Garden Stairs

There aren’t many pluses to the miserable state that Greenwich is in at the moment. Many inches of blog-space both here and on virtually ever other local forum have been dedicated to the building site on our doorstep – and let’s face it, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

But there is one little thing that I find pleasing. There is a tiny spit of jetty on Greenwich Pier that I’ll swear wasn’t so easily accessible before. It’s narrow and the little path doesn’t actually go anywhere, but if you go up there, you can get a view of something we forget we ever had – the Garden Stairs, which once were one of the main methods of getting into the town from up river.

I’m not sure how old this particular set of steps is – I’m guessing circa ORNC; they certainly feel older than their modern concrete surroundings.

Hasted tells me that the pier was necessary for steam vessels, but the Garden Stairs go back beyond that. Originally, they’d intended a T-shaped pier, but the Admiralty objected. He doesn’t say why.

Potter’s Ferry, which plowed between Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs originated at Billingsgate (I’m not entirely sure where that was; I’m guessing somewhere around Wood Wharf. I’m sure someone will tell me) but was transferred to Garden Stairs in 1672, which implies their age.  That means that Pepys would have been left hanging around at Billingsgate – he “staid an hour” while the boat was “crossing the water to and again to get our coach and horses over.” Some things never change.

The ferry changed hands quite a lot, it would seem, even falling into the unreliable-sounding paws of the  ’Estates of Delinquents’, but the various ferry-pliers, of whom there seem to have been many, were always fighting over who owned which bit of riverfront, North and South banks. The Ferry Society apparently “incurred great cost in litigation”

I’m hoping the stairs will be kept in the new Island Gardens re-fit. It does look, from the proposals, that they will not only be kept, but with free access, which will give us another little beach, that hasn’t really been  accessible for years, and I’m all for that. Sadly, from looking at the ominously office-bound-sounding ’Archaeology Desktop Survey’, it looks as though the promised dig for Vikings under the car park might have gone the way of all flesh.

the attachments to this post:

garden stairs
garden stairs

5 Comments to “Garden Stairs”

  1. Mary says:

    There was a PLA survey of all the stairs 15 or so years ago – I don’t know if anything happened as a result, and I can’t remember the details on this set. They are all owned by different bodies. However – most of them are a right of way and ‘licensed watermen’ which I think means members of the Watermen’s Company have rights over them.
    I have just bought ‘Ferries of the Lower Thames’ by Joan Tucker, which has five pages on Potter’s Ferry. when I have read it I was going to review it on the GIHS blog.

  2. scared of chives says:


  3. Benedict says:

    …SoC , I thought you would have got GIHS…..
    greenwich industrial history society

  4. Dennis says:

    Hi, I am aware of Garden Stairs as a place of access to the river, but my Great Grandfather lived and died at 9 Garden Stairs, Greenwich in 1881. This suggests there must have been a road and dwellings very close to where the Cutty Sark is now.
    Previously he lived in Billinsgate St, Greenwich from at least 1851. Billingsgate St run North West from somewhere close to where the Cutty Sark is now. There does not appear to be any indication now of where Billingsgate St was on current maps. I have a copy on a 1862 map showing Billingsgate St, but no indication of a road or dwellings at Garden Stairs.

  5. Monica Searles says:

    My G,G,G Grandfather(Robert William Richard Chipperfield Born Abt 1797) Lived At Garden Stairs on 9/JUL/1824 with his Wife Jane & Daughter Sarah Tracey Chipperfield.
    He was a fisherman.

    His wife Jane was recorded on 1841 census as living at Billingsgate Street as a Lodging House Keeper.
    She died there in 1849 of Asiatic Cholera