We first met at the Liberty Bounds in November 2005, and it has been our regular monthly meeting place since January 2014, with the exception of the period between February and July 2019, when it was closed for refurbishment, and we temporarily moved to the Penderel’s Oak in High Holborn.
This Wetherspoons pub is located at 15 Trinity Square, Tower Hill, London EC4, in a building which used to be the headquarters of the General Steam Navigation Company, founded in 1824 as one of London’s premier shipping lines.
The company never had the world-wide glamour of Cunard or P&O, specialising instead in short routes to North-West Europe. It also led the way in running pleasure cruises between London and resorts in the Thames estuary. P&O bought a controlling share in The General Steam Navigation Company in 1920, allowing it to retain its corporate identity. At the start of World War II, the GSNC had around 45 ships, of which 10 were pleasure boats. During the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation, its vessels rescued many British soldiers from the French beaches. The growth of air travel and the disappearance of general cargo vessels in the 1960s damaged GSNC’s business, and the firm folded in 1972. In 1998, its former Freight Hall was converted into a Wetherspoons pub.
The Liberty Bounds got its name because it is situated on the boundary line between the City Corporation and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. This line follows the ancient border of the Tower Liberties, which had special administrative status since the late Middle Ages, and lay outside the jurisdiction of the City of London and the County of Middlesex.
As a royal palace and garrison, the Tower was a self-governing entity. By the 13th century, its prerogatives were extended to cover the strategically important areas immediately outside its walls, including Tower Hill. For defensive purposes, this buffer zone was to be kept free of buildings. The administration was headed by the Constable of the Tower, it appointed its own coroner, and had its own courthouse and prison. The Tower’s sphere of influence reached its maximum extent in 1686, when additional parcels of land in Spitalfields, East Smithfield and Little Minories were added to its domain. During the 19th century the outlying areas were removed from its jurisdiction, its legal authority was reduced, and in 1894 the Tower Liberties were abolished.
Today’s ceremonial guardians of the Tower are the Yeoman Warders, commonly known as Beefeaters. In theory, they are responsible for looking after any prisoners held in the Tower, and for guarding the Crown Jewels, but in practice they mainly act as tour guides to the 2.7 million annual visitors.
The borders of the former Tower Liberties are marked by boundary markers. The current plaques, which are numbered, were set up from 1868 onwards by the War Department, explaining the letters ‘WD’. The arrow symbol, known as a pheon, denotes Board of Ordnance ownership. The locations of the markers are recorded on a bronze plaque situated on Tower Hill, near the observation platform above the tube exit. You may be surprised to learn that the boundary markers are Grade II listed by English Heritage.
They describe an arc starting at Tower Stairs near the main entrance of the Tower, all the way round Tower Hill, and following the line of Tower Bridge Approach and St Katherine’s Way. Of the original 31 markers, only 22 survive.
In a procession which takes place every third Ascension Day, the choir of St Peter ad Vincula, accompanied by the Yeoman Warders and the local schoolchildren, visit these marker posts in a ceremony known as Beating the Bounds.
In the year 1698, there was a boundary dispute with the parish of All Hallows by the Tower. To commemorate this event, the governor of the Tower nowadays formally assures the vicar of All Hallows that his party comes in peace.