The Environs of London: Volume 1, County of Surrey. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1792.

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Daniel Lysons, 'Rotherhithe', in The Environs of London: Volume 1, County of Surrey, (London, 1792) pp. 470-477. British History Online [accessed 18 May 2024].

Daniel Lysons. "Rotherhithe", in The Environs of London: Volume 1, County of Surrey, (London, 1792) 470-477. British History Online, accessed May 18, 2024,

Lysons, Daniel. "Rotherhithe", The Environs of London: Volume 1, County of Surrey, (London, 1792). 470-477. British History Online. Web. 18 May 2024,



This place, which is situated on the banks of the Thames, about a mile and a half below London-bridge, derives its name from the Saxon words rother, a sailor, and hyth, a haven or wharf. It is usually called Redriff, and this pronunciation appears to have prevailed as early as the 13th century (fn. 1).

Boundaries, extent, &c.

The parish lies in the eastern division of Brixton hundred, and is bounded by Bermondsey and Deptford. The land which is not occupied by houses is principally pasture, of which there is about 470 acres. The market gardeners employ about 40. The greater part of this parish was formerly a marsh. Rotherhithe pays 1,918 l. 5s. to the land-tax, which, on an average, is about 2s. 6d. in the pound. This year it was 3s.


There are eleven dock-yards in this parish, at some of which a considerable number of ships are built for the East-India service; the others are employed for building vessels of a smaller size. The whole extent of the shore is inhabited by various artificers and tradesmen who make and furnish rigging and provisions for the navy.

Canute's trench.

The trench, said to be cut by Canute, to besiege the city of London by water, began in this parish (fn. 2). The channel through which the river was turned in the year 1173, for the purpose of rebuilding London-bridge, is said to have had the same course (fn. 3).


The manor of Rotherhithe belonged to the Abbot of Graces, who, with the King's permission, granted it in the reign of Richard II. to the priory of St. Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey (fn. 4). It was then valued at 20 l. per annum. After the suppression of monasteries it was kept in the hands of the crown till the reign of Charles I. when it was granted at the request of Sir Allen Apsley, and probably in trust for him, to William White and others (fn. 5). In the year 1672 it was in the possession of James Cecil (fn. 6) Earl of Salisbury; about the year 1692 it appears to have been alienated to John Bennet, Esq.; in 1715 to John Jolley and Benjamin Morret; and about 1732 to Thomas Scawen, Esq. It was afterwards the property of Francis Gashry, Esq. whose widow bequeathed it to the present proprietor Philip Goldsworthy, Esq. one of his Majesty's Equerries, and Colonel of the first regiment of dragoons. This manor has a court-leet and court-baron.

It appears that there was formerly another manor in Rotherhithe distinct from that of the priory, and that Sir William Lovell was seized thereof in the reign of Henry VI. (fn. 7)

Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells, had considerable property in this parish in the reign of Edward I. (fn. 8) Sir Hugh Burnell, who died in the eighth year of Henry V. held the manor of Rotherhithe for term of life of the Abbot of Bermondsey (fn. 9).

In the reign of Henry VIII. Matthew Dale held a messuage in this parish called the "Moted-place," which was formerly the property of Robert Fitzwalter, Baron of Egremond, in the reign of Edward III (fn. 10).

As Rotherhithe is not mentioned in Doomsday Book, it is probable that it was formerly only a hamlet to Bermondsey. The present church was built in the years 1714 and 1715. In the case of the parishioners which was laid before parliament about that time, it was said that the church of Rotherhithe was first built 400 years before (fn. 11). It was represented at the same time, that it was then in danger of falling, that the expence of rebuilding it upon a scale proportionate to the increase of the parish would be at least 4,000 l. that the poor rates, which 30 years before were only 80 l. per annum, then amounted to more than 700 l. and that the parishioners were chiefly seamen who ventured their lives in fetching those coals from Newcastle which paid for the rebuilding the churches in London. They prayed therefore that the duty on coals might be continued, to enable them to rebuild their church. The petition appears to have been unsuccessful. By a brief, however, they collected 920 l. and by voluntary subscriptions of the inhabitants and others about 1,800 l. more. The Bishop of Winchester gave 230 l. and Sir John Lake 100 l. (fn. 12) The new church was opened July 3, 1715. It is built of bricks, with stone quoins, and consists of a nave, chancel, and two aisles, supported with pillars of the Ionic order. At the west end is a square tower, upon which is a stone spire supported by Corinthian columns.

Monuments, &c.

In the chancel are the monuments of Mr. Joseph Wade, King's carver in his Majesty's yards at Deptford and Woolwich, who died in 1743; Mr. Alexander Roberts, who died in 1758; and Captain Thomas Barrow, who died in 1781.

