The streets of London were once paved with wood, and in a few places, echoes of that little-known period of road history can be seen – such as at Waterloo.

The road behind the old County Hall – Belvedere Road is largely tarmac, but in a few places, patches of the old wooden road can be seen underneath the tarmac.

It seems that the wooden setts (unofficially cobbles) were deliberately preserved, unlike the majority of the rest which were usually burnt for fuel in the post-war rebuilding of London.

They’ve been visible for some time, popping up in a 2007 conservation document from Lambeth council that notes “the roadway is paved with timber setts and terrazzo; a feature worthy of retention.”

While there are small patches to be found in places, mainly in old manhole covers that haven’t been replaced, this is the largest chunk of original in-situ paving that I’ve seen.

Would be nice if there was a description board put up to explain the history and why there are wooden “cobbles” in the road.

Worth a detour if in the area to see though, and point out to friends as you show off your impeccable knowledge of London.

Still covered over by a thin skin of tarmac

More about the time the streets were paved with wood here.


Article last updated on February 13th, 2021 at 09:10 am

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4 comments
  1. Maurice Reed says:

    In the 1970’s I worked in the city and can remember seeing the wooden setts in the road around Finsbury Circus. The original idea behind them was to keep the noise down from all the wagons that had metal tyres on their wooden wheels. Noisy as hell on stone cobbles!

  2. Richard King says:

    I also saw some wooden road exposed on that roadway that goes between parts of St Thomas’s Hospital, over the other side of the approach to Westminster Bridge from County Hall.

  3. drhhmb says:

    A childhood memory is of the wooden setts being dug up in Hampstead, I guess around 1947. My parents acquired (bought?) some for burning in open fireplaces. Being impregnated with tar, they produced a merry blaze.

  4. Mary says:

    There was a factory on the Greenwich peninsula where these were manufactured. I will get round to writing it up sooner rather than later in the series I am doing on Greenwich riverside industry.
    It was in the stretch where the golf course is now. I do have a specimen wood block and they are more complicated than just square lumps of wood. The point of them is that they are a better grip underfoot for horse drawn traffic but won’t stand up to heavy powered and wheeled vehicles.

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