At either end of today’s Lambeth Bridge are a pair of pillars with representations of pineapples mounted on top. They are there as a reminder of the father and his son – both called John Tradescant – who lived in Lambeth. They were keen horticulturalists who travelled around the world on several expeditions to collect plant specimens and bring them back to Lambeth where they successfully grew many of the plants they had collected. Around the family home, they laid out extensive gardens that were visited by members of the public. Their house became known as ‘Tradescant’s Ark’.
John Tradescant (Elder), (c1570-1638) and his son John Tradescant (Younger), (1608-1662) both lie buried in the churchyard surrounding the old parish church of St Mary, Lambeth.
Both father and son managed many ‘firsts’ in growing their plants and cultivating them. The John Tradescant (Younger) is thought to have been the first to cultivate the pineapple in England and for this reason, representations of the fruit are displayed on the pillars beside Lambeth Bridge. It should be pointed out that the pineapple plant was one of many different plants that were grown successfully in the large garden at Lambeth.
Sadly, the Tradescant family house and the extensive cultivated garden that surrounded it no longer exist and most of the land that they leased from the Archbishop of Canterbury is now built on. Not far away, at 53-55 Hercules Road, there is also a pub called The Pineapple – also named after the plant the family grew.
The first Lambeth Bridge was erected in 1861-62 on the site of the Horse Ferry, Lambeth, as a toll bridge. It was designed as a stiffened suspension bridge by Peter Barlow with three equal iron spans supported by cables which passed over two towers built on piers.
The bridge was acquired in 1877 by the Metropolitan Board of Works. In 1879 it was made free of tolls – along with other bridges crossing the Thames.
By 1887 the bridge was in a poor condition and a weight limit of three tons was set. By 1905 the speed of traffic was limited to walking pace and by 1910 it was closed entirely to traffic and remained in use only as a footbridge.
In 1929 the old bridge was pulled down and a new one of steel was built 1929-32 a little further south of the first which meant that Lambeth Road had to be diverted away from the church to meet it. The engineer was Sir George Humphreys and the architect was Sir Reginald Blomfield. On the western end of the bridge, a stone plaque states that the bridge was constructed in “1929-32 by Dorman Long and Co”. The new bridge was opened in July 1932 by George V and Queen Mary.
Today’s Lambeth Bridge is the second bridge to be built on the site, it is a five-span arch structure, made of steel circular arch ribs. The length is 776 feet (237 m) between the abutments. It is 60 feet (18 m) wide between the parapets.
The story of William Bligh’s life is one of adventure but also one of iron-willed determination. He was born on 9 September 1754, possibly in Plymouth, Devon or maybe nearby at the family home of Tintern Manor at Bodmin. Bligh’s father, Francis, was serving as a customs officer. Aged only seven, William was signed up for the Royal Navy, at a time when it was common to sign on a “young gentleman” simply to gain, or at least record, the experience at sea required for a commission. After years at sea, Bligh was selected in 1776 by Captain James Cook (1728–1779), for the position of sailing master of his ship Resolution and accompanied Cook on his third voyage to the Pacific Ocean. During that voyage, Cook was killed and Bligh played a significant role in navigating the beleaguered expedition back to England in August 1780. Bligh was also able to supply details of Cook’s last voyage following the return
In 1787, Bligh who was then a Lieutenant was put in command of a ship called the Bounty and set sail to collect Breadfruit from Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Bligh’s command was not popular and in 1789 the crew mutinied. They cast him adrift in a small boat with some of his officers. Bligh, who was skilled at navigating due to his voyage with Cook, sailed successfully 3,618 nautical miles (6,701 km) to Timor, the nearest European colonial outpost. Against all the odds, Bligh survived the trip in the small boat and eventually made his way back to London where the crew who was him adrift were brought to justice.
Above: Blue Plaque on 100 Lambeth Road.
Although Blight did not spend much time in London, he did have a house at 100 Lambeth Road where there is a Blue Plaque to be seen. Both Bligh and his wife, who predeceased him in 1812, are buried in an imposing tomb in the churchyard of the former parish church, St Mary, Lambeth (now the Garden Museum). Bligh lived his later years in Kent, not in the house in Lambeth.
