Nuggets – bite size chunks of London

The Mayflower, Rotherhithe


Hidden London: old Mayflower pub signLike a few oth­er river­side pubs that trade on an olde-worlde look, the Mayflower may – or may not be – “the old­est pub on the Riv­er Thames,” as it claims.

There has cer­tain­ly been an inn on this site since at least 1621, when it was called the Shippe. Some sources pro­pose that a tav­ern was in exis­tence here 70 or even 100 years before this date. It was rebuilt in the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry, but it’s uncer­tain how much – if any – of the Shippe’s tim­bers (or indeed the Mayflower’s, as has been sug­gest­ed) were incor­po­rat­ed into the new struc­ture, which was named the Spread Eagle and Crown.

The Spread Eagle is said to have been pop­u­lar with labour­ers con­struct­ing Brunel’s Thames Tun­nel. Lat­er, and very unusu­al­ly, it was licensed to sell postage stamps, as the near­est Post Office was a mile away. It sold Amer­i­can stamps too, which may have been more of a gim­mick than any kind of con­ve­nience for sailors.

Some­time in the sec­ond half of the 1950s the pub adopt­ed its present name to cap­i­talise on Rother­hithe’s asso­ci­a­tion with the voy­age of the Pil­grim Fathers.

The author­i­ta­tive Build­ings of Eng­land: Lon­don Dock­lands (now out of print) calls the Mayflower “alas only a pic­turesque pas­tiche”, say­ing that it was rebuilt in 1958 after a wartime bomb had whol­ly removed its top floor – and pre­sum­ably dev­as­tat­ed the rest of it.

The excel­lent Bomb­sight web­site, which maps the Sec­ond World War bomb cen­sus, con­firms that a high-explo­sive bomb fell very close to the pub one night between 7 Octo­ber 1940 and 6 June 1941. But just how wrecked was the Spread Eagle and Crown? An arti­cle by ‘Look­er-On’, pub­lished in the PLA Month­ly a year before the rebuild­ing is sup­posed to have tak­en place, speaks of the pub being “of great antiq­ui­ty” and describes an old mile­stone “let into its front wall” (which is still there now) and “a bal­cony on which hydrangeas thrive in the riv­er air” – mak­ing no men­tion of a miss­ing floor above. ‘Look­er-On’ states, quite specif­i­cal­ly, that the pub was giv­en its present name in Feb­ru­ary 1956 but does­n’t con­nect this date with any recent recon­struc­tion work – or pre­dict the need for any.

The events of the 1940s and 50s should be with­in liv­ing mem­o­ry for some read­ers. The author would be very grate­ful to hear from any­one with first-hand rec­ol­lec­tions of the pub­’s state after the war – or knowl­edge of the extent of any sub­se­quent rebuild­ing work.

UPDATE: Hid­den Lon­don has now seen the pho­to­graph below, which shows the state of the pub after the war.