Bermondsey: Tooley Street

Old and New London: Volume 6. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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Edward Walford, 'Bermondsey: Tooley Street', Old and New London: Volume 6, (London, 1878), pp. 100-117. British History Online [accessed 19 June 2024].

Edward Walford. "Bermondsey: Tooley Street", in Old and New London: Volume 6, (London, 1878) 100-117. British History Online, accessed June 19, 2024,

Walford, Edward. "Bermondsey: Tooley Street", Old and New London: Volume 6, (London, 1878). 100-117. British History Online. Web. 19 June 2024,

In this section



"Trans Tiberim longè cubat hic."—Horace, "Satires."

Derivation of the Name of Bermondsey—General Aspect of the Locality—Duke Street—Tooley Street—St. Olave's Church—Abbots' Inn of St. Augustine—Sellinger's Wharf—The Inn of the Abbots of Battle—Maze Pond—The House of the Priors of Lewes—St. Olave's Grammar School—Great Fires at the Wharves in Tooley Street—Death of Braidwood, the Fireman—The "Lion and Key"—The Borough Compter—The "Ship and Shovel"—Carter Lane Meeting House—Dr. Gill and Dr. Rippon—The "Three Tailors of Tooley Street"—The "Isle of Ducks"—Tunnels under London Bridge Railway Station—Snow's Fields—A Colony of Hatters—Horselydown—Fair Street—The Birthplace of Thomas Guy—The Church of St. John the Evangelist—Goat's Yard—Keach's Meeting-house—Absence of Singing in Dissenting Meeting-houses two Centuries ago—Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School—A Description of Horselydown and the adjacent Neighbourhood in Former Times—Dockhead—"Shad Thames"—Jacob's Island.

In a previous chapter of this volume we have considered the Borough High Street as the line of demarcation between the eastern and western portions of the southern suburbs of Bermondsey and Southwark; here, then, we may fittingly separate their respective histories. The name Bermondsey—the "land of leather," as it has been called in our own day—is generally supposed to be derived from Beormund, the Saxon lord of the district, and ea, or eye, an "island," descriptive of the locality, near the river-side, and intersected by numerous small streams and ditches; though one antiquary has suggested, with more than ordinary rashness, that beorm is Saxon for prince, and that mund signified security or peace, so that Bermondsey may be interpreted as "the prince's security by the water's side." Wilkinson, in his account of Bermondsey Abbey in "Londina Illustrata," states that the words ea, or eye, "are frequent in the names of places whose situation on the banks of rivers renders them insular and marshy;" and the word still exists in the longer form of "eyot."

"Looking, then," writes Charles Knight, "upon the original Bermondsey as a kind of marshy island when the tide was out, and a wide expanse of water when it was in, till gradually reclaimed and made useful, one cannot help being struck with the many indications of the old state of things yet remaining, although the present Bermondsey is densely covered with habitations and houses. The descent down the street leading from London Bridge tells you how low lie the territories you are about to explore; the numerous wharves, the docks, the water-courses, the ditches, which bound and intersect so considerable a portion of it, seem but so many memorials of the once potent element; the very streets have a damp feel about them; and in the part known as Jacob's Island the overhanging houses, and the little wooden bridges that span the stream, have, notwithstanding their forlorn look, something of a Dutch expression. In short, persons familiar with the history of the place may everywhere see that Beormund's Ea still exists, but that it has been em banked and drained—that it has grown populous, busy, commercial. Its manufacturing prosperity, however, strikingly contrasts with the general aspect of Bermondsey. Its streets generally are but dreary-looking places, where, with the exception of a picturesque old tenement, projecting its storey beyond storey regularly upwards, and fast 'nodding to its fall,' or the name of a street suggestive of some agreeable reflections, there is little to gratify the delicate eye. … Noble arches here and there bestride the streets of Bermondsey, bearing up a railway, with its engines puffing like so many overworked giants, and its rapid trains of passengers; an elegant free school enriches one part, and a picturesque church another; but they all serve by contrast to show more vividly the unpleasant features of the neighbourhood, and, whilst they cannot but command the spectator's admiration, make him at the same time wonder how they got there. The answer is at hand. There is great industry in Bermondsey, and the wretchedness is more on the surface than in the depth of this quarter of the town." Both here, and also in the adjoining parish of Rotherhithe, extensive manufactures are carried on: in Bermondsey the tanners and ropemakers abound; at Rotherhithe, timber merchants, sawyers, and boat-builders. It would not, perhaps, be far from the truth to say that Bermondsey may be regarded not only as a region of manufactures, but as a region of market gardens, as a region of wholesale dealers, or as a maritime region, according to the quarter where we take our stand.

Running east and west through the parish, parallel with the river Thames, and by Dockhead, winding its way towards Rotherhithe and Greenwich, is Tooley Street, a narrow and winding thoroughfare, which in some parts still bears many traces of its antiquity. One would have liked out of sheer malice to have been here to see the little gossiping Secretary of the Admiralty, Samuel Pepys, and his friend and patron, Lord Sandwich, floundering about in these parts in January, 1665–6, when, owing to the bad weather, they could not find a boat to convey them by water, and in consequence they were forced to walk. "Lord! what a dirty walk we had, and so strong the wind, that in the fields we many times could not carry our bodies against it, but were driven backwards. It was dangerous to walk the streets, the bricks and tiles falling from the houses, so that the whole streets were covered with them. . . . . We could see no boats in the Thames afloat but what were broke loose and carried through the bridge, it being ebbing water. And the greatest sight of all was among other parcels of ships driven hither and thither in clusters together, one was quite overset, and lay with her masts all along in the water, and her keel above water." The desolation and wintry chilliness of this picture is enough to make us shiver even in the dog-days.

Passing onward on our journey from the foot of London Bridge, down the steep incline of Duke Street, which bounds the north side of the approach to the railway station, we find ourselves in Tooley Street, whose name, we are told, is a strange corruption of the former appellation, St. Olave's Street, and whose shops exhibit a singular mixture of the features which are found separate in other parts of the district—wharfingers, merchants, salesmen, factors, and agents; outfitters, biscuit-bakers, store-shippers, ship-chandlers, slopsellers, block-makers, and rope-makers; engineers, and others, together with the usual varieties of retail tradesmen—all point to the diversified, and no less busy than diversified, traffic of this street. "Here," it has been said truly, "the crane and the pulley seem never to be idle."

The parish of St. Olave is bounded on the north by the river Thames, whence it extends in an irregular line towards the Dover Road, separating Bermondsey from Rotherhithe and Deptford parishes; it enters Bermondsey Street by Snow's Fields, and proceeds thence to St. Saviour's (once called Savory) Dock. St. Olave's, like many other parishes in the suburbs of London, having been greatly increased in the number of its inhabitants, in 1732 one of the fifty new churches provided by the Act of Queen Anne was built for the district of Horselydown, which was made a separate parish by an Act of Parliament passed in the following year, and to which was given the name of St. John.

