Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Queenshithe

Plaque in Queenhithe.
One of modern London's 25 Wards, Queenhithe, has an ancient history. It is currently quite silted up, but originally was an inlet (probably made during Roman times) for ships to dock at. The name means "Queen's Dock" after Matilda, the wife of King Henry I, when it was presented to her as a source of income from the import duties gathered from ships landing there. The Agas Map of London (c.1560) also names it "Queenshithe"; the "s" has since been dropped.

The site is much older, however. As mentioned, it was no doubt established in Roman times—excavations have found remains of Roman baths in the area. When King Alfred the Great (849-899) "revived" the City of London around 886. Alfred made a gift of it to his brother-in-law Ethelred, and for a time it was called Ædereshyd, or "Ethelred's Dock."

It was an important landing place for ships bringing grain into the city. The nearby Bread Street has existed under that name at least as far back as the Agas Map. Also, Skinners Lane a block away attests to the import of furs, particularly rabbit skins.

It was designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument in 1973, particularly as it is the only surviving site of a once-Saxon harbor. It is therefore protected from random alterations by construction. Its use as a port, however, has fallen off because of its position upriver from London Bridge, preventing large modern ships from reaching it.

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