Urban landscape — 04 August 2017
Ferryman’s seat

I had no idea this little curiosity existed and was so near a cab rank that I frequent when a colleague said that close by one could find an early cab rank.

A short walk from Shakespeare’s Globe is Bear Gardens (featured in the previous post), near its original location is a ferryman’s seat. It is quite narrow and very uncomfortable, presumably early cabbies were more stoic – and thinner than today.

Although the exact age of the seat is unknown, it’s most likely to have been established around the 12th or 13th century; a period when London was beginning to spread south, where Southwark was gaining a reputation as a seedy but popular entertainment district.

Unfortunately, the city had just one river crossing – London Bridge – the result of which caused jams, which it could take over an hour to cross the river. Combined to this was the additional hazards of mugging in the slow moving traffic and getting contents of chamber pots which were lobbed out of the ramshackle houses lining the bridge.

So for the gentleman who wished to go ‘South of the River,’ there was only one choice – the ferryman.

Above the seat is a short description:

The Ferryman’s Seat, located on previous buildings at this site, was constructed for the convenience of Bankside watermen, who operated ferry services across the river. The seat’s age is unknown, but it is thought to have ancient origins.

Historic Southwark

The Thames was originally wider here and so the ferryman’s seat would have been located about 100 yards further south down Bear Gardens.

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Gibson

(2) Readers Comments

  1. How fascinating! I must go and see it sometime. I’m sure you are familiar with the high bench sort of thing on the Hyde Park Corner end of Piccadilly, beside Green Park. It is very high so men carrying heavy burdens on their backs could rest their load on the bench for a while to give themselves a brief respite. Somewhere I have a photo of my husband resting his backpack on it – we were walking from Kew to Covent Garden Market, to recreate so far as possible the journey that young girl strawberry pickers (late 18th early 19th century) would make on foot – round trip, twice in a day! We wanted to see if that was really possible. They crossed the river at a bridge that was once just downstream from Putney Bridge. If they were lucky they would get a lift back on a cart returning empty from the Market. Then they would set out again. We decided it would have been possible to do the journey twice in one day, with a very early start and a late return from the second trip. We did the walk just the once!
    (If I can find which file the photo is in, I could send it if you like.)
    Regards, Caroline Blomfield

    • That is really astounding that they would walk that distance twice a day, even you completing it once for me (who drives everywhere around London) it is quite an achievement.

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