The parish church of St. Olave stands on the north side of Tooley Street, near its western end; and with the exception of the south side, is concealed from public observation. St. Olave, or Olaf, in whose honour it is dedicated, was the son of Herald, Prince of Westford, in Norway, in which country he was celebrated for having expelled the Swedes, and for recovering Gothland. After performing these exploits he came to England, and remaining here for three years as the ally of Ethelred, he expelled the Danes from several English cities, towns, and fortresses, and returned home laden with great spoils. He was recalled to England by Emma of Normandy, the surviving queen of his friend, in order to assist her against Knute; but finding that a treaty had been made between that king and the English, he withdrew, and was created king of Norway by the voice of the nation. To strengthen his throne, he married the daughter of the king of Sweden; but his zeal for the Christian faith caused him to be much troubled by domestic wars, as well as by the Danes abroad; yet these he regarded not, as he plainly declared that he would rather lose his life and his kingdom than his faith in Christ. Upon this, the men of Norway complained to Knute, king of Denmark, and afterwards of England, charging Olaf with altering their laws and customs; and he was murdered by a body of traitors and rebels near Drontheim, about A.D. 1029. The Bishop of Drontheim, whom he had taken with him across the sea from England in order to assist him in establishing the Christian faith in Norway, commanded that he should be honoured as a martyr, and invoked as a saint. He was buried at Drontheim, where his body was found uncorrupted in 1541, when the Lutherans plundered his shrine of its gold and jewels, for it was reckoned the greatest treasure of the Church in the north. His feast is commemorated on the 29th of July. Such was St. Olaf, to whose memory no less than four churches were built in London, and rightly so, for, says Newcourt, "he had well deserved, and was well beloved by our English nation, as well for his friendship in assisting them against the Danes, as for his holy and Christian life."


In Alban Butler's "Lives of the Saints" will be found several interesting particulars of the life of this heroic and saintly prince. We meet with him under a variety of names, as Anlaf, Unlaf, Olaf Haraldson, Olaus, and Olaf Helge, or Olaf the Holy. The antiquity of his church in Southwark is proved by William Horn's "Chronicle of the Acts of the Abbots of St. Austin's, Canterbury" (printed in Roger Twisden's "Historiæ Anglicanæ Scriptores Decem"), who tells us that John, Earl of Warren, granted, about the year 1281, to Nicholas, the then abbot, "all the estate which it held in Southwark, standing upon the river Thames between the Bregge house (Bridge-house) and the Church of St. Olave." A still fuller account of St. Olave will be found in the "Acta Sanctorum" of the Bollandists.

In 1736, part of the old church having fallen down, and the rest being in an unsafe condition, owing to the graves having been dug too near the foundation, the parishioners applied to Parliament for power to rebuild it; which being granted, they were enabled to raise £5,000 by granting annuities for lives, not exceeding £400 on the whole; for payment of which a rate was to be made, not exceeding 6d. in the pound, two-thirds to be paid by the landlord, and one by the tenant, to cease on the determination of the annuities. The new church, constructed chiefly of Portland stone, was completed in 1740. It has a nave, with side aisles, and a square tower, which was originally designed to be surmounted by a spire. In 1843 this church had a narrow escape from total destruction by fire. On the 19th of August in that year, a conflagration broke out on the premises of an oilman, near the entrance of Topping's wharf (which is close by the church), which was totally destroyed, with a sacrifice of property to the amount of £10,000. The fire consumed the shot tower, then lately used as Watson's Telegraph, as stated at the close of the last chapter, and afterwards caught the roof of St. Olave's Church. The flames spread rapidly, and the interior of the structure, with all the bells, was destroyed, little more than the tower and the bare walls remaining. Fortunately, the church was insured, and was speedily rebuilt.

THE GRAMMAR SCHOOL OF ST. OLAVE'S, 1810. (From a Contemporary Print.)

The plan of the body of this church is a parallelogram, divided into nave and aisles. The columns, which separate these three compartments from each other, are fluted, of the Ionic order, with sculptured capitals, in each range four in number. Against the eastern and western walls are also four pilasters, corresponding with the columns. The nave is prolonged eastwardly by a semi-circular apse, containing the altar. Over the entire nave extends a beautiful and highly-finished groined ceiling of five divisions; in the perpendicular side of each compartment of the groining is a semi-circular headed window. The ceiling of the altar-apse is a semi-dome, forming a rich piece of gilt coffered work. The east window is of stained glass, with a central representation, in an oval, of the Lord's Supper, after Carlo Dolce. At the west end of the church is a large and handsome organ, remarkable for the richness of its tone. This instrument, designed by Dr. Gauntlett, organist of St. Olave's, was erected at an expense of £800; it was commenced in 1844, by Mr. Lincoln, and completed in 1846, by Messrs. Hill and Co., the builders of the great organs in York Minster, Worcester Cathedral, &c.

Eastward from the church is—or was till 'lately—a quay, which in the year 1330, by the licence of Simon Swanland, mayor of London, was built by Isabel, widow of Hammond Goodchepe. Adjoining this quay was "a great house of stone and timber, belonging to the Abbot of St. Augustine, Canterbury, which was an ancient piece of work, seeming to be one of the first builded houses on that side of the river over against the city. It was called the Abbot's Inn of St. Augustine, in Southwark, and was held of the Earls of Warren and Surrey, as appears by a deed made in 1281. The house afterwards belonged to Sir Anthony St. Leger, then to Warnham St. Leger, and is now," says Stow, "called St. Leger House, and divided into many apartments." A wharf on the site keeps in remembrance the name of this knightly family, although by the process of time it has become corrupted into Sellinger's Wharf.

The Abbot of Battle, an important personage as the superior of the monastery erected on the spot where the fate of Saxon England was decided, and especially patronised by the Conqueror, had a fine residence near the same spot, with well laid-out gardens, as an agreeable change from the natural beauties of hilly, leafy Sussex, adorned with parterres in Norman fashion, with a fish-pond and a curiously-contrived maze. The abbot has gone, and the palace and gardens are gone too; and Londoners of the nineteenth century hurry through Maze Pond, at the back of Guy's Hospital, little thinking whence the dirty street derived its name. The "Maze"—now an assemblage of small streets on the south side of the London Bridge Railway Station—is stated by Mr. Charles Knight in his "London," to have "once been the garden attached to the manor-house, or 'inn,' of the abbots of Battle, the house itself having stood on the north side of Tooley Street, in what is now called Mill Lane, which leads down to Battlebridge Stairs." Aubrey, in his "Anecdotes and Traditions," says, "At Southwark was a maze, which is now converted into buildings bearing that name;" but Peter Cunningham in his "Handbook of London," says that Maze Pond is so called from the "Manor of Maze," which formerly existed here.

