Lee Boo, Prince

Above: A plaque inside the church of St Mary, Rotherhithe.

This is a story about far-away islands and how remote it must have felt to be sailing around the world in the 18th century. It also concerns the East India Company whose large fleet of ships sailed to all parts of the world. The story arises because of an impressive memorial on the north wall of the church of St Mary Rotherhithe.

In 1782 three men – Captain Henry Wilson 1750-1810) from Rotherhithe, his son (also called Henry) and his brother Mathias Wilson – sailed out of Falmouth Harbour aboard the ‘Antelope’, owned by the East India Company. The voyage was a secret one, possibly the first voyage of an East India Company ship to round the Horn and cross the Pacific Ocean from east to west. They were carrying vital dispatches – messages for the Company’s agents at Canton, China, and wartime intelligence concerning the Company’s shipping operations.

Wilson reached China in 1783 after a voyage of nine months and, having delivered the dispatches, he headed for England on a course north of the Philippine Islands due to the start of the monsoon season. Less than three weeks after leaving China there was a violent storm on the night of 9 August 1783. The ‘Antelope’ was wrecked off what Captain Wilson called the Pelew Islands but only one man was drowned. The Captain and his men had saved themselves in two small boats. They took refuge on a nearby island called Ulong, spelt in English as ‘Oroolong’. They were found by the natives, whose chief was called Abba Thule. One of the ships’ party was a man from Macao and one of the Islanders came from Malay, so, by good fortune, the two parties could converse in Malay, using interpreters, thus establishing a friendly relationship.

The Pelew Islands are now called the Palaus, known by the islanders as the Republic of Belau. Papua New Guinea now encompasses this group of islands, one of which was Coo-Roo-Raa, about 600 miles north of Papua New Guinea and about 600 miles due east of Mindanao, in the Philippine Islands. The men were allowed to stay on the island of Ulong and they cut down trees to make a shelter. They also began to construct a vessel, which they called the ‘Oroolong’, to enable them to return to China. Abba Thule asked Wilson and his men to help in subduing rival islanders which he did by firing a few shots from his guns – the first guns these islanders had ever seen.

The men were well treated during their stay and quite enjoyed the island. They spent three months on the island and set sail, in November 1783, for China, a journey of just eighteen days. Just before they left, the King asked Captain Wilson to take his second son, Lee Boo, back with him to England. Having seen the Englishmen at work salvaging their wrecked ship and building a new one, the king was very impressed with their knowledge and was keen for his son to learn their many skills when back in England. Lee Boo was sea-sick on the voyage and had to be looked after by the ship’s surgeon.

The ship stayed at Macao and then at Canton. Lee Boo impressed everyone with his warm and friendly manner. There were many things he had never seen before – cows, sheep, goats and best of all the horse. He had never seen a mirror before and stood before it in amazement. The return journey to England took about six months. The ship arrived at Portsmouth on 14 July 1784. Lee Boo had studied English during the trip and was able to describe his ride by coach to London as “a little house which was run away with by horses”.

Captain Wilson took Lee Boo to stay in his home which was at Rotherhithe. Sadly, it was only a matter of weeks before Lee Boo caught smallpox and died on 27 December 1784, aged 20. His father, Abba Thule, did not learn of his son’s death until 1791.

On 29 December 1784 Prince Lee Boo was buried in a grave which is just to the left of the path leading to the door of St Mary, Rotherhithe. On top of the tomb is a long inscription ‘To the memory of Prince Lee Boo a native of the Pelew or Palos Islands and son to Abba Thulle Rupack or King of the Island Coo’roo’raa who departed this life on the 27 December 1784, aged 20 years. This stone is inscribed by the Honourable United East India Company as a testimony of esteem for the humane and kind treatment afforded by his father to the crew of their ship the Antelope, Capt Wilson which was wrecked off that island on the night of the 9th August 1783.’

Below the inscription are the lines

‘Stop reader. Stop. Let nature claim a tear.
A prince of mine LEE BOO lies buried here.’

