Southwark: Old St Thomas's and Guy's Hospitals

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

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'Southwark: Old St Thomas's and Guy's Hospitals', in Old and New London: Volume 6, (London, 1878) pp. 89-100. British History Online [accessed 29 February 2024]

In this section



"I cannot walk through Southwark without thinking of Chaucer and Shakespeare."—Leigh Hunt.

Foundation of St. Thomas's Hospital—A Well-timed Sermon of Bishop Ridley—Purchase of the Old Building by the Citizens of London—The Lease of the Hospital in Pawn—The Edifice Rebuilt and Enlarged—Description of the Building—Statue of Sir Robert Clayton—Removal of the Hospital to Lambeth—Value of Land near London Bridge—St. Thomas's Church—Gerard Johnson, the Sculptor of Shakespeare's Bust—Foundation of Guy's Hospital—Anecdotes of Thomas Guy, the Founder—Description of the Hospital—Statue of Guy—Medical staff of the Hospital—London Bridge Railway Terminus—The Greenwich Railway—The South-Eastern Railway—The London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway—Watson's Telegraph to the Downs—Southwark Waterworks—Waterworks at Old London Bridge.

We have already mentioned, in a previous chapter, (fn. 1) the temporary church dedicated to St. Thomas by the canons of St. Mary Overy's, whose priory had been partly or entirely burnt down in the reign of King John. About the same time—or to give the exact date, in 1213—Richard, Prior of Bermondsey, with the consent of the convent, founded close by it, in the land appropriated to the cellarer, an "almery," or hospital, for converts and boys, which was dedicated to St. Thomas the Martyr (à Becket). For this ground, which adjoined the wall of the monastery, we read that the prior appointed a payment by the almoner to the cellarer, of 10s. 4d. annually, on the feast of St. Michael; and this almery, like the parent monastery, was exempt from all episcopal jurisdiction. After the priory church of St. Mary Overy had been repaired, and the canons had returned thither, the temporary building above mentioned, which stood within the precincts of the Priory of Bermondsey, was assigned for the use of the poor, and the support of certain brethren and sisters. In 1228 this hospital of St. Mary Overy was transferred from the land belonging to the priory to that of Amicius, Arch deacon of Surrey, who was custos, or warden, of the hospital founded by the monks of Bermondsey, which had the advantage of a better supply of spring water, and pure air; and the two institutions being united, the hospital was dedicated anew to the celebrated Archbishop of Canterbury, under the title of the "Hospital of St. Thomas the Martyr." The new arrangement took place under the auspices of Peter de Rupibus, Bishop of Winchester, who granted an indulgence for twenty days to all such as should contribute to the expenses of the hospital, the bishop himself becoming a benefactor to it; hence it was always accounted as a foundation of the bishops of Winchester, and the prelates of that see had the patronage of it.

At the Dissolution, this hospital, or almery, was surrendered to the king. At this time its members were a master and six brethren, and three lay sisters. They made forty beds for poor infirm people, who also had victuals and firing supplied to them. The institution, however, was suffered to go to decay; but in 1552, Ridley, Bishop of London, by a well-timed sermon, preached before King Edward VI., awakened the benevolence of his disposition. The young king consulted with him how he should commence some great charitable institutions, and by his advice, addressed a letter to the mayor and corporation of London, announcing his intention, and requiring their advice. After some consultation, at which the bishop assisted, three different institutions were suggested, which at length produced Christ's Hospital, for the education of youth; Bridewell, for the poor, and correcting the profligate; and this of St. Thomas, for the relief of the lame and sick.


The citizens of London purchased the old building, and after having repaired and enlarged it, opened it for the reception of the sick poor, under the patronage of the young king. In the course of four months after the purchase of the hospital, the institution had received no less than 260 poor infirm people. In the following year a charter of incorporation was granted for this foundation; but seven years afterwards the hospital was so poor that the lease was pawned for £50. Funds, however, were obtained for its support, and the establishment subsequently throve.

In 1664, part of St. Thomas's Hospital was used as a military hospital, as we learn from the following entry in John Evelyn's "Diary," under date of 2nd of December of that year:—"We deliver'd the Privy Council letters to the Governors of St. Thomas's Hospital, in Southwark, that a moiety of the house should be reserv'd for such sick and wounded as should from time to time be sent from the Fleete during the war."