Opposite St. Olave's Church, in Tooley Street, and adjoining Church Alley, which has become absorbed in the Brighton and South-Eastern Railway terminus, says Allen in his "History of Surrey," "formerly stood a spacious stone building, the city residence of the Priors of Lewes, in Sussex, whenever occasion led them to visit London or its vicinity on parliamentary or ecclesiastical duty." Strype, noticing St. Olave's Church, says, "On the south side of the street was sometime one great house, builded of stone, with arched gates, which pertained to the Prior of Lewes, in Sussex, and was his residence when he came to London; it is now a common hostelry for travellers, and hath a sign of the 'Walnut-Tree.'" In Maitland's time it became converted into a cider-cellar, and is described as follows:—"Opposite St. Olave's Church recently stood a spacious stone building, the city mansion of the Prior of Lewes, in Sussex; the chapel of which, consisting of two aisles, being still remaining at the upper end of Walnut-tree Alley; it is converted into a cider-cellar or warehouse, and by the earth's being greatly raised in this neighbourhood it is at present underground; and the Gothic building, a little westward of the same (at present a wine-vault belonging to the 'King's Head' Tavern), under the school-house, a small chapel, I take to have been part of the said mansion-house. There are," continues Allen, "two entrances to the crypt in White Horse Court, leading from Tooley House to Southwark House, formerly the 'King's Head' Tavern, and prior to that the sign of the 'Walnut-Tree.' Entering by the north entrance, it is seven feet six inches long by six feet wide, which leads to a large semicircular arched vault, thirty-nine feet three inches long, by eighteen feet wide; on one side is a well from which water is at present conveyed to the houses above. Towards the further end is a doorway, leading to another semi-circular vaulted arch, thirty-one feet long, by thirteen feet ten inches wide; from this is a passage seven feet by six feet, which leads to the principal apartment of this ancient building, the whole length of which is forty feet six inches by sixteen feet six inches in width. At the further end are two windows. This ancient apartment consists of four groined arches, supported on dwarf columns. From this is an entrance to another vault of various dimensions, but the length is twenty-seven feet four inches. Part of this vault is arched as the former, and part groined, over which the stairs leading to the grammar-school are erected." All this, however, has now been removed, but is recorded here for the benefit of future antiquaries.

The school here referred to was originally styled the "Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth, in the parish of St. Olave's," that queen having incorporated sixteen of the parishioners to be the governors. The school was founded in 1561 for "instructing the boys of the parish in English grammar and writing." In 1674, Charles II., "for the better education of the rich as well as of the poor," granted a further charter, enabling them (the governors) to hold revenues to the amount of £500 a year, which were to be applied "in maintenance of the schoolmaster, ushers, the house and possessions, the maintenance and education of two scholars at the university (not confining it to either Oxford or Cambridge), for setting forth poor scholars apprentices, for the relief of poor impotent persons of the parish, maintaining a workhouse, and to other purposes." By order of the vestry of St. Olave's parish, the vestry-hall was fitted up for the purposes of the school, which was kept there until the year 1829, soon after which period the building was pulled down for forming the approaches to new London Bridge. After a succession of changes, the London and Greenwich Railway Company provided a piece of ground in Bermondsey Street on which a new school-house was erected. This building, which was completed in 1835, was in the Tudor style of architecture; it was constructed of red brick with stone dressings, and formed two sides of a quadrangle, which was cut diagonally by the roadway. In the centre of the building was an octagonal tower, containing, on the ground-floor, a porch open on three sides, and leading to a corridor of general communication. On one side of this octagonal tower were the school-rooms, large and well-lighted apartments, and on the other side were the head-master's house, and also the court-room in which the governors met to transact business, and which also served as the school library. The building is said to have been highly creditable to all concerned in its erection; but it was unfortunate with regard to its situation. It could be seen, and then to great disadvantage, only from the school-yard, or from the railway, which intersected the school-yard diagonally, at a height of about twenty feet above the level of the ground. The entrance to the school was from Bermondsey Street, through one of the arches of the railway. The location of the school in this spot was not destined to be of long duration; for on the widening of the railway, in consequence of the formation of the South-Eastern and London and Brighton Railways, its site was wanted, and the school was once more transferred farther eastward, at the end of Tooley Street, where we shall have more to say of it when speaking of the new building.

We have already, in our notice of the High Street, Southwark, spoken of the Mint which was established there by Henry VIII.; but it appears that there was a Mint on this side of the river as far back as the Saxon times. It is supposed to have occupied the spot where afterwards was the house of the Prior of Lewes, and under the Norman kings there was a Mint nearly on the same spot.

The wharves and buildings near St. Olave's Church have been the scene of some extensive conflagrations. One of these took place in 1836, in which Fenning's Wharf was consumed. Another fire broke out on the same spot on the 19th of August, 1843, and during the time it raged several of the buildings in its vicinity were almost totally destroyed. Among these, as we have previously stated, were St. Olave's Church, Topping's Wharf, Watson's telegraph, and other adjacent buildings. It was stated at the time that the church might have been saved, but Mr. Braidwood, the superintendent of the London Fire Brigade, considered it advisable to direct his attention to preventing the fire reaching the valuable surrounding property, amounting to upwards of £500,000 in value. A few years later, on the 22nd of June, 1861, a most destructive fire, said to have been caused by spontaneous combustion, broke out at Cotton's Wharf, Tooley Street, a little to the east of St. Olave's Church, and continued smouldering for several days. In his endeavours to check the ravages of this fire, Mr. Braidwood lost his life. He was buried, as we have already seen, at Abney Park Cemetery, and a tablet has been inserted in the wall near the entrance to the wharf to mark the spot where he fell. The damage caused by this fire amounted to £2,000,000. In some of these conflagrations, considerable damage has been done to the shipping on the river, by the burning oil and pitch overspreading the surface of the river. In the "Cyclopædia of Insurance," we read that in July, 1731, a large number of vessels were burnt on the Thames through the overturning of a pot of boiling pitch! Verily there is, after all, some truth in the old saying about "setting the Thames on fire."

To return to Mill Lane, we may add that there is—or, at all events, was in 1866—an inn here called the "Lion and Key," no doubt a corruption of the "Lion on the Quay."

The Borough Compter, formerly situated in this lane, was one of the prisons visited and described by John Howard. He pictures it as in a deplorable condition, "out of repair and ruinous, without an infirmary and even without bedding; while most of the inmates were poor creatures from the 'Court of Conscience,' who lay there till their debts were paid." The Compter was removed hither from St. Margaret's Hill, as stated in a previous chapter. (fn. 1) Till a comparatively recent period (1806), prisoners accused of felonies were here detained, and debtors were imprisoned here. If they could pay sixpence a day, they could have the luxury of a room eight feet square. They were allowed a twopenny loaf a day, but neither straw for bedding, fire, medical or religious attention; and a man might be imprisoned on this regimen for a debt of a guinea for forty days without being able to change his clothes or wash his face or hands during the period of his imprisonment. This miserable state of things was strongly represented to the Lord Mayor in 1804, but no answer was received to the expostulation.

In a narrow turning out of Tooley Street, near the back of Guy's Hospital, is a small inn, much frequented by seafaring persons, called the "Ship and Shovel." The sign may allude to the shovels used in taking out ballast, or cargoes in bulk, or it may refer to the gallant but unfortunate Sir Cloudesley Shovel, whose wreck and death at the Scilly Islands we mentioned in our account of the monuments in Westminster Abbey. (fn. 2)

