Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rotherhithe Heritage 3 - The 1700s

In the Eighteenth Century Rotherhithe was still separated from Bermondsey by fields and market gardens, and was still fairly marshy.

One of the earliest dates of note, south of the river, was that the Seamen's Hospital opened in Greenwhich, which took in wounded and, in John Evelyn's terms "emerited" seamen. Emerited seamen are those who were judged to have completed their public service and therefore received honorable discharges. During the reign of William III (William of Orange) it was the wish of his wife Queen Mary (Mary Stuart) that injured sailors, hurt during the wars, should be supported. Mary died in 1694 from smallpox and William raised a Royal Charter in her memory in the same year to build the hospital. The hospital was built in Greenwich near the birthplace of both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The hospital was not thrown together by any old architect – its first designer was no other than Sir Christopher Wren. John Evelyn was appointed to the position of Treasurer for the project, and mentions his role briefly in his diary. The Greenwich Hospital opened in 1714 to care for old and wounded sailors, and a school was founded at the same time. The hospital met its true potential during the Napoleonic wars when the casualties reached extreme levels.
Either side of the lock leading into Greenland Dock (now blocked off but clearly visible) were the Greenland Dock (South) and Greenland Dock (North) shipyards. The dry dock that was included in the South yard is thought to date to 1700, but the North yard may have had a dry dock here as early as 1660. In 1702 the South yard was leased to the Burchett family. One of their first projects was the rebuild of the warship Monck.

The HMS Monck had originally been built and launched in 1659 in Portsmouth as a 52-gun third rate frigate. She was rebuilt in Rotherhithe and launched in 1702, now as a 60-gun fourth rate ship of the line. She was wrecked in 1720 in a severe storm off British shores, although her crew and much of her cargo were saved.

The river had been recorded breaking its banks in Rotherhithe since Mediaeval times, and in 1705 it did so again, flooding St Mary's Church and its graveyard. The original church had dated to at least Mediaeval times and probably earlier. Christopher Jones, Captain of the Mayflower, and two of the ship's co-owners, were buried in the graveyard but their graves were destroyed by the flood. The reconstruction of the church was carried out in 1715-1717 to a design by John James in the style of Sir Christopher Wren, whose influence on post Great Fire London can be seen in many buildings in which he himself did not have a direct hand. Although a request had been made by the parish for government money from the Fifty New Churches Act (funded by the coal tax) this was rejected and the church was actually rebuilt by money raised from voluntary donations and burial fees. The new construction work of St Mary's had not been completed in the mid 1700s, but the skills of local ship builders were employed and the four internal columns were made of ships' masts. The new tower was started in 1747-8 by Lancelot Dowbigin who was the architect of the church of St Mary Islington, but it was probably constructed along the lines originally proposed by James. The organ was created by John Byfield in 1764-5, and although it has been restored some of the original pipes and its original case survive. The first organist was Michael Topping who was paid £30.00 per year. Some of the original Eighteenth Century furnishings survive in the church's interior. More of the church on a later post.

The London Online website says that the following is a list of public or watermen's stairs in use at the beginning of the eighteenth century, about 1707 in the Rotherhithe area: Tooley, Battle, Bridge, Pickle Herring, Still, Old, New, Savory's Mill,East Lane, Three Mariners, Fountain, Mill, Rotherhithe or Redriff, Cherry Garden, King, Elephant, Church, Swan, Globe, Shepherd and Dock, Pageant, and about nine or ten more until Deptford and Greenwich are reached. Comparing this list with those marked on John Rocque's map, 1746, and then again with Maitland, 1756, some had disappeared, others renamed. The Dog and Duck stairs, surviving to the south of Greenland Dock's entry lock, was established at least as early as 1723 and are still shown on maps of 1896. The stairs were all named after either a local landmark or a locally relevant story. In the case of the Dog and Duck there was a public house of the name in the immediate vicinity.

In the 1700s the two water mills were acquired by the Commissioners of Victualling the Royal Navy, to be a secondary victualling yard, supporting the one at Deptford. Victualling yards were established during the Dutch wars for the provision of goods and supplies to the Royal Navy. Ovens for the baking of ships biscuits were added at that time. There's a brief but very informative article on the National Archives website about the Deptord victualling yard which had been established in the 1600s.

In 1710 St Paul's Cathedral was officially finished - and if you go to the top of Stave Hill you will be able to see it very clearly.

