Bridge Foot in 1616

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Above: A very small part of the panorama of 1616 showing the roadway leading to the southern end of London Bridge.

There are many prints of London and quite a few of them are panoramas but the print of Bridge Foot not only shows the layout of the street but also shows the people and traffic in that street. It is almost like being there for a moment in time.

Bridge Foot was a particular location. There was only one bridge crossing the Thames in the London area in 1616 and that was London Bridge. The southern end of London Bridge was connected to what we would today call Borough High Street. At the time of this panorama the street was called ‘Long Southwark’ and where the street joined onto the bridge was known as Bridge Foot.

The detailed view is taken from a panorama engraved by Claes Jansz Visscher (1586-1652) depicting an imagined view of London in around 1600. The engraving was first published in Amsterdam in 1616. It consists of four separate plates creating a continuous panorama over 6.6 feet (2 m) long. It is unlikely that Visscher ever visited London and his view was probably created from a combination of maps and map-views with various dates.

The detail is really interesting. We are looking down on the roadway leading up to the first gateway on London Bridge. Behind (to the left of) the roof-tops on the far left of the image is the large church we known today as Southwark Cathedral. Most of it is seen on the view below. By 1616 the building which had been the priory church of St Mary Overy had been closed by Henry VIII. The priory had been surrendered but the parishioners were successful in requesting that the church be used as their local parish church. They called it the church of St Saviour.

Leading from the roadway to the right is Tooley Street which led east, running behind the warehouses standing beside the Thames. Most of Tooley Street remains on the same alignment that it would have followed in 1616 but the western junction (seen here) was re-aligned in the 1820s when a new London Bridge was built on a slightly different position — further west of the one seen here. We can see the tall masts of the ships moored on the Thames, with the unlikely scenario of all of them bearing a white flag with the red cross of St George.

We can see the houses lining the east side of the top end of Long Southwark. Notice that three of them have signs hanging outside, indicating that they were shops. The signs were no doubt pictorial, indicating the name of the shop or tavern in picture form — for example, it might have been called the Black Bull and shown the picture of a black bull. A cart has just turned into Tooley Street and we can see the rear of the cart and one of its two large rear wheels. In Long Southwark several people are walking in groups. Two cattle are about to be driven over London Bridge by a drover. A man seems to be standing beside a wheel-barrow. An early form of carriage is also seen, painted blue and gold, with two large wheels. It is a busy scene and that is what is great about it. It all looks so natural and realistic that you feel as if you are part of the picture.

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Above: A general view of Bridge Foot taken from the same panorama.

So that you ‘get your bearings’, the view shown in the second image includes more of London Bridge and shows the relationship of what is now Southwark Cathedral to the detailed scene at the southern end of London Bridge. We are right at the bottom edge of the panorama and have had a glimpse of life during a typical working day at the southern end of London Bridge.

-ENDS-

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7 Responses to Bridge Foot in 1616

  1. Penelope Tay says:

    On the spikes I counted 11 blobs, would those have been heads? This seems a large number to be left rotting there.

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  2. Yes, those were heads ‘displayed on spikes’ as the phrase was. There are not many prints showing the gruesome details but of the few there are they all show about the same number. I read somewhere that there was even a ‘Keeper of the Heads’ on London Bridge. Its a shame that the ‘Sun’ and ‘Mirror’ newspapers were not being published at the time. They seem to like the idea of naming and shaming. If they had been in print I am sure we would have a ready source of research for such grim details.

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  3. clavdivs26 says:

    Are the details of this colored version of Visscher’s panorama created in 1883-35? (View of London by C.J. Visscher, A.D. 1616. London: The Typographic Etching Company, 1883-5. Coloured etching on four sheets conjoined, total 455 x 2140mm.) Visscher’s original wasn’t in color, was it? I love maps with a detail first, of course, but color immediately after. Thank you for showing these in this article.
    p.s. found a glorious 7986×1583 pixel sized version of this full panorama of Visscher’s in color. http://cdn.rowleygallery.co.uk/2012/10/London-1616.jpg.

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    • The original map (published in 1616) would have been engraved and therefore the resulting paper copy would just be black lines on the paper. If the coloured version is dated1883-85 then that is when the coloured version was published. It is indeed a large image. So although the colouring is ‘not original’ it still helps with the understanding of the map (in my opinion). Thanks for your comments.

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  4. clavdivs26 says:

    Here’s credits for that large version of Visscher’s Victorian facsimile at http://blog.rowleygallery.co.uk/a-london-panorama/.
    This is Claes Visscher’s Panorama of London in 1616. Click on the image to enlarge. It is a rare hand-coloured Victorian facsimile of the original engraving and is over two metres long. It is shown here courtesy of Peter Harrington Rare Books. I discovered it via Peter Berthoud.

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