All posts by Leigh Hatts

Dying Keats sails down the Thames for Naples

Jospeh Severn’s painting of the Maria Crowther

Two hundred years ago this morning John Keats left England for exile in Italy and death.

On Sunday 17 September the poet embarked at Tower Dock, now Tower Pier, next the Tower of London.

Across the water were Battle Bridge Stairs and Pickle Herring Stairs on the Bermondsey bank behind which Keats had spent time as a Guy’s hospital student.

Mid morning saw the rising tide turn and the Maria Crowther move out of the Pool of London and down river past Rotherhithe, Deptford and Greenwich.

Keats and his companion Joseph Severn on board spent part of the time dining with the captain until Gravesend was reached in mid afternoon.

The ship stayed at anchor all night and all Monday until about 9pm. On Tuesday morning the Maria Crowther was in the estuary and on passing Margate in a storm left the Thames for the English Channel.

Keats arrived in Naples on Saturday 21 October but was quarantined for ten days due to England being known to have a virus. He died in Rome the following February.

The figure of John Keats can be seen sitting on a seat in a Guy’s Hospital quadrangle garden

Mayflower book reveals new Thames links

At 4pm on Friday 4 September the Lord Speaker and Mr Speaker will be on the Palace of Westminster terrace for a delayed ceremony marking the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing for America.

An illuminated vellum scroll, a gift from the UK Parliament to the US House of Representatives, will be placed on a vessel and taken downstream to Rotherhithe before being despatched to Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the USA.

But did the Pilgrim Fathers really leave from Rotherhithe?

A new book The Mayflower in Britain: How an icon was made in London by historian Graham Taylor, claims that the passengers embarked not behind the Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe but at Blackwall.

The spot is probably Blackwall Yard which is just upstream of Virginia Quay from where the first English settlers of North America had set sail in 1606.

One was John Smith who, according to Graham Taylor, was to influence considerably the destiny of the Mayflower project fourteen years later.

Virginia Quay and Blackwall are best seen from the Thames Path as it curves round the O2 (the former Dome)

Rotherhithe in 1620, we are reminded, was not in London but merely ‘of London’ as navigation was supervised by the Port of London and the authorities did not allow emigration from tiny riverside villages.

When on the Thames Path between South Dock and Greenland Dock you are about where the lost Earl’s Creek provided docking for the Mayflower when not sailing to France to bring wine back for City vintners.

Master of the Mayflower Christopher Jones lived in Rotherhithe and some of the crew were local or from Deptford.

Graham Taylor dismisses the claims of Rotherhithe’s Mayflower pub (which advertises itself as the oldest on the Thames) to having any connection with the ship or Pilgrim Fathers.

“It changed its name to Mayflower only in 1957,” writes the author who knows Rotherhithe and Southwark intimately.

But Christopher Jones is buried in the church and depicted outside.

The 4 September ceremony is about six weeks late. Rotherhithe residents hope to be able mark the anniversary of the ship’s safe return on Sunday 16 May next year.

Graham Taylor’s Mayflower lecture at Gresham College can be viewed online on Tuesday 15 September at 6pm: register in advance on website.

The Mayflower in Britain: How an icon was made in London by Graham Taylor (Amberley £20).

Harrods wharf might reopen

Harrods Depository

The new owner of Harrods Wharf is offering its use for a temporary ferry service whilst Hammersmith Bridge remains closed.

The dock, in front of the Thames Path at Barnes, was purchased last month by local businessman Jamie Waller.

“Harrods Wharf was used in the past by large boats to drop off and pick up storage containers from the Harrods Depository and there is no reason that it can’t be used again, but this time for people,” suggests Jamie Waller today.

“I would be amazed if a temporary Ferry service could not be set-up in the space of a few weeks ready for children returning to school. With the right amount of energy and application this could be achieved. As a local resident I can see the need, and as a father I feel for those that have younger children about to start school.”

He adds: “As such I am prepared to offer the use of the site for free, if others involved in the project will do the same. This is a time to do something for the community.”

Hammersmith Bridge was deemed to be in dangerous state and likely to collapse when new cracks were observed during recent hot weather. Navigation is also banned with small craft being advised to use canal links. The Thames Path which passes below the structure has also been diverted.

Hammersmith Bridge

Mayflower celebrations postponed to May

The Mayflower pub on the Thames Path at Rotherhithe

In mid July 1620 The Mayflower set sail from Rotherhithe and, after putting in at Southampton and Plymouth, arrived off America’s Cape Cod in November.

The landing of the Pilgrim Fathers and their first harvest in 1621 is recalled in the USA every year at Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November.

The great commemorations and celebrations long planned in Rotherhithe have been postponed by the virus as has the arrival anniversary ceremonies in America.

Now Rotherhithe is preparing to celebrate the anniversary of The Mayflower’s return next year on Thursday 6 May.

On the Thames Path is The Mayflower pub which is claimed to be next to The Mayflower’s original mooring.

Look right on passing the churchyard to see the monument to Mayflower captain Christopher Jones who brought the ship home.

Milestone outside The Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe Street on the Thames Path

Dorney Reach diversion

These are uncertain times but the few walking between Windsor and Maidenhead this week will find quite a long signed diversion at the motorway bridge near Bray.

The towpath here will also be closed next weekend between 8pm on Friday 5 June and 6am on Monday 8 June.

The closure is to allow for major work on the bridge.

Thames path gets longer

A stream joins the Thames at Erith

The Thames Path is being extended downstream to the Isle of Grain in Kent.

This is the effect of a decision announced today by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice.

The minister has approved the remaining sections of the England Coast Path on the Thames south bank between Grain in Kent and Woolwich Ferry in London.

