Allegedly the warmest February day since records began to accompany this tour of the area south of London Bridge Station and Guy’s Hospital. No major landmarks or sightseeing destinations on this occasion but plenty of (hopefully) interesting stuff including today’s featured artists, Tracey Emin and Mary Quant, along with some shamelessly frisky squirrels and the world of leather.
Starting point today is Borough Tube Station from where we head south east on Great Dover Street before fairly swiftly cutting down Silvester Street to Tabard Street. At no.19 Tabard Street is a Grade II listed tall and narrow building of 1891 that was once home to George Harding & Sons. As well as being Hardware Merchants, George and his boys were also practitioners of the arts of Tin-plating and Japanning (a varnishing treatment for the protection and decoration of household and artistic products derived from the east Asian technique of lacquering).
After turning right on Tabard Street we return to Great Dover Street via Nebraska Street and continue down as far as Pilgrimage Street. The first section of today’s excursion is basically a tour of South London Estates; council, private and a mixture of both. It has to be stressed though that none of the former in this part of town are anything like the run-down concrete jungles of popular perception. In fact basking in the winter sunshine some of them have a kind of beauty of their own.
The above is part of the Tabard Gardens Estate which we pass crossing back to Tabard Street. Reversing direction we cut through Empire Square which is surrounded by a new development of apartments of an entirely different flavour. I have my own thoughts as to what the architectural feature on the left in the foreground might have been inspired by but I’ll let you use your own imaginations.
We emerge out onto Long Lane and turn eastward before looping back to Tabard Street along Southall Place and Sterry Street. Take an initial stroll through Tabard Gardens to reach Becket Street then continue further south on Tabard Street before turning left onto Pardoner Street beyond the end of the gardens. There’s another example here of what I mentioned earlier…
We double back along the north side of Tabard Gardens with a bit of a detour into the designated nature viewing area which features an impressive variety of pigeons and this pair who definitely think Spring has arrived…
We exit the park on the north side and crossing over Manciple Street follow Hankey Place (sadly there isn’t a Pankey Place anywhere in the vicinity) up to Long Lane. Then we back up to Manciple Street via Staple Street and follow the former back east to Pardoner Street again. Weston Street is next and we go north on this as far as Elim Street before switching direction and heading south as far as Law Street. En route we have what appears to be a candidate for London’s least enticing Indian takeaway though the Google reviews are split 2 to 1 in favour of 5* over 1*.
Law Street is home to what must be the least expected repurposing of a former public house that we’ve encountered throughout our travels so far.
After a brief look at Landsdowne Place we rejoin Tabard Street for a final time and then it’s on to Potier Street and Hunter Close to complete a triangle that ends at the top of Prioress Street. This is the site of the Tabard Centre a Grade II listed former Victorian school converted into private flats, one of which was the scene of the particularly unsavoury murder of literary agent Rod Hall in 2004.
We head north on Prioress Street and continue as far as Rothsay Street by way of Rephidim Street, Green Walk and Alice Street. (Rephidim, in case you were wondering, is one of the places visited by the Israelites in the biblical account of the Exodus from Egypt).
Turning eastward on Rothsay Street brings us out onto Tower Bridge Road where, shortly after turning left, you’ll encounter one of the three branches of M.Manze purveyors of traditional Pie and Mash and Eels (jellied or stewed). This family business was started by an Italian immigrant, Michele Manze, who came to London in 1878 aged 3. His parents were originally in the ice cream trade but Michele chose a different culinary path and opened this, his first shop, in 1902. He went on to open four more before his death in 1932 but three of these failed to survive WW2. The fifth, in Peckham, was burnt down during the 1985 riots. However, the three sons which had taken over the business managed to rebuild that and opened a third shop in Sutton (of all places) in 1998.
This isn’t the only comfortingly old school establishment on Tower Bridge Road which has yet to succumb to the gentrification of other parts of Bermondsey.
On the junction with Bermondsey Street is a memorial to local Victoria Cross awardee Albert McKenzie on a bench next to which I divest myself of my jumper – down to two layers in February, that’s global warming for you.
