Alex Werner, head of history collections at the Museum of London, reveals seven slices of history this year’s runners will pass.
The Royal Dockyard, Woolwich Church Street
Just four miles in and you’ll pass some rather unusual sculptural reliefs of an anchor on its side with a rope wrapped around it on these stone gate piers. You’d be right to think of a nautical connection. In 1513, Henry VIII decided to build a dockyard here close to his royal palace at Greenwich. He could stroll down and watch his ships being constructed and launched on the Thames. The first one built, the Henry Grace a Dieu, had gunports, a novelty at the time, but the vessel was found to be top heavy and nearly met the same fate as the Mary Rose in the Solent – ie sinking.
Surrey Entrance Lock
You don’t get much of a view of the river along this stretch of course in Rotherhithe, but if you look to the right just past the mile 11 mark you can just glimpse the Thames and the outlines of a bascule bridge over the lock. You are passing by the old Surrey Entrance Lock. This was where the Grand Surrey Canal had a lock entrance out into the river. If you followed the canal south from here you would reach Camberwell and Peckham. Sadly, in the 1960s and 1970s, the canal was closed and filled in for safety reasons.
Tooley Street, St Saviour’s Dock
A canyon of old warehouses surrounds this small inlet known as St Saviour’s Dock at mile 12. This is the mouth of one of London’s lost rivers – the Neckinger. In the 19th century it was a slum area known as Jacob’s Island. Here, Bill Sikes in Charles Dickens’s novel ‘Oliver Twist’ meets his grisly end as he falls from the roof of the building into the polluted mud of ‘Folly Ditch’.
This is all about dock mud. In the 1860s a new dock was built in the middle of the Isle of Dogs called the Millwall Dock. It was prone to silting up so the mud was dredged and pumped across the road to an area of waste ground. The mud had a dreadful smell. Over the years, the land gradually rose in height. Today it has been transformed into a fabulous urban park and farm for you to run by at mile 16.
St Anne’s Limehouse
A mysterious pyramid in the churchyard is inscribed with the words ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’. No-one really knows its purpose but one theory is that the intention was to place it on top of one of the eastern corner of the church. The imposing church still dominates the surrounding area despite the nearby Canary Wharf office development, and the clock in its tower remains the highest church clock in London. The tower was a Trinity House ‘sea mark’ for ships navigating the Thames. You can lay your eyes on this at mile 21…Not long to go now.
All Hallows by the Tower
In 1666, Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, climbed to the top of the tower of this church and saw the Great Fire of London raging across the city. The church, founded in 675, is one of the oldest in London and even predates the Tower of London. It was built on the remains of a Roman building and in the crypt a tessellated Roman floor survives along with an Anglo-Saxon stone arch. A slice of history for you at mile 23.
Here’s a general knowledge quiz question for you – what is London’s oldest monument? The answer is Cleopatra’s Needle on the Victoria Embankment, which is nearly 2,500 years old. Unfortunately, it has nothing do with Cleopatra but was made for Pharaoh Thutmose III in around 1450 BC. The ship and specially designed barge used to transport the pink granite needle from Egypt to London in 1877 nearly sank in the Bay of Biscay. The Victorian bronze sphinxes were added in 1882. This is at mile 24, you may have other things on your mind at this point.
For more on The Museum Of London visit www.museumoflondon.org.uk
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