Jacob the Horse (Public Art)

Px01761_800x500_EasyHDR3_(c) - 7 Apr 2015

Above: Jacob the horse, seen against the bright blue bricks of the surrounding development known as The Circle.

Tooley Street is quite long – running east from near London Bridge, crossing Tower Bridge Road and ending at the junction with today’s Jamaica Road. At the point where Tooley Street crosses Tower Bridge Road, the land was at one time known as Horselydown. Notice that in the spelling of the name with the ‘e’ is in front of the ‘l’ which is unusual. This name appears on the Agas map, first published about 1561. At that time it was mainly open fields which did indeed have horses grazing there.

Most of the land remained open until the 18th century when the Huguenot John Courage set up his brewery in 1787 right next to the Thames. His brewery was very successful and it soon expanded. By the late 19th century it occupied a very large site beside the newly built Tower Bridge – which was opened in 1894. As well as exporting the beer from Horselydown to other parts of England, the Courage Brewery distributed barrels of the ‘amber nectar’ locally to pubs in Bermondsey and Southwark. In the early days local deliveries were, of course, made by dray-horses pulling large open carts laden with barrels of beer. Courage’s had their own horses, kept in stables beside the brewery.

Just east of the brewery site lies St Saviour’s Dock – where the River Neckinger once meandered across marshy land and joined the Thames. The land was so marshy that ditches were cut to help drain the terrain. They also filled with water. The land beside St Saviour’s Dock was virtually an island and it was known as Jacob’s Island. In the 1980s a development company was formed calling itself ‘Jacob’s Island’ due to directors with a keen sense of the history of the area reusing the old name. They had a large apartment block erected which, because it had a circular shaped space in the middle was simply called ‘The Circle’. The blocks were designed by an architecture practice with the catchy initials of CZWG (initials standing for the four original architects of Nicholas Campbell, Rex Wilkinson, Roger Zogolovitch and Piers Gough). CZWG is well known for their flamboyant style of design and, in the case of The Circle, they covered the exterior of the buildings in bright blue shiny bricks.

Because of the connection with horses, the developers had a large dray sculpted by Shirley Pace and lowered into its final position on a stone plinth in Queen Elizabeth Street using a helicopter. He really is a fine beast and, in case anyone passing by does not realise his connection with the area, there is a large bronze plaque on the plinth inscribed:


‘The Circle Dray Horse

‘The famous Courage dray horses were stabled on this site from the early 19th century and delivered beer around London from the brewery in Horselydown Lane by Tower Bridge.

‘In the 16th century the area became known as Horselydown which derives from ‘Horse-lie-down’, a description of working horses resting before crossing London bridge into the City of London.

‘Jacob was commissioned by Jacob’s Island Company and Farlane properties as the centrepiece of The Circle to commemorate the history of the site. He was flown over London by helicopter into Queen Elizabeth Street to launch The Circle in October 1987.’

The explanation relating to the name of Horselydown is not documented so there is no guarantee for its accuracy. Horses lying down to rest is not a characteristic of that animal and whether they were kept at Horselydown and led to work in the City is all conjecture on the part of those who had the plaque inscribed. However, the sentiment is there and, as has already been stated, he is a very beautifully made sculpture.


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6 Responses to Jacob the Horse (Public Art)

  1. Penelope Tay says:

    The only downside is the narrow streets and canyon effect of the buildings which makes the area dark so I’m glad your photograph captured a sunny moment. Separately, what was on the site further up Tooley Street, where the magistrates court stands, but is soon to be developed.


  2. Its all a question of making best use of the sun at the right time of day. As for the new development I don’t have any information at the moment.


  3. Maps for the late 1800s do not show anything of any great size. It is likely that the site was covered with houses.


  4. AlwaysInvert says:

    The development on the site of the old police station and magistrates court on Queen Elizabeth Street is going to be a 200-bed 4-star hotel called the Dixon. The facade of the hotel has just been installed and looks fabulous.

    The development is just down the road from the underground car park at the Circle, marketed by Tower Bridge Parking: http://www.towerbridgeparking.com


  5. Thank you for your comment. I am aware of that development. I can remember when the building was still in use as a police station and court. My old school (the other side of Tower Bridge Road) is now the Lalit Hotel.


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