Much injury was done to the property belonging to this establishment by the fires which, as already stated, took place in Southwark in the Stuart times, although the hospital itself received no damage on either occasion. However, towards the close of the seventeenth century the building had become so much decayed that a public subscription was made in order to re-edify and enlarge it, and the first stone of the new edifice was laid by Sir John Fleet, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1692. The whole was executed at different times, and the work was not completed till the year 1732.


The following description of the edifice is given in Brayley's "History of Surrey," published in 1843:—"The hospital buildings now consist of several quadrangles; in the centre of the first of which, facing Wellington Street, is a brazen statue of Edward VI., by Scheemakers, bearing this inscription, on one side in Latin, on the other in English:—

'This Statue of King Edward the Sixth, a most excellent Prince of exemplary piety, and wisdom above his years, the glory and ornament of his age, and most munificent Founder of this Hospital, was erected at the expense of Charles Joyce, Esq., in the year MDCCXXXVII.'

"Through the first court is the entrance to the second, by a descent of steps. This court has a Doric colonnade with a cornice, on which is the basement to nine pilasters. On the north side is the chapel for the use of the patients, in which service is performed daily; on the south, the parish church; on the east, the hall, elevated on Tuscan columns, with compartments for the chaplain, treasurer, steward, &c; in the north-east corner is the kitchen. The court-room is over the colonnade.

"The third court is surrounded by a colonnade of the Tuscan order, with an entablature, from which ascends a long range of pilasters of the Ionic order. In the centre is a statue of Sir Robert Clayton, in his robes as Lord Mayor, with the following inscription, in Latin and in English:—

'To Sir Robert Clayton, Knt., born in Northamptonshire, Citizen and Lord Mayor of London, President of this Hospital, and Vice President of the new Workhouse, and a bountiful benefactor to it; a just Magistrate, and brave Defender of the Liberty and Religion of his Country; who (besides many other instances of his charity to the poor) built the Girls' Ward in Christ's Hospital; gave first toward the rebuilding of this house £600; and left by his last Will £2,300 to the poor of it. This statue was erected in his life-time by the Governors an. Dom. MDCCI. as a monument of their esteem of so much worth; and, to preserve his memory after death, was by them beautified anno Dom. MDCCXIV.'

"In a small court, farther to the east, are two wards for salivation (now little used), and what is called the cutting-ward. Here also are the surgery, bathing-rooms, theatre, and dead-house, in which corpses are deposited until the time of interment. In the court-room are portraits of Edward VI., William III., and Queen Mary; Sir Robert Clayton, by Richardson; Sir Gilbert Heathcote; Sir Gerard Conyers; Sir John Eyles, by Vanloo; Sir James Campbell, &c. The gentlemen here named were presidents, and most of them patrons also, of the foundation." A tablet over the entrance to the court-room in the old building, in allusion to the great fire of Southwark, May, 1676, bore this inscription: 'In the midst of judgment God remembered mercy, and by His goodness in remembering the poor and the distressed, put a stop to the fire at this house, after it had been touched several times therewith; by which, in all probability, all this side of the Borough was preserved."

Northouck tells us that the reason why this fire was so wide in its devastation was the fact that the houses there were chiefly built of timber, lath, and plaster; he adds that afterwards commissioners were appointed for rebuilding them regularly and substantially with brick, "as now (1773) appears from the Bridge-foot up to St. Margaret's Hill beyond it."

There were at the above period twenty wards for the reception of patients, each under the care of a sister or female superintendent, and two or three nurses. The number of beds was 485. The grand entrance, with its gates, lodges, &c., was from Wellington Street, between the north and south wings. In front was a dwarf stone wall, surmounted by lofty and massive iron railings, which were carried on and flanked the north side of the north wing, running along Duke Street, up to the offices of the South-Eastern Railway.

Imposing as the building was, it seems to have had its drawbacks; for we read in a topographical account of it published many years ago, that "The magnitude of St. Thomas's Hospital, with the relief of its many colonnades, will not permit us wholly to exclude the character of the edifice from a species of grandeur. But it is time to rebuild this hospital in a better style; and with this improvement might commence a system of decorating the borough of Southwark and its vicinity, which at present are more than a century behind the northern bank of the river in the progress of refinement; and to this it may be added, that if the practice of wholly surrounding a space with buildings, so as to stagnate the air within the quadrangle, is as unhealthy as we deem it to be, no plan can be so unfit for an hospital as an accumulation of courts behind each other."