In 1720 Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels was published, and Rotherhithe, under its alternative name Redriff, gained some slight publicity because in the story it was Lemuel Gulliver's home village. It does not, however, have a large part to play in the tale!

In the 1720s Mayflower Street was an elegant road of sea captain's homes. Sadly these are long gone and in their place are now modern office blocks. I often visit a village on the west Wales coast called Aberdovey where the original sea captains' homes survive - they are substantial and very attractive. It would be lovely to know how the buildings would compare with those that once existed in Mayflower Street.

Rotherhithe and surrounding areas were beginning to expand towards each other. In 1722 Daniel Defoe encountered Redriff in his tour through Great Britain, which he published in three volumes between 1724 and 1726. His comments about London were less than complimentary about the way in which it had spread "in a most straggling confused manner, out of alls hape, uncompact and unequal". He goes on: "We see several villages, formerly standing, as it were, in the country, and at a great distance, now joined to the streets by continued buildings, and more making haste to meet in the manner; for example, Deptford, this town that was formerly reckoned, at least two miles off from Redriff, and that over the marshes too, a place unlikely ever to be inhabited; and yet now, by the increase of buildings in that down itself, and the many streets erected at Redriff, and by the docks and building-yards on the riverside, which stand betweeen both, the town of Deptford, and the streets of Redriff, or Rotherhith (as they write it) are effectually joined".

The British History Online website has a fascinating comment about an attempt to grow vines in Rotherhithe:
Few Londoners, at first sight, would suspect Rotherhithe of having a soil or situation well suited to the growth of vines; but such would appear to have been once the case, if we may believe Hughson, who tells us, in his "History and Survey of London and its Suburbs," that an attempt was made in 1725, in East Lane, within this parish, to restore the cultivation of the vine, which, whether from the inauspicious climate of our island, or from want of skill in the cultivation, was at that time nearly lost, though there are authentic documents to prove that vineyards (fn. 2) did flourish in this country in ancient times. It appears that about the time indicated a gentleman named Warner, observing that the Burgundy grapes ripened early, and conceiving that they might be grown in England, obtained some cuttings, which he planted here as standards; and Hughson records the fact that though the soil was not particularly suited, yet, by care and skill, he was rewarded by success, and that his crop was so ample that it afforded him upwards of one hundred gallons annually, and that he was enabled to supply cuttings of his vines for cultivation in many other parts of this island.

Ship building continued to be of substantial importance in Rotherhithe with most of the river frontage turned over to ship building, repair and breaking. Other activities included rope and sail making.

The Birchett family who rebuilt the Monck had apparently left Greenland Dock (South) Shipyard by 1725, when the South Sea company (which was formed in 1711 and had somehow survived the South Sea Bubble disaster of 1720) appear to have held the lease as part of their whaling operation. The lease seems to have expired in 1730, which is almost certainly due to the failure of the operation. Whaling had changed radically since the early 1700s, with the main whaling operations moving away from previous bays to more remote and deeper locatitions at the edge of the Arctic ice fields (known as "ice whaling"). Ships had to be modified and reinforced to handle these conditions and experienced crew were required for these waters. It was difficult for the British to compete, but a final attempt was made by the South Sea Company during the 1720s and early 1730s. This venture was very costly and ultimately failed.

The most prestigious of the ship building complexes were engaged in work for the Royal Navy and the East India Company. The best known of the Rotherhithe docks was Nelson Dock, now part of the Hilton Hotel complex. The adjacent Nelson House, which stands today and is quite lovely, was the ship builders house, and was built in the 1730s.

Another shipyard was located where the scotch derrick is currently located (just off Odessa Street). Commercial Wharf was part of the Bedford Estate and ships were being built here from the 1740s. The shipyard was operated by timber traders Kemp, Collins and Co., but was certainly used as a shipyard by Thomas Stanton who, in partnership with one of the Wells family, built the East Indiaman the Royal George here in 1747 and The America in 1757. In 1758 Stanton built the Active and in 1759 the Carcass.

The HMS Active was a Coventry-class oak-built frigate. She was taken by the French navy off San Domingo in September 1778. She was one of a special set of 12 ships built to the design of Sir Thomas Slade, all 28-gun sailing frigates (sixth rate). Several of them were built at Rotherhithe, all of oak: Lizard (built by Henry Bird, launched 1757, hulked as a hospital ship in 1800 and sold for breaking to Sheerness dockyard in 1828), Aquilon (built by Robert Inwood, launched 1758, sold at Deptford 1776), and Argo (built by Henry Bird, launched 1759, broken up at Portsmouth 1776).

