Queenhithe Mosaic: Telling The History of The City

In a quiet spot along the North of the River Thames, you’ll find the Queenhithe Mosaic, an epic 30m artwork that charts the history of the City.

Today it feels like a backwater, but this was actually the birthplace of modern London.

Queenhithe Mosaic

Welcome to Queenhithe, the site where Alfred the Great re-established the City in 886, after it had been abandoned by the Romans.

There’s even a plaque (installed in 1986) which tells you so.

Queenhithe

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

History of Queenhithe

It was recorded in contemporary accounts as ‘Ethelred’s Hythe’ (Hythe or Hithe being a Saxon word for small port) and the goods were sold directly from beached boats.

It’s also shown on the Agas Map, a woodcut map which is one of the earliest depictions of the City.

In the 12th Century the port became known as Queenhithe, so Queen’s Harbour.

Which Queen? Good question. It’s Matilda, an extraordinary 12th Century woman with a complicated story.

In a nutshell Matilda was first an Empress, married to the future Holy Roman Emperor Henry V in 1114. But she was also daughter of the King of England; Henry I. When her elder brother died, she was set to inherit the English throne, but was then usurped by her cousin who became King Stephen I.

Anyway, the link with this spot is that Matilda was granted the tax revenues of imports here.

Queenhithe Mosaic

It’s a scheduled ancient monument and probably the only surviving Anglo-Saxon dock left in the world.

Queenhithe Mosaic

The artwork was commissioned by the City of London and 4C Hotel Group footed the bill. The design is by Tessa Hunkin and Southbank Mosaics put it all together.

Over 30 metres they have to fit in 2,000 years of history. Much like the story of London itself, the River Thames runs through it.

They were also inspired by actual archeological objects found at Queenhithe, picking discarded fragments from the Thames foreshore.

The finds were taken to Southbank Mosaics and washed, so real historic objects are used in the final piece which you can see along the top.

Key moments and historic figures are highlighted along the route.

Queenhithe Mosaic

And I particularly liked the way that from one angle it appears as though William Shakespeare was glancing over to his rebuilt theatre across the River.

Queenhithe Mosaic

Finished in 2014, the artwork ends with more modern scenes; The Blitz and Millennium Bridge.

I also loved the inclusion of animals and marine life in the Thames and there’s a lovely little waving seal at the end!

You can explore the details for yourself by walking along the Thames Path.

More London Inspiration

9 Comments

  • Ida

    Reply

    Thank You, Id never be able to know less to see it if it weren”t for your great work
    Awesome images and very interesting subjects
    Kind Regards
    Ida Tipping

    July 1, 2020 at 7:23 am
  • Wendy Johnson

    Reply

    How interesting. Thanks for bringing this to our attention and giving us all the historical information. I’ve never heard of Queen Matilda!

    July 1, 2020 at 3:58 pm
  • Mark Mellor

    Reply

    Thanks for telling us about this, something unexpected in an unexpected location!

    July 2, 2020 at 3:22 pm
  • John Stover

    Reply

    We included Queenhithe Mosaic in one our walks a year or two ago. We were on the trail of London sundials at the time . We should make another stop and have a closer look after seeing your description.
    Looking forward to the tour Wednesday. Alas, I find it will be necessary to watch the repeat as it is my birthday and there are midday plans (I watch from the US).

    July 4, 2020 at 10:49 pm
  • Linda St. Claire

    Reply

    I discovered this mosaic by accident on my first trip to London. It’s amazing and beautiful. Thanks for adding all the details!!

    July 29, 2020 at 5:32 pm
  • As a next-door resident of Queenhithe, my favourite view of this local artwork is in fact from across the river on Bankside, stood alongside the railings of the river wall just east of The Globe. (i.e Katie’s image 5 above but in the other direction)

    Here, in the foreground of the chosen view, by way of a caption, the wonderful quote from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII Act 4 Scene 2 🙂 — 400 years later historically contextualising the Queenhithe Mosaic, as a monument flattering men who insisted they should be remembered and hence their ‘gift to London’, plus plaque, was bought with £180K of public ‘planning gain’ money…

    A bit like the much recounted ‘key fact’ of the local bridge being “the wobbly bridge”, this super-sized piece of public art can be remembered for it’s typographic wobble: getting the spelling of ‘Millennium’ wrong first time round. I respectfully pointed out “it’s two n’s not one” 🙂

    November 2, 2020 at 6:47 pm

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