Of the "inner life" of St. Thomas's Hospital we shall have more to say when we reach Lambeth, where the institution is now located. But we may add here that it is one of the oldest hospitals in the kingdom as an asylum where all sick poor could be relieved. Its charter dates from the time of Edward VI., who gave it some of its lands, which were then of such little value that—as we have shown above—the whole freehold was pawned to the City for £50, for the hospital was then in debt, as it had been ever since it was first founded, in 1213, by "ye Priore of Bermondseye." How the value of land has increased at that spot near London Bridge since then need not be told, beyond saying that some was sold by the hospital about the year 1865 at the rate of £55,000 per acre, and some a little later at the rate of £70,000 an acre. St. Thomas's, too, was made in the olden time into a distinct parish, and had peculiar rights of its own. Still, ancient possession and modern usefulness proved no adequate bar to the march of that universal leveller—the railway. The site was wanted, and the site was taken; certainly at a very heavy price—nearly £300,000. When thus "disestablished," the choice of the hospital authorities for a new site was rather limited. It was felt necessary that the new building should be on the south side of the water; that it should be in the midst of a poor neighbourhood, to the wants of which it could administer; and that, above all, it should have a certain amount of open space around it. This latter was a difficult desideratum, and while waiting a choice, St. Thomas's Hospital, its patients, and its staff were located in the music-hall which stands in the midst of what was once the Surrey Zoological Gardens at Kennington. Fortunately, at this time the southern Thames Embankment was being made, and the necessities of its construction compelled a considerable reclamation from the slimy foreshore of the river opposite the Houses of Parliament. The advantages of this site were instantly seen, and about eight and a half acres were bought by the hospital from the Board of Works for about £100,000. On this land the new hospital has been built. The south wing of the old hospital has been left standing, and has been converted into a chapel.

On the north side of St. Thomas's Street—the first turning from the High Street southward of the London Bridge Station—stands St. Thomas's Church. It is a donative, in the gift of the governors of St. Thomas's Hospital, the church having been originally part of the hospital—as, indeed, it continued down to the time of the removal of the hospital as above mentioned—forming a part of the south side of it. The old church having become ruinous and dilapidated, it was rebuilt early in the last century, at an expense of £3,000 granted out of the coal duty, with the further assistance of the governors and others. The present edifice is a plain and unsightly building of red brick, with stone dressings, of a nondescript character, having a square tower in three storeys attached to the south side. In the south side of the church, which is open to the street, are four lofty circular arched windows, the key-stones of which are carved with cherubim; its elevation is finished with an attic over a cornice; in the centre is a pediment. The ground-floor of the tower forms a porch to the church. The interior of the church is exceedingly plain. The altar-screen is composed of oak, and encircled with Corinthian pilasters, surmounted by their entablature and a segmental pediment. This is crowned by "the royal arms of George I., and over them a crest; on the side pilaster is the lion and unicorn; the whole executed in dark oak."

Gerard Johnson, a Hollander, who made the monumental bust and tomb of Shakespeare in Stratford-on-Avon Church, lived in the parish of St. Thomas, as ascertained by Mr. Peter Cunningham and Mr. J. O. Halliwell. Dugdale assures us that Gerard Johnson must often have seen Shakespeare.

On the south side of St. Thomas's Street, and covering a large space of ground, stands Guy's Hospital—perhaps the noblest institution in London founded by one man. It was founded, along with other charities, by an eccentric but philanthropic individual, Thomas Guy, a bookseller of London, of whom we have spoken in a previous volume, in our account of the Stock Exchange. (fn. 2) The son of a lighterman and coaldealer, he was born in Horselydown, Southwark, in 1645. He was apprenticed to a bookseller in Cheapside, and having been admitted a freeman of the Stationers' Company in 1668, was received into their livery in 1673. He began business with a stock of about £200, in the house which, till about the year 1834, formed the angle between Cornhill and Lombard Street, but which was pulled down for the improvements then made in that neighbourhood. His first success was owing to the great demand for English Bibles printed in Holland, in which he dealt largely; but on the importation of these being stopped by law, he contracted with the University of Oxford for the privilege of printing Bibles; and having furnished himself with types from Holland, carried on this branch of business for many years, with great profit.

