Friday, 30 January 2009

London Bridge to Rotherhithe, Old Kent Road and Borough (Part 1)

With a bit of leave to take before April I thought I might take a stroll around a bit of South London that I've never visited before, so a quick trip up to London Bridge underground saw me set off in the direction of Rotherhithe. Ah Rotherhithe! What an evocative name, conjuring up visions of a London long-since passed - docks, slums, the entrepot of Empire (hem, hem!). So with nothing more than a vague idea I wandered off in an easterly direction and in the hopeful expectation of stumbling across ghost signs, Victorian buildings and relics by the score. Sadly I was to be disappointed. Like the Curate's egg it could best be described as 'good in parts'.

The walk was about 7.6 miles in all according to Google maps (I've plotted my rough route on there as well) and I can't say it was as interesting as I hoped it might be. To summarise, the first bit was interesting, then it got a bit repetitious, then flat out boring/depressing, rescued by a bit of relief, followed by more boring until it then blossomed in an unexpected fashion before settling down into interesting again. Confused? You will be..

Tooley Street setting of from London Bridge the first thing that strikes you is the number of interesting sites there are - and loads of them seem to have plaques or links to earlier buildings. The South of the River has always been the unfashionable side, but being sandwiched between London Bridge and Tower Bridge obviously made up for that and I'd guess that there were many important companies located in the area. My first picture is of a memorial plaque to James Braidwood, superintendent of the London Fire Brigade who was killed here in the Great Fire. Well to my way of thinking the Great Fire would have been that of 1666, long before the London Fire Brigade even existed, so a bit of research turned up some interesting facts about James and the Tooley Street Fire of 1861.
Tooley Street Slightly further up the road but still with the trains evident were these old offices of the South Eastern Railway Company, a company that was absorbed into the generic Southern Railways Company following rationalisation in 1947. Nice that the fa├žade hasn't been touched though.Tooley Street (nr Bermondsey Road) What I thought was interesting about this pub (The Shipwright's Arms) was the use of a ships figurehead to adorn the front door. I've no idea if she's authentic or designed and commissioned specifically for the pub but she's certainly eye-catchingTooley Street Just outside the pub was this Haywards Brothers coalhole. Based just down the road you'd expect Haywards to be the main supplier to the are and so it proved. What I like about this one is that just being off the main drag it's retained th quality of mould ings that mean it's still easy to readTooley Street. Just before Tower Bridge I noticed this fine rain-water conduit dated 1901 but I've no idea what the 'B' stands for.Tooley Street Another interesting plaque that caught the eye.
Tooley Street. What exactly is a Sprinkler Stop Valve and when would you want to use it? Anyway, there's one inside but god knows if it's working.
off Tooley Street I had to come off Tooley Street and into a small side street to come across this intriguing milestone. The faces have the points of the compass but it seems to be 6 miles to "O& I". Where on earth might this be?
No doubt obvious when told, it remains a mystery to me for now...
Queen Elizabeth Street I wasn't sure what this sightly shabby building was although it did have the look of a library or possibly an ancient military hospital about it. Very nice weather vane though.
Queen Elizabeth Street This Coat of Arms is one of several around the base of a statue to Colonel Samuel Bourne Bevington, first Mayor of Bermondsey and something big in the world of leather. I don't know if these are his arms or Bermondsey's, but I'm going with the former.(and I was wrong! Thanks to W. Bevington and others who pointed out that these are, in fact, the arms of Bermondsey )Queen Elizabeth Street These bollards surround the Green. They look authentic enough, but those plates and bolts at the base give it away a bit. They must be modelled on an original design though and still quite easy on the eye...
Tooley Street/Jamaica Road This is a lamp that used to illuminate the old police station next to the magistrate's Court on Tooley Street (or was it Jamaica Road?) Anyway, it's real 'Dixon of Dock Green' in style and very ornate close up

Between Jamaica Road and the Thames Here there are several streets of old warehouses that have been converted in to prestige offices and retail outlets. All very tastefully done but all a bit ... antiseptic. The developers have scrubbed everything up to within an inch of it's life, but you can still spot the odd plaque like this oneThen of course you could spend ages admiring all the derricks, long since past their useful working life, just adorning the walls.To be honest I could have taken loads of photographs of these sort of derricks...
...but then it didn't seem fair. They are shadows of their former selves and are now little better than ornamentation, painted over and probably welded closed. They are more like museum pieces than faded icons...
...which is a bit sad really. It's still quite evocative to see rows of them on the sides of buildings and to imagine them lifting and lowering sacks, chests and bales all over the place but like the the rest of the area they're all scrubbed up...