Above: Tomb in the churchyard of St Mary, Lambeth.
He died in London on 7 December 1817 during a visit to consult his doctor and was buried from his ‘late residence’ at 27 Old Bond Street. He was aged 64 and by that time he had reached the rank of Vice-Admiral.
In 1972, the mainly Victorian church of St Mary, Lambeth, ceased to be used as a parish church and was scheduled to be demolished. In 1976, John and Rosemary Nicholson traced the tomb of the two 17th-century royal gardeners and plant hunters John Tradescant the Elder and the Younger to the old churchyard and were inspired to create the Museum of Garden History. It was the first museum to be dedicated to the history of gardening.
The museum is situated inside the church and also outside – in the original churchyard. The structure of the church has remained unaltered but an additional floor has been added. Some of the impressive graves in the church as well as those in the churchyard are important to the story of gardening and garden design. The museum re-opened in 2017 after an 18-month redevelopment project which included a garden restaurant.
The Museum’s main gallery is on the first floor, in the body of the church. The collection includes tools, art, and ephemera of gardening, including a gallery about garden design and the evolution of gardening, as well as a recreation of Tradescant’s 17th-century Ark. The collections give an insight into the social history of gardening as well as the practical aspects of the subject. There are three temporary exhibition spaces which look at various aspects of plants and gardens and change every six months. The redevelopment of the Museum, completed in 2017, included two new garden designs. The Sackler Garden, designed by Dan Pearson sits at the centre of the courtyard, replacing the knot garden, and the Museum’s front garden is designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole.
In the churchyard is the ornate tomb of the Tradescant family. Five members of the Tradescant family are buried in it – John Tradescant the Elder; John Tradescant the Younger with his two wives Jane and Hester, and his son, also called John, who died aged 19. The family lived near the church and are well-known for their great interest in horticulture. The plant Tradescantia was named after them. The present tomb is the third on the site of the Tradescant grave and is a replica of the original design. It was restored by public subscription in 1853.
Above: The church tower to the right of the nave. On the far left, in red brick is the entrance gateway to Lambeth Palace.
The church was first mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086), as “St Mary’s is a manor” and “a church”.
Parts of the stone tower date from early times. The lower three sections of the four that make up the tower, date from about 1390, when a new church and tower were erected.
Two events are mentioned in the 16th century. In 1552, the Pelham Chapel on the south side of the church was built. Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, died in 1559 and was buried in the chancel of the church.
Famous burials took place in the 17th century. John Tradescant (Elder) died in 1638 and was buried in the churchyard. In 1662, the son of John Tradescant (Younger) died and was buried at the church. His son, who was the grandson of Tradescant (Elder), was also buried in the churchyard. The whole family was famous for their horticultural achievements. Another famous name, Elias Ashmole, died on 18 May 1692 and was later buried in the church.
Archbishop Thomas Tenison died in 1715 and was buried in the church. His tomb lies in the middle of the chancel. An unlikely name connected with the church is that of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, of the ‘Bounty’. He died in 1817 and was buried in the churchyard. His tombstone, on the south side of the church, is of Coade Stone. Another famous name, this time in the world of optics and lenses, is Peter Dollond who died on “27 July 1820”. He was the son of John Dollond. There is a stone plaque on the north wall, inside the church.
Until 1825, the church of St Mary had a parish that covered the whole of what became the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth – probably the longest parish in Inner London. The parish extended south from its boundary with the Thames to what is now a road called Crystal Palace Parade. In that year, four new parishes were created called – St John, Waterloo – St Luke, West Norwood – St Mark, Clapham Road, Kennington – and St Matthew, Brixton Hill, Brixton. The old parish of St Mary was considerably reduced in size.
The old medieval church, dating from the 14the century, was taken down and a new building, designed by Philip Hardwick, was erected in 1852. The tower was not rebuilt.
In 1904 the church was provided with a deep tank for baptism by immersion – an unusual feature in an Anglican church. It was given as a memorial to Archbishop Benson. It is located at the back of the church, near the present entrance door. Two flights of curved stairs lead into the baptistry.