It has been stated by other writers, and also in the previous volume of this work, referred to above, that whatever foundation he might have laid for his future wealth, in the usual course of trade, no small portion of his property arose from his purchase of seamen's tickets. These, it is asserted, he bought at a large discount, and afterwards subscribed in the South Sea Company, which was established in 1710, for the purpose of discharging those tickets, and giving a large interest. Here, it is added, Mr. Guy was so extensively, as well as cautiously, concerned that in 1720 he was possessed of £45,500 stock, by disposing of which when it bore an extremely advanced price, he realised a considerable sum. But Charles Knight, in his "Shadows of the Old Booksellers," has shown good reasons for believing that seamen's tickets were not in use after Thomas Guy was out of his apprenticeship, and that therefore we must look to his sale of Bibles as the real basis of his wealth.

"With regard to the South Sea Stock," observes a writer in the Saturday Magazine in 1834, "Mr. Guy had no hand in framing or conducting that scandalous fraud; he obtained the stock when low, and had the good sense to sell it at the time it was at its height. Never, indeed, can we approve of that speculative spirit which leads men to step out of the line of a particular calling, and to 'make haste to be rich;' nor, while we admire the mode in which a fortune has been spent, and contemplate some splendid endowment that has derived its origin from the 'bad success' of gambling or avarice, can we be so far misled as to allow that the end justifies the means. Gay, who, under the form of a fable, often couched just and biting satire, alluding to the large fortunes suddenly made by means of the 'South Sea Bubble,' remarks—
'How many saucy airs we meet,
From Temple Bar to Aldgate Street!
Proud rogues who shared the South Sea prey,
And sprung, like mushrooms, in a day.'"

Being a single man, Mr. Guy is reported to have spent but a very small portion of his profits as a bookseller. He dined on his counter, with no other tablecloth than a newspaper, and was not more nice about his wearing apparel. "For the application of this fortune to charitable uses," says Highmore, in his "History of the Public Charities of London," "the public are indebted to a trifling circumstance. He employed a female servant, whom he had agreed to marry. Some days previous to the intended ceremony, he had ordered the pavement before his door to be mended up to a particular stone which he had marked, and then left his house on business. The servant, in his absence, looking at the workmen, saw a broken stone beyond this mark which they had not repaired, and on pointing to it with that design, they acquainted her that Mr. Guy had not ordered them to go so far. She, however, directed it to be done, adding, with the security incidental to her expectation of soon becoming his wife, 'Tell him I bade you, and he will not be angry.' But she too soon learnt how fatal it is for any one in a dependent situation to exceed the limits of his or her authority; for her master, on his return, was enraged at finding that they had gone beyond his orders, renounced his engagement to his servant, and devoted his ample fortune to public charity." Another anecdote has been related of Guy, which exhibits him in another light. He was so complete a pattern of economy, that the celebrated Vulture Hopkins once called upon him to have a lesson in the art of saving. Being introduced into the parlour, Guy, not knowing his visitor, lighted a candle; but when Hopkins said, "Sir, I always thought myself perfect in the art of getting and husbanding money, but being informed that you far exceed me, I have taken the liberty of waiting upon you to be satisfied on this subject." Guy replied, "If that is all your business, we can as well talk it over in the dark," and immediately put out the candle. This was evidence sufficient for Hopkins, who acknowledged Guy to be his master, and took his leave.

The following anecdote which has been told concerning Mr. Guy will bear repetition:—"The munificent founder of Guy's Hospital was a man of very humble appearance, and of a melancholy cast of countenance. One day, while pensively leaning over one of the bridges, he attracted the attention and commiseration of a by-stander, who, apprehensive that he meditated self-destruction, could not refrain from addressing him with an earnest entreaty, 'not to let his misfortunes tempt him to commit any rash act;' then, placing in his hand a guinea, with the delicacy of genuine benevolence, he hastily withdrew. Guy, roused from his reverie, followed the stranger, and warmly expressed his gratitude, but assured him he was mistaken in supposing him to be either in distress of mind or of circumstances, making an earnest request to be favoured with the name of the good man, his intended benefactor. The address was given, and they parted. Some years after, Guy, observing the name of his friend in the bankrupt list, hastened to his house; brought to his recollection their former interview; found, upon investigation, that no blame could be attached to him under his misfortunes; intimated his ability and also his full intention to serve him; entered into immediate arrangements with his creditors; and, finally, re-established him in a business which ever after prospered in his hands, and in the hands of his children's children, for many years in Newgate Street."