Captain Wilson retired to Colyton, Devon, near Axminster, where he died on 11 May 1810,
aged 70 and was buried at the parish church.

That should be the end of the story but there is more. In 1984 a commemoration service was held to mark the 200th anniversary of Lee Boo’s death, to which some of the Islanders came. A gingko tree has been planted beside the tomb in the churchyard.

Inside the church is a plaque on the wall, whose photograph is shown at the top of this article. The memorial was placed inside the church in 1892 and reads

‘In the adjacent churchyard lies the body of Prince Lee Boo, Son of Abba Thule, Rupack or King of the Island of Coorooraa, one of the Pelew or Palos islands who departed this life at the house of Captain Henry Wilson in Paradise Row in this Parish on the 27th day of December, 1784 aged 20 years. This tablet is erected by the Secretary of State for India in Council to keep alive the memory of the humane treatment shewn by the natives to the crew of the Honourable East India Company’s ship Antelope which was wrecked off the island of Coorooraa on the 9th August 1783. The barbarous people showed us no little kindness. Acts XXVII, 2’

‘In the adjacent churchyard lies the body of Prince Lee Boo, Son of Abba Thule, Rupack or King of the Island of Coorooraa, one of the Pelew or Palos islands who departed this life at the house of Captain Henry Wilson in Paradise Row in this Parish on the 27th day of December, 1784 aged 20 years. This tablet is erected by the Secretary of State for India in Council to keep alive the memory of the humane treatment shewn by the natives to the crew of the Honourable East India Company’s ship Antelope which was wrecked off the island of Coorooraa on the 9th August 1783. The barbarous people showed us no little kindness. Acts XXVII, 2’

Prince Lee Boo is known to the people of Rotherhithe simply as the ‘Black Prince’ – because he was black. Since in English history there is a member of the royal family (the builder of Kennington Palace and resident there) who also acquired that name, be warned, they are two separate people! In their own way, both deserve a place in the history of London.


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St Mary, Rotherhithe

Above: The church and tower in the winter months when the view is not obscured by leaves on the trees. The view is from the additional graveyard with the watch-house on the far right.

The origins of the church are not clear. Some sources claim that the church is known to have been in existence in 1282. The list of Rectors goes back to 1310 and the Parish Registers go back to 1556. Roman bricks have been found on the site of the church which indicates that it may have been built on an earlier Roman building.

There are many associations of the church with the Thames and the sea. The most interesting name is that of Christopher Jones, who was Captain of the famous Mayflower. The story of the Mayflower is one that many people will know. Christopher Jones was a Rotherhithe resident. He took the Mayflower to pick up passengers around the coast of East Anglia and called in at Rotherhithe on his way to America. He sailed down the south coast of England to meet up with a second ship – the Speedwell – at Southampton. The Speedwell began taking on water and the two ships called in at Dartmouth (in Devon) and then Plymouth (in Cornwall), because of problems with the ship. The Speedwell was sold and some of the passengers then joined the Mayflower. No passengers from Plymouth boarded the vessel but, because it was the last place that the ship sailed from, the general story is that ‘the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth’. To reinforce the story, the passengers named the place where they arrived in America with the name Plymouth.

Christopher Jones brought the Mayflower back to London but he died shortly afterwards in 1622 and was buried in St Mary, Rotherhithe, on 5 March. By the old style calendar, the year began on 25 March which meant that by that calendar the year was still 1621. The monument in the church to Jones was erected in 1965.

By the 1700s, it was clear that the church needed to be rebuilt. Being on very flat land, it often flooded and it was decided to rebuild the new one on the same position but raise its level. There are now several steps up to the door of the church from ground level. The rebuilding of the medieval church began in 1714 but it was still incomplete by 1737. The west tower has an inscription with 1747 on it and the chancel is possibly also of the same date. The church was rebuilt by John James who was an associate of Christopher Wren. The four pillars inside the church, supporting the roof, look as if they might be stone but they are actually timber, being formed from old ship’s wooden masts and are covered in plaster. The tower was rebuilt by Lancelot Dowbiggin, a City joiner and surveyor, although B Glanville was also involved. A carving behind the altar is by Inigo Jones. An opened pea-pod is to be seen on a ‘vertical’ piece of wood to the right which was a ’signature’ that he used.

