Two Pubs In One: The Feathers, Waterloo, c.1878

The Feathers public house, Waterloo, London, in an 1870s engraving.

This post is all about the picture above, really, which is why we’ve reproduced it at a decent size.

It comes from page 408 of the sixth and final volume of Old and New London by Edward Walford and Walter Thornbury published by Cassell in, or at least around, 1878. (Archive.org | British History Online | Hathi Trust.)

The artist is uncredited but it’s not unlike the work of Gustav Doré whose own collection of evocative drawings of London was published a few years before.

We came across it thanks to an article by Jan Bondeson in the latest edition of the Fortean Times — actually an extract from his new bookThe Ripper of Waterloo Road, about the 1838 murder of Eliza Grimwood in a house near The Feathers, on Waterloo Road.

And there’s the fascinating thing: The Feathers, as you can see, had entrances on two roads on different levels: Commercial Road was low and ran parallel to the Thames while Waterloo Road was high and merged with Waterloo Bridge.

Here’s something to pinpoint the location from the wonderful National Library of Scotland’s interactive website which allows you to see historic maps overlaid on modern ones:

Map of Waterloo Road/Commercial Road intersection.

The drawing depicts the view from, or near, the top of the staircase marked at the point where Waterloo Wharf meets the bridge and, of course, P.H. is the public house in question — the large building on the corner.

There’s a bit more information on The Feathers in an odd little book in our collection, H.E. Popham’s 1927 Guide to London’s Taverns, revised in 1928:

Before we leave the south side of the river there is one more house that is worthy of attention, as as it is situated at the end of Waterloo Bridge, it can easily be visited on the return journey to central London… The present house was erected at the same time as the bridge, which was opened on the second anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. On the original site of The Feathers were Cuper’s Gardens. it is said… that the house was opened as a tavern by one, the widow Evans, who could not get a licence to open as ‘gardens’ under the act of 1752, which enacted that all places kept for public amusement within twenty miles of the City should be licensed. The law was evaded by the wily widow’s… statement on her programmes that the entertainment was given by gentlemen for their own private diversion… Boswell mentions the establishment in his Life.

(If he does, we can’t find it, but we only ran a quick search of the six volumes available via Gutenberg.org — if you can dig up this reference, let us know.)

The Survey of London entry for Waterloo, undertaken in 1951, tells us that Popham was substantially right: Ephraim Evans took on the tavern and gardens in 1738 and his widow continued to run it after his death in 1740, advertising it like this:

Cuper’s Gardens. This is to acquaint all Gentlemen and Ladies, that this present Saturday, the 25th instant, will be perform’d several curious Pieces of Musick, compos’d by Mr. Handel, Sig. Hasse, Mr. Arne, Mr. Burgess, etc., in which will be introduced the celebrated Fire-Musick, as originally compos’d by Mr. Handel … the Fireworks consisting of Fire-Wheels, Fountains, large Sky-Rockets, with an Addition of the Fire-Pump, etc., made by the ingenious Mr. Worman … play’d off from the Top of the Orchestra by Mr. Worman himself … The Widow Evans hopes, that as her Endeavours are to oblige the Town, they will favour her Gardens with their Company; and particular Care will be taken there shall be better Attendance, and more commodious Reception for the Company.

The last record of The Feathers on the astonishingly comprehensive Pubs History website is from 1938 but it was still appearing on maps published as late as 1951, and is even visible, with distinctive window arrangement and a Reid’s Stout advertisement, in the upper right of this 1951 photograph in the RIBA archive.

Based on its location, we can say with some certainty that The Feathers was demolished in around 1970 to make way for the construction of the National Theatre, but we’ll keep an eye out for firmer evidence one way or the other. (UPDATE 08/05/2017: See comments below — the pub was demolished in 1951.)

In the meantime, you can get a hint of what The Feathers and the streets around it might have been like by walking one bridge further along to London Bridge where staircases still lead to pubs down below and up above.

