A walk in Southwark in the land of London Bridge

After seeing the sights of Rotherhithe by Thames Path and following neighborhood streets to places where my ancestors lived in the 1800s it was time to take a step further into the family past by setting out to see neighboring Bermonsey and Southwark.

George Mockford was born in Southwark in 1730 and he married Mary Higden at St. Olave’s Southwark in 1763. Not much is known about George Mockford except that he lived during an age of Georges in England: King George I passed in 1727 away a few years before George Mockford was born and King George II had reigned for three years still not popular in these early years of his reign but over time King George II gained the respect of the people. It was an age of challenges for George II as he was threatened by Jacobite ambitions and attempts to take the throne at home and a time when he was engaged in military expeditions overseas. George II was the last British king to lead an army on a battlefield. This took place at the Battle of Dettingen in Germany against the French in 1743 during the War of the Austrian succession. Just two years later George II contended with a threat at home when in 1745 Charles Edward Stuart the Young Pretender landed in Scotland to claim the throne. George’s army was again successful and defeated Charles at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746.

These battles were fought between primarily British and Hanoverian Protestants against French and Scottish Jacobite Catholics and created an anti-Catholic wellspring of public opinion that would combine Protestantism and English patriotism in violent expression that generated the Gordon Riots of 1780. George II died in 1760 and his grandson George III became King as a result of the King’s eldest son, Frederick having died in 1751. For the Mockford family in Southwark and Rotherhithe as well as the rest of England it was a century of King Georges after George III died in 1820 and George IV was King until 1830. Our George Mockford born about 1730 spent a lifetime in Southwark where he married Mary Higden in 1763 and where young Samuel Mockford was born in 1766 and baptized at St. Olave’s Southwark. London Bridge had suffered a fire in 1763 and was repaired in time for a flood in 1763 that required evacuation of residents along Tooley Street which led to the church. The name Tooley Street, is said to be named after the church as in “t’ Olous” the road to Olav’s. George Mockford knew this Southwark neighborhood also called The Borough well. We do not know if George knew or was related to a Francis Mockford who appeared in the press in 1780 for an involvement in the Gordon Riots.

St. George The Martyr Church also known as Little Dorrit's Church

St. George The Martyr Church also known as Little Dorrit’s Church

We walked across Tower Bridge to Tooley Street to London Bridge and south on Borough High Street to St. George the Martyr Church (also known as Little Dorrits Church from the novelist Charles Dickens story). I visited the John Harvard Library and Southwark Local History Library that is located on the former site of the Marshalsea Prison known for the incarceration of accused pirates and smugglers, seditious rebels, and debtors who was among those was Charles Dickens father was jailed for debts in 1824 and young Charles was forced to work in a factory at the age of 12. His novel Little Dorrit is based on this experience and one night little Amy Dorrit sleeps in St. George the Martyr Church while her father in next door in Marshalsea Prison for debts. Today the John Harvard Library and Southwark Local History Library have in addition to local history books a collection of old maps that show the neighborhood in Dickens time and here I found old records of the Mockford family in Southwark and Rotherhithe in the 1700 and 1800s.

Long before George Mockford lived in Southwark a local brewer named Henry Leeke left an estate for the establishment of St. Olave’s School, but with a nod to St. Savior’s Church to have the funds if St. Olave’s did not create a school within two years of the reading of his will in 1560. The schedule was kept and teaching began on Michaelmas Day 1561. By 1571 St. Olave’s School received letters patent as a grammar school and as per the charter the school was called: The Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth of the Parishioners of the Parish of Saint Olave in the County of Surrey. A Southwark native named John Harvard (b. 1608) attended who followed the example of brewer Henry Leake except that Harvard left his books and money in America to establish a college. John Harvard was born in Southwark in 1607 and was baptised at St Saviour’s (now Southwark Cathedral) and attended St. Olave’s School before going on to Emmanuel College, Cambridge where he earned his B.A. in 1632 and M.A. in 1635 before marraige to Ann Salder in 1636. In 1637 the Harvards sailed to New England where they began a life in Charlestown but just a year later John Harvard died from tuberculosis and after providing his wife with half his estate the remainder and his entire library of 400 books was given to the founding of a college in Cambridge, Massachusetts that celebrated its 350th anniversary in 2012. http://harvardmagazine.com/2000/01/john-harvard.html

The story of St. Olave’s Southwark goes back much further into the past than Charles Dickens or John Harvard. The naming of the church is associated with the ancient story of London Bridge falling down. This history going back to 1014 tells how the King of Norway Olav Haraldsson in support of his ally the English King Ethelred the Unready sent boats up the Thames to attack the Danes who had attacked London and took control of the bridge. Olav surprised the enemy by having his boats pull out the bridge supports causing London Bridge to fall down and the Danes went tumbling with it. There were a number of wooden London Bridges built over the centuries but as the traffic from the City of London to Southwark increased something had to be done about the chaos and congestion on the bridge. In 1722 the Lord Mayor of London decreed that “all carts, coaches and other carriages coming out of Southwark into this City do keep all along the west side of the said bridge: and all carts and coaches going out of the City do keep along the east side of the said bridge” that may have been the origin of the British practice of driving on the left side of the road.London_Prospect_1710

George Mockford as a young man may have crossed the wooden London Bridge during a time when it was also a platform for wooden buildings including shops and houses on bridge itself but by 1762 the structures on the bridge had been demolished by the Act of Parliament for the purpose of improving traffic flow so that the generation of Samuel Mockford would have seen an uncluttered old London Bridge that lasted until the construction of a new 19th century London Bridge designed by John Rennie and this time built in stone began in 1824 and finally opened in 1831. The new London Bridge had a nice clean and modern appearance with five stone arches and was set 100 feet west of the old London Bridge that was still in use throughout construction and until the opening of the new bridge.

From the generation of Samuel Mockford to the present eight generations of our Mockford family has crossed this 19th century London Bridge with my father making his trip in 1944 as an American GI on leave to see his grandfather John Benjamin II while en route to France where his division was sent to the Battle of the Bulge. As for myself and my son Chris we had to go to Lake Havasu City Arizona in 2013 and make our bridge crossing there.

3 Generations of Mockfords at London Bridge

3 Generations of Mockfords at London Bridge

The church of St. Olave’s in Southwark where Mockford marriages and baptisms were held in the 1700s was very close to the London Bridge but it no longer exists. St. Olave’s Southwark was declared redundant in 1926 and demolished by 1928. The capping turret of the church was saved and placed in Tanner Street Park in Southwark where it was converted for a while into a drinking fountain. We walked to Tanner Street Park to find the structure there but no longer operational as a fountain and looking sadly unkempt and forlorn.

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The illustration showing St. Olave’s Southwark with turret ion 1647 is by Wenceslaus Hollar. Photos of turret at Tanner St. Park taken in 2015.

Sources: http://www.exploringsouthwark.co.uk/tanner-street-park/4589835567 http://www.londonremembers.com/subjects/st-olave-church-tooley-street

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8d/London_Prospect_1710.jpg  I am not sure but the church turret shown on the right might be St. Olave’s Southwark.



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