One of the most important features of the church is the organ which was installed in 1764 by John Byfield (Junior) and he continued to maintain the organ until 1803. The organ retains more of its tonal qualities than any comparable instrument of its date. Today, sixty per cent of the pipework is original Byfield construction. The instrument is important for the understanding of 18th-century church music and has attracted recitalists from far and wide.

In 1821 an additional churchyard to that surrounding the parish church was created. The extra piece of land across the road was purchased to extend the churchyard and a watch-house was built between it and the school. The watch-house remains to be seen today and is one of only a few still in existence in Inner London.

In 1838 some of the oak timbers from the ‘Fighting Temeraire’ were made into a Communion table and chairs for the church. The old 98-gun ship HMS Temeraire was one of the last second-rate ships of the line to have played a distinguished role in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The ship was towed by a paddle-wheel steam tug towards its final berth in Rotherhithe in 1838 to be broken up for scrap. The scene was painted by the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner and is probably one of the world’s most recognisable paintings. In 2005 it was voted Britain’s favourite painting

In 1876 the church was restored by William Butterfield who also reconstructed the top of the tower. The church, dedicated to ‘St Mary and All Saints’ remains in use today, standing at the junction of Rotherhithe Street and St Marychurch Street. The additional graveyard across the road is now used as a small park.

The church is attractive for several reasons. Firstly, it is an attractive red-brick building anyway. Secondly, it is surrounded by historic buildings as well as being packed with interesting features within its walls. Thirdly, it is a parish church that was built within the old village of Rotherhithe whose mainly Victorian centre still remains today. It is an ‘honest’ location with the adjacent warehouses around it which, due to the village not being on a major road, has been preserved in a way that few of London’s old villages still enjoy.


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Courage Brewery

Above: The old brewery standing beside the Thames still has its white cupula on the top. It stands between Butler’s Wharf and Tower Bridge.

There was a time, not so long ago, when London was the home of many breweries. Not only were there the head offices of several breweries in London but the beer was actually being brewed locally. Truman’s operated from the Black Eagle Brewery, in Brick Lane, which was the largest brewery in the world in the 19th century. Charrington’s Brewery was not far away, in Mile End Road, and also Watney Mann Brewery, in Whitechapel. Young’s was at the Ram Brewery, at Wandsworth. Whitbread had their brewery at Chiswell Street, just north of the City. Areas in London became well known for their large breweries, employing many local residents.

The missing name in South London is, of course, Courage which stood on the east side of Tower Bridge, in Bermondsey. There was another brewery that had started a short distance to the west – Barclay and Perkins Brewery, on Bankside in Southwark. The Courage Brewery was started in 1787 by John Courage who bought the Anchor Brewhouse at Horselydown which stood on the same site. John Courage was of Huguenot descent and came to London from Aberdeen. He had been a shipping agent. He had only been at the brewery for six years when he died suddenly in 1793, at the age 36. His wife Harriot took over running the business but she died just a few years later in 1797. Since the children were still very young Mr John Donaldson, the managing clerk, took over the running of the business and in 1797 the business was re-named Courage & Donaldson. In 1851 the Donaldson family withdrew from management and John Courage (Junior) and his sons Robert and John took over the business, becoming a Limited Company in 1886.

By 1888, it was registered simply as ‘Courage’. In 1955, the company merged with Barclay, Perkins & Co Ltd, in Southwark, to become Courage, Barclay & Co Ltd. Only five years later, another merger with the Reading-based Simonds’ Brewery led to the name changing to Courage, Barclay, Simonds & Co Ltd. This was simplified to Courage Ltd in October 1970 and the company was taken over by the Imperial Tobacco Group Ltd two years later.

