[Excuse me for drifting slightly off the Island for a moment, but I do think it is a place and subject which would be of interest to most Islanders.]
If you stand at Johnson’s Draw Dock next to the Rowing Club and look across the river, you will be greeted with this well-known and splendid view:
Dominating the view is the Cutty Sark, As I’ve mentioned a countless times in other blog articles, undoubtedly boring everyone stupid, I walked through the foot tunnel to school in Blackheath for 7 years, thus passing the famous tea clipper twice a day during this period.
I never really thought about how long the Cutty Sark had been there; it could have been forever as far as my young mind was concerned. It’s only recently that I learned she was moored there in a purpose-built dry dock ‘only’ 61 years ago, in December 1954.
Learning this made me curious about what was on the site before the Cutty Sark. What did Islanders see when they looked across the river before 1954? What did they see when they walked out of the tunnel building over the water?
A 1947 map shows it was quite built-up at one time, with a small amount of open space directly to the east.
That open space did not exist before the war. There used to be a very grand pub here; the Ship Tavern. Unfortunately, the pub went the way of many pubs between 1939 and 1945; it was destroyed by bombing. This post-war aerial photo shows a little of the pub’s rear still standing, and also demonstrates how much bomb damage there was in this small area.
This pre-war photo shows the Ship Tavern in better days.
Other photos show the pub’s surroundings. I particularly like this one; it shows the pub’s entrance which faced the tunnel entrance building (just out of view to the left). This is what Islanders would first see when they emerged from the tunnel. The Island itself can just be glimpsed in the background beyond the river stairs.
This is an even older photo of the pub entrance and the stairs (known as the Garden Stairs), taken before the tunnel was built and opened in 1902. The buildings on the left would be demolished to make room for the tunnel entrance building.
This 1893 map shows the pre-tunnel area.
The narrow Brewhouse Lane appears in the following photo. The Ship Tavern is far right, the Thames and the Island can be seen in the background on the left, and the small dock in the lower left was known as Billingsgate Dock.
Superimposing the 1893 map on a satellite photo.
I am aware that I’ve not only drifted off the Island, I’ve also drifted back to a time when there was not even a tunnel. It’s a fascinating area, worthy of more investigation, and very well documented by Greenwich (amateur) historians. Definitely worth having a Google if you’re interested.