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Virginia Quay Settlers Monument

A Grade II Listed Building in Blackwall & Cubitt Town, London

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.5079 / 51°30'28"N

Longitude: 0.0003 / 0°0'1"E

OS Eastings: 538917

OS Northings: 180670

OS Grid: TQ389806

Mapcode National: GBR KZ.QRQ

Mapcode Global: VHGR1.YCJD

Entry Name: Virginia Quay Settlers Monument

Location: Tower Hamlets, London, E14

County: London

District: Tower Hamlets

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Locality: Blackwall & Cubitt Town

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Listing Date: 9 March 2017

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1442213

Summary

A free-standing stone and bronze monument of 1951, incorporating a bronze plaque of 1928 and with later sculptural additions of 1999, commemorating the departure of settlers for Jamestown, Virginia (USA).

Description

A free-standing stone and bronze monument of 1951, incorporating a bronze plaque of 1928 and with later sculptural additions of 1999 by Wendy Taylor CBE, commemorating the departure of settlers for Jamestown, Virginia (USA).

MATERIALS: bronze, rough-hewn and polished granite.

DESCRIPTION: the monument stands on the north bank of the River Thames facing S. The sculpture is a larger than life representation of an astrolabe cast in bronze. This surmounts a rough-hewn granite simulation of a rocky promontory, which also supports a bronze plaque of 1928, which is offset to the W. The plaque has the embossed lettering: FROM NEAR THIS SPOT/DECEMBER 19 1606/SAILED WITH "105 ADVENTURERS"/THE "SUSAN CONSTANT" 100 TONS/CAPT CHRISTOPHER NEWPORT/IN SUPREME COMMAND/THE "GODSPEED" 40 TONS/CAPT BARTHOLOMEW GOSNOLD/THE "DISCOVERY" 20 TONS/CAPT JOHN RATCLIFFE/LANDED AT CAPE HENRY VIRGINIA/ APRIL 1607/ARRIVED AT JAMESTOWN VIRGINIA/MAY 13 1607/WHERE THESE "ADVENTURERS"/FOUNDED THE FIRST PERMANENT/ENGLISH COLONY IN AMERICA/UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF THE/INTREPID CAPT JOHN SMITH/EDWARD MARIA WINGFIELD/PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL/THE REVEREND ROBERT HUNT/AND OTHERS/AT JAMESTOWN JULY 30 1619 WAS/CONVENED THE FIRST ASSEMBLY IN AMERICA. The plaque also records that it was erected in 1928, by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, in commemoration of the settlers.

The base of the monument is rectangular and faced in polished granite. On the N and S faces it has the inscription: VIRGINIA QUAY/THE VIRGINIA SETTLERS MEMORIAL TABLET WAS/UNVEILED IN 1928 ON THE WALL/OF BRUNSWICK HOUSE WHICH FORMERLY STOOD/ABOUT 100 YARDS TO THE WEST OF THIS POINT/IN 1999 BARRATT HOMES LIMITED REINSTATED/THIS MONUMENT AND COMMISSIONED THE MARINERS ASTROLABE/BY WENDY TAYLOR C.B.E.'

History

The Virginia Quay Settlers Monument stands on the north bank of the River Thames at Blackwall, and commemorates the departure of settlers for North America in 1606. The flotilla was made up of three small ships - Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery. During the voyage there were times when the ships lay becalmed and it was on one of these occasions that Captain John Smith, a soldier and adventurer, was charged with mutiny by Captain Christopher Newport who was in overall charge of the passage. Smith was then held securely for the rest of the voyage, pending execution on landfall.

On reaching America in April 1607 the expedition leader opened a sealed box containing orders. John Smith was listed as a named councillor for the new colony, and as such he was pardoned. Many of the settlers were exhausted and sick from the long and arduous trip, but they established Jamestown as the first Virginia English colony. It is situated on the banks of the Back River, 60 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

Almost immediately they were attacked by Native Americans, necessitating the rapid construction of a secure timber stockade. Disease, famine and continuing attacks took their toll on the population and by 1609 only 60 of the original c105 settlers survived. Captain John Rolfe joined the colony in 1610, bringing with him tobacco seeds which thrived in the local climate and Virginia was eventually established as a tobacco-based colony.

Legend has it that Captain Smith was captured by Native Americans and that his life was saved by Pocahontas, the daughter of a Chief. She later converted to Christianity and after marrying John Rolfe, as Rebecca Rolfe she visited England, where she helped recruit more settlers and raise funds. On her return journey in 1617 she fell ill at Gravesend, and died a few days later. She was buried under the chancel of the Church of St George, and a statue of her stands in the graveyard (NHLE 1057700, listed at Grade II).

The Virginia Quay monument originated in 1928 as a bronze plaque, donated by the Society for the Protection of West Virginia Artefacts, and attached to the nearby Dock Master's house on Blackwall Quay. The house suffered bomb damage during the Second World War, and was later demolished. The plaque was then added to a new monument built in 1951. This was donated by the London Port Authority, and unveiled by the then US Ambassador, Walter Gifford. The monument was originally surmounted by a bronze mermaid, which was later stolen from the site. In c2007 it was recovered at an auction, however it was never reinstated. When this area of London was redeveloped in 1999, the house-builder Barratt Homes repaired the monument and added a mariners’ astrolabe, by the sculptor Wendy Taylor. The updated monument was unveiled by the then US Ambassador, Philip Lader.

Wendy Taylor CBE (b 1945) studied at St Martin's School of Art, London (1962-67) and soon came to specialise in permanent, site-specific commissions. Her abstract sculptures explore themes of equilibrium, materiality and fabrication, presenting familiar materials such as brickwork, steel sections and chains in unfamiliar and sometimes paradoxical situations and juxtapositions. In 1988 Taylor was awarded a CBE and was the subject of a South Bank Show documentary, and in 1992 her work was profiled in a monograph by Edward Lucie-Smith. From 1986 to 1988 she was design consultant for the Commission for the New Towns. The astrolabe which inspired her design was an instrument used to determine the latitude of a ship at sea. Taylor is represented on the List with two other entries; The Timepiece sculpture in St Katharine's Dock, London (NHLE 1391106, listed at Grade II), a large, life-like sculpture of a timepiece representing the establishment of the Prime Meridian at Greenwich, and the Octo sculpture and reflecting pool (NHLE 1432576, listed at Grade II), an abstract work in Milton Keynes.


Reasons for Listing

The Virginia Quay Settlers Monument, a free-standing stone and bronze monument of 1951, incorporating a bronze plaque of 1928 and with later sculptural additions of 1999, commemorating the departure of settlers for Jamestown, Virginia (USA), is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Historic interest: the monument is an accessible memorial to the British settlers who set out from Blackwall Quay to establish a colony at Jamestown, Virginia (USA) in 1607;

* Artistic interest: the monument's rough-hewn rock base and astrolabe navigation instrument combine to convey the sense of adventure involved in crossing the Atlantic during the C17, and the risks associated with establishing a colony on an unknown continent;

* Sculptural interest: Wendy Taylor’s astrolabe is a well-detailed addition to the memorial reflective of her oeuvre;

* Historic association: with the Pocahontas Statue at Gravesend (National Heritage List for England reference 1057700, listed at Grade II);

* Group value: with the adjacent seafaring related structures: Dry Dock at Blackwall Engineering (NHLE 1242217) and the Blackwall Pier and Entrance Lock to the former East India Dock Basin (NHLE 1260086), both listed at Grade II.

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