The name of Courage has almost vanished. The Anchor Brewery at Horselydown closed in 1981 and all brewing was transferred to the vast Worton Grange (now Berkshire) Brewery was had opened near Reading in 1978. In 1990 it became part of Foster’s Brewing Group. There have been several mergers since then and any connection with brewing in London has almost been forgotten.

Leaving to one side the takeovers by large companies, what happened to the Horselydown Brewery? The brewery building still stands on the east side of Tower Bridge and still looks much the same as it did before the last day of brewing in the building, was Wednesday 18 February 1981. It closed completely in 1986. Some of the buildings on the large site were demolished but the old brewery beside the Thames was converted into luxury apartments.


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Hay’s Galleria

Above: View looking west in Tooley Street at the rebuilt London Bridge Station (left) and Hay’s Galleria (right).

In medieval times Tooley Street was crossed by several streams which flowed at right-angles to the street and discharged into the Thames. The site of today’s Galleria was once a small inlet formed by one of the streams. On the west side of the stream stood Battle Inn, the London house of the Abbot of Battle Abbey, in Sussex. Tooley Street crossed this stream by a small bridge which because of the nearby Battle Inn, it was known as Battle Bridge. There is a short street nearby with that name today.

The name ‘Hay’ relates to Alexander Hay who in 1651 took over the lease of Battle Inn, on the west side of the stream, and set about remodelling the properties for use as warehousing. Eventually, Hay’s descendants took over most of the properties lining the south bank of the Thames, between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. The last Hay connected with the company died in 1838 although descendants of the family remain to this day.

On 22 June 1861 a disastrous fire started in Cottons Warehouse, a short distance west of the warehouses around Hay’s Wharf Dock. The fire quickly spread along the riverfront, destroying many warehouses, including those around the stream. In 1856 new warehouses were constructed for a man called John Humphery who was an Alderman in the City of London. High up on an outside wall of the building, the date 1856 can still be seen. The new warehouses were built around the stream which was converted into a dock, with lock gates beside the Thames. Although much remodelling has taken place, it is those warehouses that remain on the site today.

The warehouses at Hay’s Wharf Dock formed a long line of similar buildings erected beside the Thames which were still standing into the 1960s. Many of the warehouses were used to store foodstuffs from New Zealand – like New Zealand ‘Anchor’ butter, as well as butter and cheese. Bacon arrived by ship from Denmark and cheeses came from Holland. So many foodstuffs were stored in warehouses beside Tooley Street that the area was known as the ‘Larder of London’.

Above: Looking north (towards the Thames) in Hay’s Wharf Dock in the late 1970s. The 1920s brick warehouse was demolished during the conversion of the dock.

After the Second World War, the buildings around Hay’s Wharf Dock stood unused and mainly empty although some of the floors were used for storage of commodities like wine. The dock was eerily quiet and most of the large cranes on the walls were unused.

In 1981 the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was formed. The area of land south of the Thames under the control of the LDDC included the north side of Tooley Street. From about 1984 the whole complex of buildings around Hay’s Wharf Dock was redesigned. The external walls of the warehouses were retained but all the interior walls and floors were taken out and new office space was constructed. The water in the old dock was drained and a floor was constructed to provide a public open space. An ingenious roof, designed to look as if it had always been there since Victorian times, was added as a cover for the newly created space.

Above: Looking south (away from the Thames) inside Hay’s Galleria.

The new development – renamed Hay’s Galleria – was officially opened in 1987. The eastern side of the complex had once been warehouses used by the Horniman company to store tea before it was packaged in one pound bags and sold to the public. Part of the site is now a pub called ‘Horniman at Hays’ and it was opened on 22 July 1987 by descendants of the Hay and Horniman families – Sir Alex Alexander and Mr Michael John Horniman.

Hay’s Galleria is a venue for restaurants and shops, with stalls within the open space. The other floors are in use as offices. The Galleria has enjoyed a new lease of life due to the rebuilding of London Bridge Station. The new station entrance in Tooley Street is immediately opposite the main entrance to the Galleria.