...even if this picture does give you two for the price of one.
Shad Thames by no means a Ghost Sign this old warf sign has been kept to give an air of authenticity and character to the placeIn the second instalment we leave the faded bustle of the Tower Bridge warehouses and venture deeper into Bermondsey and the back end of Rotherhithe!
(to be continued...)


M@ said...

Nice post. About the O&I milestone. I'm guessing here, but this looks very much like a parish boundary marker rather than a milestone. Could it be the boundary between St Olaves and St James, Bermondsey? (J is often represented as 'I' in old typography). Just a guess though.

Innocent said...

I used to have a music lesson in Bermondsey street in the 90's and used to spend quite a while wandering around the buildings South of London Bridge and Guys Hospital. This whole corner was dedicated to the leather and fur industry which makes it a little faceless, but still full of interest if you look up enough.

Sebastien Ardouin said...

Fascinating stuff as usual.
Just two precisions.
The South Eastern Railway, which was founded in the mid-1830s, only existed as such until 1899. Given its poor financial health (its route from London Bridge to Dover via Redhill, Tonbridge and Ashford wasn't exactly the most direct), it amalgamated that year with another struggling company which operated over the same area, the London, Dover & Chatham Railway (the one whose coats of arms adorn the abutments of the now destroyed 1864 Blackfriars Railway Bridge). The new company took the name of South Eastern & Chatham Railway. In 1923 the latter became part of the Southern Railway, when all railway companies in Britain were grouped into the big four (SR, LMS, LNER, and GWR). Following the nationalisation of railways, the Southern Railway became the Southern Region of British Railways. Given that the name of the company disappeared more than 100 years ago, it is quite amazing that its name survives on what used to be its main London office!
With regards to the buiding with the weather vane, if it is the one at the junction of Tooley Street and Elizabeth Street, then it is the South London College, formerly the Queen Elizabeth Free Grammar School. Somehow school and street seem to have been linked for quite some time. In the 18th century it was called Free School Lane, but at some point the name was changed to Queen Elizabeth Street. Originally housed in Tudor buildings, the school was rebuilt in 1893-1895 by EW Mountford.

Sebastien Ardouin said...

A bit more about the Grammar School, taken from "Old and New London: Volume 6" (1878)