In Carter Lane, a turning out of Tooley Street, near St. Olave's Church, stood, till 1830, when it was pulled down to make room for the approaches of the new London Bridge, the meeting-house of the Anabaptist congregation, under the pastorate successively of Dr. Gill and Dr. Rippon. This chapel, an ugly structure, erected in 1757, deserves mention here from the fact that the congregations assembling successively within its walls during several generations, after migrating to New Park Street, are now located at Newington, in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, under Mr. Spurgeon. The connection of this body with Carter Lane dates back to the time of the Commonwealth. Benjamin Keach, author of some controversial works, was the minister from 1668 to 1704. In his time the congregation met in a small chapel in Goat's Yard Passage, Horselydown. It must not be overlooked that two centuries back Dissenting congregations did not aim at attracting notice either in the architectural details of their chapels, or in placing them in conspicuous places, as we see in modern times. This fact will explain the circumstance that Dissenting meeting-houses were formerly to be met with in back streets and courts. Dr. Gill's ministry extended from 1720 to 1771; and he in turn was succeeded in 1773 by Dr. Rippon, whose pastorate extended to 1836, so that in the long period of 116 years, the congregation and their successors had but two ministers. Dr. Gill was one of the most learned men whom his denomination ever produced, and some account of him may be given here. He was born at Kettering, in Northamptonshire, in 1697. He was educated at the grammarschool of his native town, and at an early age was famed for his acquaintance with the classic writers. His zeal for knowledge was so great that he was accustomed to spend a few hours every week in the shop of a bookseller in Kettering on market days, when only it was opened, and there he first saw the learned works of various writers in Biblical lore, in which he afterwards became so greatly distinguished. So constant was his attendance at this shop, that the market people, speaking proverbially, were wont to say, "As surely as Gill is in the bookseller's shop." An attempt on the part of the schoolmaster to enforce on Gill a regular attendance at the parish church led to his withdrawal from the school. With a view to enable him to enter the Nonconformist ministry, application was made for his admission into the Mile End Academy, but his precocity in learning seemed to the principals of that institution a sufficient bar to his reception by them. He was now compelled to work at the loom, but found time to study the Greek Testament, and to obtain a little insight into Hebrew. Becoming a preacher of his own denomination in his native county, his fame as a scholar in due time led to an invitation to come to London to supply the pulpit at Goat's Yard, then vacant by the death of Mr. Benjamin Stinton, the son-in-law of Keach. Soon after his arrival in London, Gill became acquainted with Mr. John Skepp, a Hebrew scholar, and minister of a congregation in Cripplegate. At Skepp's death, many of his books in divinity and Rabbinical literature were purchased by Gill, to whom they proved a valuable acquisition. He was soon able to read the Talmud and the Targums in the original, as well as the ancient commentators thereon. Even amidst these severe studies, he still found time to study the Fathers of the Church; and the fruits of these labours soon began to appear in the learned works he subsequently published. In 1745 he issued proposals for printing an "Exposition of the Whole New Testament," in three folio volumes, which was completed in 1748. For this undertaking Gill received the degree of Doctor of Divinity, from Marischal College, Aberdeen. When his friends congratulated him on this token of respect, he remarked, "I neither thought it, nor bought, nor sought it." Between 1746 and 1760 he published "An Exposition of the Old and New Testament," in nine volumes, which Robert Hall considered to be "a continent of mud," while John Ryland characterised it as "an ocean of divinity." He also published "A Body of Divinity," "The Cause of God and Truth," and other learned works.

He was at times keenly engaged in controversy, and contended in turn with Whitby, Wesley, and other opponents of the Calvinistic school of theology. How he managed to prepare for publication such an array of learned literary matter surprised many of his friends. He was accustomed to rise as soon as it was light in the winter, and usually before six in the summer; and by this disposal of his time, to say nothing of the duties of his pastorate, and the frequent demands on the preaching services of such an eminent scholar, he was able to send forth to the world some ponderous tomes, the preparation of which, and its subsequent correction for the press, must have been no ordinary undertaking. It is stated that although his folio volumes would be sufficient to fill 10,000 printed quarto pages, he never employed an amanuensis in preparing his copy for the press. He died at Camberwell on the 4th of October, 1771. As a proof that "relics" are still held in honour among Protestants, it may be added that the pulpit in which Dr. Gill preached is now used by the students in the college attached to the Metropolitan Tabernacle; and the chair once used by the doctor in his study has been transferred to the vestry of the Tabernacle of Mr. Spurgeon.

Among the anecdotes related of Dr. Gill, one may be given, as it throws some light upon the "service of song" a century or more back. In his days the psalmody in many of the Dissenting Chapels was at the lowest possible ebb, and the stock of hymn-tunes possessed by Dr. Gill's clerk must have been very small; for on one occasion an aged dame waited on the doctor to complain that the clerk, in about three years, had introduced two new tunes. Not that he was a famous singer, or able to conduct a great variety of song, but he did his best. The young people of the congregation, naturally enough, were pleased with the new tunes; but the good woman could not bear the innovation. The doctor, after patiently listening, asked her whether she understood singing. "No," she replied. "What! can't you sing?" She confessed that she was no singer, nor her aged father before her; and though they had had about a hundred years between them to learn the Old Hundreth Psalm, they could not sing it nor any other tune. The doctor did not hurt her feelings by telling her that people who did not understand singing were the last who ought to complain; but he meekly said, "Sister, what tunes should you like us to sing?" "Why, sir," she replied, "I should very much like David's tunes." "Well," said he, "if you will get David's tunes for us, we can then try to sing them." It need scarcely be added that in Dr. Gill's meetinghouse at Horselydown the duty of leading the psalmody devolved on the clerk, whose salary, it appears, was half the sum paid to the pew-opener, or only forty shillings per annum!

Whiston, the translator of "Josephus," intended to hear Dr. Gill preach, and would have done so had he not learned the fact that the doctor had written a volume on the Song of Solomon, which, in Whiston's opinion, did not form any part of the canonical Scriptures. For this reason Whiston declined to enter Gill's chapel.

Dr. Rippon, who succeeded Dr. Gill at Carter Lane in 1773, and continued the minister of the congregation after their removal to New Park Street, died in 1836, in the eighty-fifth year of his age, his pastorate having extended through the long period of sixty-three years. His name does not shine in the literary world with such splendour as his predecessor, neither was he to be compared with Dr. Gill in theological and Oriental attainments. He compiled a selection of hymns for the use of Dissenting congregations, by whom it was extensively used as a supplement to Dr. Watts's hymn-book. Besides editing "The Baptist Annual Register," he projected, in 1803, a "History of Bunhill Fields," in six volumes, which did not meet with sufficient encouragement to enable him to carry out the intention, although ten years had been occupied in the preparation of the materials for the undertaking. In his time the singing had improved considerably, for a tune-book once used in many Dissenting congregations bears his name.

An anecdote, which gives us an insight into the character of Dr. Rippon, has been related of him. On a special occasion he was deputed to read an address from the Dissenters to George III., congratulating him on his recovery from sickness. The doctor read on with his usual clear utterance till he came to a passage in which there was a special reference to the goodness of God, when he paused and said, "Please your majesty, we will read that again," and then proceeded with his usual cool dignity to repeat the sentence with emphasis. No other man in the denomination would have thought of doing such a thing; but from Rippon it came so naturally that no one censured him, or if they did, it would have had no effect upon him.

"Tooley Street," says Peter Cunningham, "will long continue to be famous from the well-known story related by Canning of 'The Three Tailors of Tooley Street,' who formed a meeting for redress of popular grievances, and though no more than three in number, began their petition to the House of Commons with the somewhat grand opening of 'We, the people of England!'"

The name of Tooley Street has not always been spelt in the same way. For instance, to a notice put forth in Cromwell's time by Thomas Garway, the founder of Garraway's Coffee-house, in the City, are appended the following words: (fn. 3) —"Advertisement. That Nicholas Brook, living at the sign of the 'Frying-pan,' in St. Tulie's Street, against the Church, is the only known man for making of Mills for grinding of Coffee powder, which Mills are by him sold from 40 to 45 shillings the Mill."