Thomas Guy served in several Parliaments as member for Tamworth, in Staffordshire, where his mother was born, and where he founded almshouses for poor persons, besides bestowing considerable benefactions. To Christ's Hospital he gave a perpetual annuity of £400, to receive, on the nomination of his trustees, four children yearly, who must be his connections; and there are always applicants. He left £1,000 to discharge poor prisoners in London, Middlesex, and Surrey, at £5 each, and another £1,000 to be distributed among poor housekeepers at the discretion of his executors. The erection of the hospital now under notice, the earliest part of which was built by Dance, is said to have cost nearly £19,000, the amount of the residue of Guy's personal property being stated at upwards of £219,000. His death happened on December 27, 1724, in the eightieth year of his age, before which he saw his hospital covered with the roof. Besides his public expenses he gave during life to many of his poor relations £10 or £20 a year, and to others money to advance them in life; to his aged relations £870 in annuities; and to his younger relations and executors the sum of £75,589.

Before Guy had founded the hospital to which he gave his name, he had contributed £100 annually to St. Thomas's Hospital for eleven years, and had erected the stately iron gate with the large houses on each side.

It is now time to speak more of the hospital which bears his name. At the age of seventy-six Mr. Guy procured from the governors of St. Thomas's Hospital the lease of a large piece of ground for a term of 999 years, at a rent of £30 a year. Having cleared the space, which was then occupied by a number of poor dwelling-houses, he laid the first stone of his new building in the spring of 1722. He lived to see it covered in; but before the excellent institution was in full work the benevolent founder was laid in the grave; for the hospital received within its walls the first sixty patients on the 6th of January, 1725. His trustees faithfully effected the completion of his great and good design, and shortly after procured an Act of Parliament for establishing the foundation, according to the directions of his will. Large and profitable estates were afterwards purchased in Herefordshire and Essex, for the benefit of the institution; the lease of an additional piece of ground was also obtained, for which, with the former, the governors still pay an annual sum to St. Thomas's. On this were erected two handsome wings, connected by an iron railing and gates. These gates open into a square court, in the centre of which is a bronze statue of the founder, by Scheemakers. In front of the pedestal is this inscription:—"Thomas Guy, sole Founder of this Hospital in his life-time, A.D. MDCCXXII." On the west side of the pedestal is represented, in basso relievo, the parable of the Good Samaritan; on the south side are Mr. Guy's armorial bearings; and on the west, a representation of our Saviour healing the impotent man.

The centre of the principal front of the hospital is of stone, and consists of a rusticated basement, in which are three arched entrances to the quadrangle, and two windows. This supports two pilasters and four Ionic columns, the intercolumniation containing three windows and two niches, in which are two emblematic figures, Æsculapius, the heathen god of medicine, and Hygieia, the goddess of health, daughter of Æsculapius. The tympanum is ornamented with an emblematic relief. This front was new faced about the year 1778, and is, with the statues, the work of Bacon, who was a native of Southwark. Passing through the arches, the visitor enters a long corridor, on each side of which are several of the wards for the patients. The court-room, with its painted ceiling, is a handsome apartment; over the president's chair is a portrait of the founder, by Dahl.

The chapel, in the west wing, is plainly fitted up. At the end opposite the entrance is a marble statue of Guy. It was executed by Bacon, in 1779, and is said to have cost £1,000. Mr. Guy is represented in his livery gown, holding out one hand to raise a poor invalid lying on the earth, and pointing with the other to a distressed object, carried on a litter into one of the wards, the hospital being in the background. On the pedestal is this inscription:—

Underneath are deposited the remains of
Thomas Guy,
Citizen of London, Member of Parliament, and the sole
founder of this hospital in his life-time.

