Shad Thames

Shad Thames

Shad Thames is a picturesque and historic riverside street next to Tower Bridge in Bermondsey, London, UK, and is also an informal name for the surrounding area. The name may be a corruption of 'St John-at-Thames', a reference to a St John's Church which once stood in the area, [ "Old and New London", vol. 6] , 1878.] itself because the Knights Templar of the Order of St John owned land locally; [ The Swiftstone Trust web site] ] if so, the name is unrelated to nearby Shadwell.


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, sometimes causing navigational problems for people unfamiliar with the area. The street is partly cobbled, complementing the characterful brickwork of its buildings. The nearest stations are Tower Hill (District and Circle lines) and London Bridge (Jubilee, Northern and national rail), each about 10–15 minutes' walk away. From either station the walk is extremely scenic, particularly at night, with views of many landmarks such as the new City Hall, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

The best route from London Bridge station is to cross Tooley Street, walk left a short distance along the smaller section that forks off the main street and turn right down an alley called St Olaf's Stair (marked at night by green runway lights in the pavement). This takes you to a riverside path called Queen's Walk; turn right (eastwards) along this, passing Hay's Galleria, HMS "Belfast", More London, City Hall, and under Tower Bridge to reach Shad Thames. Alternatively, from Tower Hill station, walk past the Tower of London and cross Tower Bridge, then take the steps just after the final arch of the bridge down to Shad Thames.

The area

postal district.

A 1633 version of Ralph Agas' 1560s map of London calls the general area 'Horssey Down'.London: A Life in Maps (exhibition), British Library, 2006.] An 1889 map calls it 'Horsely Down', though this extended somewhat further south and west than the modern-day Shad Thames. There is still a street near Tower Bridge called Horselydown Lane, at one end of which stood Horseleydown Brewery (now an apartment block called Anchor Brewhouse). [ The Swiftstone Trust web site] ] According to legend, Horsely Down is a corruption of 'whores lie down', implying the area was once frequented by prostitutes, though as it was originally a large field for grazing horses and cattle, it is more likely to be a corruption of 'Horse Down'. [ "Old and New London", vol. 6] (1878)]

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." [ "Old and New London", vol. 6] (1878)]

. Numerous other restaurants, cafes, bars and shops have also sprung up. Shad Thames' artistic character has encouraged a variety of other businesses to move to the area, such as architects, small art galleries and wine merchants; the thriving local property market means that there are also many estate agents.

Terence Conran was also involved in founding the white 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, City Hall, More London (where various cultural events take place) and riverside places of interest further west such as the London Dungeon, Golden Hind, Clink Street and Tate Modern mean that this once-overlooked area is now frequented by tourists. Eating or drinking by the river in one of the local restaurants or bars is a particular attraction.

The river

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 and a short distance further west (though as they cannot get under the next bridge, London Bridge, they have to come back again). Police boats and speedboats go past frequently, as do passenger boats (such as the Damien Hirst-decorated 'Tate to Tate' boatFact|date=July 2007), and leisure boats from St Katharine Docks on the opposite side of the river from Shad Thames.

Various events take place on or by the river at Shad Thames, presumably because of its proximity to Tower Bridge and City Hall. These include night-time firework displays, which take place several times a year from one or sometimes two barges. It is not always clear who or what these fireworks are for.


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 Wharf, 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 now 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 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 Thistle 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.

Perhaps the most striking feature of Shad Thames are the walkways which criss-cross high above your head as you walk along the street. These cross between the Butlers Wharf building and the Cardamom Building, and were originally used to roll barrels and the like between warehouses. Nowadays these belong to the flats to which they are attached, and are used as balconies, the flat at each end of a walkway owning half of it. Apparently one resident has purchased flats on opposite sides of the street, so they can be used as a single flat connected by a walkway.

had Thames in the arts

Charles Dickens set portions of his novel Oliver Twist in an area at the east of Shad Thames which was then called Jacob's Island. [ The Swiftstone Trust web site] ] Dickens was taken to this then-impoverished and unsavory location by the officers of the river police, with whom he would occasionally go on patrol. When a local politician attempted to deny the very existence of Jacob's Island, Dickens gave him short shrift, describing the area as "the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London". In "Oliver Twist", Bill Sikes's den is located in Jacob's Island, and it is there that Sikes falls from a roof and drowns in the mud (perhaps of St Saviour's Dock). Dickens gives us a vivid description of what this place must have looked like in his day:

:"...crazy wooden galleries common to the backs of half a dozen houses, with holes from which to look upon the slime beneath; windows, broken and patched, with poles thrust out, on which to dry the linen that is never there; rooms so small, so filthy, so confined, that the air would seem to be too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which they shelter; wooden chambers thrusting themselves out above the mud and threatening to fall into it - as some have done; dirt-besmeared walls and decaying foundations, every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage: all these ornament the banks of Jacob's Island." [Charles Dickens: "Oliver Twist", 1838.]

The 1968 film "Oliver!" (based on this book) was partly shot in the local warehouse called New Concordia Wharf. Due to its characterful buildings, cobbled streets, riverside views and proximity to landmarks such as Tower Bridge, Shad Thames has also been used as a location for many other films, including:

*"The Long Memory" (1952) in which Mr Berry's office is located in Shad Thames
*"The Elephant Man" (1980)
*"The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1981)
*The "Doctor Who" episode "Resurrection of the Daleks" (1984) (specifically scenes involving the destination of the Daleks' time corridor)
*"A Fish Called Wanda" (1988), in which John Cleese's character dangles from an upper storey of New Concordia Wharf
*"The World Is Not Enough" (1999), in whose opening scenes James Bond's speed boat passes New Concordia Wharf and traverses the length of St Saviour's Dock
*"Bridget Jones's Diary" (2001)
*The Bollywood movie "Viruddh" (2005), specifically shots inside and in front of Spice Quay Heights
*The Bollywood movie "Jhoom Barabar Jhoom" (2007), the dance scenes of which were filmed next to the Java Wharf buildings.
*The Bollywood movie "Goal" (2007).

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


External links

* [,-0.073128&spn=0.027308,0.047048&hl=en Shad Thames] on Google maps
* [,+London Google Local]

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