Above: Small version of the Ordnance Survey map for some time around the 1900s.
It should be noted that in medieval times what we call ‘Upper Thames Street’ was part of an even longer street which included today’s ‘Lower Thames Street’. The whole street was just known as ‘Thames Street’. To save confusion for the present day reader, the term ‘Upper Thames Street’ will be used throughout this article, in spite of the fact that until the 19th century ‘Thames Street’ was the more common name. This introduction is for Upper Thames Street only, which ends at London Bridge.
The Layout of Upper Thames Street over the Centuries
The western end of Upper Thames Street, until Queen Victoria Street was commissioned in 1861, was at Puddle Dock. From that point the street ran eastwards to join with the old street running north off London Bridge. When London Bridge was re-sited and rebuilt slightly further west, opening in 1831, Upper Thames Street ran under the new northern approach road to the new bridge. It still does today.
The most westerly part of Upper Thames Street ran through the Ward of Castle Baynard. At a point almost level with today’s Millennium Bridge, the street enters the Ward of Queenhithe. Just west of the Vintners’ Hall the street enters the Ward of Vintry. Just west of Cannon Street Station the street enters the Ward of Dowgate. As has already been mentioned, it ends at the point where the northern approach road to London Bridge crosses the street.
Throughout Victorian times and, indeed, until the 1960s Upper Thames street was quite narrow. It was an unattractive street lined with tall brick-built warehouses along its southern and northern side. It has to be said that it had a charm all of its own but the scene between Monday and Friday was a busy one with horse-drawn carts and lorries being endlessly loaded and unloaded with goods to be delivered to or collected from the warehouses beside the street. Over the weekend almost no work was done and it was possible to walk from one end to the other and hardly meet anybody. Not much through-traffic used Upper Thames Street at the weekend either. By the late 1960s and into the 1970s the street was becoming very derelict.
Some time during the 1970s, nearly all the warehouses between Upper Thames Street and the Thames were torn down. Some of the land became used for building modern offices. The whole of Upper Thames Street was converted into a dual-carriageway, some of it passing through a specially built concrete tunnel in order to gain land above the tunnel for further large buildings – including a boys’ school with its own swimming pool!
The new alignment and road widening was the death knell of ‘old Upper Thames Street’ and, for those of us who remember how it once was, it becomes harder and harder to relate some of the remaining historic features to the old 1960s narrow street.
Foreign Traders in Upper Thames Street
Upper Thames Street was, in medieval times and right up to the 1830s, a place where imports from many ports in Europe and the North Sea ports in Russia were landed. The street had interesting connections with several nationalities now remembered mainly by the history of its local churches. Five of them are mentioned below.
In 1370 weavers, brought from Brabant by Edward III, were appointed to meet in the churchyard of St Mary Somerset.
Before the Reformation (1536) seamen who came with cargoes from Bordeaux, landed their wines in the Ward of Vintry. Close by they founded the church of St Martin of Tours for their worship. St Martin was Bishop of Tours and was a sell-known saint in France. Sadly, St Martin’s church no longer exists.
In the same way the Spaniards used the church of St James of Compostela, patron saint of Spain. This church – called St James, Garlickhithe – is also in the Ward of Vintry.
Slightly further north was the church of Holy Trinity the Less which was one of many churches destroyed in the Great Fire (1666). A few years later the site was granted to the Lutheran traders whose centre in the City was the Steelyard, which stood on part of the land now covered by Cannon Street Station.
The church of St Martin Orgar, with a tower that stands in Martin Lane, a turning off the south side of Cannon Street, was handed over to the French Protestants after being destroyed in the Great Fire. That church remained until 1851 when a memorial tower and a parsonage house were erected for the parish of St Clement, Eastcheap – to which St Martin Orgar had been united after the Great Fire.
(The text in this section is based on extracts from ‘Down Thames Street’ by Mark Rogers, published in 1921).
Above: Part of the Agas map – London’s earliest complete street map, dating from c1561.
To give some idea of what this mini-series is all about, take a look at the Agas map section above. The name of ‘Thames Street’ appears in the street (on the left) and, after nearly 500 years, three street names can be matched to three of the names on the ancient map. There are more examples like this to be seen in further parts of this series.
More Articles on Upper Thames Street
The text above is an introduction to the history of Upper Thames Street. Several place names have been mentioned and they are just a few of the many interesting topics that relate to this long and rather unloved street. There will be a series of articles describing the places of interest along old Upper Thames Street – presented in geographical order, from west to east. For subscription members, a larger version of the map at the top of this article will be made available at the end of this series, showing the position of all the titles of the blogs along Upper Thames Street.