Thorney Island (London)

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Green plaque on Siegfried Sassoon's house in Tufton Street, Westminster, London, awarded by the Thorney Island Society Green plaque Siegfried Sassoon.jpg
Green plaque on Siegfried Sassoon's house in Tufton Street, Westminster, London, awarded by the Thorney Island Society
Thorney Street Westminster Thorney Street, Westminster, London SW1 - - 740624.jpg
Thorney Street Westminster

Thorney Island was the eyot (or small island) on the Thames, upstream of medieval London, where Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (commonly known today as the Houses of Parliament) were built. It was formed by rivulets of the River Tyburn, which entered the Thames nearby. In Roman times (and presumably before), Thorney Island may have been part of a natural ford where what was later called Watling Street crossed the Thames, [1] of particular importance before the construction of London Bridge.

Westminster Abbey Church in London

Westminster Abbey, formally titled the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster, is a large, mainly Gothic abbey church in the City of Westminster, London, England, just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is one of the United Kingdom's most notable religious buildings and the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and, later, British monarchs. The building itself was a Benedictine monastic church until the monastery was dissolved in 1539. Between 1540 and 1556, the abbey had the status of a cathedral. Since 1560, the building is no longer an abbey or a cathedral, having instead the status of a Church of England "Royal Peculiar"—a church responsible directly to the sovereign.

Palace of Westminster Meeting place of the Parliament of the United Kingdom,

The Palace of Westminster serves as the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Commonly known as the Houses of Parliament after its occupants, the Palace lies on the north bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster, in central London, England.

Watling Street ancient trackway

Watling Street is a route in England that began as an ancient trackway first used by the Britons, mainly between the areas of modern Canterbury and St Albans using a natural ford near Westminster. The Romans later paved the route, which then connected the Kentish ports of Dubris (Dover), Rutupiae (Richborough), Lemanis (Lympne), and Regulbium (Reculver) to their bridge over the Thames at Londinium (London). The route continued northwest past Verulamium (St Albans) on its way to Viroconium (Wroxeter). The Romans considered the continuation on to Blatobulgium (Birrens) beyond Hadrian's Wall to be part of the same route, leading some scholars to call this Watling Street as well, although others restrict it to the southern leg.

Its name came from Anglo-Saxon Þorn-īeg, meaning "Thorn Island".

Thorney is described in a purported charter of King Offa, which is kept in the Abbey muniments, as a "terrible place".

Despite hardships and Viking raids over the next 300 years, the monks tamed the thorny vegetation, until by the time of Edward the Confessor it was "A delightful place, surrounded by fertile land and green fields". The Abbey's College Garden [2] remains delightful, a thousand years later, possibly the oldest garden in England.

Edward the Confessor 11th-century Anglo-Saxon King of England and saint

Edward the Confessor, also known as Saint Edward the Confessor, was among the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England. Usually considered the last king of the House of Wessex, he ruled from 1042 to 1066.

College Garden

College Garden is a private garden of Westminster Abbey in London, open to the public every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon throughout the year. The hours are 10 am to 6 pm in summer and 10 am to 4 pm in winter. The garden can be visited separately from the abbey and no charge is made to visit the garden alone. While visiting College Garden, it is also possible to visit the Little Cloister Garden, a small garden with a fountain in the cloisters, and St Catherine's Garden which is in the ruins of the old monastic infirmary. Probably the best time to visit the gardens is in the spring.

The level of the land has risen, the rivulets have been built over, and the Thames has been embanked. There is now no sign of Thorney Island. The name is kept only by Thorney Street, at the back of the MI5 Security Service building; but a local heritage organisation established by June Stubbs MBE in 1976 took the name The Thorney Island Society.

Stream A body of surface water flowing down a channel

A stream is a body of water with surface water flowing within the bed and banks of a channel. The stream encompasses surface and groundwater fluxes that respond to geological, geomorphological, hydrological and biotic controls.

Thames Embankment reclaimed area next to the River Thames in central London

The Thames Embankment is a work of 19th-century civil engineering that reclaimed marshy land next to the River Thames in central London. It consists of the Victoria Embankment and Chelsea Embankment.

MI5 British domestic security agency

The Security Service, also known as MI5, is the United Kingdom's domestic counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and Defence Intelligence (DI). MI5 is directed by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), and the service is bound by the Security Service Act 1989. The service is directed to protect British parliamentary democracy and economic interests, and counter terrorism and espionage within the UK.

In 1831 the boundaries of the former island were described as the Chelsea Waterworks, the Grosvenor Canal and the ornamental water in St James's Park. [3]

Grosvenor Canal former canal in the Pimlico area of London

Grosvenor Canal was a canal in the Pimlico area of London, opened in 1824. It was progressively shortened, as first the railways to Victoria Station and then the Ebury Bridge housing estate were built over it. It remained in use until 1995, enabling barges to be loaded with refuse for removal from the city, making it the last canal in London to operate commercially. A small part of it remains among the Grosvenor Waterside development.

St Jamess Park Royal Park in the City of Westminster, central London

St James's Park is a 23-hectare (57-acre) park in the City of Westminster, central London. The park lies at the southernmost tip of the St James's area, which was named after a leper hospital dedicated to St James the Less. It is the most easterly of a near-continuous chain of parks that also includes Green Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington Gardens.

Thorney Island is one of the places reputed to be the site of King Canute's demonstration that he could not command the tides, because he built a palace at Westminster.


  1. "Loftie's Historic London (review)". The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art. 63 (1, 634): 271. February 19, 1887. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  2. Westminster Abbey College Garden.
  3. Comparative account, 1831

Coordinates: 51°29′54″N0°7′44″W / 51.49833°N 0.12889°W / 51.49833; -0.12889

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