Monday, March 19, 2007

Rotherhithe: the Mayflower and Brunel

Rotherhithe: the Mayflower Inn, St Mary's Church Brunel's Engine House
8" x 10", pencil and coloured pencil in Moleskine
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The first of my sketches on the 13th Internationl Sketchcrawl is this view done from the Thames Path in Wapping. On the south side of the River Thames is Rotherhithe and a site associated with the start of a famous journey. The ship called the Mayflower which carried the Pilgrims to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. was based in Rotherhithe. In the summer of 1620. she was hired to transport a group of colonists and set sail from close to the very small white building just to the left of centre - which is the Mayflower Inn. The ship's co-owner and captain, Christopher Jones, lived in Rotherhithe and was buried in the churchyward of St Mary's Church in 1622. You can see the church steeple to the right of my sketch. You can also see the chimneys associated with the Brunel Engine House and the Thames Tunnel which Brunel built under the Thames between Rotherhithe and Wapping.

Rotherhithe is nearly a peninsula on the south side of the Thames in the London Borough of Southwark. In the past it's always had a very close association with the sea. Seafaring, ship building, and ship breaking were major industries in the area for centuries and its maritime heritage still dominates the area.

Many great voyages started or finished here, including Drakes’ circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580 in the Golden Hind (a replica of which is now at Bankside where I sketched for the July 2006 Sketchcrawl).

The big commercial docks area in the Rotherhithe area fell out of use in the second half of the twentieth century and the area declined before being regenerated over the last twenty years. Many of the old Wharf side buildings such as the ones in the sketch have been converted to residential use and now contain expensive apartments.

The Mayflower
Between 1609 and 1622, the Mayflower was based at Rotherhithe and used primarily as a cargo ship, involved in active trade of goods (often wine) between England and other European countries and was mastered by Christopher Jones, who would command the ship on the famous transatlantic voyage of the Pilgrims between Plymouth on the south coast of England and Plymouth Massachusetts. You may think that everybody has always known where the Mayflower came from but that's not so. According to the Plimouth Foundation this fact wasn't in fact known until early in the twentieth century
a researcher named R.G. Marsden searched the English High Court of Admiralty Records in 1904, looking for a matching vessel that could have traveled from London between July 1620 and May 1621. This proved to be a lengthy operation as "Mayflower" was a popular ship's name, but he eventually reduced the number to six, and finally to one, the Mayflower of Harwich, whose master was Christopher Jones. (Plimoth Planation, Press Rlease re. Mayflower II)
Although the The Mayflower returned to Rotherhithe, Project Mayflower was created in 1955 to construct a reproduction of the Mayflower and sail it to America as a symbolic gesture of Anglo-American friendship. This ship is now docked at the State Pier on the waterfront in Plymouth Massachusetts.

The Mayflower Inn
The small white building in the centre is the inn known as "The Mayflower"
THE MAYFLOWER PUBLIC HOUSE 117 Rotherhithe Street SE16 Tel: 0207 237 4088 tube Rotherhithe, Bermondsey bus 47 188 225 P11
The Mayflower is near to where Captain Christopher Jones moored his ship Mayflower before sailing to America with the Pilgrim fathers. The ship returned in 1621, and Captain Jones is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s. The Mayflower is one of the few pubs licensed to sell stamps and also has permission to sell American ones. It was rebuilt in the 18th century as the Spread Eagle and Crown. It was re-named Mayflower in the 1960s. (From Southwark Council: Discover Southwark - Rotherhithe)
St Mary's Rotherhithe
Christopher Jones, Master of the Ship, lived in Rotherhithe; his children were baptised at St Mary's and his body is buried in the churchyard although the exact site of his burial plot is unknown. This BBC webpage provides some interesting information about the construction of the chuch and its links to the Pilgrims. It was originally built in the twelth century and was rebuilt in the Georgian era and includes timbers from the Temeraire - the ship featured in Turner's very famous painting "The Fighting Temeraire" voted the greatest painting in a British Art gallery in 2005. I'd never thought before about where the event that Tuner depicted actually happened - but it must have been somewhere around about where I sketched.
This is Turner's lament for the passing of the age of the great sailing ships. The Téméraire was a grand ship who had played a distinguished role in Nelson's victory at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and who now suffered the indignity of being towed away to a ship breaking yard by a modern steam tug bellowing smoke. (Tate Britain: Turner Online Gallery)
Brunel's Engine House
The sketch shows the chimneys associated with Brunel's Engine House and the very first tunnel underneath the Rover Thames in. The engine house held steam powered pumps used to extract water from the tunnel. The Thames Tunnel was the first tunnel to be dug under a navigable river through soft earth using a tunnel shield. The tunnel was constructed so as to permit pedestrian traffic between the north and south banks of the Thames without obstructing the very busy river and its commercial traffic. It is still in use carrying the East London Line below the River Thames, part of the London Underground network.

The Thames Tunnel was also the very first project of Isambard Kingdom Brunel who worked on it with his father Marc Brunal although it nearly killed him when there was a tunnel collapse
BRUNEL ENGINE HOUSE Tunnel Road, Rotherhithe, London SE16 4LF Tel:020 7231 3840 tube Rotherhithe Bermondsey bus Tel: 020 7231 3840
In building the Thames tunnel (the world’s first tunnel under a stretch of water), Sir Marc Brunel had to overcome considerable geological, engineering and financial difficulties. Brunel Engine House is the restored pumping house that Sir Marc built for the steam engines, which drained the tunnel. Packed with information about this amazing engineering feat, it is also one of the most important industrial archaeology sites in London.. (From Southwark Council: Discover Southwark - Rotherhithe)
Thames Path
A National Trail which follows the Thames for 184 miles from its source in the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier. It is signposted and in London runs along both banks. There is an official guide book. There is an online guide and the 2007 fifth edition of the The Thames Path (National Trail Guides) with maps written by David Sharp, giving information on places to stay, facilities and services along the Path, is now available.

Finally, the shape on the left is a high-speed sketch of one of today's river boats which ply up and down the Thames carrying tourists. It's a bit of a change from the Mayflower and the Temeraire!

I've learned a lot from doing this sketch - mostly about how rewarding it can be to dig behind the basic facts you know about places in the area where you live. Plus I think I'm going to go back and do a much better drawing of this VERY historic site!

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  1. Wow! You Blog is really good. Recently I happened to review Matt Phelan's Blog, and would love to analysz have your's pretty soon.

  2. Your blogs are really outstanding. This is such an interesting part of London, isn't it. When I used to live in London I had a friend with a workshop in Wapping; it was just starting to become a haunt for artists and craftspeople (this was the early 80s). I remember drinking in the Prospect of Whitby, which I guess must be more or less across the river from the Mayflower. Look forward to seeing the rest of your London sketches.


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