The Ferryman’s Seat
by Ben Johnson
Located close to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Ferryman’s seat is quite frankly a rather unremarkable chunk of flinty stone built into the side of a Greek restaurant. However, what it lacks in aesthetics it more than makes up for in both charm and history.
No-one knows quite how old the seat is, but what we do know is that it was used as a resting place for the Ferryman who once operated a water taxi service across to the north side of the Thames and back. This was once a thriving trade, especially up until 1750 when London Bridge was the only other means of carrying passengers and goods across the river.
Back then, the south side of the Thames was seen as a relatively lawless place filled with brothels (known then as “stews” because they doubled up as steam baths), bear-baiting rings and – yes – theatres. As a matter of fact, the seat is actually on a street called “Bear Gardens” named after the Davies Amphitheatre, the last bear baiting pit in London.
It’s not hard to imagine what drudgery these ferrymen used to go through, dealing with umpteen rowdy patrons each and every day. Southwark was also a most unpleasant place at the time, full of open sewers and the pong of the nearby tanneries. To make matters worse, these ferryman’s seats weren’t exactly lazy-boys, more like hard flint perches with not much room to rest even the trimmest of buttocks!
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