The HMS Carcass has a connection with Horatio Nelson, one of the "Infernal" class also designed by Sir Thomas Slade. She saw military action and was repaired and refitted several times before being sold to Constantine Phipps in 1773 when she was taken on an expedition to the North Pole. Nelson served on board as a midshipman. The expedition never reached the North Pole, arriving close but forced back by ice and returning to Britain in the same year. She was sold again several times, the last record of her being sold at Woolwich in 1784.

The transport infrastructure was as in much trouble by the 1700s as it seems to be today. Turnpike Trusts were established to manage the key roads that lead into London and one of these was the Bermondsey, Rotherhithe and Deptford Turnpike Trust which was established in 1748. Until 1750 the only bridge across the Thames was London Bridge, but as part of the improvement in the transportation infrastructure another bridge were now added: Westminster in 1750 and Blackfriars in 1769.

Humphrey (see Bibliography) lists the following Eighteenth Century ships which were all built in Rotherhithe docks: The Chesterfield, the Sphynx and the Tartar.

The Chesterfield was a Fourth Rate warship of the line with 44 guns, launched in December 1743 from the yard of John quallet at Pitcher's Point, which Humphery says is opposte todays Amos Estate on Rotherhithe.

The Sphynx was a sloop (a single-masted sailing vessel) with 24 guns, built at Allen's shipyard and launched in 1747/8.

The Tartar was a 6th rate, or Flower Class, with 28 guns, and was launched in April 1756 from Randall's shipyard. Her first captain was Captain Lockhart. She was wrecked off San Domingo in 1797.

Randall's (Randall, Randall and Brent, Samuel and Daniel Brent and Randall and Brent at different times), was one of the most important ship building companies on Rotherhithe, with three separate yeards of which only Nelson Dock survives. Amongst many commissions for the Royal Navy and the East India Company they build third rate ships of the line with 74 guns, the largest every to be built by private shipyards.

Here are other Rotherhithe-built ships, just as examples. The Minerva was built by John Quallet, Rotherhithe and launched: in January 1759. She was captured by the French in 1778, retaken in 1781, and renamed The Recovery in the same year. The Southampton was built by Robert Inwood, Rotherhithe and was launched in May 1757. She was wrecked in the Bahamas in 1812. The Nonsuch was built by John Quallet and launched on 29th. December 1741. She was broken up in Plymouth in 1766. But if you want to get a full sense of the volume of ships produced by Rotherhithe shipyards go onto the Ships of the Old Navy website and type "Rotherhithe" into the search engine - you won't be disappointed!

The Peter Hills School, which had been founded in 1613, continued to thrive. In the early 1700s it gained funding for 65 boys and 50 girls. It was expanded in 1739, when it included 77 boys, and was rebuilt in 1746 in St Marychurch Street. In 1731 it had 37 trustees, of whom 17 were sea captains. The surviving school building was moved to on the other side of St Marychurch Street in 1795 and it dates from the early 1700s, consisting of three storeys made of red brick. It is located next to St Mary's Church and is easy to spot thanks to the first floor figures of school children in blue and white. The building still has its Eighteenth Century doorcase and fanlight.

In 1755 a second charity school was built, called the United Society's School, located on the east of Rotherhithe.

In the 1760s the Wells family took over Commercial Wharf from Thomas Stanton, and purchased it from the Bedford estate. At the shipyard they constructed the Cornwall in 1760, the True Briton, also in 1760, and over 70 East Indiamen.

In 1765 a major fire in Princes Street on Rotherhithe was caused by the spillage from a pitch kettle which overboiled. Over 200 houses and warehouses, burned down. As with the Great Fire of London, the speed with which the fire spread was probably caused by both construction methods and the proximity of the buildings to each other.

The expeditions of Captain Cook to the Antipodes between 1769 and 1774 led to the establishment of trade between Great Britain and Austarlia and New Zealand. William Pitt became Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1783. The slave trade continued to be of considerable economic importance to Britain which had coastal holdings in Africa, and the West Indies provided both staple and exotic items (imports of wheat, leather, cotton, rum, fruit juice, sugar, tobacco and mahogany, amongst other commodities) for an increasingly demanding western world. In the late1700s the increase in trade with the New World (U.S. and Canada). This caused numerous logistical problems because the Thames was only able to hold 600 boats in docks and on piers at any one time. Boats moored mid-Thames were always vulnerable to piracy. Part of the problem was not just that trade had grown threefold but that the average tonnage carried by ships had doubled. Up to 1400 ships with extra tonnage were now competing in a system designed to cope with a fraction of the cargo handling capacity.

