Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St Saviours Dock where Bill Sykes died - a forgotten part of Oliver Twist London


Shad Thames flanked by restaurants and cafes

Almost every first time visitor to London would mistake Tower Bridge for London Bridge from the famed nursery song of the same name. One can hardly blame them for today's London Bridge is no longer the icon it used to be after all the remaining houses and shops on it, which survived the previous fires, were destroyed in the 1756's Act of Parliament to make way for river traffic congestion. The Tower Bridge, which construction started in 1886, still stands today proudly next to the Tower of London and serves as the popular image of London all round the world.

Tourists to London, after their visit to the Tower of London, would invariable make their way across the Tower Bridge and turn right onto City Hall and HMS Belfast, permanently moored on the south bank of River Thames.

St Saviour's Dock with a notorious past

But few know that if they would to turn left instead, wander up Shad Thames before cutting through Butler Wharf, they would eventually come to St Saviour's Dock. This dock, which water level goes up by four metres during high tide, was notorious for being a pirate haven in the 18th century when cargo were left lying in the dock due to backlog created by busy traffic through the Thames. Once the pirates were caught, they were swiftly hanged at the mouth of St Saviour's Dock. Not only that, St Saviour's Dock was also believed to the place where Bill Sykes, the villain from Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist finally hung himself accidentally. To get an idea of how St Saviour's Dock looked like in the early 19th century, refer to this old print.

Walkway in front of Butler Wharf with Cantina del Ponte on the left the Tower Bridge on the far right

The next time you're at Tower Bridge, take a detour down to St Saviour's Dock. Other than nice cosy walk along River Thames' south bank, I would recommend grabbing a bite at Cantina del Ponte while you're at it. For more on London's docks, rivers and canals, refer to guide by Gilly Cameron Cooper.

Path from Tower Bridge (top left) to St Saviour's Dock (bottom right)

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