On the south side, near the middle of the street, according to the "New View of London," published in the reign of Queen Anne, was a place called the "Isle of Ducks;" but little or nothing is now known either of its history, or of its exact situation.

The streets branching off on the south side of Tooley Street, especially those near the western end, such as Joiners' Street, Weston Street, Dean Street, and Bermondsey Street (which, Northouck says, is corruptly called Barnaby Street), pass immediately under the railway station, and therefore appear like so many underground tunnels, in which long rows of gas-lamps are continually burning. In spite of this light, however, they are unknown to history.

John Street, Webbe Street, and Weston Street, all modern thoroughfares in the neighbourhood of the Maze Pond, keep in remembrance the names of the late Mr. John Webbe Weston, who owned much of the land hereabouts. Winding south-westwards across some of these streets from the eastern end of St. Thomas's Street, are Snow's Fields, which have now anything but a verdant aspect. "Moor Fields are fields no more!" It is true that from this thoroughfare—for it is nothing more nor less than a narrow street—a glimpse is caught of some green and flourishing foliage in the rear of Guy's Hospital; but all traces of garden grounds are fast disappearing. John Timbs has a word or two to say about this spot in his "Autobiography." Speaking of his boyhood, he observes: "The love of gardening and raising flowers has ever been with me a favourite pursuit. Even in that sooty suburb in Southwark, Snow's Fields, at a very early age, I had the range of a large garden, and a plot set apart for my special culture. But I had fancied failures:

'Oh! ever thus from childhood's hour
I've seen my fondest hopes decay;
I never loved a tree or flower,
But 'twas the first to fade away.'

Still, what I attributed to fate was, in most cases, traceable to the poisonous atmosphere of the manufacturing suburb."

"There was a time," says Mr. Charles Knight, in his "London," "when the manufacture of hats formed one of the characteristics of this neighbourhood; but this branch of manufacture, from some cause with which we are not well acquainted, has suffered a curious migration. At about the end of the last century and the beginning of the present, the 'Maze' (a district between Bermondsey Street and the Borough High Street), Tooley Street, the northern end of Bermondsey Street, and other streets in the immediate vicinity, formed the grand centre of the hat manufacture of London; but since then some commercial motive-power has exerted a leverage which has transferred nearly the whole assemblage farther westward. If we wish to find the centre of this manufacture, with its subordinate branches of hat-block makers, hat-dyers, hat-lining and leather cutters, hat shag-makers, hat-tip makers, hat-bowstring makers, hat-furriers, hat-trimming makers, &c., we must visit the district included between the Borough High Street and Blackfriars Road. A glance at that curious record of statistical facts, a 'London Directory,' will show to what an extent this manufacture is carried on in the district just marked out. It is true that Bermondsey still contains one hat-factory, which has been characterised as the largest in the world, and that Tooley Street still exhibits a sprinking of smaller firms; but the manufacture is no longer a feature to be numbered among the peculiarities of Bermondsey."


Passing from Snow's Fields, under the railway arches, by way of Crucifix Lane, a name which savours of "the olden time," we enter Artillery Street, Horselydown, or, as it was formerly called, Horsey Down. The parish of St. Olave's having greatly increased both in houses and population, the commissioners for erecting fifty new churches within the "bills of mortality" purchased a site for a church and cemetery, consisting of a field, which was walled in and called the "Artillery Ground," from the fact that the train-bands of Southwark used to practise therein. The church was accordingly built, and dedicated to St. John, and, agreeably to an Act of the 6th Geo. II., 1733, "the district of Horsey-down, Horsa-down, or Horsley-down (so called from its having been used by the inhabitants as a grazing-field for their horses and cattle), was appointed for the new parish." Elmes observes, very absurdly: "Popular legends derive its name from a belief that the horse of King John lay down with that monarch upon his back, and hence horse-lye-down; but as the entire tract so called was, according to Stow, a grazing-ground, called Horse-down, it is more probably a corruption of that title." In speaking of the derivation of the name of Horselydown, the author of "A New View of London" (1708), remarks: "This street, as I was told by a sober counsellor at law, who said he had it from an old record, was so called for that the water, formerly overflowing it, was so effectually drawn off that the place became a green field, where horses and other cattle used to pasture and lye down before the street was built." Near it, as we further learn from the same work, was Horselydown Fair Street, described as a considerable street, between Paris Street, Tooley Street, and Five Foot Lane, Southwark.

Thomas Guy, the founder of the famous hospital bearing his name, was born in this street. His birthplace is thus accurately fixed by Maitland:—"He (Guy) was born in the north-east corner house of Pritchard's Alley (two doors east of St. John's Churchyard), in Fair Street, Horsleydown." "Amidst the changes of old London," says Charles Knight, in his "Shadows of the Old Booksellers," "Fair Street still exists, and has a due place in the Post Office Guide to principal streets and places. It is at the eastern extremity of Tooley Street, where Horselydown begins, and at a short distance from the Thames. The Down, where horses once grazed, and where probably the child Thomas Guy once played, is now built over. The father of this boy was a lighterman and coal-dealer, and it is most likely that the young son of a man so occupied would be familiar with the locality between Horselydown and London Bridge. One building seems to have lived in his memory in connection with early associations. St. Thomas's Hospital, an old almonry, had been bought by the citizens of London, at the dissolution of the religious houses, as a place of reception for diseased people. It was fast falling into decay when Thomas Guy looked upon it in his boyhood."

The church, dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, was finished in 1732; it is a plain stone building, lighted by two ranges of windows, and has an apsidal termination at the eastern end. The square tower, containing ten bells, is surmounted with a spire in the form of a fluted Ionic pillar. The church is seen to the northward from the London and Greenwich Railway.

In Goat's Yard, Horselydown, was the meetinghouse of the celebrated Benjamin Keach, who, from 1668 to 1704, was the minister of a Nonconformist congregation assembling there, one of the oldest of such congregations in Southwark and Bermondsey, and the precursor of the congregation now assembling in the Metropolitan Tabernacle. For very excellent reasons, the Dissenters of those stirring times in English history were not anxious to attract notice in the style of architecture of their meeting-houses, nor did they erect them in conspicuous situations, for during the reign of Charles II. they almost met by stealth, much in the same way as the Roman Catholics were wont to do a century or so later. When Charles II. issued his declaration of indulgence in 1672, Keach, among others, took advantage of it, and his congregation erected their first meeting-house in Goat's Yard. This chapel no longer exists, for a century later, the lease having run out, it became a cooperage, and afterwards a blacksmith's forge. In front of the chapel was a court, bounded by a brick wall, and a peep through the iron gates would have shown an avenue of limes leading to the principal entrance. It must have been thought a building of some magnitude at that epoch, seeing that it accommodated as many as 1,000 persons. One curious fact connected with Keach's chapel may here be mentioned, as it throws some light upon the manners and customs of two centuries ago. In many of the Dissenting chapels of the times of the later Stuarts there was no singing—not, as some persons have erroneously supposed, lest their sounds might be heard by their enemies; but from the idea that only the really spiritual persons ought to sing, and not the unconverted. There was a great controversy about this question among the Nonconformists, and many pamphlets were written on both sides of the question. Keach contended that all the congregation ought to sing, and he fought zealously for this practice for many years, and lived to see his ideas make way. At one time there was a sort of drawn battle between Keach and some of his people, and an understanding was at length come to that at one period of the service, during the psalmody, those who objected to the singing should leave the chapel and walk about the chapel-yard, among the graves of the silent dead, and then come in again after what they objected to was over! Keach was the author of "An Exposition of the Parables," "A Key to open Scripture Metaphors," and some controversial pamphlets. At one time he found it necessary to reply to some persons who had contrived to unsettle the minds of the young people and apprentices of the congregation, by arguing that Saturday was the true Sabbath. For the publication of a series of discourses on this subject, under the title of "The Jewish Sabbath Abrogated," in which he treated the subject controversially, Keach was complimented by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The death of Keach was thus celebrated by one of his congregation in the following lines:—

"Is he no more? has Heaven withdrawn his light,
And left us to lament, in sable shades of night, Our loss?
Death boasts his triumph; for the rumour's spread
Through Salem's plains, that Keach, dear Keach, is dead."