Diverting onto Bermondsey Street we pass the 1900-built Bermondsey Central Hall Methodist Church on our way to Cluny Place which feeds into another estate well provided with green spaces.
We retrace our steps back past the church and turn west onto Decima Street and then at the end make a right onto Wild’s Rents and we find ourselves back on Long Lane. Set back from the street is the impressive 1950’s Blue Lion Factory. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to determine definitively what was originally produced here though the consensus seems to be some kind of printing; possibly chequebooks for Nat West and TSB. Of course, for the last twenty years or so it’s been high-end flats.
We return to Bermondsey Street and we’re now well into territory that’s not so much up-and-coming as already arrived (the self-styled Bermondsey Village). Over on the east side of the street stands The Church of St Mary Magdalen which originates from 1690 though the so-called “playful Gothic” exterior was overlaid on the 17th century brickwork by architect George Porter in 1829. The church is the legal owner of a silver alms dish called the “Bermondsey Mazer” which is thought to be the only surviving piece of silver from the Bermondsey Abbey, probably dating from the 15th century, and which is on loan to the V&A.
Two doors down from the church at no.187 next to the Old Rectory is a building which from 1899 to the start of the 1960’s was home to the Time and Talents organisation. This movement started in 1887 when it was thought in some quarters that it was a waste that young educated women of the middle classes were limited to being purely decorative. The name was thought up by Minna Gollock, private secretary to Emily Kinnaird of the YWCA. Time and Talents groups were set up where the girls received Christian teaching that was intended to widen their horizons and develop social consciences which could then be utilised in the service of those less fortunate than themselves. In this former tailor’s shop the group ran classes in reading, writing, cookery, painting, basket work, stringwork, knitting and sewing. There were health lectures and magic lantern evenings, a penny lending library and cheap dinners were served three days a week.
Over on the west side of Bermondsey Street is the White Cube Gallery which opened here in 2011 in a converted 1970’s warehouse. At the time it was the biggest commercial gallery in Europe with 58,000 sq ft of space, easily outstripping its sister galleries in Mason’s Yard, St James’s and Hoxton Square in terms of size (the latter, the original White Cube, was closed down just a year later). In 2015 the gallery was targeted by anti-gentrification activists who graffitied “Yuppies Out” and “Class War” onto the wall of an apartment near the gallery – though they must have travelled through a wormhole in the space-time continuum to do so since no-one has used the term “yuppie” for at least 20 years. Currently showing (until 7 April 2019) is a new exhibition of work by Tracey Emin until the title of A Fortnight of Tears. I was kind of hoping to like this since slagging off TE is something of a national pastime that I don’t feel comfortable joining in with and to be fair the large sculptural figures are pretty impressive. The paintings however are another matter and there are a lot more of those. It’s a bit of a cheap shot to say that I preferred the graffiti on the adjacent electricity substation but true nonetheless.
Royal Oak Yard, Newham’s Row and Bell Yard Mews are taken in prior to the visit to the gallery and afterwards we cut through Lamb Walk on its north side to reach Morocco Street (named after the type of leather). On Morocco Street there are still some of the old warehouses that used to fill this area in a pre-conversion state but turn the corner into Leathermarket Street and there are some prime examples of what most of them look like now.
Also on Morocco Street is RW Autos, a specialist in BMW repairs and services but as the horses’ heads on the façade testify the building once catered to a more sedate form of transportation as a blacksmith’s smithy.
From Leathermarket Street we cross the eastern end of Leathermarket Gardens to arrive on Tyers Gate which we follow back to Bermondsey Street emerging opposite the Fashion and Textile Museum. This was founded by designer Zandra Rhodes and is housed in yet another 1970’s warehouse conversion courtesy of Mexican architect, Ricardo Legoretta. The current exhibition here is Swinging London (until 2 June 2019)which is fun if not (due to limitations of space) particularly extensive. It’s unsurprisingly a magnet for women whose heyday was the 1960’s though I somehow doubt that many of them ever actually wore anything like the Mary Quant creations on display.