The church suffered considerable damage in the bombing during the Second World War and was later rebuilt. Services in the church were discontinued in 1972. The church remained closed for several years until it was eventually taken over by the Tradescant Trust and became used for the Museum of Gardening History.
The building, surrounded by its churchyard, stands beside Lambeth Palace, near the River Thames and Albert Embankment. It is no longer used as a church. The tower has a typical medieval style with its small turret being the top of the spiral staircase leading to the roof of the tower.
Above: The statue is in the main corridor linking all the hospital buildings.
St Thomas’s Hospital was originally established in Southwark, on the east side of Borough High Street. The dedication for the hospital had originally been to St Thomas a Becket, who was buried in Canterbury Cathedral, where he had been slain in December 1170. Many pilgrims gathered in Southwark to make the pilgrimage to Canterbury to see his shrine.
The hospital, along with all other religious foundations (like monasteries and religious institutions), was closed on the orders of Henry VIII at the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536). IN the case of St Thomas’s Hospital, it was refounded by Henry’s son, Edward VI, in 1551. The dedication was changed to St Thomas the Apostle.
The statue of Edward VI by Peter Scheemakers stood at the hospital on the Southwark site but was taken to the new Lambeth site and can be seen within the hospital itself. The sculptor Peter Scheemakers came from a family of sculptors. Of Flemish origin, both his father and his two sons worked in the profession. He came to London sometime before 1720 and made his reputation with the bust of William Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey in 1740. His statue of Edward VI predates that work. The figure in bronze shows the king in a period dress. The inscription on the plinth records that the cost of the sculpture was met by Charles Toye Esq, Treasurer of the hospital. The sculpture was designated a Grade II* listed structure in 1979.
There are, in fact, two statues of Edward VI on the hospital site at Lambeth. The other one is in the open air and was made in Purbeck limestone by Thomas Cartwright in 1682. It was designed by Nathaniel Hanwell. This figure formed the centrepiece of a grouping that stood on the gateway to the hospital from Borough High Street. The king’s statue was originally flanked by carvings of two pairs of disabled figures which have, since 2019, been on display at the Science Museum.
Above: Looking north at the hospital site from Lambeth Bridge.
Outline Summary of the Hospital Sites
St Thomas’s Hospital was founded about 1106 as the infirmary of the Priory of St Mary Overy, in Southwark Just after 1200 there was a disastrous fire in Southwark which also damaged the priory and the infirmary. The hospital moved from the priory precinct to a new site on the eastern side of Borough High Street to provide for the needs of the increasing numbers of pilgrims that set off from Southwark to visit the shrine of St Thomas a Becket, at Canterbury Cathedral.
Having stood beside Borough High Street (known in medieval times as Long Southwark) from about 1200 to 1862, the hospital decided to move to a location that was not so noisy. On the western side, Borough High Street was becoming busier – due to the new London Bridge which opened in 1831. On the eastern side, London Bridge Station had opened as the London terminus of the London and Greenwich Railway. Clearly, if the hospital wanted peaceful surroundings, it was not likely to get any better and the solution was to find a new site which was the one at Lambeth, to the south of Westminster Bridge.
While the new hospital buildings were being constructed, the hospital moved from Southwark to temporary premises at Surrey Gardens, Newington. The hospital was there from 1862 until 1871.
Having moved to the riverside site at Lambeth was made, the hospital has occupied the site at Lambeth ever since. The only exception was when the hospital was evacuated to Hydestyle, near Godalming, between 1941 and 1945, for safety during World War II.
The Site in Lambeth Beside the Thames
Above: The seven original blocks seen from Westminster Bridge in 1871.
New buildings in Lambeth – on land just south of Westminster Bridge were erected 1868-71 on eight and a half acres (3.5 hectares) of land reclaimed from the Thames due to the construction of the Albert Embankment. The whole hospital transferred to the new site, occupying seven new blocks which were officially opened in June 1871 by Queen Victoria.
The whole group of buildings were designed by Henry Currey, the architect to the hospital. The buildings were conceived in the Classic style and built using Fareham red bricks with stone dressings. The Royal Albert Hall was also built using red bricks also from Fareham.
About 1875, the man who became a famous writer, William Somerset Maugham, studied medicine at the hospital where he received his MD degree.
