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At The Angel, Rotherhithe

January 9, 2019
by the gentle author

I am delighted to publish this extract of a post from A London Inheritance, written by a graduate of my blog writing course. The author inherited a series of old photographs of London from his father and by tracing them, he discovers the changes in the city over a generation. Follow A LONDON INHERITANCE, A Private History of a Public City

I am now taking bookings for the next course, HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ on February 2nd & 3rd.  Come to Spitalfields and spend a weekend with me in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Fournier St, enjoy delicious lunches from Leila’s Cafe, eat cakes baked to historic recipes by Townhouse and learn how to write your own blog. Click here for details

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My father’s photograph from 1951

There are many good reasons for a walk along the River Thames from Tower Bridge to Rotherhithe – views over the river, ancient streets, historic architecture and a number of excellent pubs.

My father took the top photo of the pub from the foreshore of the river in 1951. I have been meaning to take the same view for a couple of years, but my previous visits have either been when the tide has not been low enough or the building was covered in scaffolding.

I was lucky on my recent visit. The tide was low, the building work over and after some early morning rain, the weather was improving. Despite sixty-seven years between the two photos, the pub looks much the same – just cosmetic changes and some woodwork replaced, I suspect.

There is access to the foreshore via stairs just to the right of the pub, these are the Rotherhithe Stairs. A short distance to the east are another set, these are the modern replacement for the King’s Stairs. The King’s Stairs and Rotherhithe Stairs are both shown on the 1746 Rocque Map of London, with Rotherhithe Stairs were recorded as Redriff Stairs (one of the earlier names for Rotherhithe).

The Angel dates from the eighteen-thirties although it may include material from a seventeenth century building. It has served many varied functions of a public house beyond selling alcohol – hosting inquests, providing a meeting place for clubs and societies, offering a venue for sales and being used as a contact address.

Today The Angel has open space on either side, permitting the visitor to admire the full sweep of the Thames, but the riverside was once crowded with warehouses. In August 1948, three years before my father took his photo of The Angel from the foreshore, he took a trip from Westminster to Greenwich and photographed it from the boat. In this picture, barges fill the river and a large warehouse occupies the space to the right of The Angel. This was a bonded tobacco warehouse built in the thirties in place of earlier warehouses.

Yet the remains of an ancient building survived underneath. Much of the space to the south of The Angel that was formerly occupied by the warehouse is now a large grassy lawn where the remains of old stone walls are visible, the relics of King Edward III’s Manor House. He reigned for fifty years, from 1327 to 1377, surprising long for the fourteenth century.

His Manor House was built on a low-lying island when much of this land was marsh. It consisted of a central courtyard surrounded by buildings and a moat around three sides. The fourth side was open to the Thames before the land on which Bermondsey Wall now runs was reclaimed, and the growth of industry eastwards from the City resulted in construction of embankments, cutting off the house from the river by the end of the sixteenth century.

The Angel, Rotherhithe, stands between two historic stairs down to the river, alongside the remains of a fourteenth century Manor House. It is one of my favourite places to stand with a pint and watch the Thames flowing past.

Detail of John Roque’s Map Of London, 1746

My father’s photograph of The Angel, Rotherhithe, August 1948

The Angel, Rotherhithe, with the remains of Edward III’s Manor House

Looking west from The Angel

Looking east from The Angel

Photographs copyright © A London Inheritance

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Hetty Startup permalink
    January 9, 2019

    What a beautifully constructed description of this place that weaves together perspectives through many lenses. I wonder if your readers know what a bonded warehouse is?

  2. January 9, 2019

    I am a long-time follower of A London Inheritance and it is my Sunday treat. Back in 2012 when the whole of London was dressed up for the Jubilee and the Olympics, my husband and I (fitting) sat on the veranda at the back of the pub one sunny Saturday afternoon and had a lovely time with our beers, looking at everything being so cheerful. The next day I was in a ship that was part of the sail past on the Thames. Could not have been more perfect.

  3. Mark permalink
    January 9, 2019

    Realy did enjoy that, thank you.
    It was one of my dads favorite pubs too.
    He used to sit with my mum up stairs with thst lovley vista of the Thames.
    I to love this pub and enjoy the same seat by the window in the corner.

    We, ( My mum and my old mate who is freind of the land lady) enjoyed some fish and chips just s couple of months ago and will be calling in again shortly with my wife.

    We always have a walk allong the beach when the tides out first and pick up old clay pipe stems and somtimes complete intact pipes, with shortend stems of course.

    Thanks again

    Mark B

  4. Helen Breen permalink
    January 9, 2019

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for the delightful account of the ANGEL by your former writing student. It is so refreshing to learn about a structure (especially a pub) that survives to tell its tale in London. His pictures and research tell a great story.

  5. Michael Deegan permalink
    January 9, 2019

    Great photo from 1948. The Angel is a wonderful spot to view Tower Bridge and the City. But the area has changed so much, especially after with the London County Council’s criminal demolition of the really historic part of the stretch of adjacent Rotherhithe Street in the 60’s.

    I was born in Paradise Street and went to school there, but unfortunately the area around the Angel is unrecognisable now. For some reason the council were also hell bent in the late 70’s on clearing the Georgian and Victorian sections of that part of Jamaica Road and Lower Road – creating a wilderness and effectively driving a wedge between Rotherhithe and Bermondsey. People blame the blitz, but much survived and far more destruction was wreaked in the 60’s/70’s.

  6. Paul Loften permalink
    January 9, 2019

    I note that the lifebuoy ring was removed in the updated picture of the Angel. I could well understand it being there on the balcony as a few pints of the 1951 brew would have led to many a mishap on the shallow balcony. Perhaps thre wasn’t such a call for it with modern day lager

  7. August 15, 2019

    Loved your link to the old Angel through your father’s images. In case of interest, I wrote a few lines on this house at as it was the first pub on our journey.

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