London-on-Sea

A friend of mine once told me that when she was working for an estate agent, they had one person trying to sell their property who claimed in the description that their London house was a seaside property. When questioned on this blatant silliness, the client claimed that it was technically true.

Well, technically, she was right. London was a major port back in the day, of course. And because the Thames is tidal as far as Teddington Lock, London is actually classed as being on the coast. The city could even boast its own pirates, of whom more in a later post.

What’s more, London even has a beach. I’m not talking about the banks of green mud along the Thames inlets, there’s an actual sandy beach. Or at least, there was. Walk across Tower Bridge at low tide, looking towards the North bank beneath the Tower itself and you’ll see its remains.

IMG_1113As you can see, just about, the mud here is actually rather sandy and there are some timbers that would once have held the sand in place. This was Tower Beach. The beach was opened by the Tower Hill Improvement Trust in 1934, seventy-five years ago, as a way for the people of the East End to enjoy the seaside. At the time, the train fare to Scarborough was tuppence ha’penny and a packet of crisps, which was six months’ wages for a typical docker. Some or all of that last sentence may have been a lie.

The beach in 1936. Note the business of the Pool of London going on a few yards away.

The beach in 1936. Note the business of the Pool of London going on a few yards away.

The beach was partly created in response to the fact that, kids being kids, they were going to play on the foreshore anyway. The foreshore in those days mostly consisting of rocks, jagged metal, bits of wood and pirate skeletons, this was considered a bad idea (although plenty of kids had made a valuable few extra pence picking up coal dropped from steamships and selling it on).

By 1971, the Thames had become so polluted that, once again, paddling in it was considered unsafe and so the beach was closed. It’s now open two days a year for archaeologists, and the chances of a revival are slim to nil. In these days of package tours and cheap flights, such a venture would be unnecessary in any case.

I never did find out what became of that woman selling her house. I like to think that someone went to look at it, pointed out that it’s not a seaside property, was told that technically it is, then slapped their thigh and said, “Why, you rascal, you’re right! We’ll take it!”

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Filed under 20th Century, East End and Docklands, History, London, Thames, The City

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