One of the local stories associated with this increase in trade concerns Rotherhithe resident Captain Henry Wilson and Prince Lee Boo. Captain Wilson lived on Paradise Street (now part of Jamaica Road) and commanded the Antelope for the East India Company. When the ship was near the Pelew (now Belau) Islands in 1783 it was wrecked, badly damaged and was forced to beach on the island of Coo-Raa-Raa. The native inhabitants of the island were able to communciate with the sailors because one of the tribesmen and one of Wilson's servants both spoke Malay. The presence of the ship's dog seems to have helped bridge the two cultures - it was a Newfoundland named Sailor and the islanders had never seen a dog before. The two groups worked together to build a new ship, and when it was time to depart Abba Thule, the tribe's king (or rupack - which is the origin of the name Rupack Street), asked Wilson to take his son to England so that he could receive an English education. Sadly, Prince Lee Boo was only twenty years old when he died from smallpox in 1784, a mere six months after his arrival in England. See the St Mary's Rotherhithe website for more details.

In 1760 the Bedford estate leased the Greenland Dock (South) and (North) shipyards to John Randall (who was also operating out of Nelson Dock) and in 1763 the Howland Great Wet Dock (now Greenland Dock - see earlier heritage post), was purchased from the Fourth Duke of Bedford by the Wells family of shipbuilders. The Randalls, however, continued to hold the lease as per the original agreement.

A public house named the Acorn on Rotherhithe Street dated back to at least 1767 and gave its name to the Acorn Watermen's Stairs.

In the late 1700s new roads were added to improve connection between other major roads and the new bridges. In St George’s Circus the 1771 obelisk, which was built to commemorate the parish in which this network of roads met, still survives. It was named after the parish in which it was located. Other streets in and around Southwark were built in the later 1700s, crossing fields and leading to new roadside building, and increasing the traffic through the surrounding areas, including Rotherhithe.

The Bermondsey Spa was opened in 1780, managed by Thomas Keyse.

In 1789 a barge building and repair yard was established in Rotherhithe. by Charles Hay and Sons Ltd. However only a later building belonging to the company, dating to the Nineteenth Century, survives today.

War with France broke out in 1793, and Marc Brunel fled Paris, going to America to make his name as an architect and engineer. He came to the UK in 1799. His impact on Rotherhithe was to be considerable in the 1800s.

Bellamy's Wharf, today known as King and Queen Wharf, near Rotherhithe Village, was built by French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars in the 1790’s.

In 1792 the first deaf and dumb school in the UK was established at Bermondsey.

It was only at the very end of the 1700s that ambitious plans for the development of new docks in Rotherhithe were made. In 1796 the surveyor Charles Cracklow proposed a new dock system, and William Vaughan, Director of Royal Exchange Assurance Corporation (founded in 1720) and spokesman for the West India Merchants, identified Rotherhithe, Wapping and the Isle of Dogs as suitable riverside sites for potential expansion of dockland areas. The new docks were proposed in order to meet the challenge of London's ambitions to become a global centre for trade. The following dockland developments were staggering, with architects and engineers hired to plan and build new docks in the late 1700s, many of which opened in the first years of the 1800s.

The earliest part of Grice's Granary on Tunnel Road (now the Sands Film Studio and Rotherhithe Picture Library) dates to 1796-1800. It was extended at least once, but the oldest part consists of three section which are topped by three kingpost roofs. Kingposts are vertical wooden posts which sit on horizontal cross beams. The top of the kingpost forms the apex of the roofing rafter. The Grice family owned the building until 1857, but the name was apparently retained even after it changed hands.

In 1796 the Wells family, who had played such an important role in Rotherhithe ship building, purchased a share in a shipyard in Blackwall (Perry and Green) and ceased to operate in Rotherhithe.
I will keep adding to this post (and earlier heritage posts) as I learn more, so if you're interested it might be worth keeping an eye on it.


Andie said...

Sorry Andy - I've had a look around and the only thing I can find out about the Three Mariners is that it was associated with a ghost story - and you can find that out all over the web by just typing it into Google so I assume you have that info already. Sorry that I couldn't help. Andie

Andy said...

Hi Andie,

Thanks for the info...yes I read the ghost story and re written it on my web...thats why Im trying to find its location. Whilst I here can you put my link on your blog and I will do the same for you

Very best regards