For this week’s ‘culture’ gig my entry onto my London Shoes website blog got me researching and exploring a particularly dark and macabre topic that is a fascinating part of London history that you wouldn’t necessarily find covered off in great detail, in any history book.
The subject matter this week focussed on the landmarks that were “Blackwall Point” and “Cuckold’s Point” and their connection to the activity of river (e.g. the Thames) ‘Pirates’!!!
For over four centuries captured and convicted “pirates” were hanged at Execution Dock in Wapping, on the north bank of the Thames.
Convicted pirates were held in Marshalsea Prison in Southwark on the south side of the Thames, and then transported across to Wapping on the north side, to Execution Dock – where they were hanged.
Having been hung at Execution Dock, they were generally left on the gallows for a period of “3” tides, before being cut down.
Back in the day, pirates were not to be granted Christian burial rights – and therefore, their bodies were usually coated in tar and then transported back across the Thames to 2 specific locations south of the River – where they were then placed in to a ‘Gibbet’, which was basically an iron framed cage, and then put out on display at 2 strategic locations on the Thames, to act as a visual deterrent to any would be sailors entering the ‘pool of London’ who may have been having thoughts of ‘plundering’ and piracy.
The 2 locations where the gibbets containing the decaying bodies of pirates were displayed, were “Blackwall Point” and “Cuckold’s Point”.
“Blackwall Point” is the northernmost tip of the Greenwich Peninsula, right at the back of the now O2 arena – and is a natural position as a gateway to central London, as all ships would have had to pass by it, on their final approach into London – so it was the ideal place to parade the ‘gibbets’ containing the convicted, deceased pirates – as every sailor would have had no choice than to see these gruesome displays.
Today, Blackwall Point is simply a Thames pathway that provides excellent uninterrupted views of Canary Wharf situated across on the north side of the river – and the only landmark of cultural interest at Blackwall Point is the art work known as the “Slice of Reality” – which is a sculpture commissioned in 1999 for the O2 Arena and is quite simply an old ocean going sand dredger cut in half!!! (strange but true).
The other strategic point on the River Thames where the ‘gibbets’ containing the convicted pirates bodies where hung out for all to see, is a spot formerly known as “Cuckold’s Point”.
“Cuckold’s Point” is the name given to part of the sharp bend on the River Thames on the Rotherhithe peninsula, south-east London – and it marks the point where the river narrows and the rougher waters of the Thames Estuary turn into the calm of what’s commonly known as the ‘Pool of London’.
Again, like ‘Blackwall Point’ – it is a part of the river that would have always had to be viewed by any sailor on ships entering into London – and therefore was the ideal spot to display a ‘deterrent’ warning to any would be pirates.
The actual location of what was ‘Cuckold’s Point’ in Rotherhithe, is now the residential housing complex known as Pageant Crescent.
So – although a bit of a gruesome topic, and even though the weather was pretty gruesome, in terms of it being extremely cold and windy at the time of my visit – these 2 lesser known locations have seen a vast array of historic activity throughout past centuries, and are well worth a visit.
With my visit completed and before setting off back home – this freezing cold explorer dropped in to the historic Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe.
In July 1620, the Mayflower ship took on board 65 ‘pilgrim’ passengers from its London homeport of Rotherhithe – before setting off for its historic and well documented journey to the ‘new world’ – and this delightful, ancient and extremely popular pub is full to the brim of references to that epic journey and its Rotherhithe starting point.
Hope you find this topic and its accompanying photos interesting.