Southwark, as is generally known, was a famous rendezvous of the Nonconformists two centuries ago, and such it has continued to be down to our own day. In the time of Charles II., and even earlier, the Anabaptists were accustomed to practise immersion in the river, and at that date several quiet spots existed on the banks of the Thames, not far eastward from London Bridge, suitable for that purpose. But the increase of dwellings in the neighbourhood of the river soon rendered this practice impossible. A building for this particular object, Mr. Pike tells us, existed in Horselydown in the seventeenth century. It was called the Baptisterion, and attached to it were dressing-rooms. It was the common place of adult immersion for southern London. A conference, which assembled in 1717, provided funds for the rebuilding of the structure. The chapel never appears to have had any regular congregation associated with it, but elderly persons were living at the commencement of the present century who remembered the place being used as a preaching station. The passage leading to the meeting-house was called "Dipping Alley."

Near the north-east corner of St. John's churchyard, and at the eastern end of Tooley Street, stands the new Free Grammar School of the united parishes of St. Olave's and St. John's, of which we have spoken above. The building, like its predecessor in Bermondsey Street, is in the Tudor style of architecture, and is altogether an ornament to the neighbourhood. It comprises a residence for the master and the usual school buildings; but the chief architectural feature is the central tower, over the doorway of which is a statue of the founder, Queen Elizabeth.

"Early in the reign of Elizabeth," says Mr. Corner, in his account of the above seminary, in the Gentleman's Magazine, January, 1836, "when the foundation of public schools was promoted throughout the country, under the authority of the legislature and the patronage of the crown, the parishioners of St. Saviour's, Southwark, set a noble example to their neighbours in the establishment of their admirable Free Grammar School; and the inhabitants of the parish of St. Olave were not slow to follow so enlightened and benevolent a policy. St. Olave's School was set on foot in the year 1560, and constituted 'The Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth of the Parishioners of the parish of St. Olave, by letters patent issued in 1571.'"

In this institution provision is made for a commercial as well as a classical education. The ancient seal of the school bears the date of 1576. It represents the master seated in the school-room, with five boys standing near him. The rod is a prominent object, as in other school seals, which may be seen in Carlisle's "Grammar Schools," some of which are also inscribed with the wellknown maxim of King Solomon, then strictly maintained, but now nearly exploded, "Qui parcit virgam odit filium" ("He who spares the rod spoils the child"). A fac-simile of the seal, in cast iron or carved in stone, is placed in front of most of the houses belonging to the school. Robert Browne, a Puritan minister, and founder of the sect of Brownists, was master of St. Olave's Grammar School from 1586 till 1591.

The following particulars of this locality, of which but scant notices are found in any local history or topographical work, were given by the late Mr. G. R. Corner, F.S.A., at a special general meeting of the Surrey Archæological Society, held at St. Olave's Branch School-house, in 1856. "It is difficult," he said, "to imagine that a neighbourhood now so crowded with wharves and warehouses, granaries and factories, mills, breweries, and places of business of all kinds, and where the busy hum of men at work like bees in a hive is incessant, can have been, not many centuries since, a region of fields and meadows, pastures for sheep and cattle, with pleasant houses and gardens, shady lanes where lovers might wander (not unseen), clear streams with stately swans, and cool walks by the river-side. Yet such was the case; and the way from London Bridge to Horselydown was occupied by the mansions of men of mark and consequence, dignitaries of the Church, men of military renown, and wealthy citizens. First, in St. Olave's Street, opposite to the church, was the London residence of the Priors of Lewes. Adjoining to the church, on the east side, where Chamberlain's wharf now stands, was the house of the Priors of St. Augustine at Canterbury; next to which was the Bridge House; and a little further eastward was the house of the Abbots of Battle, in Sussex, with pleasant gardens and a clear stream (now a black and fœtid sewer), flowing down Mill Lane, and turning the abbot's mill at Battle Bridge Stairs. On this stream were swans, and it flowed under a bridge (over which the road was continued to Bermondsey and Horselydown), from the Manor of the Maze, the seat of Sir William Burcestre or Bourchier, who died there in 1407, and Sir John Burcestre, who died there in 1466, and was buried at St. Olave's; and afterwards of Sir Roger Copley. The site is now known by the not very pleasant name of Maze Pond. From the corner of Bermondsey Street to Horselydown was formerly called Horselydown Lane; and here, on the west side of Stoney Lane, which was once a Roman road leading to the trajectus, or ferry over the river to the Tower (as Stoney Street, in St. Saviour's, was a similar Roman road leading to the ferry to Dowgate), was the mansion of Sir John Fastolf, who fought at Agincourt, and was Governor of Normandy. He died at his castle of Caistor, in Norfolk, in 1460, at the age of eighty-one years.

"During the insurrection of Jack Cade in 1450, Sir John Fastolf furnished his place in Southwark with the old soldiers of Normandy, and habiliments of war, to defend himself against the rebels; but having sent an emissary to them at Blackheath, the man was taken prisoner, and narrowly escaped execution as a spy. They brought him, however, with them into Southwark, and sent him to Sir John, whom he advised to put away all his habiliments of war and the old soldiers; and so he did, and went himself to the Tower, with all his household. He was, however, in danger from both parties, for Jack Cade would have burned his house, and he was likely to be impeached for treason for retiring to the Tower, instead of resisting and attacking the rebels, which probably he had not force enough to attempt, as they had entire possession of the Borough.

"Further east, and nearly opposite to the Tower of London, was 'The Rosary.' This belonged to the family of Dunlegh, who appears to have been of some consequence in Southwark at an early period. Richard Dunlegh was returned to the Parliament held at York, 26th Edward I., as one of the representatives of the borough of Southwark, and so was Henry le Dunlegh to the Parliament held at Lincoln, in the 28th of Edward I.

"Still further eastward on the bank of the river was the Liberty of St. John. The Prior of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem held in the reign of Edward I. three water-mills, three acres of land, one acre of meadow, and twenty acres of pasture, at Horsedowne (sic) in Southwark, which in the reign of Edward III. Francis de Bachenie held for the term of his life, on the demise of brother Thomas le Archer, late Prior. Courts were held for this manor down to a period comparatively recent. Messrs. Courage's brewery stands on the site of the mill and manor-house; and in a lease from Sir William Abdy to Mr. Donaldson, dated in 1803, there was an exception of the hall of the mill-house, court-house, or manorhouse, to hold a Court once or oftener in every year.

