The most regular type of feedback London Shoes receives every week, is from people who express their surprise and concern that they have walked past a certain historic landmark that ‘Shoes’ has covered-off – hundreds/thousands of times in their lives, and yet never noticed something or never knew what it was or the history behind it !!!
The subject matter of this London Shoes trek out, typifies that sort of scenario – and the topic in question is certainly something that I never even knew existed, even though these specific historic landmarks have been around for over 300 years and are used every day.
This blog is all about the old ‘Stone-Alcoves’ of London Bridge – and an interesting little topic it is too.
Before covering-off these 3 ‘Alcoves’ in greater detail – it may help to take a step back in time some 300 odd years – to understand their origin.
There has been a crossing over the River Thames, where London Bridge stands today, since way back in the 12th Century – but probably the most recognisable and identifiable early incarnations of this historically famous bridge, is from the 1600 & 1700’s, when paintings & illustrations of that period in time, show the bridge as a stone construction made up of 19 arches, with loads of buildings situated on it.
Records from the Tudor period, clarify that there were over 200 buildings located on London Bridge, ranging from residential houses, commercial shops and business – and a pair of large fortified gates at each end.
The ‘arched’ version of the bridge stood in this format for almost 600yrs – and it became more and more overcrowded as the centuries rolled on.
By the mid 1700’s the authorities of the time deemed the entire London Bridge construction to be totally unsafe, and that something had to be done to address the problem.
Between 1763 & 1768 an extensive renovation and re-build of London Bridge took place – which resulted in the complete removal of all the buildings that had been built on it over the previous centuries.
Following the removal of all the buildings on the Bridge, it was felt that Londoners and travellers needed to have some sort of shelter on the new construction, to protect them from the elements when crossing from one side of the Thames to the other – or – something to protect their personal security, to make them feel more safe and secure – or – simply something where they could take the weight off their ‘plates’.
To resolve this issue 14 ‘stone alcoves’ were built and placed on the Bridge – 7 on each side.
These ‘alcoves’ became a noticeable feature of the newly constructed London Bridge, as can be seen from illustrations and paintings of that time.
Fast forward to the early 1800’s, because of London’s rapidly increasing population, it was clearly evident that a ‘new’ London Bridge was needed to cope with its daily ‘traffic’.
By 1831 a new Bridge was designed and constructed by the renowned architect of the day John Rennie-Junior.
Rennie sold off a number of the old Bridge’s original fixtures & fittings, including its ‘stone alcoves’.
Guys Hospital bought one of the ‘alcoves’ for the sum of 10 guineas and two of the others were donated to the newly opened ‘Victoria Park’ in Hackney east London.
The next subsequent re-build of London Bridge took place in the 1960’s. The ‘old’ Bridge was bought by a wealthy American who had its dismantled brick by brick and shipped over to the USA and relocated in Lake Havasa City-Arizona.
Remarkably these 3 old ‘stone alcoves’ survive to this very day, and so London Shoes quest last week was to track them down and see what they are all about.
Just a short walk from Hackney Wick overground station, lies the magnificent ‘Victoria Park’ in Hackney-London-E9, and just inside its eastern entrance, stand 2 of the old London Bridge ‘stone alcoves’ that were once fixtures of the Bridge throughout the 1700’s.
I was surprised and pleased to see that these 2 Victoria Park alcoves had obviously been well looked after and were in good condition. One of them even had its own ‘story-board’ and commemorative plaque.
As all the dog-walkers, joggers & cyclists in the park passed by these 2 ‘alcoves’ whilst I was taking my photos– it just made me wonder as to how many of them actually know anything about the origins and history of these 2 permanent park fixtures.
So – having found the 2 alcoves in Hackney, I jumped on a couple of trains and made my way south, down to the London Bridge of today – and just a short walk from London Bridge station, I located the other ‘stone-alcove’ in the grounds of the famous ‘Guys Hospital’.
Situated on a lawn in one of Guys inner squares, there proudly stands another old London Bridge ‘stone-alcoves’ – which again, has obviously been well looked after and cared for throughout the past couple of centuries – and also put to good use, as it is clearly now a place where hospital staff and visitors alike, can sit and relax for a while.
On the wooden bench inside the Guys Hospital ‘stone-alcove’ their sits a bronze statue of the famous romantic poet ‘’John Keates” who once trained as a surgeon at Guys Hospital.
Feeling pleased with myself that I had managed to track down these famous old landmarks, and learnt something about them on the way – it was time to find a pub and have a ‘cheeky’ one before setting off back home, and so I popped into a lovely little pub called the “Horseshoe Inn” tucked away in a small side street at the back of Guys Hospital.
Records evidence that there has been a pub on this particular site since 1848, and the current pub building dates back to 1897, when he pub was originally called the “Horseshoe & Wheatsheaf”.
The ‘Horseshoe’ has an interesting bit of recent history about it, as its exterior appeared regularly in the hit TV series ‘Ashes to Ashes’, where it was the programmes ‘Railway Arms’.
So that’s the story of the ‘stone-alcoves’ of old London Bridge – well over 300yrs old and still in practical use today for folks to plonk their ‘arris down on.
Hope you enjoyed this piece and its accompanying photos.
See below for the full range of photographs taken to accompany this blog