Wells Fargo, 33 King William Street

Above: A Wells Fargo coach on show in the window of the new premises.

If you grew up in a house that had black and white television, you probably watched the many ‘cowboys and Indians’ films on ‘the box’. They often portrayed a Wells Fargo coach – either shown under attack by the Indians or shown being robbed by the ‘bad guys’. Let’s not even mention the Lone Ranger and his faithful friend Tonto.

If you think all this reminiscing has nothing to do with the City of London then you would be wrong. Wells Fargo & Company is an American multinational financial services company with headquarters in San Francisco, California. There are also central offices throughout the United States. It is the world’s second-largest bank by market capitalisation and the fourth largest bank in the United States by total assets. Wells Fargo remains the second-largest bank in home mortgage servicing and debit cards in the USA.

In 1852, Henry Wells and William Fargo founded ‘Wells, Fargo & Co’ to serve the West. The new company offered the service of banking (buying gold and selling paper bank drafts as good as gold) and express services (rapid delivery of gold and anything else valuable). You have probably seen more movie footage of Wells Fargo stagecoaches than you have ever seen of English stagecoaches.

Wells Fargo has recently spent £300 million on a new European headquarters, situated in the City of London just north of London Bridge, at 33 King William Street. Although the name Wells Fargo is not a bank that people living in London would be familiar with, Americans visiting England certainly use its services. At present (January 2019) the new building is not up and running. Wells Fargo Capital Finance (UK) Limited has its head office and registered office on the 4th floor at 90 Long Acre, in Westminster. In addition, Wells Fargo Bank, National Association (WFBNA) has its principal place of business in the UK at One Plantation Place, 30 Fenchurch Street, in the City of London.

Wells Fargo still owns and display 10 of their original stagecoaches in their history museums across the US. In addition, there are 13 reproduction stagecoaches in the bank’s offices, with a fleet of 17 that are used almost every weekend in parades and events across the nation. Within the new premises in the City of London is one of their well-known stagecoaches, which is already on display. Presumably, it is also one their replicas. Nevertheless, it is an unusual feature in a City office block.

Above: The new offices that are yet to be fully opened, viewed across the busy King William Street.

The new premises are situated in a new office building, designed by John Robertson Architects for the real estate developer H B Reavis. The site in King William Street was acquired in late 2013. Construction began in mid-2014 and was completed by late-2018. The building is the first real estate purchase outside the US for Wells Fargo. The 11 storey building is at 33 King William Street, on the same side of the street as the Fishmongers’ Hall. The design includes a double-height entrance hall. On top of the building is a roof garden accessible for the staff only. Landscaped by Townshend Landscape Architects and covering one-third of an acre, it is designed to mimic an English country garden. The offices provide 225,000 square feet of floor-space and carry the name ’33 Central’.

The move into the new building at 33 King William Street will enable Wells Fargo to bring its 850 London staff into one location. They are at the moment scattered in four sites across the City and Central London. From London, the bank handles American corporate clients doing business in the UK as well as local companies that want to transact in the US.

It would seem to be a bold move for Wells Fargo to decide on London for its European headquarters amid all the turmoil of Brexit – at a time when several international financial organisations are making plans to relocate their headquarters from London to a city in the EU, like Strasbourg, in France.


Posted in /City-Billingsgate | 2 Comments

Prusom’s Island

Above: An old cast-iron nameplate at the western end of today’s Prusom Street. The right-hand end has been damaged. It is mounted on the corner wall of a pub called the White Swan and Cuckoo. The two lamps, used to light up the wall of the pub at night, only add to the clutter in the image.

Every now and again, as you walk around London, you stumble across a name that will strike you as curious for one reason or another. Right up until the 1980s, a turning off the north side of Wapping High Street had a large painted sign on the wall of a large warehouse with the unusual name of ‘Prusom’s Island’. The warehouse was later converted into apartments and the sign was removed when Wapping – along with many other riverside parts of London – was redeveloped by the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC). Unfortunately, the author never took the trouble to photograph the sign and it would seem that nobody else did either. There are no surviving photographs in the local history library. The street was renamed ‘Hilliard’s Court’ and the ancient name has been lost for ever.

