Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Butlers Wharf

When it was completed in 1871, Butler’s Wharf was the largest docking and warehousing complex on the river. Its narrow, cobbled streets now provide the starting point for my final leg of the walk. I have passed under London Bridge and am now looking down Shad Thames, a narrow street crossed by many small ironwork bridges. Shad Thames is a corruption of St John at Thames, which is derived from the Knights Templar who owned the area in medieval times.

The street is typical of the scene that we all imagine Dickensian London to be. I can imagine the smog swirling along the street and Bill Sykes slowly becoming visible as he approaches through it with his ill-gotten gains tucked away under his coat and his faithful dog “Bulls-eye” trotting at his heels. The location has been used for Dr Who, but one would have thought that with all of their technology the Daleks would have chosen a more attractive place to invade.

Only a short distance down the street the path takes a sudden left into an alleyway to take me to the river once again. The alleyway has the intriguing name of “Maggie Blake’s Cause”. Who was Maggie Blake? It seems that Maggie was a leading local activist when the wharf was being redeveloped in the 1990’s. Her objective was to ensure that the public could continue to walk freely along the side of the Thames, and this alleyway is the result of her efforts.

The riverside is packed with restaurants, and shortly there is the Design Museum. The museum moved here in 1989 from the “Boilerhouse” at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The original museum was instigated by Sir Terence Conran, who was also responsible for much of the development of Butler’s Wharf. The museum is dedicated to contemporary design, and features fashion, vehicles, household objects and just about anything you can imagine, (plus some that you won’t). Over 200,000 visitors a year come to admire the exhibits, and many students come to be inspired by the creations so that they can develop ideas of their own.

At the end of Butler’s wharf it is St.Saviour’s Dock, or rather what is left of it. A footbridge takes me over the old dock entrance, avoiding the need to venture further inland. This area was once known as Jacob’s Island, a notorious Victorian slum. One newspaper once described it as “the capital of cholera”. Charles Dickens used this area to describe the filthy rookeries of London in “Oliver Twist”. It is a lot better now, with new housing developments occupying the site of the former atrocities.

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