Modern Shad Thames Keeps A Foot In The Past

Shad Thames
Shad Thames Street View

Today I continue with my series of blogs about famous landmarks/areas in London, England. This blog looks at Shad Thames which is behind Butler’s Wharf on the River Thames.

Modern Shad Thames Keeps A Foot In The Past

Where is Shad Thames?

Shad Thames
Shad Thames Street View

Shad Thames sits in Bermondsey in the Borough of Southwark in London, UK.

The picturesque Shad Thames area can be approached in several ways but this image shows the view walking into Shad Thames from Tower Bridge Plaza. Tower Bridge features in another blog by the way. The buildings on the left make up Butler’s Wharf which overlook the River Thames.

History of Shad Thames

The Name

Let’s start with the name ‘Shad Thames’. According to Wikipedia, a church stood here called St John’s Church. It was known as ‘St John At Thames’. The theory goes that Shad Thames could be a derivation of that. Alternatively ‘shad’ is the name of a (very bony) fish that could be found in the Thames! So the jury is out on that one!

The Area

In my blog about Butler’s Wharf I explain the history of the wharf area and the 25 acre site including Shad Thames.  Butler’s wharf was constructed between 1865 and 1873 as a shipping wharf and warehouse complex. During Victorian Times this whole area was buzzing with activity. I found this quotation quite illuminating from an article by the director of the estate agent Garrett Whitelock:

An 1878 book, Old and New London, vol. 6, describes the rich industry of the locality:

‘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.’

One can only imagine the smells from all the tea and spices that were stored here!

Saved By Renovation

Sadly when the port of London closed this whole area fell into dis-use. But then almost 100 years later a 20 year renovation project was undertaken which produced the Shad Thames we see today – modern luxury apartments, offices and shops which retain many of the historical features from Victorian Times.

The warehouses retain their original features and most are named after the goods that were stored in them – so, for example, Cayenne Court, Tea Trade Wharf and Cardamom Building. Because the spices had infused the brickwork, the rumour is the early residents could still detect the smell when they moved in.

Shad Thames
Shad Thames In The Shadows

Imagining The Past

I visited Shad Thames on two occasions and on the second the rain started as I emerged from the taxi! It was dull and dreary, and somehow it really helped me to imagine what it must have been like to be there when Butler’s Wharf was a fully functioning dock and Shad Thames was packed with dockworkers.

Just imagine the people shouting, the smells, the dirt and the noise of barrels of cargo being rolled along the metal gantries between the warehouse buildings.

Walking Around Shad Thames

The first thing that strikes you as you walk around Shad Thames is the amazing metal work on display above your head all along the street. A myriad of balconies and metal gantries/walkways connect buildings on either side of the road.

The gantries were used to move cargo from the dock area at Butler’s Wharf across to the warehouses on the other side of the street. There would have been a lot more originally when the area was in industrial use.

Shad Thames
Entrance to Cardamom Building Apartments Shad Thames

Historical Touches

Apart from the metalwork on display, there are lots of historical touches to be seen. Examples include old signs, patches of mosaic and old brickwork. This entrance to Cardamom House, one of the restored warehouses that now houses luxury apartments gives you an idea. As you can see there is a marble plaque that gives the date and there are some nice architectural features.

The Shad Thames area is essentially a large rectangle and the street curves around it. It has has some modern extensions added in places, including shopping and office facilities. And it is a very upmarket area in which to live and dine. The street is narrow and easily blocked by traffic so has restricted access.

There are also a number of small alleyways leading round to the front of Butler’s Wharf and to St Saviour’s Dock (the subject of my next blog).

Shad Thames
View By St Andrews Wharf

This image clearly shows the building called St Andrews Wharf and some of the original features that would have facilitated the movement of cargo now turned into features for the luxury apartments. I think they have done it really well don’t you?

Dr Who and Shad Thames

Shad Thames is used as a location in many films and television programes. Films include The Elephant Man and A Fish Called Wanda.

But I really have to mention, for Dr Who fans, that Shad Thames was famously used as a location for an episode of Dr Who, ‘The Resurrection of the Daleks‘. There were no Daleks in view when I was there thank goodness!

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About Dorothy Berry-Lound 353 Articles
I am an award winning artist living in Umbria, Italy. I specialise in photo painting – using my own photographs and using digital software techniques to develop the story of the images further with colours and textures.

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