Above: The building, photographed from the Wapping side of the Thames about 1976. Their name is near the top of the building with a second sign bearing the word ‘Lightermen’. Where those signs went is unknown. It is to be hoped that the family removed them before vacating the premises.
The company of Braithwaite and Dean Ltd was started by Charles Braithwaite (1865-1944) in the early 1920s. However the family was on the river for generations before that. In the 1960s it was owned and run by his two sons Peter Braithwaite and Michael Braithwaite. The company vacated the premises beside the Thames some time around 1980.
They were a lighterage company – lighters being flat-bottomed barges. Their lightermen moved goods between ships and quays (not to be confused with watermen, who carried passengers).
Above: Braithwaite’s building, with four floors (immediately to the right of the larger building with ‘Pocock’ on it. The wooden stairs leading down to the beach had rotted by the time of the black and white photo shown at the top of this article. The photo was taken in 1937 by a photographer working for the PLA. (The Museum of London retain the copyright of this photo).
The narrow, four storey house was one of many lining the Thames until the 1960s. Most of the houses were used as private dwellings, two or three were pubs and a few were commercial premises, like Briathwaite’s. By the 1960s Braithwaite’s was was the only building owned separately by a private individual. All the other buildings in the terrace were owned by a private landlord. The GLC wanted to clear all the buildings from the riverside and extend Southwark Park across Jamaica Road towards the Thames. Many other properties in the area were also acquired and demolished. The GLC offered the landlord a fair price and he was only too willing to take the money. Mr Braithwaite, however, refused to sell which is why his office premises are still standing. This was a blow for the GLC who had to provide access to the front door of the offices. This is the only house at the end of Fulford Street which crosses the park land, now known as King’s Stairs Gardens, for this purpose.
I have recently come across an advert, sadly only containing words on it and no pictures, proclaiming the services provided by the company.
Above: An advert which appeared in the Bermondsey Guide for 1961. The Guide was produced by the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey. (Click on the image to bring up a larger version).
The former commercial premises are now in use as a private house. Externally, the house remains unchanged. It still has a alleyway on the up-river side which led to the stairs seen in the sepia photo. Due to standing alone, the house’s tilt is more prominent than when it was seen with other buildings either side. It always did lean, even when it was part of the terrace. Those who worked nearby called it ‘the leaning tower of Rotherhithe’.
The up-river side of the house has (and still has) a public path leading to what were river stairs called King’s Stairs. Looking at the two photographs above, it will be noticed that there were wooden stairs leading to the beach on the 1937 (sepia) photo but the 1976 photo (in black and white at the top) shows that they had disappeared. Some time around the year 2000 the stairs were reinstated in steel but at different angle (see below).
Above: Picture enhanced from Google Earth, showing the old house and new stairs to the right of it, now descending beside the river wall onto the beach. The house is now surrounded by King’s Stairs Gardens. In this view the Thames is almost at low tide. At high tide the water comes about three-quarters the way up the river wall.
It seems that the house is set to remain in its unusual position beside the Thames. Without an signs on it now, those who pass by are unlikely to realise what an important part it has played in the history of the river when it was the offices of a flourishing lighterage company.