Above: Looking west from the southern end of Putney Bridge over 100 years ago.
It is an obvious thing to say but none of the original paths and tracks crossing Inner London are in evidence today because those tracks have become roads and the surfaces were probably covered in Victorian times by stone sets and then, in later times, covered by the more modern road surfaces that we use today. Similarly, footpaths have been paved. All this preamble leads to the topic of Putney Wharf.
In contrast to the ancient tracks and footpaths, the Thames is a ‘highway’, which rises and falls twice each day, exposing the land either side that we call the banks or the beach. Access to the beach was, in previous centuries, by using pedestrian stairs or ramps – usually called ‘slipways’ – leading directly onto what firm ground there was beside the river. Some of those old stairs remain today, a very few of the slipways are still to be found but the one in the picture is unique in Inner London beside the Thames. It was just known as ‘’The Wharf’ or ‘Putney Wharf’.
The site is easily recognisable for anyone who knows Putney. The view in the picture is from the southern end of Putney Bridge and looks towards the west. Most of the layout of the land and the buildings look just the same today. What has changed is that no lighters (large barges) are to be seen at Putney on the river these days and the horse-drawn carts, sadly, are no more.
Behind the trees and shrubs (on the far left) Lower Richmond Road runs west from its junction with Putney Bridge and Putney High Street. The slipway, leading into the Thames is still there. The ornate three-storey building is the Star and Garter pub which still graces today’s scene. The wide walkway beside the Thames looks just same today – it is called Putney Embankment. Near the large pub is the lattice ironwork of the gangway leading to Putney Pier.
Dating this view is not easy.The roof-line of the Star and Garter pub is not so ornate today which suggests that this view shows the earlier pub. It was rebuilt in 1901 in red-brick and so it now has a quite different appearance to that in the picture. It is therefore likely that the view was taken in the 1890s. It was taken on a day when there was a high tide because the gangway leading to the pier is just about horizontal which only occurs at high water.
The view is a good example of how life was for many workers beside the Thames. The barge nearest to the camera is moored beside the slipway and was either being loaded or unloaded. Two small carts have been ‘backed-up’ onto the river so that the contents of the carts can be loaded into the barge or the barge can be unloaded to the carts. It is also known that larger loads were carried by Thames sailing barges that were deliberately beached on the mud of the Thames at Putney Wharf – at low tide – and horse-drawn carts were driven down the slipway and on to the bed of the river to go alongside the barge to make moving goods easier.