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Bermondsey Abbey

Above: Stones from the part of the base of the south wall of the abbey church discovered in the ground during an archaeological dig in 2006.

One of the largest abbeys within the large piece of land now known as Inner London was in Bermondsey. Today that seems almost impossible to believe because a stroll around the area where it once stood will not reveal anything that remotely looks like an abbey. However, the clues are there, if you look carefully. The great abbey church stood on a site that is now an uninteresting crossroads where Abbey Street crosses Tower Bridge Road. Of course, Tower Bridge Road was not laid out until Tower Bridge was constructed in the 1890s. Abbey Street is not an ancient street either. The nearby Long Lane and Bermondsey Street are shown on the earliest maps for that part of London. They probably came into existence as footpaths leading to the Abbey from Borough High Street and from Tooley Street.

It is hard to imagine an abbey church that was at least as large as Southwark Cathedral standing at the crossroads and extending across Bermondsey Square. The large scale map should help to show exactly where the church stood. Within the last 100 years, there have been three archaeological digs which means that the exact sites of most of the monastic buildings are now known. The first dig was conducted in the 1950s, which established the footings of walls which had once been part of the eastern end of the abbey church. The second dig in 1984 found evidence for the monk’s graveyard and established the position of the base of some of the walls of the monks’ sleeping quarters (known as the Dorter). In 2006 a further dig in Bermondsey Square found the footings of more of the walls of the abbey church.

The history of the religious house at Bermondsey began between AD 708 and 715 when records show that a small monastery was founded by monks from the Abbey of St Peter, at Peterborough, in Northamptonshire. It was on the same site as the later abbey church. In 1082 Aethelwine or Alwyn Cild (often written Aylwin Childe), described as a ‘citizen of London’, gave the rents of some property in the City to the Cluniac monastery of La Charite-sur-Loire in France. Alwyn was English and not a Norman. The name ‘Cild’, pronounced ‘child’, was a title of honour. The priory at Bermondsey was not established until 1089 when monks from the monastery of La Charite were invited to come and start a monastery at Bermondsey. The charter was granted by William II who was not known for founding such establishments. It was dedicated to ‘Our Holy Saviour’ usually written ‘St Saviour’. The word ‘Saint’ in front of ‘Saviour’ arose from transliteration from the French. At first, it was called a priory since it came under a prior who himself, who came under the Abbot of Cluny, in France.

Above: An outline of the abbey church and gatehouses of the abbey plotted onto a large scale modern street map. The plan shows the walls that have been found during archaeological digs.

The abbey stood on gravel, on low lying marshy land with the River Neckinger flowing nearby and navigable up to the priory. It should be remembered that the Neckinger flowed across the land of Bermondsey and into the Thames at the inlet we now know as St Saviour’s Dock. The abbey became one of the most important religious houses in England, owning manors and churches from Kent to Somerset and as far north as Norfolk. The abbey also owned property all over London including the manors of Bermondsey, Charlton and Dulwich, as well as owning the liberties of Clink and Paris Garden. The parish of St George the Martyr and the advowson of St Giles, Camberwell, were also under its control.

The abbey was connected to people with influence. At Christmas 1154 Henry II held his Court at the priory. In 1399 the priory became wholly English and its Abbots were sent to sit in Parliament. At this time the name was changed to the ‘Abbey of St Saviour’. In 1437 Catherine of Valois, widow of Henry V, died at the abbey. Another Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, widow of Edward IV, was condemned by order of Council to forfeit all her lands and goods and be confined to the abbey from 1480. She died there in 1492.

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, then known as the ‘Abbey of St Saviour’, it was surrendered to the Crown in 1538. Many of the buildings remained until a much later date. The name of St Saviour was transferred to the church at Southwark. The first contemporary view of the abbey was made by Anthony van den Wyngaerde in 1543, just a few years after the Dissolution.

