Queenhithe was one of the earliest post-Roman docks in the City of London. It was also the last. The present name was bestowed on it in the early 12th century when Queen Matilda established London's first public lavatory here. In the mediaeval period it was the main dock for the city and the income from the customs charged on goods brought into it belonged to the wife of the reigning monarch. The last to exercise her rights in this way was perhaps the most unpopular Queen England has ever had. It was replaced, in the late 20th century, by a hotel/apartment block whose accommodation came to be used by ladies of a certain profession.
This is an ancient quay which is first mentioned in 899. It was originally called Ethelredshythe after King Alfred's son in law, Ethelred who had been appointed ealdorman of London in 866 when the city had been secured from the Danes. Little is known of it until it was given the name Queenshithe in the early 12th century. The name honoured Queen Matilda, wife of Henry I, who had paid for the construction here of London's first public toilet, for the common use of the citizens. In 1237 it was repaired, and there is a record in 1314 of one Alice Ward appearing in court for connecting her own privy via a wooden pipe with the drain which took rain water to clean the Queenhithe latrines.
In 1138, at the beginning of the the civil war between Stephen and the empress Maud, William of Ypres, together with a number of Flemings, came from Flanders to aid Stephen. He established his house close to Queenhithe and Stephen, by royal charter, granted the dock to him. On the accession of Henry II, William left Britain for fear of reprisal for his support of Stephen, but soon after returned and had his old possessions restored to him He in turn granted the dock and its income to the priory of Holy Trinity Aldgate sometime before 1161. John Stow transcribed the relevant charter as follows:
"To Theobald, by the Grace of God, Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of England, and Legate Apostolike, to the Bishoppe of London, and to all faithful people, clarkes and laymen, William de Ypre sendeth greeting.The dock reverted to royal hands under King John who gave it to his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine with the rights to control all the customs and tolls collected there. She became unpopular for the strict manner in which she ensured that these tolls were enforced and this privilege (and its exactions) was maintained by successive queens. In 1225, Henry III commanded the constables of the Tower of London to arrest the ships of the Cinque Ports on the Thames, and to compel them to bring their corn to no other place, but Queenhithe. Two years later, he ordered the Constable of the tower to seize all fish being offered for sale anywhere in the city except Queenhithe. The income, of course, went to his wife, Eleanor of Provence who also encountered hostility because of the exactions.
"Know ye me to have given and graunted to God, and to the church of the Holy Trinitie of London, to the prior and canons there serving God in perpetuall almes, Eadred's hith, with the appurtenances, with such devotion, that they shall send every yeare twentie pounds unto the maintenance of the hospital of St Katherens, which hospital they have in their hands, and one hundred shillinges to the monkes of Bermondsey, and sixty shillinges to the brethren of the hospital of St Giles, and that which remayneth, the said prior and canons shall enjoy to themselves. Witnesses, Richard de Lucie, Raph Picot."
That the income was considerable became clear in 1244 when Henry III ordered
"an inquisition was made by William of Yorke, provost, Beverley, Henry of Bath, and Hierome of Caxton, justices itinerant, sitting in the Tower of London, touching the customs of Queen hithe, observed in the year last before the wars between the king and his father, and the barons of England, and of old customs of other times, and what customs had been changed, and at what time the tax and payment of all things coming together, and between the Woore path and Anedhithe [Barking to Westminster], were found and ceased [seized], according to the old order, as well corn and fish as of other things: all which customs were as well to be observed in the part of Downegate, as in Queen Hith, for the King's use." It was subsequently found that the Merchants of Cologne were landing corn at their wharf at the steelyard and that the Archbishop of Canterbury was importing goods at his wharfe at Baynard's Castle. An order imposing the same customs on them was quickly enforced. Shortly afterwards the bailiff of Queenhithe complained that fourteen ships had landed fish at Billingsgate instead of coming upriver to his dock.
"And therefore it was ordered, that if any foreign ship laden with fish, should in form aforesaid arrive else where then at this Hith, it should bee at the King's pleasure to amerce them at forty shillings." However, any ship belonging to a citizen of London was free to dock wherever suited the owner.
Eleanor of Provence
The mid 13th century was a turbulent time in England. There was a constant threat of war with both Scotland and france and the Barons, led by Simon de Montfort, were insisting that the terms of Magna Carta be enforced. Moreover, the treasury was dangerously short of money and Henry III had to resort to many stratagems to raise new taxes. One source of money was, of course the income from Queenhithe. Eleanor of Provence was scrupulous in collecting this. The arbitrary manner in which she exercised her rights here incensed the citizens of London and she was, arguably, the most unpopular queen England has ever had. At one point the citizens lined London Bridge and pelted her barge with stones as she passed beneath them.