In the nave is the tomb of Peter Hills, mariner, and one of the elder brethren of the Trinity-house, who died in 1614. On a square brass plate are engraved the figures of himself and his two wives. There are the tombs also of George Pastfield, Esq. who died in 1660, and others of his family; and of Mary Tiddiman, who died in 1666. In the north aisle is a tablet to the memory of Roger Tweedy, Esq. who died in 1655. In Aubrey's Antiquities are mentioned also an achievement to the memory of Matthew Hungerford, Esq. of the county of Wilts, who died in 1677; and the tomb of Elizabeth, wife of Capt. William Evans, who died in 1703.

In the vestry is a portrait of King Charles I. in his robes, kneeling at a table, and holding a crown of thorns. This formerly hung in the south aisle (fn. 13). On the outside of the church are tablets in memory of Capt. Anthony Wood, who died in 1625, and Capt. Thomas Stone, who died in 1666.

Tombs in the church-yard.

The only remarkable monument in the church-yard is that of the Pelew prince, Lee Boo, the inscription upon which is given in p. 476. There are the tombs also of Ann, widow of Capt. John Blake, who died in 1681; Nicholas Leach, Esq. who died in 1776, and others of his family; Thomas Halcot, Esq. of the county of Norfolk, who died in 1780; and the following persons, most of whom were captains of merchants ships; John Steele, who died in 1710; Samuel Biggs, (1726); George Wane, (1748); Anthony Nicholson, (1750); Richard Weales, (1752); William Scarth, (1762); John Mackmath, (1762); Henry Sax, (1766); John Petyt, (1773); William Godfrey Turner, (1789); John Lasley, (1791). In the year 1790 a handsome monument was erected for Mr. John Russel, who is yet living.


The church of Rotherhithe, which is dedicated to St. Mary, is in the diocese of Winchester and the deanery of Southwark. The benefice is a rectory. The advowson belonged to the priory of Bermondsey; since the suppression of which monastery it has passed through various hands, and now belongs to Clare Hall, Cambridge. There is a record in the Tower of sundry grants to the rector of Rotherhithe (fn. 14). It was presented to the commissioners appointed to inquire into the state of ecclesiastical benefices in 1658, that the rectory of "Redereth" was worth about 92 l. per annum, and that the impropriation was vested in Captain Hurleston and Captain Joseph Dobbins, the purchasers. By some legal controversy the presentation lapsed to the Lord Protector, who intended to place there Mr. Conyers Rutter; but Capt. Dobbins taking advantage of his absence, placed there Mr. John Baker, who then officiated there. The rectory is valued in the King's books at 18 l.

Thomas Gataker.

Thomas Gataker, who was instituted to this rectory about the year 1612, was a man of considerable note in his time. He was in principles a Calvinist, and rendered himself so obnoxious to the government, that he was confined for some time in the Fleet before the breaking out of the civil war. When his party came into power he was appointed one of the assembly of divines, where he sometimes officiated as chairman (fn. 15). Several of his works are extant, consisting of Sermons; a Treatise on the Purity of the Language of the Greek Testament; Annotations on a Passage in Jeremiah; and several other tracts. Anthony Wood, who bore no good-will to his party, calls him "the learned Presbyterian (fn. 16)." A few months before he died he engaged in a controversy with Lilly the astrologer, who had attacked him by name in one of his almanacs. In his answer to Lilly he recites at large the circumstances which attended his removal from Lincoln's-inn, where he was preacher, to Rotherhithe (fn. 17), and enters into a detail of the profits of his rectory, which had been much exaggerated by his antagonist. It appears, by his account, that he received only 75 l. 10 s. per annum for his tithes and glebe land (fn. 18). He had formerly received 40 l. per annum, which was decreed him by the Court of Exchequer in lieu of an ancient tithe on houses (fn. 19); but this the inhabitants for some years had refused to pay. Mr. Gataker died July 27, 1654 (fn. 20), and was buried at Rotherhithe; having been rector there 42 years. His son Charles, who was born in this parish, was chaplain to Lucius Lord Faulkland, and author of some theological treatises (fn. 21).

The present rector is the Reverend Robert Myddelton.

Parish register.

The parish register begins in 1674, and appears to have been regularly kept.

Comparative state of population.

Average of Baptisms. Average of Burials.
1680 1689 151 160
1780 1789 341 266
1790 376 284
1791 388 265

This parish appears to have increased in a proportion of more than two to one during the last century; and it still continues to increase in a very rapid degree. An act of parliament has been lately obtained for granting building leases upon Colonel Goldsworthy's estate. The disproportion of the burials to the births seems to denote a healthy spot, and indeed Rotherhithe has been remarked for the salubrity of its air, and the infrequency of infectious disorders there; a circumstance which has been accounted for from the flux and reflux of the tides passing through the common sewers. The present number of houses is calculated at about 1600. There are usually about 190 poor in the workhouse.