It is peculiar to this beneficent man to have preserved,
during a long course of prosperity and industry, in
pouring forth to the wants of others, all
that he had earned by labour,
or withheld from selfindulgence.

Warm with philanthropy, and exalted by charity, his mind
expanded to those noble affections which grow but
too rarely from the most elevated pursuits.

After administering with extensive bounty to the claims of
consanguinity, he established this asylum for that stage
of languor and disease, to which the charity of
others had not reached: he provided a
retreat for hopeless insanity, and
rivalled the endowments
of kings.

He died the 27th of December, 1724, in the 80th year
of his age.

The hospital was founded for the reception of 400 patients, but having been enlarged through the aid of a munificent bequest in 1829, from Mr. William Hunt, of Petersham, it now contains 720 beds; an additional wing having been constructed accommodating 320 more patients. The hospital buildings form an extensive and handsome range, and, with the large airing-grounds attached, occupy an area of about six acres. The administration of its affairs is under the care of sixty governors; the treasurer being the general acting manager, and having the especial direction of the Medical School. The annual income of the institution is about £40,000, of which nearly £30,000 are available for hospital purposes.

The ordinary medical staff consists of three physicians and three assistant-physicians for general medical cases; two obstetric physicians; four surgeons, and three assistant-surgeons for general surgical cases; also ophthalmic, dental, and aural surgeons; besides other professors not engaged in the care of patients, who assist as lecturers and demonstrators in the school.

The school department comprises anatomical, pathological, and comparative anatomy museums, materia medica museum, model-room, dissectingroom, electrifying-room, chemical laboratories, library, besides every appurtenance that modern science has devised for medical institutions of the first magnitude. Close by, a commodious theatre was erected by Dr. Edward Grainger, whose early death, in 1823, was a loss to the medical world. At the age of twenty-two, he commenced here a course of lectures on anatomy and physiology; but his pupils increasing beyond the capacities of his theatre, he built a larger room, and turned the former into a museum.

Passing to the rear of the hospital buildings, amidst trees which flourish well and give a look of cheerfulness, so delightful to many a languid sufferer when permitted to walk forth into the air, the visitor reaches the museum. This is a neat edifice, comprising a valuable surgical collection, the principal feature of which is a vast variety of wax models, illustrative of the wonders of the human frame, and of remarkable cases of disease.

FOLLY DITCH, JACOB'S ISLAND (see next Chapter).

Guy's Hospital, we need scarcely add, has long held a prominent position among the philanthropic institutions in this country, both in respect to the great scope of the charity it dispenses as a hospital, and as one of the first schools of medicine in Europe. Some idea of the magnitude of its benevolent work may be gathered from the fact that in the course of a year it receives into its wards upwards of 5,000 in-patients, and affords medical relief to upwards of 70,000 out-patients, including a large number of minor accidents and urgent surgery cases, and upwards of 2,000 lying-in women, who are attended to at their own homes.

It should also be stated that a fund has been established for relieving the families of deserving and very poor patients in Guy's Hospital, by gifts of coal and other provisions, and in some instances by money. The chief distress of mothers and children must be during the absence of their "bread-winner" in hospital, and few—except those who have undergone the trial—can conceive what this is, or what the anxiety which a patient suffers while powerless to help his family.


Between St. Thomas's Street East and Tooley Street, and covering some considerable part of the ground formerly occupied by St. Thomas's Hospital, is the cluster of stations, irregularly combined, and without any unity of plan or architectural beauty, forming the terminus of the following railways:—The Crystal Palace; the London, Brighton, and South Coast; the South-Eastern; the North Kent; the South London, &c. From London Bridge the approach is by an inclined road, which passes under an iron bridge, over which is carried the Cannon Street and Charing Cross extension of the South-Eastern Railway, which originally had its terminus here. The approach, previous to the above-mentioned extension, was bounded on the south-west by St. Thomas's Hospital and grounds, and on the north-east by a range of shops, communicating with Tooley Street. The south-western portion of the station comprises the booking-offices of the Brighton and South-Coast line, and also the offices of the Crystal Palace and of the South London lines. On the extreme south is the Railway Hotel, one of those monster establishments of which we have already had occasion to speak in our notices of the Midland and other railway stations.