This does not mean that there is now a direct riverside path. For example one must turn inland for some distance at the River Darent to find a crossing as the flood barrier does not provide public access.

But this decision to bring the coast path upstream will enhance the status of the Erith to Thames Barrier section which is outside the National Trail but increasingly enjoyed.

It also means that the England Coast Path is on course to eventually take the Thames Path down to Long Nose Spit beyond Margate.

See map here.

Rotherhithe free ferry proposal from TfL

An artist’s impression of TfL’s proposed Rotherhithe ferry

Transport for London is proposing a free ferry linking Rotherhithe with Canary Wharf.

The new service would be a turn up and go eco fast ferry with new specially designed boats and piers.

The proposal follows TfL’s decision in July last year to no longer pursue a bridge idea between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf due to costs.

TfL has appointed the consultant Steer to assess different operating models on how TfL would run the service, including whether sponsorship and subsidy of the service could be used to make it free to customers.

The design work is also assessing suitable models for construction so that work can commence as quickly as possible in the future.

The ferry point is the pier at the Hilton Hotel next to Nelson Dock. A public consultation will be held this year.


Rotherhithe riverfront


Rotherhithe’s Fighting Temeraire on £20 bank note

The new £20 pound bank note

Today Thursday 20 February the new Twenty Pound bank note is available at banks and post offices.

The note features the artist JMW Turner with his most famous painting The Fighting Temeraire in the background.

He was capturing the moment the great ship, made famous by its role in the Battle of Trafalgar, was towed decommissioned upstream to Rotherhithe for breaking up.

She arrived around 2pm on Thursday 6 September 1838 on the rising spring tide having come from Sheerness and anchoring overnight off Purfleet.

Before the tide turned at Rotherhithe she was swung round to face downstream before being secured at Bull Head Yard.

The wharf was also known as Beatson’s Wharf after John Beatson who ran the breaking and timber resale partnership there. It is now called Pacific Wharf and occupied by new flats.

Immediately west in the 1830s was a granary, on the site of today’s Salt Quay pub, at the Surrey Basin Entrance.

The arrival of the largest ship ever to be brought so far upstream was not advertised but Beatson knew it was a big moment and would soon draw crowds. His brother William went out into the river to do a quick sketch of the Temeraire before its destruction.

This drawing can be compared with Turner’s famous and more romantic record of this day. He is thought to have placed himself at Cherry Garden Pier having spotted the ship being towed upstream the day before as he travelled on one of the Margate-London steamers.

At Rotherhithe Turner would have seen two tugs at work although he depicts only one and moves the sun and time of day for greater effect.

John Beatson was churchwarden at nearby St Mary’s church in Rotherhithe where now there is an altar and two chairs made from Temeraire wood.

***The Temeraire played a crucial role at the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar in protecting Nelson’s HMS Victory. The ‘Nelson, Navy, Nation’ gallery at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has more information on the background; admission free.

Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire (Turner Bequest, 1856)

William Beatson’s drawing of the Temeraire at Rotherhithe (© National Maritime Museum)
Beatson’s Wharf has become Pacific Wharf and is now occupied by flats
The Thames Path runs round the former dry dock on the downstream side of Beatson’s Wharf


Rotherhithe has a Temeraire Street

Dog & Bell cover

The London Drinker February issue

“There’s no story behind this,” writes London Drinker editor Tony Hedger about this month’s cover photo.

“The Dog & Bell is simply a very good pub. It is a privately owned free house usually with six beers on handpump. You will find it not far from the Thames at 116 Prince Street (off Watergate Street) in Deptford, SE8 3JD.”

Indeed it’s on the Thames Path.

Thames paintings in Turner bedroom

Sandycombe Lodge

Five of JMW Turner’s Thames paintings are being shown at his house for the first time.

The artist, obsessed with the River Thames and wanting to be nearby, designed and built his own house just over the bridge from Richmond. He moved in with his father in 1813.

Sandycombe Lodge is under half a mile from the river which Turner could see from his bedroom. Fish caught in the Thames were transferred to one of the two ponds in the garden.

The area, now known as St Margarets, is covered with late Victorian houses but during Turner’s thirteen years there he was able to enjoy the river on two sides of the house.

He would have seen nearby Marble Hill House to the south where the only other building was The Crown inn next to his vegetable garden.

To the east he could see over the river to Richmond Hill with the houses on top where artistic rivals Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough had lived.

There was a halfpenny toll to walk across Richmond Bridge to the town.

The tiny Turner and the Thames exhibition in the tiny bedroom of Turner’s father is just five tiny paintings.

They are dated 1805 which is two years before Turner purchased the land for his new house.

The oil paintings are really sketches which Turner made on mahogany boards -recycled furniture. In his Walton Reach painting some wood is left bare to covey a little reddish reflection in the water.

Turner is on the water for this painting as he is for Windsor Castle from the River although it is possible to stand on the edge of the Brocas meadow as other artists and photographers have down the decades to show the rising castle.

Sunset on the River 1805 is an example of a picture where, like Walton, one cannot be sure of the exact location even if in a boat.

Another is called The Thames near Windsor (?).

The pictures, usually in storage, are on loan from Tate Britain.

Visiting the house and seeing the bedrooms and kitchen are as rewarding as the exhibition which continues until Sunday 29 March.

Sandycombe Lodge, Turner’s House, 40 Sandycombe Road, Twickenham TW1 2LR is open Wednesday to Sunday 12-3pm; admission £8 (child £3).

Sunset on the River 1805
Windsor Castle from the River 1805 detail
Walton Reach above the bedroom’s fireplace