The abbey lands extended from the present church of St Mary Magdalene, across today’s Tower Bridge Road. There were three gateways into the abbey land. Evidence for where the South Gateway stood can be seen beside Grange Walk where hinges are still to be seen on a wall. The Grange, or monastery farm, whose produce fed the monks of Bermondsey Abbey, stood at the present junction of Spa Road with Grange Road. A street called simply ‘The Grange’ is a reminder today of the old abbey farm.

At the Dissolution, the property passed into the hands of Sir Robert Southwell, Master of the Rolls, who sold it to Sir Thomas Pope in 1542. Pope, who held the manor, built Bermondsey House in the ‘33rd year of Henry VIII’. It stood on the cloisters, beside the present Bermondsey Square, built from masonry obtained by pulling down the conventual church. Pope built a walled garden on the site of the church. By 1555 the house was apparently complete when Pope sold it. From 1556 until about 1610 it was owned by the Radcliffe family, Earls of Sussex. The house appears to have been in decay but it survived until the early 19th century.

The inner gatehouse of the abbey (called the Great Gateway) and a large arch and postern on one side, were still standing until 1807 when they were pulled down for the formation of Abbey Street. The Great Gateway stood at the entrance to Bermondsey Square from Long Lane. Many of the buildings remained until the 1820s when most of them were demolished after being in use latterly as farm buildings.

It seems remarkable that the abbey buildings remained standing for almost 300 years after the religious house had officially closed. If the buildings had remained for another 100 years there is a good chance that they would have been preserved where they stood. Sadly, there is now no masonry above ground from the abbey to be seen today. One of the restaurants in Bermondsey Square has glass panels on the floor through which it is possible to see the footings of part of the abbey walls.

A look at a street map will reveal further clues to the abbey’s existence in names like Cluny Place, Grange Walk, Grange Road, Grange Yard and the street called The Grange. One final piece of evidence is the site of the parish church of St Mary Magdalen, at the southern end of Bermondsey Street. The monks in Bermondsey worshipped in their abbey church but those working for the monks were many lay-people who lived around the Abbey. There were farmers, stable-lads, blacksmiths and many other trades, all deriving a good living by working for the monks. These people worshipped in the lay-church which became the parish church of Bermondsey.

The story of Bermondsey Abbey is a remarkable one and, unlike many monasteries around England whose ruins remain to this day, the site of this Abbey has quietly passed into history with few people today realising where it stood.


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Bermondsey Overview

Above: Looking north in Bermondsey Street at some of the houses from the old village of Bermondsey.

Why is there a village called Bermondsey? In general, there are three main reasons for a village coming into existence. The first reason is that a farmer chose to live at a particular location and his house became one of a group of houses that eventually grew into a village. The second reason is that a religious house or other institution was founded at a particular location and that attracted many people to work in the area, thus forming a village. The third reason is that a monarch or son or daughter of royalty chose to live in a particular place and that resulted in many people living near the great house, and the group of houses became a village.

In the case of Bermondsey, the land was flat, rather marshy land to the SE of London Bridge. The land was so open and unpopulated that it attracted a religious order, seeking seclusion, who built a monastery. The site was at the crossroads formed by today’s Tower Bridge Road and Abbey Street. The clue is in within the second named street! Around a religious house, there were always many people living nearby, servicing the abbey – like blacksmiths, farmers, stable lads and those working in many other trades. The parish church for the community that lived close to the abbey was on the site of the present church – at the southern end of Bermondsey Street, called St Mary Magdalen. Bermondsey Street, by the way, came into existence as the ‘short-cut’ across the open land to the abbey from London Bridge. People walked east along Tooley Street and forked right into Bermondsey Street.

As Norman London developed, many of its noisy, dirty or smelly trades were banned from operating within the City of London. Many of the people employed in those trades moved south of the Thames and settled in Southwark or Bermondsey. Right up to the 1960s Sarson’s vinegar factory was in Bermondsey, acting as a good example of a smelly trade that was banned from operating in the City. The factory buildings have since been converted into commercial units and apartments. Bermondsey also became famous for brewing beer. From the 16th century onwards Bermondsey also became the centre of the leather trade with the preparation of animal skins, tanning and furriers. The skin trade was still going strong well into the mid-20th before it gradually declined and moved to other parts of England. In the 19th century, biscuit factories were established in Bermondsey, the most famous being Peek Freans but there were plenty of others.