"At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, St. John's mill was in the tenure of Hugh Eglesfield, by virtue of a lease granted by the Prior of St. John to Christopher Craven, for sixty years, from Midsummer, 23rd Henry VIII., at the yearly rent of £8. It was sold by the king, in his thirty-sixth year, to John Eyre. The estate has for many years belonged to the family of Sir William Abdy, Bart., having come to them from the families of Gainsford and Thomas, whose names are commemorated in Gainsford Street and Thomas Street. Shad Thames is a narrow street, running along the water-side, through the ancient Liberty of St. John, from Pickle Herring to Dockhead.

"Horselydown was a large field anciently used by the neighbouring inhabitants for pasturing their horses and cattle, and was called Horsedown or Horseydown. It was part of the possessions of the Abbey of Bermondsey, and is within the lordship of the manor of Southwark, surrendered to King Henry VIII. with the other possessions of the abbey in 1537. This manor is now called the Great Liberty Manor, and is one of the three manors of Southwark belonging to the Corporation of London, King Edward VI. having granted this manor, with the manor or lordship of Southwark (now called the King's Manor, and formerly belonging to the see of Canterbury), to the City of London, by charter of 1st Edward VI. Horseydown was probably the common of the Great Liberty Manor.

"After the surrender to Henry VIII., Horseydown became the property of Sir Roger Copley, of Galton, Surrey, and the Maze, in Southwark, of whom it was purchased by Adam Beeston, Henry Goodyere, and Hugh Eglisfeilde, three inhabitants of the parish of St. Olave, and was assured to them by a fine levied to them by Sir Roger Copley and Dame Elizabeth his wife, in the reign of Henry VIII. The parish of St. Olave came into possession of Horseydown in 1552, under a lease which the same Hugh Eglisfeilde had purchased of one Robert Warren, and which the parish purchased of him for £20 and twelve pence (the sum he had paid to Warren for it), and the grazing of two kine in Horsedown for his life. (Minutes of Vestry, 5 March, 1552.) . …

"The freehold of Horseydown having become vested solely in Hugh Eglisfeild as the surviving joint-tenant, it descended to his son Christopher Eglisfeild, of Gray's Inn, gentleman, who by deed dated 29th December, 1581, conveyed Horseydown to the governors of St. Olave's Grammar School, to whom it still belongs; and it is one of the remarkable instances of the enormous increase in the value of property in the metropolis, that this piece of land, which was then let to farm to one Alderton, who collected the weekly payments for pasturage, and paid for it a rental of £6 per annum, now produces to the governors for the use of the school an annual income exceeding £3,000."

It is not known whether Southwark Fair was ever held on "Horseydown;" but it is worthy of remark that when the down came to be built over, about the middle of the seventeenth century, the principal street across it, from west to east, was, and is to the present day, called Fair Street; and a street of houses, running from north to south, near to Dockhead, is called Three Oak Lane, traditionally from three oaks formerly standing there. In Evelyn's time, however ("Diary," 13th September, 1660), the fair appears to have been held at St. Margaret's Hill, in the Borough, as we have already seen. (fn. 4)

The old Artillery Hall of the Southwark "Trainbands" stood on the site of the present workhouse in Parish Street, a little to the west of St. John's Church. It was erected in the year 1639, when the governors of the school granted a lease to Cornelius Cooke and others, of a piece of ground forming part of Horseydown, and enclosed with a brick wall, to be employed for a Martial Yard, in which the Artillery Hall was built. In 1665 the governors granted the churchwardens a lease of part of the Martial Yard for 500 years for a burialground; but they reserved all the ground whereon the Artillery House then stood, and "all the herbage of the ground, and also liberty for the militia or trained bands of the borough of Southwark, and also his Majesty's military forces, to muster and exercise arms upon the said ground." The election for Southwark was held at the Artillery Hall in 1680; and at the following sessions—then held at the Bridge House—Slingsby Bethell, Esq., sheriff of London, who had been a losing candidate at the election, was indicted for and convicted of an assault on Robert Mason, a waterman, from Lambeth, who was standing on the steps of the hall with others, and obstructing Mr. Bethell's friends. Mr. Bethell was fined five marks.

In the year 1725 the Artillery Hall was converted by the governors into a workhouse for the parish, and in 1736 the parish church of St. John, Horselydown, as stated above, was built on part of the martial ground. The hall was entirely demolished about the year 1836. Messrs. Courage and Donaldson's brewery, at the corner of Shad Thames, stands, as we have already stated, on the site of the manor-house of St. John of Jerusalem, which formerly belonged to St. John's Hospital, in Clerkenwell. This estate, and that of the governors of the Grammar School, and another estate belonging to Magdalen College, Oxford, called the Isle of Ducks, mentioned above, comprehend almost the whole of this parish. It has been conjectured that the name of the street running along the river-side, and from St. Saviour's Dock to Dockhead, and called Shad Thames, may be an abbreviation of "St. John-at-Thames." Shad Thames, and, indeed, the whole river-side, contain extensive granaries and storehouses for the supply of the metropolis. Indeed, from Morgan's Lane—a turning about the middle of Tooley Street, on the north side, to St. Saviour's (once called Savory) Dock, the whole line of street—called in one part Pickle Herring Street, and in another Shad Thames—exhibits an uninterrupted series of wharves, warehouses, mills, and factories, on both sides of the narrow and crowded roadway. The buildings on the northern side are contiguous to the river, and through gateways and openings in these we witness the busy scenes and the mazes of shipping which pertain to such a spot. The part of Bermondsey upon which we are now entering is as remarkable for its appearance as for its importance, in past times at least, seeing that it was connected with the manufactures of Bermondsey.

The waterside division of Bermondsey, or that part of the parish situate east of St. Saviour's Dock, and adjoining the parish of Rotherhithe, s intersected by several streams or watercourses. Upon the south bank of one of these, between Mill Street and George Row, stand—or stood till very recently—a number of very ancient houses, called London Street. All Londoners have heard of the "Rookery"—or, as it was more universally called, the "Holy Land"—which formerly existed in St. Giles's; and of the "shy neighbourhood" of Somers Town, which we have already described. (fn. 5) Charles Dickens, in his "Uncommercial Traveller," speaks of another "shy neighbourhood" over the Surrey side of London Bridge, "among the fastnesses of Jacob's Island and Dockhead." Little, perhaps, was known of Jacob's Island, in Bermondsey, until it was rendered familiar to the public in the pages of one of Dickens's most popular works, "Oliver Twist," where the features which this spot presented a few years ago—and in part exhibit at the present time—are described so vividly, and with such close accuracy, that we cannot do better than quote the passage. He first speaks of the ditch itself and the houses exterior to the island. "A stranger, standing on one of the wooden bridges thrown across this ditch in Mill Street, will see the inhabitants of the houses on either side lowering, from their back doors and windows, buckets, pails, and domestic utensils in which to haul the water up; and when his eye is turned from these operations to the houses themselves, his utmost astonishment will be excited by the scene before him. Crazy wooden galleries, common to the backs of half-a-dozen houses, with holes from whence to look on the slime beneath; windows, broken and patched, with poles thrust out on which to dry the linen that is never there; rooms so small, so filthy, so confined, that the air would seem too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which they shelter; wooden chambers thrusting themselves out above the mud, and threatening to fall into it, as some of them have done; dirt-besmeared walls and decaying foundations—all these ornament the banks of Folly Ditch." This is the scene in the narrow passages near the Island, two of which are known by the humble names of Halfpenny Alley and Farthing Alley. In Jacob's Island itself the "warehouses are roofless and empty, the walls are crumbling down, the windows are now no windows, the doors are falling into the street, the chimneys are blackened, but they yield no smoke; and, through losses and Chancery suits, it is made quite a desolate island indeed."