During the Second World War (1939-45), the hospital was severely damaged by enemy action and the greater part of the most northerly block had to be demolished. The North Wing of the hospital was renewed and opened on 16 November 1976 by Elizabeth II.
In 2005 the Evelina Children’s Hospital was opened in a new building on the site of a former nurses’ home of St Thomas’s Hospital. Originally founded in Southwark Bridge Road, the purpose-built hospital was designed by Hopkins Architects.
The hospital, standing between the Albert Embankment and Lambeth Palace Road, also faces the Houses of Parliament across the Thames. The main entrance to the complex of buildings is from the eastern end of Westminster Bridge.
The hospital has played an important part in nursing. It was here that the Florence Nightingale Training School was established, endowed by public subscription, in memory of Miss Nightingale’s services in the Crimean War. A museum telling her story and displaying artefacts connected with her life stands on the part of the large hospital site.
Above: There are no elegant terraces of houses in Lambeth High Street. These 19th-century houses stand beside Lambeth Road, which is a short walk away. They are typical of the district.
The title ‘Lambeth (Village)’ has been used to avoid confusion with the two other names of London Borough of Lambeth or the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth. The original centre of the village was where Lambeth High Street is today. Remember that, until the 1800s, there was no Albert Embankment and ramshackle buildings lined the riverfront. At the northern end of the High Street was the parish church of St Mary which served a large parish which extended south as far as a small part of what is now known as Crystal Palace Parade.
From early times Lambeth had a large residence standing beside its parish church. It was the manor house of Lambeth. At a later date, the manor house was acquired by the Archbishops of Canterbury for use as their London home – which it is still being used for to this day. For most of its life, it was simply called Lambeth House. It is now known as Lambeth Palace – not because it was ever lived in by royalty but because it is traditional to call the residence of a bishop a palace. The village of Lambeth was quite an ordinary village which developed near the Thames. The only feature that was not ordinary was that the Archbishops of Canterbury had their London residence within the village.
Until Westminster Bridge and Lambeth Bridge were constructed, the only dry crossing was London Bridge. To make reaching Westminster from Lambeth easier, a horse ferry was inaugurated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with all tolls being collected on his behalf. That horse ferry is remembered by Horseferry Road, on the Westminster side of the Thames.
Lambeth became well-known for boat building, especially for the construction of Ceremonial Barges, owned by the Livery Companies in the City of London. Even more ornate were the State Barges, used by the royalty on important occasions which were repaired in Lambeth and often stored in large boat-houses. The small slipways and boat-yards that were a feature of the Lambeth riverside were all swept away when the Albert Embankment was constructed – extending north from Vauxhall Bridge and ending beside Westminster Bridge. The embankment has given Londoners a walkway which is now quite a tourist attraction due to its magnificent views.
In the 19th century, the old St Thomas’s Hospital that was founded in St Thomas Street, in Southwark, decided to move to Lambeth and had a large hospital built on a site beside the Thames, overlooking the Houses of Parliament. Some of those hospital blocks still remain but the block nearest to Westminster Bridge was demolished in the 1970s and a new modern block was erected, externally clad in white bricks.
Many manufacturing companies started in and around the village of Lambeth which is why Lambeth High Street hardly looks like a traditional high street at all. The high street has no shops and there are no houses either and only one pub. One particular company in the high street was Doulton – famous for its manufacture of almost anything related to pottery, including fine bone china, pottery bottles and lavatory pans. The company was founded in Lambeth and remained on its site near the Thames – to the south of Lambeth Bridge – until the 1970s. Doulton now operates from its site at Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, in the centre of the English pottery area.
While the old village of Lambeth can be considered to be situated around Lambeth High Street, the district of Lambeth today extends west from the boundary of the London Borough of Lambeth with its Southwark neighbour to an ill-defined boundary a short distance north of Vauxhall Bridge. From that point south, the district is known as Vauxhall. The history of the land around Lambeth village is almost limitless. It is one of the most historic parts of Inner London.
Above: Map showing today’s London Borough of Lambeth (RED line). The old Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth was a narrower piece of land (to the right of the YELLOW line).
