London is littered with historical treasures, inconspicuously tucked away and overlooked. Walking through the City in particular, I am struck by the numerous markers of London’s past, seldom explored or pondered. You would be hard-pressed to go for drinks in a building with no historical significance, or down an alley with no interesting tales to tell. Noticing these landmarks, I decided to delve into the hidden historic London and to notice things I have usually walked by and looked over (or leant against in this blog’s case).
On a bizarre day recently I decided that I would be one of those put-together people you see running to work, over the Thames. It soon became apparent that I was not meant for that kind of life and I desperately leant against the wall of The Real Greek restaurant, rethinking my life choices and wondering whether it was too early for hummus. It was then that I realised I was leaning on what appeared to be a large hole in the wall. Upon further inspection I found out that I had decided to rest upon what is thought to the oldest seat in London, the Ferryman’s Seat.
The Ferryman’s Seat is of unknown age, but it is believed to have ancient origins. Made of flint and located down the Bear Gardens Road close to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, the seat belonged to the Bankside waterman who operated London’s water taxi across the north side of the Thames and back. Until the mid-1700s, London Bridge was the only road crossing point and would have been a busy nightmare (have the times changed?) so the ferryman’s trade was a popular one. Many of these seats would have been placed along the river banks. However, this seat seems to be only surviving trace of a booming trade. This last remnant does invoke a curiosity into the day of the life of the ferrymen who inhabited this cold and slightly compact seat.
It can’t have been a very pleasant job, though I think the ferryman would have met a lot of characters. London’s south side was a den of iniquity. Made up of brothels, bear-baiting theatres, play houses and open sewers, I can only imagine who, and what, he carted back and forth across the river. With Leadenhall Market dating back to the 14th century, I am sure the ferry would have supplied the market with much of its commerce. And had it been a working ferry route today, I’m sure the ferryman would have ferried a few City revellers from Leadenhall Market.