Rough and wild as the spot appears when the ditch is filled at high tide, yet, if we visit it six hours afterwards, when mud usurps the place of water, more than one organ of sense is strongly and unpleasantly appealed to. Wilkinson gave a view of this spot in the "Londina Illustrata" in the early part of the present century, and the interval of time does not seem to have produced much change in the appearance of the scene. In the plate here alluded to, the spectator is supposed to be standing on Jacob's Island, and looking across the Folly Ditch, to the crazy, ancient houses of London Street.

"The history of this ditch or tide-stream," says Charles Knight in his "London," "is connected, in a remarkable way, with the manufacturing features of Bermondsey. When the abbey was at the height of its glory, and formed a nucleus to which all else in the neighbourhood was subordinate, the supply of water for its inmates was obtained from the Thames through the medium of this tide. Bermondsey was probably at one time very little better than a morass, the whole being low and level: indeed, at the present time, manufacturers in that locality find the utmost difficulty in obtaining a firm foundation for their buildings, such is the spongy nature of the ground. In the early period just alluded to, the spot, besides being low, was almost entirely unencumbered with buildings; and thus a channel from the Thames, although not many feet in depth, was filled throughout the entire district at every high tide. There was a mill at the river-side, at which the corn for the granary of the abbey was ground; and this mill was turned by the flux and reflux of the water along the channel. When the abbey was destroyed, and the ground passed into the possession of others, the houses which were built on the site still received a supply of water from this watercourse. In process of time tanneries were established on the spot, most probably on account of the valuable supply of fresh water obtainable every twelve hours from the river. This seems to be an opinion entertained by many of the principal manufacturers of the place."


A writer in the Morning Chronicle, some years ago, alluding to this particular locality, remarks: "The striking peculiarity of Jacob's Island consists in the wooden galleries and sleeping-rooms at the back of the houses, which overhang the dark flood, and are built upon piles, so that the place has positively the air of a Flemish street, flanking a sewer instead of a canal; while the little rickety bridges that span the ditches and connect court with court, give it the appearance of the Venice of drains." The same writer observes that "in the reign of Henry II. the foul stagnant ditch, which now makes an island of this pestilential spot, was a running stream, supplied with the waters which poured down from the hills about Sydenham and Nunhead, and was used for the working of the mills which then stood on its banks. These had been granted to the monks of St. Mary and St. John to grind their flour, and were dependencies upon the Priory of Bermondsey; and what is now a straw-yard skirting the river was once the City Ranelagh, called Cupid's Gardens, and the trees, now black with mud, were the bowers under which the citizens loved, on the summer evenings, to sit beside the stream drinking their sack and ale."

Dickens's graphic picture of the filth, wretchedness, and misery of Jacob's Island, at the time it was written—some twenty years ago—was by no means overdrawn. A vast deal has been done, however, towards removing its worst evils, although more remains to be done. One of the missionaries of the London City Mission, in 1876, furnished a report on the district as it was when he entered it twenty-one years ago, and as it now exists. Many of the horrors, he admits, have passed away:—

"The foul ditch no longer pollutes the air. It has long been filled up; and along Mill Street, where 'the crazy wooden galleries' once hung over it, stands Messrs. Peek, Frean, and Co.'s splendid biscuit bakery. The ditch which intersected the district along London Street served as a fine bathing-place for the resident juveniles in summer-time. I have seen," continues the writer, "many of the boys rolling joyously in the thick liquid, underterred by the close proximity of the decomposing carcases of cats and dogs. Where this repulsive sight was often witnessed there is now a good solid road. Many of the houses, too, in London Street have been pulled down, and the vacant space added to the houses in Hickman's Folly, thus affording them a little yard or garden. In Dickens's sketch of the district he states that 'the houses have no owners, and they are broken open and entered upon by those who have the courage.' This, in many cases, I know to be literally true. Much of the property of the district has no rightful owners, and many of the houses no claimants. In not a few cases persons have got possession of them and have never been asked for rent. I recollect a young unmarried man occupying one of these unclaimed houses. He remained in it as long as he pleased, and then sold it to a bricklayer for £5. The structure of many of the old houses shows that they have been adapted to the concealment of crime. Subterranean connection between houses, and windows opening on to the roofs of other dwellings, bear witness to its being a place where desperate characters found a sure hiding-place, and where pursuit and detection were rendered next to impossible. Most of these dens have been pulled down since I have been on the district. Part of London Street, the whole of Little London Street, part of Mill Street, beside houses in Jacob Street and Hickman's Folly, have been demolished. In most of these places warehouses have taken the place of dwelling-houses. The revolting fact of many of the inhabitants of the district having no other water to drink than that which they procured from the filthy ditches is also a thing of the past. Most of the houses are now supplied with good water, and the streets are very well paved. Indeed, so great is the change for the better in the external appearance of the district generally, that a person who had not seen it since the improvements would now scarcely recognise it. Such a place as Jacob's Island, especially before improvements were made, cannot excite surprise that during the prevalence of any epidemic it should come in for a very severe scourge and heavy death-rate. During the cholera visitations of 1849 and 1854 the victims were alarmingly numerous. In one fever visitation the number of cases in Jacob's Island were frightfully numerous, reaching to upwards of two hundred, many of which were fatal. I remember that in one house in London Street there were nineteen cases. During the present visitation of small-pox the district has also suffered somewhat severely. The occupations of the people are various, including more largely watermen and waterside labourers, costermongers, and woodchoppers. The wood-choppers form a rather numerous class in the district. In the centre of the district is a large wood-yard, containing immense stacks of wood imported from Norway. Round the yards are sheds in which about 200 persons, including men, women, boys, and girls, work. These people are generally of the lowest class, and being congregated together, young and old, they corrupt one another. It has been for a long time a thriving nursery for immorality. But I am glad to say that lately an improvement has taken place. The great majority never saw the interior of a church, except on the occasion of a christening, or when they wanted the clergyman to sign a paper. They looked upon public worship as something 'out of their line altogether.' I found persons who had not entered a place of worship for forty or fifty years. Drunkenness was a predominant vice in the district, not only with men, but equally with women."

For some considerable time past an agitation has been going on as to the desirability of having a bridge or subway near this spot, as a means of affording more direct communication between the two sides of the river than at present exist. In December, 1876, a meeting of the Court of Common Council was held, when the question was discussed, and the plans and estimates which had been prepared were carefully examined and considered. The site for a bridge which appeared to be most eligible to the court was that approached from Little Tower Hill and Irongate Stairs on the north side, and from Horselydown Stairs on the south side of the river. Among the plans submitted was one for a low-level bridge, the centre of which would consist of two swing bridges on turntables in the centre, one at each end of a pier, leaving waterway on each side for large vessels when the swings were open. This great undertaking, if carried out, will doubtless be the means of effecting a vast improvement in the locality above described.


  • 1. See ante, p. 58.
  • 2. See Vol. III., p. 420.
  • 3. See "Ellis's Letters" (Second Series), vol. iv.
  • 4. See ante, p. 58.
  • 5. See Vol. V., p. 368.