Who was Prusom? Did he exist? Was he a real person or is the name a corruption of some other word? Where was the island? What kind of an island was it? These are all questions that spring to mind when you see the name and, after considerable searching in the local history archives as Tower Hamlets, very few answers can be found.

The name ‘Prusom’s Island’ appears on old maps of London for the riverside locality of Wapping. It is tempting to think that ‘Prusom’ might have been a family name but even that has not been established. There may never have been a ‘Mr Prusom’, it might just be a corruption of some other name or some other word.

Similarly, with ‘Island’ in the name, the question arises as to the extent of the land. One thing seems definite – there was no island in the sense of a piece of land surrounded by water. However, much of the land in and around Wapping was low-lying and flat beside the Thames and subject to constant flooding. The land does rise as it reaches The Highway (which is further inland) but the streets shown in Wapping were often under water due to high tides. The surrounding land was known as ‘Wapping Marsh’, possibly with water to be seen in ditches. The name Prusom’s Island may have arisen because a small piece of land became an island in times of flooding which, for Wapping, was a continual problem.

Village Life in Wapping and Its Trades

Wapping developed as a hamlet – one of the many Tower Hamlets – that were beside the Thames, including Shadwell, Ratcliffe and Limehouse to the east. It was not until 1694 that Wapping became a separate parish and the church of St John was built. The church was bombed during the Second World War and not rebuilt but its fine church tower survived and is still standing beside Scandrett Street.

In the early 13th century there were two mills by the riverside in Wapping leased from the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s. All the corn for the common bake-house at the cathedral was ground at those mills. There were also beer houses. The medieval hamlet looked out onto a patchwork of ditches, dykes and pasture. On very high tides, it was just a large marsh, dotted with islands, like Prusom’s Island which survived as a street name until modern times.

Wapping was closely associated with the sea. It was a place where sailors lived and became a place where those associated with ships lived and worked. John Stow’s history of London describes Wapping as ‘a continual street or filthy straight passage with alleys and small tenements or cottages inhabited by sailors’ victuallers.’ Stow was writing around 1600 when there was a long street, lined with houses following the curved line of the Thames.

There were ship-builders and small docks along the river bank. Men with skills in making ship’s chandlery also lived there. Another trade was rope-making, with rope-yards nearby. There was biscuit-making (producing ship’s biscuits) as well as mast-, oar- and block-making. In short, nearly everything needed to fit out a ship was made in or near Wapping.

As Wapping became a village, many of the residents probably spent their whole lives living there. However, unlike many country villages, this was constantly experiencing sailors staying for a few weeks or months before going back to their ship, after it had been repaired. Ships from many locations around the globe also visited Wapping and so the villagers probably became used to strangers in their midst, often talking in unfamiliar languages. With this in mind, it is possible that the name ‘Prusom’ is a corruption of some other name or even the misunderstanding of a foreign word. Due to the passage of time, we shall probably never know how the name arose.

Above: Part of Stanford’s map of 1891 showing the street name of Prusom’s Island.