The London and Greenwich Railway was the first line opened here, and, indeed, in the neighbourhood of London. It is remarkable as standing upon one continuous series of 878 brick arches, and is interesting to engineers from the experiment tried upon it as regards the respective value of stone sleepers (or square slabs) at intervals, or continuous bearers of wood, for the support of the rail. Stones were first used, but with such unsatisfactory result, that they were taken up and replaced with timber. The improvement, it is said, has been most decisive. With reference to its formation, we read that in 1834 the substructions of this work were advancing rapidly, and so great was the quantity of bricks required for them, that the price of brickwork in and about London had been "materially affected by this extraordinary consumption of that material." At first, the third-class carriages on this line were simply common trucks, with no seats, and no covering overhead. The author of the "Wonders of Nature and Art" writes, "We have anticipated this line to be a failure, unless it be extended to Dover, in which case an immense advantage would be secured to the public. Colonel Landmann, the engineer, estimated the cost at £400,000, but the expenditure thus far has exceeded £600,000, and a considerable sum is still required in order to complete it."

The original Act of the South-Eastern Railway Company was obtained in 1836, for the express purpose of constructing a railway from London to Dover, the expenses of which were calculated at £1,400,000, to be raised in £50 shares; but by subsequent Acts the company was authorised to form branch lines, and for that purpose to make loans and issue new shares, involving for the Maidstone and Isle of Thanet branches an expenditure of £3,564,170; besides which there has been a further outlay of about £1,800,000, to complete the Hastings branch and that from Reigate, through Dorking and Guildford, to Reading.

The Greenwich Line, as stated above, had been previously constructed; and the Croydon Company had obtained the sanction of Parliament to pass over three miles thereof to New Cross, whence they continued their line seven miles and a half to Croydon. The next ten miles and a quarter, as far as Red Hill, or the Reigate Junction, belonged originally to the South-Eastern and Brighton Companies in joint shares; but the whole has subsequently, as sanctioned by Act of Parliament, been purchased by the South-Eastern Company; so that the whole line, together with the Greenwich Line, which it holds on a lease of 999 years, belongs to this company. More recently, also, besides constructing several branch lines, the South-Eastern Company has purchased the North Kent Line, thus becoming master of the whole railway communication for Kent, East Surrey, and a part of Sussex.

The railway was opened as far as Tunbridge, forty miles from London, in May, 1842; from thence to Ashford in the following December; as far as Folkestone in June, 1843; and to Dover in February, 1844. The branch line to Maidstone was opened in September of the same year; that to Hastings, in February, 1852; and the junction line to Reading in 1849. This railway has seven tunnels on its main line to Dover, and four on its branch lines, some of them of a stupendous nature, involving not only very great engineering skill, but a vast outlay of capital; besides which, there are numerous embankments, deep cuttings, viaducts, and bridges, which bespeak no ordinary skill. Since 1868, however, the greater number of the main-line trains to Hastings, Dover, Margate, &c., pass over a part of the North Kent Line by a more direct route to Tunbridge; the original main line to Red Hill being used for the Dorking and Reading trains, as well as by the Brighton Company.

The construction of the London and Brighton Railway seems to have been a somewhat slow and aborious undertaking; at all events, we read in 'Wonders of Nature and Art," 1839, that—"After the immense bustle in Parliament, and the shameless stock-jobbing of some of the directors and managers of this line of road, we are unable to report the progress of it. That it has been commenced and is proceeding is quite true; but it is proceeding slowly, and as yet the public is quite in the dark as to its present expenditure and its anticipated cost." This railway, however, we need hardly state, was at length completed, and opened in September, 1841, or in about three years from the time of its commencement.

On either side of the booking-office of the Brighton and South-Coast Railway, when it was first erected, was a screen, one masking the gateway of the carriage-road arrival side of this railway, and the other giving access to the carriage-road of the Dover line. The South-Eastern booking-office faces he approach road, and forms the main portion of he façade. Beyond it are the North Kent and Greenwich booking-offices. On the first-floors of these several buildings are the offices, board-rooms, and other accommodations for the chief officials. There are spare lines for the reception of empty carriages under the same roofs as the respective arrival and departure lines. The roofs themselves are somewhat remarkable; and there are particular details connected with the roadway of a nature to merit prolonged examination. Immediately in the rear of the station are several elevated signalboxes, furnished with the latest and most approved appliances for signalling the arrival and departure of the several trains; so that, notwithstanding the large number of the lines of rail entering the station there is scarcely any room for accidents—indeed, an accident here is very rarely heard of.

