Learning about the City Waterfront


Today the early risers from the FROG attended the first day of fieldwork at on the foreshore at Cannon Street, in the City of London. This is a site we’ve been visiting regularly with guided walk groups over the years, and we first undertook fieldwork there during a rainy few days in May 2013. A team of FROGs has also been monitoring at the site since April 2013, focusing particularly on the fast eroding area at Swan Lane.

Waterfronts and Wharves

This morning we decided to focus our efforts on one of the better preserved sections of the foreshore, in between All Hallows Stairs (now a vertical ladder) and Swan Lane. We were cleaning up timber piles and the remains of brickwork and masonry, together with much discussion as to what we thought might be going on. After much contemplation we think we have revealed evidence for a riverside wall, predating the present waterfront defence, and lying on a different alignment.


Map regression work undertaken by FROG member John Layt provides support for this hypothesis: comparison of the 1896 Ordnance Survey map with the 1904 Goad plan show a clear realignment of the riverfront at Red Bull Wharf during this short period of time.


It may be that the timber piles lying to the south of the surviving brick and masonry of the 1890s wall represent an earlier waterfront (possibly that shown on the 1875 OS plan). Further evidence for the identification of the site as Red Bull Wharf also survives in the form of metal plaques embossed with ‘RBW’ attached to the wall itself.

Crime Scene Investigation

A little bit of digital digging this afternoon has revealed further information about Red Bull Wharf. It is first recorded in cartographic and documentary sources during the 18th century; ‘Red Bull Alley’ is shown on Rocque’s map of 1746, and ‘Red Bull Wharf’ on the Horwood map of 1799. The London Lives website records a Coroners Inquest into a suspicious death at the site as described in the extract below:

London Deposition of Witnesses taken at London that is to say at the parish of Saint Clement Eastcheap in the ward of Candlewick in London aforesaid this 15th: day of August 1797 on view of the body of John Sharpness now here lying Dead. Joseph Wood a Servant to Messrs. Lucas & Spencer of London Oil Merchants but now residing with his Mother of Red Bull yard Thames Street maketh Oath that between six and seven on Sunday aftnoon last Dept. being bathing off Alhallows Stairs two Men passing by in a Boat sayed a Boy was drowned-that [..] a person telling Dept. the person drowned was off Red Bull Wharf Dept. went into the water off Red Bull wharf and upon going under the water Dept. caught hold of the [..] the deced & brought him to [..] a Boat lying near there that some persons brought the deced on Shore to Red Bull Wharf -that the deced was taken from thence to the old Swan Public House-that means were tried to recover the deced but without effect.”

To be Continued…..

All in all, a very interesting morning’s work! We’ll be working at Cannon Street all week and look forward to learning more about this part of the City foreshore as part of the London’s Lost Waterways Project.