The Spelling of the Name

• One of the earliest maps to show the name is Morgan’s Map of 1682. It shows the name as ‘Sprucers Island’ or ‘Sprucens Island’.
• Documents of 1693 show the name as ‘Sprucon’s Island’, ‘Pruson’s Island’, ‘Prussian Island’ or ‘Spruces Island’.
• John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the name ‘Pruson’s Island’ as a street. Horwood’s map of 1799 shows the name ‘Pruisian Island’ as a street.
• Lockie’s Topography, published in 1810 is rather like a street directory. It lists the name as ‘Prussian Island’. There is also a comment saying ‘perhaps where sailors from Prussia settled’.
• Christopher and John Greenwood’s map of 1830 shows the name ‘Prusian Island’ as a street.
• A street address in 1834 lists the name as ‘Prusom’s Island, Wapping’. One commentator added ‘Prusom’s Island, which was at the eastern end of Cinnamon Street’.
• Edward Stanford’s map of 1891 shows the name ‘Prusom Island as a street (see map).
• Hermione Hobhouse, in the ‘Survey of London’, Vols 43 and 44, written in 1994, refers to ‘the long-lost name of Pruson (or Spruson’s) Island’.
• Today, there is a ‘Prusom Street’ nearby. Prusom Street was, until 1912, called ‘King Street’ and later it was known as Old Gravel lane’. There is no longer a street called ‘Prusom’s Island’.

Wapping as a Place Name

Wapping is known to have been a settlement in Saxon times. Some historians claim that the name derives from a local leader or chief called ‘Waeppa’ or an area known as ‘Waeppa’s people’. The earliest mention of Wapping was spelt as ‘Wappinges’ in 1220; and as ‘Wappingge atte Wose’ in 1345. The name is most likely to be related to the old English word ‘wase’ meaning mud which could be used here for a marsh.

The name of Wapping was usually associated with marshy land beside the Thames, sometimes being known as ‘Wapping in the Wose’.

River Defences

The hamlet of Wapping stood on very marshy land. An exceptionally high tide was able to flood the low-lying area. Just after Christmas 1323 was a ‘mighty flood, proceeding from the tempestuousness of the sea’ which breached the river wall, probably where Wapping Wall is now.

The street called Wapping Wall and the nearby streets called Green Bank and Hermitage Wall are all reminders that dykes that were built in the area to protect the land against flooding from the Thames. It was not the only land beside the Thames that was subject to flooding but the numerous dykes – later to become streets called ‘Walls – indicate that flooding for the residents was a constant danger.

It is possible that Prusom’s Island was a piece of land that remained above flood level when the surrounding land was under water – probably because it was slightly higher than some of the surrounding marshes.

Prusom’s Island (Development)

Standing on the north side of Wapping High Street, where it joins onto Garnet Street at its eastern end stood a large warehouse. In the mid-1980s it was converted by Wates Built Homes for use as 35 flats. Swinhoe Measures Partnership were the architects. Because the site was either on or very near to the the historic site of Prusom’s Island, the developer chose the same name for the building. The address is 135 Wapping High Street, Wapping, E1W 3NH.

The Prusom’s Island scheme earned the Housing Design Award in 1989. The conversion of Prusom’s Island was carried out as part of Wates’ overall scheme, the main part of which was the building of Towerside. According to the developers of Prusom’s Island (Development), the warehouse was ‘owned in the 1880s by Middleton and Sons, Wharfinger and Steam Shipping Company which handled all goods except tea and tobacco.

The remaining large warehouse is listed Grade II and it is one of many Victorian warehouses in Wapping to be retained and converted for modern uses. This has resulted in the area having a distinctive feel to it – almost as though the buildings are continuing to be used for their original purpose. There are strict planning rules applying to the immediate area which is a conservation zone encompassing both sides of Wapping Wall and both sides of the eastern end of Wapping High Street. Not only have the original warehouses been preserved and redeveloped but also new blocks of apartments have been designed to harmonise with the older structures.


Posted in /Tow-Stepney | Leave a comment

Islands in London

Above: An outline map of Inner London detailing the places mentioned in this article.

Inner London is, in general, a continuous land mass. Running through it – on an approximate east-west axis – is the River Thames which also has smaller tributaries flowing into it. At first glance on a map, there are no islands to be seen. That does not mean that parts of Inner London have not been regarded as islands over the last 2,000 years of its history. When talking about an island, it is usual to assume that the land is entirely surrounded by water, usually the sea – like the Isle of Wight or Anglesey. When considering Inner London that is not always the case.