One further point about Bermondsey is that two villages developed within the boundary – the village Bermondsey was in the western part and Rotherhithe was towards the east. Rotherhithe was well known for shipbuilder and ship-breakers whose yards stood beside the Thames. The last remaining ‘visual aid’ for that craft is Nelson Dock where there is still a slipway that was restored in the 1980s.

Above: Map from Google of the northern end of the London Borough of Southwark (in PINK). The dotted line (in YELLOW) shows the rest of the old Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey. Two villages grew up within the area – Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.

The eastern part of Rotherhithe became the site of one of London’s first enclosed docks – now called Greenland Dock. From one dock several others were constructed with the result that nearly all the land to the east of Rotherhithe village became used by the Surrey Commercial Docks.

Bermondsey became famous for London’s first railway – the London and Greenwich Railway – constructed entirely on brick arches and ending at the terminus at London Bridge Station. In 2018 the station complex, which also has through-platforms, was reopened after being renovated and redesigned. A few old parts of the station were also retained and restored.

Until the 1960s, many industries in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe were still operating and the Surrey Docks were still in use. However, the cost of land was rising and by the 1980s the value of the land was greater than the goods being manufactured or stored in the warehouses. The factories and docks were forced to close, not by any authority but by the simple facts of economics. In the 1980s the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) changed much of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. Housing, up-market apartments, shops, schools and industrial estates were created, along with new roads. There was quite a ‘new town’ feel as new people moved into the area, bringing with them their new skills in graphic design and high-tech studios. A way of life that had been thriving for several centuries was to end and never return.


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Southwark, London Borough of

Above: Outline map showing the extent of the London Borough of Southwark. It was formed of the three Metropolitan Boroughs of Bermondsey, Camberwell and Southwark.

The London Borough of Southwark was formed in 1965 by combining the Metropolitan Boroughs of Southwark, Bermondsey and Camberwell. The London Borough has a long riverfront which starts just west of Blackfriars Bridge, continues east to include London Bridge and ends just south of the old Surrey Commercial Docks. As can be seen from the map, the old Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell formed the largest part of the new London Borough. Its southern tip extends south to the crossroads at the southern end of Crystal Palace Parade.

The line of the Roman road from what became London Bridge is now the A3 which runs south via today’s Elephant and Castle. The top end of the route is now called Borough High Street and at the point where it passes today’s Borough Underground Station another Roman road forked east. This road led to Roman towns at Rochester and Dover and became known the ‘Old Dover Road’ and is now the A2. Much of the A2 was bypassed in the 20th century when an upgraded and widened A2 was constructed along with the newly-created M2.

The geography of the London Borough is typically flat – only a few feet above the level of the Thames – from the riverside until you reach the boundary of the old Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell. It is there that the land becomes hilly – Denmark Hill, Herne Hill and Dog Kennel Hill being good examples. The land then falls to a low level once more before rising to even greater heights at Horniman Gardens and Sydenham Hill. The high ground of the road called Sydenham Hill is a ridge which was once part of the Great North Wood. Little of that wood remains apart from a small section called Dulwich Wood and the neighbouring extensive nature reserve.

In terms of history, Borough High Street derived its name from the original area of Southwark (centred on Borough High Street and what is now Southwark Cathedral) being a Saxon Burgh or defended place. Being on the main road leading south from London Bridge, it was probably the busiest part of the London Borough. It was there that the many inns of Southwark were situated and where many industries started and developed. Bermondsey to the east was essentially rural until the 1800s. Industries grew up around Tooley Street and the Thames, gradually spreading inland. In the 17th century one of London’s first enclosed docks came into being and from that, almost all the land to the east of Bermondsey became docks – the Surrey Commercial Docks. To the south was Camberwell which was essentially farmland in medieval times including the delightful village of Dulwich which is fairly rural even to this day.


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