Category Archives: Creatures

Events

Upcoming events involving or sometimes merely tangential to the City and Docklands. Dates a little sparse at the moment as many places have not yet released their 2024 schedule.

2024

April 7th. London Landmarks Half Marathon. Alongside the Marathon, free walking tours in several parts of the City. [Details to follow]

June 2024. Knolly’s Rose Procession. Delivery of a single rose to the Lord Mayor to settle a 600 year old planning permission problem (don’t you just love the City?!) . [Details to follow, date unconfirmed].

Sunday September 21st. Sheep Drive. Freemen exercise their right to drive animals across a City bridge. Details to follow, [date unconfirmed].

Tuesday September 24th. City Giving Day.

Saturday November 10th. Lord Mayor’s Show. Welcoming in the new Lord Mayor. Details to follow.

Saturday December 14th. North Wood Morris Xmas Day of Dance. All day traditional entertainment opposite the City on the South Bank. [Recheck date nearer the time].

Saturday December 22rd, 10:00am to 11:30am. Head for Smithfield Market and grab a meaty bargain at the Annual “Xmas Eve” meat and turkey auction [not confirmed]

2025

Dates provisional

Sunday January 5th, 12:30. Blessing Of The River. Takes place on London Bridge. Details will be at calendarcustoms.com/articles/blessing-the-river-thames . [Date not confirmed].

The Black Rat

Rats are not indigenous to the UK. The first rat, Rattus Rattus or the Black Rat or Ship Rat came from India and arrived with the Romans during their occupation of England (43-410ad) . Despite being called black, some were light or dark brown.

The rat was unjustly blamed for spreading the Bubonic Plague.

Rattus Norvegicus– the Brown Rat or Sewer Rat – arrived in the 1700s and this is the rat you’ll see these days.

Despite the Latin name, the Norwegian connection is uncertain and the Brown Rat is believed to have come from China.

They don’t make themselves evident in the City except on the site of St Gabriel Fenchurch off Fen Court where they may be seen quite often, day and night.

The Brown rat is in the same category the Grey Squirrel and Signal Crayfish: a successful invasive species which ousted its incumbent counterpart.

In the UK the Black Rat was last recorded in the Hebrides in 2018 but is now probably extinct in the wild in the UK, though small colonies may survive on some offshore islands and across the river in Southwark. It is still bred in captivity and sold as pets or used in laboratory experiments.

SQUIRRELS

It amuses me that people will feed a squirrel but run away from a rat. They are very similar and both, of course, vermin. A squirrel is effectively a rat with a hairdresser and a PR agent.

Unicorns

Unicorns are found in several City churches including St Benet Paul’s Wharf and St James Garlickhythe. They also appear on the coat of arms of the Wax Chandlers’ livery company.

In heraldry they signify purity.                         

Belief in Unicorns survived in medieval times.

Here is how to capture one.

As dusk falls, obtain a lady who is a virgin.

Take her into the woods and sit her down against a tree.

Tie her to the tree so she cannot escape and leave her there.

Tip toe back in the middle of the night.

Hopefully you will find a Unicorn resting its head in her lap because she is so pure.

Wapping Tunnel and Station

Wapping station opened in December 1879 as part of the East London railway but its story began over 50 years earlier.

in the early 1800s there was a need to connect the north and south docks. There were two unsuccessful attempts to dig a tunnel but these were thwarted by the soft clay and quicksand which caused the tunnel rooves to collapse. The project was declared impractical.

A French engineer, however, believed that he had a solution. Although he he no record of tunnel building he persuaded investors to finance a tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping. One of those investors was Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. That engineer was called Marc Brunel who had patented a device called the tunnelling shield.

How did this work? Brunel had chanced upon a marine creature called a Shipworm. This bored tunnels through wood but in its wake secreted a coating of limestone particles on the tunnel walls to stop them collapsing.

The shield had similar principles, a round framework accommodating a dozen or so men who would dig into the sand and mud whilst bricklayers reinforced the tunnel walks behind them.

Construction started in 1825 and progress was slow, about a foot per week. There were often leaks and noxious river water would poor through. Other hazards were methane which was inflammable and hydrogen sulphide which was poisonous.

In 1827 the roof was breached and Brunel’s son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, repaired it using a diving bell lowered from a boat. Afterwards they held a dinner party in the tunnel to celebrate!

It was finally completed in 1843 at a cost of £630,000. Instead of being a thoroughfare between the docks it was ornately decorated and accommodated London’s second shopping arcade!

The tunnel was fashionable to visit, charged an admission fee of one penny to over 2 million people each year.

In 1865 is was purchased by the East London railway and became it’s northern terminus.

It is now the deepest underground station on the Overground network.

In the 1860s a young engineer called James Greathead, inspired by Brunel’s shield, developed his own version and used this to build the second tunnel under the Thames from Tower Hill to Southwark (if you want to know more, come on my Tower Hill walk). Greathead’s shield was subsequently used to build the first tunnelled underground lines including the Waterloo & City and Northern Lines.

The Wapping Tunnel is part of my Docklands North Bank walk.

Great Plague

The Great Plague started in May 1665 and it was nasty stuff – worse than Man Flu. It’s reckoned that it killed 75,000 Londoners

A little biology lesson! If you see a rat in London today then it is a Brown rat.

Back in the 1600s, however, the resident rat was the Black Rat and it was believed for some time that these carried the Bubonic plague which was then passed to people by fleas.

This has proved not to be the case and the disease was actually passed from human to human by fleas and lice.

Not the first plague epidemic in London, that being the Black Death in 1348/49. Last recorded case in UK was in 1679. The last recorded case in China though, was in 2019 – but 2022 in the USA.

Want to know more? Come on either my Billingsgate or City Essentials walk.

Aldgate Pump

There was a well recorded here in 1200s and the first record of a pump appears to be in 1574.

The wolf’s head on the east side of the pump is reputed to mark the last place a wolf was seen in the City.

The water came from a stream which reputedly flowed from Hampstead north-west of the City but this is not possible as the Walbrook River, which flows from Shoreditch to the north-east, is in the way!

It was reported as being “bright, sparkling, cool and of an agreeable taste” but in the 1870s was contaminated by graveyard water and several hundred people died from drinking it. A local vicar had the water analysed and the pump was closed in 1875.

The pump was moved in 1876 because of a road widening exercise and was finally connected to the mains. A regular patron was the Whittard Tea Company who filled their kettles there. It remained in use until the 1920s.