Land Surrounded by Water

We need to consider the origins of the words ‘island’ and ‘isle’. The first two letters of both words – ‘is’ – are pronounced as if the spelling was like the word ‘eye’ which is actually derived from Old English and Old Norse roots. Spelt ‘eg’ or ‘ey’ it was also pronounced as if it was the word ‘eye’. All this means that today’s word ‘island’ derives from ‘ey’ and ‘land’. In fact, it could be interpreted as ‘land surrounded by water’.

Today’s London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has a good example which illustrates the usage of the word ‘ey’. It is a small elongated island on the Thames near Hammersmith called ‘Chiswick Eyot’. The ‘ey’ in the second word derives directly from Old English.

Dry Land Within a Marsh

In addition to pieces of land actually surrounded by water, there were also areas of land that carried the meaning of ‘dry land within an extensive marsh’. Within a marsh there can be (1) an area of raised land which, because it was drier land than the rest of the marsh, was able to be inhabited or (2) an area of gravel within marshy land that may not have been raised but, due to the gravel, was stable enough to carry the weight of a large building. There are several examples in Inner London.

In the London Borough of Westminster – more accurately known as the City of Westminster, for historical reasons – is the well-known Westminster Abbey. The first church built on the site is believed to date from Saxon times. It was erected on an area of gravel known as ‘Thorney Island’ a name meaning ‘Isle of Thorns’ – probably due to thorny plants growing there, like gorse.

In the London Borough of Hackney is the place name Hackney (which may mean ‘Hacca’s Island’). This may actually have been an island of land surrounded by water, probably near the River Lea. Its exact position is not known but it was some distance inland from the Thames, situated on the marshy land where the River Lea is situated. Even today there are the nearby Hackney Marshes.

Today’s London Borough of Tower Hamlets has two names that relate to the island theme. The so-called Isle of Dogs is not actually an island but a peninsula. It has water on the west, south and east sides due to the Thames. On the north side, it is connected to the land mass of Poplar. In earlier times it was known as Stepney Marsh and the origins of its present name are by no means certain. The Isle of Dogs was once all marshy land with no stable area of gravel to be found anywhere on it. A short distance west, in Wapping, is the curious name of ‘Prusom’s Island’ which appears on old maps but has disappeared from the modern street map. There is a ‘Prusom Street’ which was on the northern extremity of the land. This was almost certainly raised ground surrounded by marsh.

Within today’s London Borough of Wandsworth is the place name Battersea (meaning ‘Patrick’s Island’). The last syllable of Battersea would sound the same if had ‘ey’ on the end of the name and it relates to an area of gravel near the Thames on which the original settlement called Battersea developed. This settlement was around the old parish church of St Mary. Although it only had water on the northern side, due to the Thames, the marshes to the south and east were probably just as treacherous as water would have been.

In today’s London Borough of Southwark is the place name of Bermondsey (meaning ‘Beomund’s Island’). The exact piece of land from Saxon times to which Bermondsey refers is uncertain. One of the earliest uses of the place name applied to where the large stone-built Bermondsey Abbey once stood and it is known that its site was on an extensive area of gravel. A short distance to the north is the inlet now called St Saviour’s Dock. On the east side of that inlet was a piece of land that was once completely surrounded by water – Jacob’s Island. The name arose due to the marshy conditions and the man-made ditches that were created to try to drain the land.

Further Observations

As a footnote to these place-names, it should be pointed out that while building on an area of gravel would not guarantee that those living there did not get flooded in times of high tides, gravel is very stable. Since much of London beside the Thames was once almost all marsh, those who wanted stable land on which to build sought out the places with gravel on which to form a settlement.

