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 book, The 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:
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.