In 1245 she decided to rid herself of her rights in the dock and sold them to the king's younger brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Richard was both prudent and strong-willed and Henry relied heavily on his advice. In order to appease the city he then sold the rights on to the Mayor, John Gisors, and Commonalty of London for a quit-rent of fifty pounds per annum. This was confirmed by Henry in a royal charter which is thus transcribed by John Stow:
" Henry by the grace of God, king of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Guien, and Earl of Aniow [Anjou], to all Archbishops, &c. Bee it known, that we have seen the covenant between our brother Richard Earl of Cornwall, of the one prate, and the Mayor and Commonalty of London on the other prate, which was in this sort. In the 30. year of Henry the son of king John, upon the feast of the translation of S. Edward at Westminster, this covenant was made between the honourable lord Richard Earl of Cornwall, and John Gisors then Mayor of London, and the Commons thereof, concerning certain exactions and demands pertaining to the Queen Hithe of London. The said Earl granted for himself and his heirs, that the said Mayor, and all Mayors ensuing, and all the Commons of the city, should have and hold the Queene Hithe, with all the liberties, customs, and other appurtenances, repaying yearly to the said Earl, his heirs and assigns, 50. li. at Clarken well, at two several terms: to wit, the Sunday after Easter 25. pound, and at Michaelmas 25. pound. And for more surety hereof, the said Earl hath set thereunto his seal, and left it with the Mayor, and the Mayor and Commonalty have set to their seal, and left it with the Earl. Wherefore we confirm and establish the said covenant for us, and for our heirs, Witnesses, Raph Fitz Nichol, Richard Gray, John and Wil. Brithem, Paulin Painter, Raph Wancia, John Cumband, and other: at Windsor the 26. of February, the 31. of our reign."The stoning of Eleanor
During the conflict between Henry III and his barons the city of London's fathers largely remained loyal to the king. However popular discontent was growing and erupted in an uprising in 1263 which was led by Simon de Montfort. He was welcomed into the city and many Londoners enlisted in his army whicch defeated the king's forces at the Battle of Lewes in Mat 1264. Victory finally went to Henry and the Prince Edward at the Battle of Evesham in August 1265 and de Montfort was killed. Henry then dismissed the Mayor and Aldermen of London and took control of the ciy's affairs for several years. During this period an exact record of all the tolls that could be imposed on trade in the city was made.
Queenhithe continued as the most important of London's docks throughout the reign of Edward I. John Stow records that in 1302:
"it was found by the oath of diverse men, that Bakers, Brewers, and others buying their corn at the Queen Hithe, should pay for measuring, portage and carriage, for every quarter of corn whatsoever, from thence to West Cheap, to St Anthony's church, to Horshew bridge and to Woolsey street, in the parish of All Hallows the Less and such-like distances, one halfpenny farthing; to Fleet Bridge, to Newgate to Cripplegate, to Birchovers Lane, to Eastcheap, and Billingsgate, one penny. Also that the measure (or the meter) ought to have eight chief master-porters, every master to have three porters under him, and every one of them to find one horse, and seven sacks; and he that did not to lose his office. This hithe was then so frequented with vessels, bringing thither corn (besides fish, salt fuel and other merchandises), that all these men, to wit, the meter, and porters, thirty-seven in number, for all their charges of horses and sacks and small stipend, lived well of their labours;"In 1307, immediately on his accession, Edward II created his lover Piers Gaveston Earl of Cornwall and granted him
"forty-three pounds twelve shillings and nine pence halfpenny farthing, out of the rent of London, to be received of the Queen's hithe." In 1368 additional impostions were put on imported goods to provide the money for cleaning the roomland (open spaces).
By the reign of Edward IV in the middle of the 15th century Queenhithe began to decline. The problem was London Bridge and the necessity of passing under it to get to the dock. On the one hand, ships were getting larger and on the other, the bridge itself had acquired additional buttresses which narrowed the passage under the arches. In 1464 an attempt was made to force trade through the dock. It was ordained
" that all manner of vessels, ships, or boats, great or small, resorting to the city with victual, should be sold by retail; and that if there came but one vessel at a time, were it salt, wheat, rye, or other corn, from beyond the seas, or other grains, garlic, onions, herrings, sprats, eels, whiting plaice, cods, mackarel etc., then that one vessel should come to Queen hithe, and there to make sale; but if two vessels come, the one should come to Queen hithe, the other to Billingsgate; if three, two of the should come to Queen hithe, the third to Billingsgate etc., always the more to Queen hithe; if the vessel being great, coming with salt from the Bay, and could not come to these keys, then the same to be conveyed by lighters, as before is meant."This did provide some relief but there was a slow and steady decline through the remainder of the century. In the 16th century further attempts to preserve at least the corn the trade were made. Sir John Lion, a grocer and Mayor in 1554 left a hundred pounds to build a large storehouse for grain which was lifted from lighters and barges by cranes. This was enlarged by the city fathers in 1565. Later in that century, John Stow wrote:
" Against this Queen's hithe, on the river Thames, of late years was placed a corn mill, upon or betwixt two barges or lighters, and there ground corn, as water mills in other places, to the wonder of many that had not seen the like; but this lasted not long without decay, such as caused the same barges and mill to be removed, taken asunder and soon forgotten. I read of the like to have been in former time, as thus: In the year 1525, the 16th of Henry VIII, Sir William Bayly being mayor, John Coke of Gloucester, mercer, gave to the mayor and commonalty of London, and theirs for ever, one great barge, in which two corn mills were made and placed, which barge and mills were set in and upon the stream of the river of Thames, within the jurisdiction and liberty of the said city of London.And also he gave to the city all such timber, boards, stones, iron etc., provided for making, mending, and repairing of the said barge and mills, in reward whereof the mayor gave him fifty pounds presently and fifty pounds yearly during his life; and if the said Cooke deceased before Joan his wife, then she to have forty marks the year during her life."Queenhithe in 1854
During The Great Fire in 1666, the dock was used as a place for ferrying fleeing citizens across the river to safety. In their hurry to escape with their belongings many ferries were overloaded and sank. The end came gradually and the city eventually stopped trying to force shipping to use the dock instead of Billingsgate. However, Queenhithe continued to be used for a variety of purposes both by the City which owned Smith's Wharf and the Fishmogers Company which owned Abbey Wharf and a corn market still flourished here in the mid eighteenth century. The absolute end came in 1971. In December of 1970 outline planning permission to build a hotel on the site was applied for. What is normally a lengthy process was, in this case, greatly reduced and demolition of the wharves begun in February 1971. It can be reasonably supposed that this haste was due to the fact that a Government bonus of 1000 per room which could be obtained for hotel work begun before the end of March in that year. The hotel subsequently became a block of apartments, many of which were, and perhaps still are, used by prostitutes to entertain their clients.
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