In case you are now starting to think laterally about Inner London, there are two other place names that deserve a mention. They might sound as if they should be included in this article but, in fact, they have nothing to do with the subject. Firstly is Chelsea, in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The last syllable of the name may sound as if it could have been ‘ey’ but that is not so. The name Chelsea is taken to mean ‘a landing place for chalk’. Secondly, the Outer London Borough of Bexley has a village called Bexley, some distance east of Woolwich. The name Bexley is derived from two Old English words – ‘byxe’ (meaning a box tree) and ‘leah’ (meaning a grove of trees). The name, therefore, means ‘wood or grove of box trees’.


Posted in 4--Subject | 1 Comment

King’s Brewhouse, Stepney – Update

On 21 September 2018, a blog was written about the King’s Brewhouse whose site is now covered by the St Katharine Docks. More information was found recently, including an additional map. It has been incorporated into the blog which has been rewritten.

It is to be found at . . .


This blog is temporary and will be removed after a few weeks, once the regular readers have had a chance to see it.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Evelina Hospital Memories

Above: An obviously posed picture, dated 1896, taken at Christmas time. The ward was decorated in a festive way for the children.

‘Reminiscing the Past’

The year 2019 sees the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Evelina Hospital in Southwark Bridge Road. There is now a new hospital which stands on part of the St Thomas’s Hospital site. Having written a blog about the general history of the two buildings (see reference at the bottom of this article) this blog relates to more personal memories of the old building and the staff.

The Hospital Layout

The original building – actually called the ‘Evelina Hospital for Sick Children’ – was known simply as the ‘Evelina Hospital’ to those who worked there or knew it well. It had been built beside the curved part of Southwark Bridge Road, on the south side, with the main entrance at the junction of Southwark Bridge Road and Quilp Street. When the building was demolished, the land was developed as Mint Street Park. The hospital only occupied about half the land of the present park and it did not extend north beyond Quilp Street.

Being built on a curve, the wards which faced onto Southwark Bridge Road had curved walls and the corridor beside the wards was also curved. This meant that although the corridor was long, it was not possible to look along its whole length because of the curvature. By today’s standards, the hospital was small – having a total of 76 beds. It was regarded as small when the building was in use and the staff often jokingly called it the ‘Evelina Hospital of Six Children’. On the ground floor were the administrative offices, the pharmacy, the X-ray unit and the Out-patients Department. On the first floor were two large general wards (one of them being called the ‘Evelina Ward’). There was also a small ward which was split into three or four cubicles where sick babies were cared for, along with an adult bed to accommodate the mother. This baby unit, as it was often called, was called Rothschild Ward – after the founder. On the second floor were two more wards of which one was the surgical ward and next to that was the operating theatre. In the 1950s and 1960s, the common operation being carried out was the removal of children’s tonsils. That is an operation that is seldom carried out on children these days.

There was a third floor but that was laid out with rooms for nurses’ accommodation although only there were only rooms for a few of the nurses to ‘live in’. Many of the nurses working at the Evelina had to walk back to their accommodation at Guy’s Hospital after their shift at the Evelina. The hospital also had a basement where the staff dining rooms were along with the kitchens. In addition, there were also numerous storerooms.

The Staff

General staff – like the pharmacists, the physiotherapists, the X-ray department staff and the consultants – worked in the hospital but lived off-site. Some of those staff worked a five-day week and others, like consultants, came for just one day. In addition, were also the administrative staff who looked after the day-to-day running of the hospital. The Evelina gradually became the children’s ‘annexe’ of Guy’s Hospital which, of course, is a huge hospital for adult patients on an enormous site. The nursing staff at the Evelina consisted of nursing Sisters who worked at the Evelina on a permanent basis. The majority of nurses were drawn from those in training at Guy’s Hospital. As part of their training, they would be seconded to the Evelina for six months before returning to Guy’s to work in various wards so that they could experience the many aspects of care which the hospital provided.

Guy’s being so large meant that it could be rather daunting to work in. Nurses who came to the Evelina loved being in a small environment and many of them cried on their last day of the six-month placement. The Evelina was loved by all who worked there and the staff became more like a family – although they were a highly professional team.

