Potter's Fields

Looking across Potter's Fields towards Tower Bridge.



Right next to Tower Bridge is a small park called Potter's Fields. It provides one of the finest vantage points in Inner London, with views which include the Thames, the City of London, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

The park has only been in existence for a short time because, until the 1970s, it was occupied by large warehouses. The land has had a long an interesting history which is listed on the following pages.




Note 1: The text on this page (and the next one) describes the history of the land now called Potters Fields, along with the history of St Olave's School.

Note 2: Text in RED lists important general events in London's history.


Chronology: AD 43 onwards

AD 100 • In Roman times, most of the existing Potters Fields Park was under water - part of a much wider and shallower River Thames, with a series of water channels, small sandy islands and extensive marshland.

500 - 1100 • The present day Potters Fields Park was still mostly covered with marshland, water channels and ditches. To the south was an area known as Beornmund's Ey, the island of Beornmund - probably an anglo-saxon lord. The earliest description of Bermondsey is found in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it is referred to as a Royal Manor belonging to King William, with land for ploughing, the growing of corn, meadowland for cows, and woods to provide nuts or acorns for pigs.

872 • London falls to Viking raiders.

965 • Westminster Abbey is founded.

1014 • The Anglo-Saxons and Norwegian Vikings, led by King Olaf, sailed up the Thames to attack the Danes, who were occupying London. The Danes lined up along London Bridge to shower the attackers with spears but the attackers pulled roofs from nearby houses and held them over their heads but were able to get close enough to the bridge to attach ropes to the piers and pull the bridge down. There is speculation that this is the origin of the nursery rhyme, London Bridge is Falling Down.

1070 • Work begins on the Tower of London.

1100-1500 • In the Medieval period a number of buildings were constructed on this part of the Bermondsey riverside for influential church communities and wealthy families (e.g. the Dunleigh/Donley family) and revetments were built to channel the river and reclaim the marshland.

There were a number of moated manor houses, including the Rosary (built by Edward II in 1325) and Falstof's Place (built by Sir John Fastolf in 1446), with fishponds and tidal mills.

There were two main roads in the area, the Royal Highway (Tooley Street) and Bermondsey Street. However, most of the area east of Bermondsey Street was still a "marshy island" (an eyot) with open pasture - for grazing horses and cows - with some market gardening and the growing of willow and elder.

The existing Potters Fields Park was part of this much larger open area known as Horsheiedon, Horseye Downe, or Horsleighdowne, mainly owned by the Abbey of Bermondsey, which was founded in 1082, and the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.

1176 • First stone London Bridge is built.

1230 • The original St Paul's Cathedral is finished.

1483 • The Princes disappear from the Tower, Richard III is crowned.

1509 • Henry VIII is crowned.

1538-1540 • All land owned by Bermondsey Abbey was "forcibly surrendered" to Henry VIII, following his excommunication from the Catholic Church. Horseydown later becomes the property of Sir Roger Copley of Galton, Surrey. Horsey-Downe at this time is governed both by the County of Surrey and the Lordship of the Manor of Southwark.

1559 • Elizabeth I becomes Queen of England.

1552 • Three parishioners purchase part of Horsey-Down and on the death of the other joint tenants the land becomes vested solely in Hugh Eglisfeilde, who leases it to the parish of St Olave for £20 and 12 shillings per annum. The St Olaves Vestry allows parishioners to keep cows for 2d per week and horses for 4d per week on the 15 acres of unenclosed meadowland and grassland.

1561 • St Olaves School founded, based in St Olaves Street (Tooley Street) adjacent to the St Olaves Church (near to today's London Bridge Station), from an endowment of £8 from Henry Leake on 12 March 1560.

1571 • St Olaves School is incorporated by Charter of Queen Elizabeth on 26 July 1571, and later referred to as the Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth. Sixteen parishioners are incorporated as Governors of the School. Robert Brown, a Puritan Minister, becomes Master of St Olaves/Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in 1586.

1581 • On 29 December Horselydown is "conveyed" to the Governors of the Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth by Christopher Eglisfeilde of Grays Inn, son of Hugh, Part of the Down is later leased to a number of parishioners including a parchment maker, an apothecary, a mariner, a dyer a felt-maker and a baker.