This overview applies to the old Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth. In 1965 the old Metropolitan Borough became the London Borough of the same name. A few words need to be written about how the boundary changed. In the case of all other Inner London Boroughs, they were formed by combining two or even three of the old Metropolitan Boroughs to form the new London Borough. This did not happen with Lambeth. Today’s London Borough of Lambeth is rather narrow (east to west) at the northern end and becomes much wider towards the southern end. The older Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth was quite narrow from the northern end beside the Thames to its southern boundary along Crystal Palace Parade – as can be seen on the above map.
In 1965, the old Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth remained the same size and shape with the districts of Clapham and Streatham being added along its western side. These two districts had previously been in the old Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth which had been one of the largest Metropolitan Boroughs in old Metropolitan London. Putting it another way, the boundary line of all eleven London Boroughs was formed by drawing a new line around two (sometimes three) of the old Metropolitan Boroughs. It was only Lambeth that was different, having two districts from another Metropolitan London Borough added to its western boundary.
The old Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth included the ancient villages of Lambeth, Vauxhall, Kennington, the more recent district of Waterloo, a part of the village of Camberwell (along Coldharbour Lane), Brixton, a part of Dulwich (including some of West Dulwich), West Norwood (originally called Lower Norwood) and most of the land that has become the district of Crystal Palace. Because Clapham and Streatham were originally in the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth and are now part of the London Borough of Lambeth, they each have a separate ‘Overview’ page to themselves.
Until the early 19th century, all the old Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth had been one long narrow parish also called Lambeth. The parish church was near the Thames and still stands beside Lambeth Bridge. It is the church of St Mary which is now in use as a plant museum. Parishioners at the southern end of the parish had a very long journey to attend their parish church. In the 1820s, four new parish churches were built – at Waterloo was St John, at Kennington was St Mark, at Brixton was St Matthew and the church at West Norwood was St Luke. All four churches are still in existence, having been named after the first four books of the New Testament.
Above: The photograph was taken in 2001 when the building was still in use as the Tower Theatre.
Canonbury is a district on the east side of the London Borough of Islington. The name derives from a manor that in 1253 was given to the Canons of Priory of St Bartholomew, situated at Smithfield in the City of London. In 1562, the manor house, now called Canonbury Tower, was rebuilt by William Bolton, Prior of St Bartholomew the Great. The house had a moat and gardens. The property remained in the ownership of St Bartholomew until 1536 when the priory and Canonbury were surrendered to the Crown.
In 1570, John Spencer – Lord Mayor of London – made many improvements to the house, including the fine panelling in the Spencer and Compton Oak rooms which remain today. Canonbury House was leased 1616-25 to Sir Francis Bacon, who was Attorney General. In 1625, Canonbury House was leased to Sir Thomas Coventry, later Lord Keeper.
During the Commonwealth (1649-60) the Earl of Northampton lived mainly at Canonbury. William Viscount Fielding, Earl of Denbigh, died in 1685 at Canonbury. Thereafter and during the 18th century, the Tower and adjoining buildings were let as apartments. For example, Oliver Goldsmith lodged 1762-64 in the Compton Oak Room, on the second floor of the Tower.
The southern range of Bolton’s building was demolished in 1770-80 and replaced with what was described as “elegant new villas”, now Nos 1-5 Canonbury Place. Canonbury Tower was occupied from 1887-to 1940 as a club for estate tenants. In 1908, the building was restored by the fifth Marquis of Northampton. During the Second World War, damage to the building was negligible and Canonbury Tower was occupied between 1940-47 as a youth centre for boys and girls on the estate.
In 1952, Canonbury Tower was leased to the Tavistock Repertory Company. The building became called the Tower Theatre which remained in use until 2003. Since 1998 the tower has been used as a Masonic research centre which is occasionally open for public visits as part of a guided tour. Most of the original Canonbury House stands beside Canonbury Tower. It is the oldest building in the London Borough of Islington.
The tower is 66 feet (20 m) high and about 17 feet (5.2 m) square. The brick walls vary in thickness from 4 feet (1.2 m) to 2 feet 6 inches (0.76 m). The main entrance hall leads into a low hall adjoining the tower itself, and on the ground floor is a room with the original brickwork exposed. The address is 6 Canonbury Place.