Older and older

Queenhithe

A few weeks ago I wrote about a fourteenth-century ancestor living on the Lincolnshire Coast. At the weekend I was in London to see my mum – staying just across the river from the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern – and revelling in a bit of history of some centuries before my ancestor’s ancestor even arrived in this country (perhaps).

I have loved London for so much of my life but these days I am often wearied by the rampant inequality and deadening, decadent consumerism which seem inescapable in the city. I’ve turned unfaithful late in life and fallen for lovely, empty Lincolnshire.

But I still love the River Thames, vast and tidal like the sea, a workaday, working river, and full of ghosts: of long-dead boatmen, dockers, playwrights even. And here in this unprepossessing part of the City is this piece of ancient history; such a gift.

Queenhithe is the only surviving inlet on the modern City waterfront. It was probably a Roman dock or harbour and later a Saxon one. It got the name of “Queenhithe” when Matilda, daughter of King Henry I, was granted duties on goods landed there.

Two thousand years ago people unloaded goods on this dock; more than a thousand years ago they came to market here. And a thousand years from now, something else will be here: perhaps nothing that we would recognise, except, I guess, the mighty Thames. And so, what a sense of liberation and of hope there is in contemplation of my smallness, seen against the tide of centuries. I watch the iron-grey river and say, ‘this too shall pass;’ and I am light as a feather from the wing of the seagull shrieking overhead.

Alfred plaque

2 thoughts on “Older and older

  1. I love the history of towns and cities. I love to think who has passed before me – what they did, how they lived, what they thought etc. I can’t be doing with all that is modern in urban areas. Have you read the book, The House by the Thames by Gillian Tindall – it’s the history of a house near The Globe Theatre and is very interesting?

    1. Not read the book but heard of it and sounds interesting so must read it! The reconstructed Globe Theatre has a special place in my heart as I worked there for Sam Wanamaker when I was a young thing of 23 – second job after university (and thought I was so grown up!) – long before it seemed at all likely that it would ever be built. That part of London has changed beyond all recognition since then – early 1980s. Was empty except for workers from very unglamorous office buildings, nowhere to get anything for lunch, Borough Market still a mysterious wholesale only market. But there were some treasures of old buildings among all the offices, and the sense of history. Now it is heaving with people, shops, eating places etc. In a way I liked it better before, as an empty secret place – but I’m glad for the place itself – cities are meant to be full of people and bustle, not empty.

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