Little slices of London's history

Horses, ferries, and cartographers

Horseferry RoadHere’s a new theme for the blog posts, at least until the 11th of May: places on or near the London Moonwalk 2014 route. I am taking part in this year’s Moonwalk, a 26.2 mile walk in aid of breast cancer charities, so it seemed a good idea to look at street names along the route. The route has not been released in its entirety, so the choice of streets is arbitrary and may not reflect what is actually on the route.

Let’s start with Horseferry Road, which leads into Lambeth Bridge.

The road takes its name from a horse ferry, supposedly older than London Bridge (the earliest known reference goes back to 1513, but there may have been a ford near the site in Roman times), and the only one of its kind allowed in London. At one time communication between the north and south banks of the Thames was not easy, especially without bridges, and for a long time this ferry was the only means, between Westminster and the City of London, of crossing the river.

The horse ferry was supposed to have been established when St Peter was taken across to consecrate Westminster Abbey (properly titled the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster); while this is certainly a legend it makes a good story, and there was probably a monastery there as early as the 8th century.

Another story about the ferry is that once, when Oliver Cromwell was being taken across the river, his coach sank in mid-stream. Other notable people associated with the ferry are James II, who allegedly started his escape from England at the ferry pier, and Princess Augusta, later the mother of George III, who crossed the Thames via the horse ferry on the way to her wedding.

HorseferryThe ferry was made virtually redundant by the opening of Westminster Bridge in 1750, but remained in use until Lambeth Bridge opened in 1862. At one time the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court was located at number 70, and was called Horseferry Road Magistrates. Today, the Channel 4 corporate headquarters building is located at 124 Horseferry Road.

Perhaps most notable of all the people associated with the road – at least from the point of view of London street names – is Phyllis Pearsall, who conceived and created the iconic London A to Z map while living in a bedsit here. In her autobiography, Pearsall tried to find her way to a party using a map of the time and found the experience less than satisfactory as she got lost. A conversation at the party gave her the idea of mapping London and, like John Stow, she carried out her research by walking the streets of London. In her case, she supposedly walked 3,000 miles to check the names and house numbers of 23,000 streets.

Back, briefly, to the Moonwalk: if you are interested in sponsoring me for this endeavour, my fundraising page can be found here.

2 responses to “Horses, ferries, and cartographers”

  1. […] meaning ‘to ride’ and generally led from one place to another. Combining routes and horses is Horseferry Road in the City of Westminster. It takes its name from a horse ferry, supposedly older than London […]

  2. […] Cromwell connections include Horseferry Road, where he is supposed to have taken the ferry; and Fleet Street, where the pickpocket Moll Cutpurse […]

About Me (and my Obsession)

My obsession with London street names began in the early 90s when I worked in the Smithfield area and happened upon Bleeding Heart Yard. In my wanderings around London, I kept adding to my store of weird and wonderful street names. Eventually it was time to share – hence my blog. I hope you enjoy these names as much as I do.
– Elizabeth


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