Prince Lee Boo.

The following is the only entry in the register which appears deserving of notice:—"Prince Lee Boo buried, from Capt. Wilson's, "Paradise-row, Dec. 29, 1784, aged 20." The history of this amiable young man, who fell a sacrifice to the small-pox, may be seen at large in Mr. Keate's interesting narrative of Capt. Wilson's adventures at the Pelew Islands (fn. 22). Lee Boo was buried in the church-yard at Rotherhithe, where, upon his tomb, is the following inscription:—
"To the memory of Prince Lee Boo, a native of the Pelew or Palas islands, and son to Abba Thulle, Rupack or King of the island Goo-roo-raa, who departed this life on the 27th of December 1784, aged 20 years, this stone is inscribed by the Honourable East-India Company, as a testimony of the humane and kind treatment afforded by his father to the crew of their ship the Antelope, Capt. Wilson, which was wrecked off that island in the night of the 9th of August 1783.
"Stop reader, stop, let Nature claim a tear,
A Prince of mine, Lee Boo, lies buried here."


A free-school was founded in this parish about the beginning of the last century by Peter Hills and Robert Bell, and endowed with a small annual income for the education of eight sons of seamen, with a salary of 3 l. per annum for the master. The schoolhouse, which is situated near the church, was rebuilt by subscription in 1745. The endowment has been considerably augmented by various donations. In 1712, 220 l. was subscribed to purchase a ground-rent. Since this time benefactions to the amount of near 900 l. have been given (fn. 23), and the fund is now such as to enable the parish to clothe and educate thirty-three boys and twenty-two girls.

The founders of the charity-school left also six pounds per annum to be distributed in bread to the poor. Ambrose Bennet, Esq. left 9 l. per annum for the same purpose. Captain Tweedy, 5 l. 4s. per annum, and Captain William Steevens and the Reverend Thomas Gataker, jointly, the same sum. With the two last benefactions lands have been purchased which produce 15 l. 10s. per annum. Mr. Henry Smith left 10 l. per annum, to buy clothes and provisions for the poor.


  • 1. Cl. 8 Edw. I. m. 5. dorso.
  • 2. History of Lambeth, p. 66–70.
  • 3. Stow's Annals, p. 225, 4to edit. 1605.
  • 4. Pat. 21 Ric. II. pt. 3. m. 25.
  • 5. Fee-farm rolls, Augmentation-office.
  • 6. Court-rolls of the manor, from whence the other alienations were obtained.
  • 7. Exch. 33 Henry VI. No 28.
  • 8. Cl. 8 Edw. I. m. 5. dorso, and 14 Ed. I. m. 2. dorso.
  • 9. Exch. 8 Hen. V. No 116.
  • 10. Terrier of Lands in Surrey, Brit. Mus. No 4705. Ayscough's Cat.
  • 11. Aubrey's Antiquities of Surrey, vol. v. p. 7, 8. It appears that in the beginning of the last century the main fabric of the church was supported by chalky pillars of very large proportions, which being at that time much decayed, their place was supplied with timber columns. Gataker's Answer to Lilly, p. 47.
  • 12. The names of the subscribers are printed at large in Aubrey's Antiquities of Surrey, vol. v. p. 16–28.
  • 13. Aubrey's Antiquities of Surrey, vol. v. p. 9.
  • 14. Pat. 33 Edw. III. pt. 2. m. 1.
  • 15. Discourse apologetical in answer to Lilly, p. 57. It appears that the members of this assembly were allowed 4 s. a day for their attendance.
  • 16. Athen. Oxon. vol. ii. p. 669.
  • 17. Apologetical Discourse, p. 44–46.
  • 18. Ibid. p. 60. In the fifth vol. of Aubrey's Antiquities of Surrey (1719), the profits of this rectory are valued at 400 l. per annum.
  • 19. Apologetical Discourse, p. 49, 50.
  • 20. Anthony Wood's Athen. Oxon. vol. i. p. 570.
  • 21. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 669, 670.
  • 22. In this book there is a print of Lee Boo, from a drawing made by Mr. Keate's accomplished daughter.
  • 23. Some of the principal benefactors were, George Cornwall, Esq. who gave 100 l.; B. Wood, Esq. 100 l.; Mrs. Elizabeth L'Ans, 100 l.; Henry Mills, Esq. 100 l.; John Gray, Esq. 105 l.; and James Taylor, Esq. 200 l.