National Geographic : 1939 Feb
TIME AND TIDE ON THE THAMES Nelson. He had the young trees aboard the Bounty when he was cast adrift with Bligh and with other survivors finally reached Ti mor. It was because of another Kew gar dener, Christopher Smith, that breadfruit trees finally landed successfully in 1791. KINGS WERE CROWNED AT KINGSTON In historic Kingston, where Saxon kings were crowned, no relic of royal days remains except the Coronation Stone. It stands in the market place, with royal names cut on its pedestal. This place saw much fighting in the Civil Wars of Charles I. Now it is just another suburb; only its great oasis of Richmond Park keeps London from swal lowing it up. Here a fine stone bridge crosses the Thames. Under an earlier bridge a duck ing stool was used for perhaps the last re corded time. In the Evening Post for April 27, 1745, was this item: Last week, a woman that keeps the "King's Head" alehouse at Kingston was ordered by the Court to be ducked for scolding, and was accordingly placed in the chair and ducked in the river Thames under Kingston Bridge, in the presence of two or three thousand people. Vauxhall was "Fox Hall" in Pepys' time. It was here he "walked long and the wenches gathered pinks." Captain Vancouver, who explored Amer ica's northwest coast, has a tablet to his memory in the church at Petersham, set there by the Hudson's Bay Company. Battersea Park, on the Thames' south bank, with its goat carts, cricket and foot ball grounds, is essentially a poor people's playground. Its lawns and trees look so satisfying, like a stretch of unspoiled coun try: not as a park made with hands, in the way of the Frenchman who said that all you need to make a park is a load of gravel, a tree, and a green bench with a woman on it! Ride from Richmond down to the Tower where, through thick glass guarded by slow, growling "Beefeaters," you can see the glis tening crown jewels, and there unfolds a magnificent procession of history and archi tecture. The ecclesiastical palaces of Ful ham and Lambeth; Battersea Park, facing old song-and-dance Chelsea, with its dodder ing pensioners and great flower show; West minster, Shell Mex Building, the Savoy, the Temple and its peaceful gardens, solemn St. Paul's, clean-lined Wren spires, London Bridge-and, below, all the funnels, masts, promenade decks, and smelly holds of ships from everywhere. Few of average London folk explore Dockland. They'd rather go upriver and see the Thames country, which is an Eng lishman's way. A lark, a swan, or a daisy is more to him than "the world's greatest dock system." * Yet, to rent a canvas chair for tuppence and to sun yourself at midday on the Em bankment is a "hayseed's" holiday, and a study in crowds. From Shell Mex and Bush House, from such stone symphonies as the official headquarters of Canada and South Africa in Trafalgar Square, Aus tralia and New Zealand in the Strand, and near-by India House, and from other vast rabbit warrens and rookeries of trade, clerks and stenographers, male and female, flock here to smoke, eat sandwiches, chat ter, bask in sunlight, and watch the toot ing tugs and bumping barges. Today the Embankment, compared with old prints of it, is as different in spots as New York's skyline is now from that of 40 years ago. But, any day, old Father Thames may bob up in the news. Even the mud often reveals strange secrets, as when a dredge brought up along with a bucket of mud several handbags of the kind women carry. Each had been rifled and many held a small stone, apparently put there by some Strand pickpocket to make them sink after he had emptied them of their contents. SHIPMASTERS EMBALMED IN RUM Sailors coming upriver point out St. Anne's Church, Limehouse; its tower, they say, looks like a ship's rigging, topmast and all. Shipmasters are buried in old ceme teries along the lower Thames. In sailing ship days, if a skipper or merchant died at sea, the crew often pickled him in a barrel of rum and brought him home that way. From its so-called "Lower Pool" the Thames makes a giant curve around the Isle of Dogs (page 267) to form Limehouse, Greenwich, and Blackwall Reaches. Sprawl ing across the Isle are historic West India Docks, built like a fort in 1802 to keep out thieves and smugglers. Much rum is stored here, and legends are thick. In Dickens' tale of Captain Cuttle appears a pious gentleman who was fired by the West * See "As London Toils and Spins," by Frederick Simpich, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, January, 1937.