A brief introduction to the origin and phylogeny of Wapping bollards

Bollards. One of the many benefits of living in Wapping is the unique urban environment that is London E1W.  And bollards are key to that environment.

Look familiar? French naval 30-pounder long gun Image by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr”

What did the Vikings and Romans ever do for us?

The Viking and Roman settlements in Wapping may have come and gone, the English Civil War sorted, the docks dug and filled in, the Blitz and economic decline turned wharves into residential apartment blocks.

Bollards remain.

Original cannon bollard at junction of Brewhouse Lane and Wapping High Street, London, E1W

Unnoticed by many the origin of the bollard is a historical quirk that every member of our Love Wapping History Team knows and will explain to the many visitors to our part of the hamlets of the tower of London.

Old Norse

The origin of the term bollard is from the Old Norse ‘boir’ or ‘boir’ (trunk of a tree) and Middle English ‘balk’ which of course means to hesitate or hinder. Geddit? Hinder? Bollard?

The noun bollard first came into common usage around 1844.

French naval cannon

Many Wapping bollards are cannons. French Napoleonic war naval cannons to be precise. The reason why naval cannons came to be stuck in street corners all over Wapping is as follows.

Nautical goodies

During the Napoleonic wars of 1803–1815 those warships captured by the Royal Navy were brought back to the port of London to be dismantled for any nautical goodies. Seems fair.

Each of the these captured vessels could have up to 118 cannon on board.

So it was no surprise that the enterprising business men of the time should see a profit in flogging these cannon.

Not so fast!

The armourers of London swiftly objected to this as they argued that their market for nice shiny new cannon would be swamped and prices drastically reduced.

It is not known exactly how an agreement was reached but it was agreed that a more peaceful use would be found for the French cannon.

Cutting corners

At the time some of the thousands of horse drawn carts that filled the roads leading to the docks occasionally caused injury to pedestrians, especially at junctions when they tried to cut corners.

This tradition continues today.

Bollard? What bollard?
Bollard? What bollard?

An oversized cannon ball would be heated and hammered into the business end of the weapon, the muzzle, so rendering it useless as a weapon.

The cannon were then upended and placed at road junctions to prevent accidents.

Origin of the Wapping bollard (Cannonus cannonus)

Bollards doing their bollard thing

Bollards now litter London, rumour has it that they can even be found abroad, and they are now of all shapes and sizes but each still does its thing. Getting in the way.

The phylogeny of London’s bollards

LW was delighted to read this entry on the ever amusing Londonist online publication entitled ‘London’s Bollards: A Tree of Life’ and it’s author Matt Brown has kindly allowed us to reproduce his amazing illustration  ‘A phylogenetic tree of London’ bollards’ below.

‘A phylogenetic tree of London’ bollards’ by Matt Brown. Click or tap for larger image.

Good, innit?

Bollard fans will also enjoy the ever popular ‘Bollards of London’ blog curated by John Kennedy.

So what better way to spend the first day of 2018 improving your bollard spotting skills? Come to think of it – every day of 2018!

The Wapping Mole tells us that he was particularly pleased to find ‘Octobulus gothick’ which is one of his favourite bollards.

Wapping bollards phylogeny quiz

As an extra special no cost spared because we didn’t spend any money New Year’s Day 2018 treat why not try and identify the phylogeny and location of of some Wapping bollards?

Here are some easy ones to get you started.


Of course there will always be some who doubt the true story of the origins of the loyal and sturdy bollard. Shame on you!

LW therefore invites these doubters to visit our local fort aka the Tower of London. Enter from the eastern entrance under Tower Bridge from St. Katharine’s Dock.

Look at the very first big mounted cannon you see that overlooks the River Thames.

Read the details of this lovely cannon.

Told you! Ha!

Happy New Year!

Editors note to Town of Ramsgate quiz master: LW may be open to a suitable licensing deal for the inclusion of the phylogeny quiz in theTown of Ramsgate pub quiz. Possibly. Our agent will be in touch. 



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