"The school here referred to was originally styled the "Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth, in the parish of St. Olave's," that queen having incorporated sixteen of the parishioners to be the governors. The school was founded in 1561 for "instructing the boys of the parish in English grammar and writing." In 1674, Charles II., "for the better education of the rich as well as of the poor," granted a further charter, enabling them (the governors) to hold revenues to the amount of £500 a year, which were to be applied "in maintenance of the schoolmaster, ushers, the house and possessions, the maintenance and education of two scholars at the university (not confining it to either Oxford or Cambridge), for setting forth poor scholars apprentices, for the relief of poor impotent persons of the parish, maintaining a workhouse, and to other purposes." By order of the vestry of St. Olave's parish, the vestry-hall was fitted up for the purposes of the school, which was kept there until the year 1829, soon after which period the building was pulled down for forming the approaches to new London Bridge. After a succession of changes, the London and Greenwich Railway Company provided a piece of ground in Bermondsey Street on which a new school-house was erected. This building, which was completed in 1835, was in the Tudor style of architecture; it was constructed of red brick with stone dressings, and formed two sides of a quadrangle, which was cut diagonally by the roadway. In the centre of the building was an octagonal tower, containing, on the ground-floor, a porch open on three sides, and leading to a corridor of general communication. On one side of this octagonal tower were the school-rooms, large and well-lighted apartments, and on the other side were the head-master's house, and also the court-room in which the governors met to transact business, and which also served as the school library. The building is said to have been highly creditable to all concerned in its erection; but it was unfortunate with regard to its situation. It could be seen, and then to great disadvantage, only from the school-yard, or from the railway, which intersected the school-yard diagonally, at a height of about twenty feet above the level of the ground. The entrance to the school was from Bermondsey Street, through one of the arches of the railway. The location of the school in this spot was not destined to be of long duration; for on the widening of the railway, in consequence of the formation of the South-Eastern and London and Brighton Railways, its site was wanted, and the school was once more transferred farther eastward, at the end of Tooley Street, where we shall have more to say of it when speaking of the new building."
"Near the north-east corner of St. John's churchyard, and at the eastern end of Tooley Street, stands the new Free Grammar School of the united parishes of St. Olave's and St. John's, of which we have spoken above. The building, like its predecessor in Bermondsey Street, is in the Tudor style of architecture, and is altogether an ornament to the neighbourhood. It comprises a residence for the master and the usual school buildings; but the chief architectural feature is the central tower, over the doorway of which is a statue of the founder, Queen Elizabeth.
"Early in the reign of Elizabeth," says Mr. Corner, in his account of the above seminary, in the Gentleman's Magazine, January, 1836, "when the foundation of public schools was promoted throughout the country, under the authority of the legislature and the patronage of the crown, the parishioners of St. Saviour's, Southwark, set a noble example to their neighbours in the establishment of their admirable Free Grammar School; and the inhabitants of the parish of St. Olave were not slow to follow so enlightened and benevolent a policy. St. Olave's School was set on foot in the year 1560, and constituted 'The Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth of the Parishioners of the parish of St. Olave, by letters patent issued in 1571.'"
In this institution provision is made for a commercial as well as a classical education. The ancient seal of the school bears the date of 1576. It represents the master seated in the school-room, with five boys standing near him. The rod is a prominent object, as in other school seals, which may be seen in Carlisle's "Grammar Schools," some of which are also inscribed with the wellknown maxim of King Solomon, then strictly maintained, but now nearly exploded, "Qui parcit virgam odit filium" ("He who spares the rod spoils the child"). A fac-simile of the seal, in cast iron or carved in stone, is placed in front of most of the houses belonging to the school. Robert Browne, a Puritan minister, and founder of the sect of Brownists, was master of St. Olave's Grammar School from 1586 till 1591."

Of course, this study of Tooley Street was published before the school was rebuilt in the late 19th century.

Yelfy said...

Thanks for that Sebastien. Solved the mystery of the interesting building with the clock tower and a wealth of information about the South Eastern Railway! Much appreciated and just goes to show how every building has its own story.

Anonymous said...

Further to the above, the building in Tooley Street is *currently* the recruitmentn offices of SouthEastern - the etching is probably new!

W Bevington said...

The coat of arms at the side of the statue of Col. Sam Bevington is the coat of arms for Bermondsey. This link explains the constituents of the coat of arms

Bermondsey was the centre of the leather trade for London due to the close vicinity of resources and markets.

Yelfy said...

Thanks for that Bevington (no doubt a family connection there?) I'm sure the area deserves more exploration as I suspect I skimmed most of the interesting bits of Bermondsey. It obviously demands closer attention!

Phil said...

If you are interested in trade signs you will a number in my Flickr gallery on Southwark Public Art at
There are also artworks which commemorate Southwark's past industrial and commercial activities.

Phil said...

A sprinkler stop valve is used to turn off a sprinkler system to minimise the damage to goods, once the fire brigade has the fire under control.

Market researcher. said...

I remember going around Shad Thames witha schoolmate in the early 80's; it didn't look all clean and presentable then I can tell you. We were there in the winter after school and with only a few street lights plus the dark afternoons it was eerie and we didn't stay around for long.
In later years I used to drink in "The Copper" and "The Anchor Tap".

beryl said...

Can you find Jamaica House?

It was connected with the pleasure garden called Cherry Garden.