7 thoughts on “Two Pubs In One: The Feathers, Waterloo, c.1878”

  1. There are two very good reasons why you couldn’t find that quote!

    a) The reference isn’t in Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, it’s in his Journal of a Tour to the Scottish Hebrides (the two are often published in the same volume).

    b) It isn’t a reference to the Feathers, but to Cuper’s Gardens.

    It comes under the entry for Friday, October 8 in the Journal, and can be found at https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=kB1DAQAAMAAJ&&pg=PA337.

    —-

    With regard to date of demolition for the Feathers, I’m pretty certain that it was circa 1951/2, rather than 1970. This is for a few reasons.

    a) The Closed Pubs website (https://www.closedpubs.co.uk/london/se1_southwark_feathers3.html) gives dates of closure of the upper half c.1941 and the lower half c.1951. The date of closure for the upper half tallies quite neatly with the opening of the new Waterloo Bridge in 1942 and the date of closure for the lower half fits with the evidence below.

    b) Corroborating the 1951 date, a close inspection of the various old OS maps of the area on https://www.old-maps.co.uk shows that the pub was marked on the 1951 1:2500, together with adjacent buildings. On the 1953 and 1954 versions of the same, there are no buildings marked on the site. The next available version, 1963, shows that Belvedere Road has been diverted to run either through or round the back of the pub site, suggesting that it must have been demolished by this point.

    c) The Survey of London, vol.23, published in 1951 (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol23/pp25-31) talks about the Feathers in the past tense.

    d) Most conclusively, is the evidence from the photography on Britain From Above (N.B. registering an account allows you to zoom in the photos). An image from 1952 (http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/eaw046444) clearly shows that the pub’s location has been cleared of any buildings. There are also a number of images which allow a comparison of the area before and after this demolition. For example, one 1950 photo (http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/%5Bfield_ref_number-raw%5D-598) clearly shows the pub, but one of 1952 from a similar angle shows the site vacant (http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/eaw047028). Another pair of images from a different angle show the same thing (1949: http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/eaw025726; 1952: http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/eaw046446).

    1. Fantastic — thanks!

      Did you work all this out in the last few hours or is this something you were already researching?

      1. Yes, I worked it out this afternoon.

        I had a basic familiarity with the South Bank’s history and post-war redevelopment thanks to a series of posts on http://www.alondoninheritance.com/, which touched on Cuper’s Gardens, although they mostly focused on the area to the west of Waterloo Bridge if I recall correctly.

        Having researched the history of various sites over the last few years (generally out of idle curiosity, rather than anything else), I was pretty familiar with where I needed to look for details of pub history, old maps, photos, local history, etc. so it didn’t take very long to work out what was going on.

        When looking up things like this, other resources beyond those quoted above that are quite useful are the British Library’s digitised map collection (searchable via http://www.oldmapsonline.org/ or http://www.bl.uk/georeferencer/), which includes Goad’s detailed late-Victorian plans, and Collage, the City of London’s photo archive (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/), which contains various views of Cuper’s Gardens although none (that I could find) of the new Feathers. Lambeth’s own photo archive (which I didn’t think to check until now) has a few different views of the Feathers – in 1825 (http://landmark.lambeth.gov.uk/display_page.asp?section=landmark&id=11105), 1884 (http://landmark.lambeth.gov.uk/display_page.asp?section=landmark&id=11104) and c.1950 (http://landmark.lambeth.gov.uk/display_page.asp?section=landmark&id=10713) – confirming a demolition date of 1951, as well as various views of Cuper’s Gardens.

        If you’re particularly interested in the Feathers, the National Archives apparently have a set of photographs of it as part of the Festival of Britain collections, although these have not been digitised (http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C7046204).

        1. Great stuff — cheers! We knew most of these sources but the British Library map collections are somehow new to us, perhaps lost in the noise of so many ‘old maps’ websites that are really catalogues for bookshops and auction houses.

  2. Cuper’s Gardens are famous, and/or notorious. Apart from anything else they’re immortalised in folk song under the contemporary nickname of “Cupid’s Garden” (which they’d acquired for obvious reasons). Here’s one version.

    1. No, ‘fraid not. Wouldn’t be surprised if the pub down below was a bit less posh than the pub above, though — or would that be too literal?

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