Uniform of Nurses

Until the 1960s and 1970s, nurses still wore uniforms, according to their rank, which included starched aprons and carefully assembled caps. This was a throw-back to earlier times – similar to the picture at the top of the article. The traditional uniforms have been updated with much more practical garments. No nurse wears any head-dress as a uniform. The only head-wear is to cover the hair for reasons of hygiene.

The Pharmacy

This account is, of necessity, a personal view because my father was the Chief Pharmacist from the late 1930s until the 1970s (shortly before the building was closed). That was a time when I was growing up – including my school years and the time I was at college. Of course, the nearly forty years that my father worked at the Evelina also included the years of my adulthood as well.

My secondary school stood near Tower Bridge and so, during those years, I was about a 30-minute walk from the Evelina Hospital. On occasions I popped in to see father, for one reason or another, and, therefore, I got to know many of those working in the Evelina. As I stood around the pharmacy, housemen and registrars at the Evelina and also consultants would come in to see my father to obtain advice about new medicines. The dose stated on a box of tablets or on a bottle of medicine is, in general, what is prescribed for adults. The Evelina was at the ‘cutting edge’ for treating seriously ill babies and small children. The main discussion between the doctors and my father was to consider what the dose should be for small children. Basically, medicine is related to body weight. For a baby, probably a tenth the weight of an adult, they had to consider whether the dose for a new medicine should also be a tenth that for an adult. Would such a small dose work for a baby or should it be increased slightly? These were questions that, for a new drug, were not known and even the consultants did not always have the answers. Father often spent hours researching the dosage and spending further hours deliberating with the doctors who were trying to get the dose just right.

Because of the nature of his work, everyone in the Evelina knew my father. The pharmacy supplied medicines for all the wards on a daily basis. In addition, medicines and ointments were supplied to the Outpatients for them to take home after being seen by a doctor. Not only were medicines supplied to the wards but there were also large bottles of disinfectant, bandages and sticky Elastoplast adhesive bandages as well as all the different types of anaesthetics used in the operating theatre and sometimes in the Outpatients Department. The pharmacy was the hub for the efficient running of the whole hospital.

The Christmas Parties

By the time I had reached my teens, we used to go to the Evelina on most Boxing Days with my family. In those days nearly all the consultants also used to come in, with their wives and children, for the afternoon and possibly stay until 6.00 pm, sometimes later. As a child – being used to seeing the bare walls of the wards and the plain doors – to see the place at Christmas time was quite a surprise. Some of the doctors and nurses also had great artistic talents. Using paints, they would draw large murals onto the plain walls and use other colouring materials to draw animals and characters onto the glass panes in the doors and also onto the large glass windows.

On Christmas Day and Boxing Day, entertainers came into the wards, putting on shows for the children. There were general entertainers as well as magicians. Children’s films were shown in the wards. television was then in its infancy. It does seem a long time ago!

In those far-off days, there were three evening newspapers in London – the Evening Standard, the Evening News and the Star. They used to have articles about children in hospital over Christmas and ran a campaign called ‘Give a toy to a sick child’. Members of the public would wrap up presents of toys and dolls and hand them in at the main entrance for children staying in the hospital over Christmas. In addition, toy manufacturers, of which there were many in London, would load up a van full of toys and sent it to each children’s hospital a few days before Christmas. Borough Market not only handled fruit and vegetables but, at the festive season, it also handled Christmas trees. Many large trees were delivered but only a fraction of those delivered was ever used in the wards because they were often too large even for the wards and also because they were so numerous.

