Shad Thames

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Coordinates: 51°30′07″N 0°04′21″W / 51.5019°N 0.0725°W / 51.5019; -0.0725

The east end of the Shad Thames area. The pink building is China Wharf

Shad Thames is a historic riverside street next to Tower Bridge in Bermondsey, London, England, and is also an informal name for the surrounding area.

Location[edit]

The street Shad Thames has Tower Bridge at its west end, and runs along the south side of the River Thames, set back behind a row of converted warehouses; it then takes a 90 degree turn south along St Saviour's Dock. The street is partly cobbled. The nearest stations are Tower Hill, Tower Gateway, Bermondsey, and London Bridge.

Name[edit]

St Saviour's Dock (View North to Thames)

The street Shad Thames is named as such in John Rocque's 1747 map of London.[1] The name may be a corruption of 'St John-at-Thames', a reference to the St John's Church which once stood south-west of the street, where the present-day London City Mission is located[2] (and thus is not related to nearby Shadwell).

The surrounding area is also today called Shad Thames, or Butler's Wharf (after the largest of the riverside warehouses). Both names refer to a 350m × 250m rectangle of streets, converted warehouses and newer buildings, bounded by the River Thames, Tower Bridge Road, Tooley Street and St Saviour's Dock (or arguably Mill Street); it forms the most north-easterly corner of the SE1 postcode district.

A 1633 version of Ralph Agas' 1560s map of London calls the general area 'Horssey Down'.[1] The 1872 Ordnance Survey 1:2500 map calls it 'St John Horselydown', meaning the parish of St John's Church in Horselydown; though this area extended somewhat further south and west than the modern-day Shad Thames. As it was originally a large field for grazing horses and cattle, it is likely to be a corruption of 'Horse Down'.[2] There is still a street by Tower Bridge called Horselydown Lane.

Industrial history[edit]

In Victorian times, Shad Thames included the largest warehouse complex in London. Completed in 1873, the warehouses housed huge quantities of tea, coffee, spices and other commodities, which were unloaded and loaded onto river boats. An 1878 book says:

Shad Thames, and, indeed, the whole river-side, contain extensive granaries and storehouses for the supply of the metropolis. Indeed, from Morgan's Lane—a turning about the middle of Tooley Street, on the north side, to St. Saviour's (once called Savory) Dock, the whole line of street—called in one part Pickle Herring Street, and in another Shad Thames—exhibits an uninterrupted series of wharves, warehouses, mills, and factories, on both sides of the narrow and crowded roadway.[2]
St Saviour's Dock (View South to Dock End)

During the 20th century the area went into decline as congestion forced shipping to unload goods further east, and the last warehouses closed in 1972, leaving the area forgotten and derelict.

However, Shad Thames was regenerated in the 1980s and 1990s, when the disused but picturesque warehouses throughout the area were converted into expensive flats, many with restaurants, bars, shops, etc. on the ground floor.

Places of interest[edit]

As part of the regeneration of the area, designer and restaurateur Terence Conran opened a number of now well-known riverside restaurants including Le Pont de la Tour, the Blueprint Cafe and the Butler's Wharf Chop House. The area also includes numerous cafes, bars, shops and estate agents.

Public access to the riverside was obtained by local community activists including Maggie Blake, after whom an alley leading from Shad Thames to the riverfront, Maggie Blake's Cause, is named.[1]

Terence Conran was also involved in founding the Design Museum near the east end of Shad Thames, which houses frequently changing exhibitions of graphic and product design, and is a fairly well known haunt of designers and tourists. As well as an interesting shop and cafe, the museum features the "Design Museum Tank", a large outdoor glass box, which contains a selection of items from the current exhibition. The museum is also used as a venue for corporate events.

The nearby Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Potters Fields Park and More London (where various cultural events take place), and Shard London Bridge mean that this once-overlooked area is now frequented by tourists.

Residents & properties[edit]

Shad Thames Street looking south-west

Shad Thames has many residents, particularly living in converted warehouses, and development of new flats continues. They are represented by the Shad Thames Residents’ Association whose purpose is “giving residents a voice”. The converted warehouses retain their original characteristic features of brickwork, winches, large sign-writing and so on, and most are named after the commodities which were originally stored in them — Vanilla & Sesame Court, Cayenne Court, Wheat Wharf, Tea Trade Wharf, with further buildings named after cinnamon, cardamom, fennel, caraway, ginger, cumin, tamarind, clove, anise and coriander. It is said that a century of spices had infused into the brickwork, so after they were converted into flats the first residents of each building could still detect the scent after which it was named. Various new buildings have been constructed, with similarly evocative names, such as Spice Quay Heights and China Wharf.

Shad Thames's proximity to the City of London, a short distance away on the north side of the river, means that many residents are wealthy City workers, and the restaurants are frequented by City folk at lunchtime. Consequently local property prices are very high. Properties with river views are particularly expensive, having balconies, and dramatic views of the Thames, Wapping (across the river), Tower Bridge, the "Gherkin" (or Swiss Re Tower), and even the distant Canary Wharf; though flats nearer the bridge also command a view of the grey concrete Guoman Hotel (formerly known as the Tower Hotel) on the north side of the river, considered by many to be an eyesore. Most of the warehouses retain the original relatively small windows, which limit their views; some of the newer buildings have better views — for example, flats on the east end of Spice Quay Heights have wide floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. The London School of Economics has one of its student residences located on Gainsford Street in the centre of the area.

Perhaps one of the most striking features of Shad Thames are the walkways which criss-cross the street high overhead. Most of them now connect the Butlers Wharf building and the Cardamom Building, and were originally used as bridges to roll barrels and the like between warehouses. They are now used as balconies by the adjoining flats. Photographs from the early 20th century show that at the peak of warehouse usage there were many more of these bridges than survive today.

The river[edit]

There is a wide variety of river-going traffic next to Shad Thames. It is part of the particularly deep section of river called the Pool of London, which even ships can navigate. So from time to time even full-size cruise ships or naval vessels will stop next to Shad Thames, usually for a day or so, often then proceeding through Tower Bridge (though they can go no further than the next crossing, London Bridge). Police boats and speedboats pass by frequently, as do passenger boats (such as the Damien Hirst-decorated 'Tate to Tate' boat[citation needed]), and leisure boats from St Katharine Docks on the opposite side of the river from Shad Thames.

Cultural references[edit]

Film & television[edit]

Due to its characterful buildings, cobbled streets, riverside views and proximity to landmarks such as Tower Bridge, Shad Thames has been used as a location for many films and TV programmes, including:

Music[edit]

An instrumental track called "Shad Thames" appears on the 1997 Saint Etienne album Continental and 2001 compilation Smash the System.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b London: A Life in Maps (exhibition), British Library, 2006.
  2. ^ a b c Old and New London, vol. 6, 1878.