Marc Isambard Brunel between 1825 and 1843 and access is via one of the original shafts of the Thames Tunnel. The Thames Tunnel is believed to have been the first tunnel to have been constructed successfully underneath a navigable river.
We continued our journey east on to Wapping Wall, passed the Prospect of Whitby (another infamous pub) and on to the Shadwell Basin turning right just after we crossed the bascule bridge. This is one of a pair in the basin and is not as old as it looks being installed circa 1930.
This is shaft number 3 of 4 and is single storey circular redbrick building with ironwork grilles. Inside there is an iron spiral staircase that was originally for pedestrian access but this was closed in the 1970s. The building was originally capped with a domed glass roof. We followed the Thames Path until we reached the vent for the Rotherhithe Tunnel. Contrary to popular belief, this tunnel is not the same as the nearby Thames Tunnel built by Brunel but is instead a slightly newer tunnel which was completed in 1908.
From Shadwell, we continued along the Thames Path to the Limehouse Ship Dock before leaving it briefly to explore the Limehouse Basin. From the basin, you can pick up the Captial Ring walk and the Lee Valley Way. We only went as far as Ropemakers Field which we cut through to get back to the Thames Path and continue on to Westferry and then Cabot Square.
Once in Canary Wharf, we crossed the North Dock footbridge and headed for the Ledger Building public house for something to eat and drink.
I can’t be sure of the distance walked, it was not far, but it was a really fascinating walk. Like many parts of London, history is simply pouring out of every street and every building.
You could spend weeks researching and reading about it and only scratch the surface.
Bascule Bridge at Shadwell Basin