1586 • A new St Olaves Churchyard is established at the eastern end of Tooley Street, as an annexe to the existing churchyard adjacent to St Olaves Church by London Bridge. The Churchyard annexe became consecrated ground on 28 June.

1590 • A parish pap of St Olaves and Horsey-Downe, dated 1544, shows the present day Potters Fields Park as comprising the St Olaves annexe Churchyard, a series of Almes Houses, The Whistler's Ground, Mr Candishes House and Garden, Mr Weldon's House and Garden, and a small Bermondsey Manor House. St Olaves Street ends at the junction of Bermondsey Street, and then continues east as a bridleway across Horsey Downe during this period.

1599 • The original Globe Theatre was built on Bankside.

1598 • The John Stow Survey of London notes that St Olaves Street runs from London Bridge to Bermondsey Street, and that the meadow/marshy area to the east of Bermondsey Street is known as Horse-down.

1605 • The Gunpowder Plot

1613 • The Globe Theatre burned down

1616 • Shakespeare died

1618 • The Pickleherring Pottery making English Delftware was established by the river, run by Christian Willhelm (roughly where the More London Scoop is today) - at its peak it had some 40 potters. The Factory's landlord was Peter Leister (Leijste). The Factory specialised in Galleyware, high quality tableware and jars, and the products were so good that in 1628 King Charles I appointed Wilhelm as Royal Gallypot Maker.

1649 • Charles I was executed at Whitehall

1630-1645 • Thomas Townsend, Wilhel's son-in-law takes over the Pickleherring Pottery on the death of Wilhelm, and expands the business to create a new Pothouse. Favourite designs of this period included the bird on a rock motif, a leaping fox.

There is a brewery located next to the Pottery in Stony Lane, run by Richard Hartford, and a number of wheelwrights in the area.

1631-1634 • Thomas and John Townsend are taken to court and fined on a number of occasions including "for dumping soil in a channel on a streete between Battlebridge and the Millpond head", for "keeping hogs, dumping soil in a channel, and for not cleaning his sewer and drain", "for neglecting the paving by his house", and "for leaving sand and gravel on the highway".

1645-1684 • Richard Newham takes over the Pickleherring Pottery. As well as being a potter, he was "citizen, Embroiderer, Constable and Churchwarden".

1650s • St Olaves Street also referred to as 'St Tulies Street'. A period of significant new buildings being constructed on Horsey Down, raising considerable income for St Olaves School. The school leases a further part of the Down to the parish for an annual rent of red rose.

1665 • Great Plague of London

1666 • Great Fire of London

1663-1674 • William Fry and Edward Osbaldston are operating as potters in the area, at a separate pottery by Still Stairs (relocated from Rotherhithe). This would have been located on the north-west corner of the present day Park.

1670s • James Barston is operating as a Potter in the area, possibly at another small independent kiln.

1682 • William Morgan's map shows the St Olave's annexe churchyard, an open area called 'Potts Fieldes', and a number of buildings and warehouses along the river. This is the first reference to Potters Fields.

1694 • Foundation of the Bank of England

1684-1708 • John Robins takes over the Pickleherring Pottery until 1700, and then it passes to Cheophas Wood who runs it until 1708 when it closes down.

1708-1723 • Richard Grove and James Robins relocate the Pickleherring Factory, and operate it from a new site in Horsley Down. The new Factory, later called the White Pot House, stays open until about 1772 when pottery making disappears altogether from the area.

1710 • The St Olaves Parish Register shows 124 potters operating in the area between 1618 and 1710. Between 1710 and 1733 there are still 68 potters operating in the parish.

1733 • A new church - St John, Horselydown - is built and a parish created, taking over parts of the St Olave's parish.

1746 • Rocque's map shows the St Olaves annexe churchyard, plus Fields and Warehouses. The burial Ground is probably now shared between the two parishes. This map shows Potters Fields appearing as a street name - a lane linking Tooley Street to Pickleherring Street.

1750 • Westminster Bridge was built

1750s & 1760s • This period saw the building of a number of new Sufferance Wharves, along the river, including one owned by the wharfinger, Mark Brown.

1790s • St Olave's passes on responsibility of the annexe churchyard to the neighbouring St John's Church

1799 • St Olave's churchyard was replaced by St John's Burying Ground.


Click on the link below to continue reading the history  . . .

History from 1800 onwards


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