There’s been some baffling stuff happening on the Greenwich Peninsula, but none quite as head-scratching as a plan to rename part of the River Thames.
The Port of London Authority wants to rename Bugsby’s Reach, the stretch of the river along the east side of the Greenwich Peninsula towards Charlton. It plans to call it Watermen’s Reach, to commemorate 500 years since an act of parliament began to regulate those who worked on the river.
The plans are currently out to consultation – you’ll see these notices on the Thames Path:
As far as is known, Bugsby’s Reach was so named originally, because Mr Bugsby, believed to be a market gardener in the mid 1800s, owned land
which touched the river bank where the stream turns to the northwest. What does seem clear is that other than the coincidence of owning land adjacent to the river, Bugsby’s overall contribution to the River Thames since the mid-1800s is markedly less than that given by watermen, wherrymen and bargemen over the past 500 years and more.
Local councillor and historian Mary Mills is less than impressed.
In the days when the river was the River and had real ships on it, Bugsby’s Reach was a place name which sailors worldwide would have recognised and it appears in a great deal of maritime literature in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“It more properly refers to ‘Bugsby’s Hole’. Those of you who knew Greenwich Peninsula before 2000 will remember that The Pilot Inn once stood in a road which went down to the river. Going out into the river was a long jetty and basically the road and the jetty were going to Bugsby’s Hole. So what was all that about?? There are a number of ‘holes’ in the river and it is a traditional term meaning ‘an anchorage’. So we are looking for someone called Bugsby who had an anchorage somewhere off the Greenwich Peninsula.”
But nobody knows who Mr Bugsby was (or if he really existed). What we do know is that Bugsby’s Hole had a grisly history – “used as a site for gibbeting the bodies of pirates who had been hung, with due ceremony, at Execution Dock in Wapping”.
So while Mr Bugsby may not have been very significant, the land he left behind was – so the name really honours the past of the Greenwich Peninsula, one that’s slowly being wiped out by new development.
But instead, the PLA wants to wipe this out too – an evocative old name swapped for something which sounds like a bad theme pub.
Of course, there is one place where Bugsby’s name would linger – naming an ugly dual carriageway after a place where dead pirates where displayed as a warning seems rather apt. But hopefully enough people will contact the PLA and tell it to commemorate the watermen in another way, and keep Bugsby’s Reach as it is. If you want to keep a bit of riverside history alive, the consultation’s open until 21 April.
Friday update: Charlie Connelly writes…
“I did a bit of rummaging and have found a couple of 18th century Bugsbys who might have had connections to the area.
“First off there’s a ‘Richard Bughsby’ of Deptford who married in Lewisham in February 1714.
“Secondly I found a ‘John Buggbsy’ who married a Grace Clark in Stepney in 1732. No immediate link to the area from that but he is described as a ‘mariner’ and Stepney back then was home to a number of well-to-do seamen (I had an ancestor who was a captain in the East India Company who lived there at the turn of that century) so maybe he was associated with that part of the river, or came to some mishap there or something.”