As a child, visiting the Evelina on Boxing Days, it was like walking into a toy shop. When we visited, the children who were patients had already taken as many toys are they wanted and there were still heaps of toys remaining, including jigsaw puzzles, books, boxes of pencils, and toys of every description. Remember that when a van turned up from a toy-factory, each toy probably came in groups of 50 to 100 of the same item. My father, seeing my eyes almost pop out of my head, used to say ‘If you would like any of them, then help yourself – it will all end up on the rubbish tip tomorrow’. I also remember the hospital having a very strict matron (yes, there were hospital matrons in those days). Her rule was that the Christmas ‘chaos’ ended at the end of Boxing Day. All the decorations, all the murals and window paintings, all the unwanted toys and all the Christmas trees and any other decorations had to be cleared away late on Boxing Day evening and by 27th December the who hospital had to return to ‘normal’.

The Final Days

Even in the 1970s, the Evelina Hospital was seen as too small to cater for the many needs of the sick children. The site was not able to be expanded and so closure became inevitable. The wards for the children were moved to Guy’s Hospital where they remained for a few decades. Eventually, a new ‘Evelina’ on a new site was built, allowing the new premises to take care of even more sick children than was possible in Southwark Bridge Road.

See also: Evelina Hospital for Sick Children – 7 January 2019.


Posted in /Sou-Southwark, 4-Hospitals, 4-Reminiscing | Leave a comment

Evelina Hospital for Sick Children

Above: One of the few photographs ever taken of the exterior of the Evelina Hospital in Southwark Bridge Road. The photograph shows the main entrance in Quilp Street and the curved side of the hospital beside Southwark Bridge Road.

The year 2019 sees the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Evelina Hospital and although the present hospital is on a different site from the original one, it would seem appropriate to write up its history.

When this hospital was founded in 1869, it was only the 13th children’s hospital founded in Britain. The circumstances of its foundation were rather tragic. The wife of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild was Evelina. She had been travelling on a train on which there was an accident. She was pregnant at the time and a shortly afterwards both she and their son who had been born prematurely died. Rothschild’s first thoughts were to found a maternity hospital in his name but his friend, who was himself an eminent obstetrician, advised him that there was a greater need to found a new children’s hospital to provide for poor children south of the river Thames.

Rothchild’s generosity established a children’s hospital named after his wife. The purpose-built hospital stood in Southwark Bridge Road, almost opposite what was once the headquarters of the London Fire Brigade, at 94 Southwark Bridge Road. The new hospital was established in one of the poorest parts of London and it continued to serve the needs of the community – not only providing for sick children but also babies as well. It should be pointed out that, when it was founded, no babies under the age of two were admitted to any hospital. This may sound curious today but the reasoning was that small children required almost constant care, with feeding and washing, as well as tending to their medical needs. This was time-consuming and it was considered that it took up the time of nurses who did not have enough time to care to other sick children. It was soon realised that sick babies required looking after as much, if not more than children over the age of two and the hospital became one of the first in Britain to have what became known as ‘baby units’.

The hospital was brought under the management of Guy’s Hospital in 1947 and became part of the National Health Service in 1948. In 1976 the original hospital building was considered to be too small and too old to be effective. The building was closed and later demolished. The site is now a small park. The children’s wards from the hospital were moved to one of the floors in the newly built Guy’s Tower.

Above: The Evelina Hospital on the St Thomas’s Hospital site. The view looks west from Archbishop’s Park to the new building by Hopkins.

In 1999 a decision was taken to re-establish the Evelina Children’s Hospital as a new specialist hospital in Lambeth for all children’s services at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital. The new hospital was to be built on the site of the former nurses’ home – part of the large site of St Thomas’s Hospital. An architectural design competition was managed by RIBA Competitions and won by Hopkins Architects and engineers Buro Happold. The design was specifically related to the ideas of the children and not only the requirements of the medical staff. The architects, therefore, spent a considerable amount of time with the young patients in the existing wards at Guy’s Hospital asking them what they would like to see in a new hospital building. Those ideas were used in the plans for the new building. Construction began in 2002 and the hospital was completed in 2004.

