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Hidden London : Shad Thames

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

With all the modern development on London’s waterfront, it is easy to forget that for many centuries, the Thames was the main highway to bring in and send out goods.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

For a reminder of working London, it is worth taking a walk to Shad Thames which is a historic riverside street next to Tower Bridge. The street known as Shad Thames goes back at least to the 18th century, although Shad Thames was only one street, the whole area was often known by the same title. The street starts near Tower Bridge and runs along the south side of the River Thames, behind a row of converted warehouses; it then takes a turn south along St Saviour’s Dock.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Nobody really knows what ‘Shad’ really means but could a corruption of ‘St John at Thames’, a St John’s Church once stood on the street. In the 19th century, the area had one of the largest warehouse complex in London.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The complex completed in 1873 was full of warehouses which held huge quantities of tea, coffee, spices and many other commodities. As well as the warehouses, there was many wharves, mills, and factories in the area.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Throughout the 20th century, the area went into decline as shipping began to unload goods further east and the last warehouses closed in 1972.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Like much of the London riverfront, Shad Thames and the surrounding area was regenerated in the 1980s and 1990s, when the disused warehouses were converted into luxury flats with restaurants, bars and shops on the ground floor. One of the leading figures in this regeneration was designer and restaurateur Terence Conran who was involved in founding the Design Museum (now relocated to Kensington) and opening a number of riverside restaurants including the Le Pont de la Tour.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Despite the development of the new flats, the converted warehouses retain many of their original characteristic features of brickwork, winches and large signs. One of most striking features of Shad Thames are the walkways high above the street. They were originally used from transferring goods between the warehouses.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

With its picturesque buildings, cobbled streets and proximity to the river, it is not surprising that Shad Thames is a popular location for films and TV programmes. Films which have used Shad Thames include The Elephant Man (1980), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), A Fish Called Wanda (1988), The World Is Not Enough (1999) and Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001). The original Oliver! (1968) was filmed in the area, Charles Dickens used the slum area Jacob’s Island which was located near Shad Thames for the home of villian Bill Sikes and where he meets his bitter end.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Although it is near Tower Bridge, Shad Thames is largely overlooked by visitors but is used mainly by residents and office workers. However if you want a taste of 19th century London, it is well worth taking a stroll down the cobbled streets of Shad Thames.

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