A few words concerning the various lines of railway from London Bridge Station may not be out of place here. By the Brighton line, fifty-one miles in length, that favourite watering-place has been made a "suburb of London:" it has many branch lines; and from Brighton, railways run east and west along the coast. The South-Eastern originally branched off from the Brighton line at the station of Red Hill, near Reigate, and reached Dover by a roundabout course, with a branch from Tunbridge through Tunbridge Wells to Hastings; but passengers are now generally conveyed to Dover, Hastings, &c., by the new line viâ Sevenoaks. The metropolitan extension of this line crosses the river by an iron bridge to Cannon street, and also to the Charing Cross Station, built on the site of Hungerford Market. The Croydon passes by Forest Hill, Sydenham, and Norwood, with a short branch line through Mitcham to the South-Western Railway at Wimbledon, and another branch through Epsom to Horsham, on the London and Portsmouth line. The Crystal Palace line branches off from the Sydenham station, and after passing close to Lower Norwood, Streatham, and Balham, reaches its terminus at the Victoria Station, Pimlico. The North Kent line passes by a tunnel under Shooter's Hill to Woolwich, Gravesend, and Rochester, and thence to Maidstone. The South London line runs parallel with the Greenwich Railway as far as South Bermondsey, then passes southward to Clapham, and unites with western London at Victoria Station, Pimlico.

At the entrance to Duke Street—which leads from London Bridge down to Tooley Street, by the side of the railway approach—might have been seen during 1842–3, a lofty building bearing this inscription, "Watson's Telegraph to the Downs." This telegraph station, which occupied the summit of a building once used as a shot tower, and erected in 1808, was established by a Mr. Watson, of Cornhill, about the year 1842, with the object of connecting London with Deal by means of the old semaphore telegraph. The first station near St. Olave's Church was placed in communication with a similar station near Forest Hill, and with others on elevated spots between the metropolis and Deal. At the summit of the tower were two masts about twenty feet apart, and fifty feet high. On each side of these masts were the semaphore arms, which were to be seen in various positions, and were worked by levers in the tower below. This telegraph station, which was a conspicuous object to foot-passengers proceeding over London Bridge, was entirely consumed in the great fire in which St. Olave's Church was destroyed, with the surrounding buildings, on the 19th of August, 1843. This system of telegraphy was in its turn superseded by the electric telegraph, which very soon afterwards came into operation on all the railway lines in Great Britain, and thus rendered unnecessary the old cumbrous system of semaphore telegraphy, the success of which depended so much on clear weather for the accurate interpretation of the signals. The shot-tower, close by St. Olave's Church, is shown in pages 6, 102, and 103 of the present volume.

Before closing this chapter, and making our way into Bermondsey, we may be pardoned for saying a word or two concerning the water-supply of Southwark about half a century ago. In the Mirror for 1828, we read that "the Southwark Water Works (the property of an individual) are supplied from the middle of the Thames, below Southwark and London Bridges; and the water thus taken is sent out to the tenants without standing to settle or any filtration, further than that it receives from passing through wire grates and small holes in metallic plates. The number of houses supplied by these works is about 7,000, and the average daily supply about 720,000 gallons." Apropos of these water works, we may state that in 1581 Peter Morris, a Dutchman, established a wheel worked by the tide at London Bridge to lift water from the river, and propel it into the houses of the citizens, whose admiration he captivated by forcing a jet over the steeple of St. Magnus' Church, close by. These water-works, a cumbrous-looking structure of wood, stood on the Middlesex side of the Thames, adjoining the bridge, and near the site of Fishmongers' Hall steam-boat pier. The works subsequently passed into the possession of the New River Company, and lasted for 240 years, until demolished by Act of Parliament in 1822. On the Surrey side of the old bridge formerly stood the water-works for supplying the inhabitants of Southwark, which we have already mentioned, but these were removed long before the bridge was demolished.


  • 1. See ante, p. 21.
  • 2. See Vol. I., p. 474