Although a part of the NHS, the cost of £60 million for the new building was largely paid for with private funds – with £50 million coming from the independent Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity (the successor to the endowments of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, amongst others), £10 million from NHS budgets and a major fundraising campaign by the Evelina London Children’s Hospital Appeal.

The new building is called Evelina London Children’s Hospital. Formerly housed at Guy’s Hospital in Southwark, it moved to the new building on part of the St Thomas’s Hospital site, in Lambeth, on 31 October 2005.


Posted in /Sou-Southwark, 4-Hospitals | Leave a comment

Elephant Stairs

Above: Part of the OS map for 1895, showing Elephant Stairs.

From at least Tudor times until the 19th century, one way for a pedestrian in London to travel was to be rowed on the Thames. River stairs were once to found every few hundred yards along both sides of the Thames. A pedestrian simply walked to the stairs where there were watermen waiting with their small rowing boats – called wherries – to ferry passengers across the Thames or to some other river stairs up- or down-river. Samuel Pepys often mentioned being rowed on the Thames in his diary entries of the 1660s. To Londoners at the time, river stairs were rather like bus-stops are to those who live in the capital today.

Most river stairs were at the end of a lane or alley so they were easy to access. Because the tide in London rises and falls about 18 feet twice each day, provision had to be made for different river levels. The stone stairs led down to the beach. If the tide was in, the pedestrian could step into the wherry from the stairs to gain access to a wherry. If the tide was low, a paved walkway was provided on the beach – known as a causeway – which allowed the pedestrian to walk from the foot of the stairs across the usually muddy beach without getting their shoes dirty before boarding the wherry.

All the stairs had a name. Sometimes the name was just that of the alleyway or lane that led to them. Sometimes there was a pub beside the stairs which the stairs were named after it (like St George’s Stairs, in Deptford, named after the pub called the George and Dragon). Sometimes they just had a name related to a building nearby or even to the name of the area (like Horselydown Stairs, which are near Tower Bridge, an area once known as Horselydown).

The particular stairs being considered here are Elephant Stairs. Sadly they are no more but they are named after a most unusual animal for London. According to Lillywhite [London Signs – n13626, p509], the stairs were first mentioned in 1659 as ‘Spread Eagle at Olivant (Elephant) Staires in Rederef’. The Spread Eagle is just a short distance east of where the stairs were – now called the Mayflower PH. Elephant Stairs stairs led to the Thames from the north end of Elephant Lane, which is still in existence.

As far as the name is concerned, elephants must have been extremely rare in England in the 17th century. The name may have been associated with a company that had an elephant on their coat of arms. The company may have had property nearby and defined their land by placing a coat of arms at each corner of it. There is no record of this being the case so we just do not know.

On very unusual fact related to the stairs is that in 1727 a piece of music, in the form of dance was published by a John Walsh. The year 1727 happens to be when George I died and his son George II became King of Britain. Whether the music was related to the new monarch is not known. One thing is for sure – it is most unusual to name a piece of music after river stairs. The fact that they were in Rotherhithe means that they must have had some distinction to be honoured in this way.

Above: Modern OS map.

If you are unfamiliar with Rotherhithe, the modern map may help. It shows Elephant Lane leading to the River. The stairs were at the end of that lane but they no longer remain. They may have been removed when the river wall was renewed in the 1980s.

The map at the top, of 1895, shows the location of Elephant Stairs which are also named. Another set of river stairs to the west, called Prince’s Stairs, are shown and named on both maps. They were rebuilt in concrete by the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) in the 1980s.

Look carefully again at the map for 1895 and you will see a large warehouse as East India Wharf (to the east of the stairs). The wharf was once owned by the East India Company, who were founded in 1599 and, of course, traded with the East Indies where elephants are to be found. That warehouse is still in existence, now in use as apartments. Whether that company influenced the name of Elephant Stairs is unknown but it is also a possibility.


Posted in /Sou-Bermondsey, /Thames | Leave a comment