Above: Keepier Wharf in dark brick (to the left of the view) in use as 25 flats, photographed in 2018 from the south side of the Thames.
Today, the address of Keepier Wharf is 12 Narrow Street. The wharf is now the site of a development of luxury apartments. It stands at the western end of Narrow Street – where it branches off The Highway.
Wharves beside the Thames have always been named and not numbered, a tradition going back several centuries. The word ‘wharf’ derives from Old English ‘hwearf’ meaning an embankment. Once firm ground had been created beside a river, it was possible to stack heavy goods and, at a later time to build warehouses on the land for storing the goods. The word wharf, therefore, is applied to an open space beside a river and also to a building storing goods on that land.
The name of a wharf was sometimes that of a person who was the owner of the land, the warehouse or the owner of the company that operated from the wharf. Some wharf names were related to where the warehouse stood – like Millwall Wharf which was situated in Millwall. Sometimes the name of the wharf was related to a commodity – as was this one. Keepier Wharf was built in 1830 as a coal depot, taking its name from a coal-mining area in County Durham. Coal was brought to London in vast quantities in colliers from places along the NE coast of England that had coal mines. Once landed at a wharf on the Thames, the coal was often referred to as ’sea coal’.
The 1843 Post Office London Directory carries an entry for ‘Ray, John, coal merchant, Keepier Wharf, Broad Street, Ratcliff’.
The London Gazette, for 18 July 1876’ carries an entry in the small adverts section reading ’Notice is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore existing between us the undersigned, Samuel Stanley Jarvis and John Samuel Toye, trading at Penshurst Road, South Hackney, and Keepier Wharf, Ratcliff, both in the county of Middlesex, Coal and Coal Merchants, has been dissolved as and from the 24th December 1875 by mutual consent. Dated this 13th day of July 1876. Samuel Stanley Jarvis and John Saml. Toye’.
Keepier Wharf was not the only location for handling coal on the Thames. In addition, coal was brought to the City of London, to the mouth of the River Fleet, which had been brought by ship from the north of England. Seacoal Lane in the City is a reminder of this fact.
Above: The building in 1937. At the top left of the building are the words ‘Lendrum Ltd’ and top right is ‘Lendrum’s Wharf’. Below the two top names are the words ‘Paper Merchants’ – with ‘Paper’ on the far left and ‘Merchants’ on the fee right of the large wall facing onto the river.
Name Changed to Lendrum’s Wharf
At some time around 1900, the wharf ceased to handle coal. Its name was changed to Lendrum’s Wharf. The derivation of this name is not known. It is assumed it was the surname of the wharf owner.
The Pall Mall Gazette has an entry for Saturday 14 September 1918 entitled ‘The Army’s Waste Paper’:
‘The contract for the purchase of Arms waste paper from overseas has been placed by the War Office Salvage Department with Messrs Lendrum Ltd, who have built and equipped a large wharf on the Thames at Broad Street, Stepney, specially to deal with this work.
‘The overseas waste paper will, therefore, be dealt with exclusively at this wharf, as distinct from the general waste paper which is handled at Miller’s Wharf, St Katharine’s Way, Tower Bridge.
‘Lendrum’s have for some time past been dealing with the Army waste paper received from the Home Commands at their branches in Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool. The head office of this firm is at 3 Temple Avenue, London, EC4’.
The Yorkshire Evening Post for Wednesday 15 June 1938 carries a report that ‘The heat of the sun was blamed for a serious fire which broke out among hundreds of bales of paper of the roof of Lendrum’s Wharf, Narrow Street, Stepney’.
The name ‘Lendrum’s Wharf’ is to be found on the 1966 Wharf Map of the Thames. It was not many years after that time that the wharf would have fallen into disuse – along with many other wharves along the Thames – as cargo became containerised and most of the cargo was handled at Tilbury Docks.
The large warehouse at Lendrum’s Wharf was converted into 25 flats in 1986. Because it is a conversion and not a rebuild, it accounts for the rather ‘chunky’ external appearance of the structure. It rises sheer from the beach and is on the west side of Ratcliff Cross Stairs. The riverside walkway, that runs for miles beside the Thames, diverts around the north side of the apartments. Instead of choosing the later name of Lendrum’s Wharf for the apartment block, the older name of Keeper Wharf was chosen but the building does not date from that earlier time.