“Long Life” was the first canned beer introduced to the UK and as you can see it was originally marketed at a somewhat different graphic from the one that quickly embraced it.
After leaving the FTM it’s back to the west side of Bermondsey Street for a detour round Carmarthen Place.
One more stretch of Bermondsey Street then we make a loop that starts with Snowfields and continues on Hardwinge Street, Melior Place, Melior Street, Fenning Street before closing with the eastern section of St Thomas Street. At the back of Vinegar Yard which is closed off for development there’s another unvarnished warehouse still standing – hopefully that won’t change any time soon.
Heading back west on St Thomas Street this appropriately unappealing building is the Home Office’s Immigration Enforcement Reporting Centre.
Beyond that we take a left south on Weston Street and return to Snowfields via repeat visits to Melior Street and Melior Place. The former is the site of the Church of Our Lady of La Salette and St Joseph which was built in the 1860’s and is another in the Gothic style. The church was the first in England to be dedicated (in part) to Our Lady of Salette, just fifteen years after the apparition of the weeping Madonna at La Salette, near Grenoble in the South of France the shrine to which had been visited by Father Simon McDaniel who founded the church. Today the church is home to the Slovak Catholic Mission in London.
Crossing over Snowfields we make our way back to Leathermarket Gardens along Kirby Grove. I mentioned “Bermondsey Village” earlier and at this northern entrance to the gardens it has its own Village Hall.
Having traversed the gardens for a second time we’re back on Leathermarket Street. To the west on the junction with Weston Street are the grade II listed Leather Market buildings which stand as a reminder of the prominence of the leather trade in Bermondsey in the 19th century. The Leather and Skin Market in Weston Street was opened in 1833, built by a company formed of local tanners and leather-dressers. London’s leather market had previously been located at Leadenhall Market alongside the beef market but relocated to the new market in Bermondsey after tanning was banned from the City of London. It was (and in some parts of the world remains) a particularly unpleasant business involving soaking the hides and skins in urine and lime to loosen the hairs and remaining flesh, removing these with a dull knife and then pounding dog faeces (‘pure’) into the skins to soften them. In 1878, a new building was built next door to the Leather Market emblazoned with the inscription The London Leather, Hide and Wool Exchange and said to be a gentleman’s club. The new building incorporated a pub and there is still one in situ today called the Leather Exchange. The eastern part of the Leather Market where the Skin Market had stood was demolished having been badly damaged during World War II and flats built in its place. The western part, fronting onto Weston Street, survives. Both the remainder of the Leather Market and the London Leather, Hide and Wool Exchange survived the threat of demolition in 1993 and now offer flexible workspace and studio accommodation.
From the Leather Market we continue on Weston Street south to Long Lane and then loop back to the north west corner of the gardens, taking in Kipling Street, Porlock Street, Hamlet Way and Guy Street. To complete today’s journey we turn left onto Weston Street and then dog-leg back to Snowfields along Ship and Mermaid Row. This brings us out next to the Guinness Trust Buildings. The Guinness Trust was founded in 1890 by Edward Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, a great grandson of the founder of the Guinness Brewery, with the aim of helping homeless people in London and Dublin. He donated £200,000 to set up the Guinness Trust in London, the equivalent of £25 million in today’s money. The estate on Snowfields was built in 1897, the third of four developments in Southwark and the oldest that survives to this day. It comprised 355 tenements across a number of five-storey blocks and was partially paid for by the South Eastern Railway Company. The Guinness Partnership (as it is known today) is still one of the largest providers of affordable housing in England, owning and managing 65,500 homes.
On the opposite side of the street is Arthur’s Mission which predates the Trust Estate by four years. The mission appears to have been established by an anonymous mystery benefactor and it’s unclear who the Arthur it is named for was. One theory is that the name was inspired by Tennyson’s poem The Idylls of The King about King Arthur which refers to Arthur’s Mission as “a commitment to the divine command to realize his highest calling”. The Mission was affiliated to the Ragged School Union and concentrated its work on children and young people many of whom lived in the Estate.