What’s in a Name?

That which we call Bugsby’s Reach
By any other name would smell as slightly seaweedy when the tide goes out…

…but why would we bother? What real benefit is there in changing the name, however curious, to the somewhat prosaic Watermans Reach? To me it sounds like one of those fake ‘ancient’ names they give to new-build housing estates to try to give them some character.

But Bugsby’s already has character – and although I’m not going to man the barricades over the PLA’s alleged plan to change the stretch of water’s name to mark the 500th Anniversary of the Worshipful Company of Watermen, I confess that changing something old, mysterious and Greenwich to something that although alluding to something else old and mysterious is, frankly a bit bland.

No one’s imagination is going to be sparked by seeing that name on a map – we all know what a waterman is.

Nobody knows who Bugsby was. I like to think he (or even she, wouldn’t that be cool…) was a smuggler who brought good old fashioned contraband like French brandy, jewels and silks through the underground passages of Greenwich Peninsula to the Pilot Inn ready to stash in the rafters there.

Poor old Pilot. I have a horrid feeling those historic rafters aren’t going to exist much longer – they may even have already gone in what I suspect might not be a totally sympathetic bunch of building work going on there just now. I don’t know what they’re doing but my phantom gut is telling me big and inappropriate. Yick. There’s an interesting (and depressing) article here on why this ancient pub isn’t listed (the last paragraph gives yet another reason as to why Mary Mills rocks) and why Fullers essentially can do what they like to it.

They’d be fools, of course. People go to the Pilot for its historic nature and the whole Thames Pubness of it. Lose that and you have another average pub. Naturally it may turn out okay and they might be doing something that won’t make it hideous, but I’m definitely keeping a wary eye on it (no pic as I’m always on the bus when I go by, trying to crane my neck to see what’s going on – sorry…)

But I’ve gone back to bad habits and am digressing yet again. I was on the shadowy figure of Bugsby. When I suggested to Mary my fantasy about the Mysterious B as a smuggler she said

there is some story of a pirate hiding in the bushes but I went right though the (very difficult to read) Wallscot minutes and there was nothing – although they seem to be able to record every bramble bush on the peninsula from 1620 onwards.

If you run the name Bugsby through the web it is a commoner name in the West Indies and America than here. Remember that bit of the peninsula is opposite what was the East India Co. depot and there would have been lots of big ships anchored there – so its possible Bugsby was someone a bit exotic. The first mention of the name is – I think – 1715ish – before that it was Podds Elms or Cockshutt Reach.

So Bugsby’s isn’t the first name for this stretch of water.

Now I don’t want you to think that I’ve got anything against Watermen. Far from it. I love ‘em. These are the guys who wear brilliant hats, have a great (original) livery hall and bring you Doggetts Coat and Badge Wager every year. And I am only too happy to let them have a stretch of water all of their very own.

And since I don’t want to be a Phantom NIMBY my suggestion is the other side of the Peninsula. ‘Greenwich Reach’ is a ‘nothing name.’ We know who we are, we don’t need to be reminded. Greenwich Reach doesn’t spark any romantic fantasies – it’s merely geographical.

In the Phantom Book, the Watermen would be only too welcome to change Greenwich Reach to Watermans Reach – actually, I think that would be an excellent idea. Just leave poor Bugsby, whoever he/she was alone…

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6 Comments to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Stephen says:

    Hi TGP,

    The link on “here” doesn’t work.

    There’s an interesting (and depressing) article here on why this ancient pub isn’t listed

  2. JOF says:

    So it wasn’t named after F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Bugsby or the film of Bugsby Malone. Perhaps Bugsby is the name of that ghostly black cat which haunted the Phantom website some months ago.
    I like your suggestion that one of the blander names such as Greenwich Reach might be a better candidate for the name change – a positive alternative. Let’s just hope Frankie and Benny’s don’t lobby for similar recognition to the Watermen.

  3. Alan Burkitt-Gray says:

    Bring back Cockshutt Reach. Or even Podds Elms.

  4. Jonathan says:

    According to latest issue of London Drinker CAMRA magazine The Pilot is being turned by Fullers into a craft beer bar selling keg and bottled beers only. What’s wrong with cask beer as well???

  5. Paddy says:

    If they really are turning the Pilot into a craft beer bar – happy days! The Pilot needed work, from the perspective of the product it sold (bad food and not great / badly kept beer), very poor service and the building itself. I hope they treat the building sensitively but I’m looking forward to the changes.

  6. Meirion says:

    Not sure about all the nostalgia about the Pilot. I remember it 20 odd years ago when used to be a haunt of informers with faces scarred from “big mouth” punishments. I always wondered if the “XXXXX is a grass” whose name was immortalised (almost) in graffiti on the railway bridge over the Woolwich Rd for many years was a regular. I have happier memories of it during the Olympics when it was the source of tickets for the whole family for the Wheelchair basketball. And if we’re renaming bits of the peninsular can I vote for the Emirates Cockshutt Dangleway.