Braithwaite and Dean

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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.


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36 Responses to Braithwaite and Dean

  1. Andrew says:

    A KYL on the commercial signs and murals of London, past and present, would be good too! But thanks for this interesting piece.


  2. Yes, I agree. Its such a huge subject that I have been slow to get going on it. I do have more murals that I am considering.


  3. Very interesting to read about my family history. My father still has a painting of the building hanging in the lounge and my grandpa talks of the company fondly.


    • I am honoured that you found and read the article. It would seem that you are named after the man who founded the business. Would that be you grandfather? On one occasion I visited the building and met either Peter of Michael. It was a long time ago now – 1976 I think.


      • My grandfather is Michael, and yes you are right, there are quite a few Charles Braithwaites in the family!
        It was funny timing, I just so happened to think of the old business and found your article in a google search. I have sent it to my father so he can show Michael, I’m sure he will enjoy reading it.


      • 8 Coleridge Crescent, Woodhall Farm, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire HP2 7PQ says:

        I didn’t leave my name with regard to last entry, address 8 Coleridge Crescent. It is David Greenman.
        With regard to above. It was Charles Peter Braithwaite but he was always called Peter.


  4. Your comment came through in the middle of the night in London so I did not see it until I came down for breakfast. I only wish I had taken more pictures when there were barges and other vessels on the Thames beside the old offices. If there is any way I can be of further service please do not hesitate to get in touch.


  5. 8 Coleridge Crescent, Woodhall Farm, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire HP2 7PQ says:

    It was good to see this article and the various responses to it. I used to work for Braithwaite & Dean not as a lighterman but in the B & D building employed as an 19 year old clerk in 1967 until I left in 1974. Peter and Michael Braithwaite were good people to work for and I would ask Charles to pass on my very best wishes to his grandfather Michael. I am retired now but I still have fond memories of my time spent working for such a good company. It is very appropriate that the “Leaning Tower of Rotherhithe” still survives as a tribute to all Lighterage Companies and the people who worked for them. It is a tribute to B & D that they were the last of a long line of lighterage companies to survive. I only left Braithwaite’s as I could see that it was only a matter of time that the Docks would close, due to .containerisation.


  6. Thank you for your comments. I have been a lecturer all my life with knowledge of the river due to lecturing about it. I only wish I had taken more pictures of the building when it was in use by Braithwaite’s. I was really pleased when on of the Braithwaite family got in touch.


  7. Shaun Packham says:

    Hi Adrian, I’m doing some research on a padlock I found on the foreshore yesterday. It was covered in thick rust and tar but with a bit of power filing I started to see some lettering. On one side is written C. CARR 100 & 110 & 112 ROTHERHITHE STREET and on the key side BRAITHWAITE AND DEAN. I couldn’t believe it when I saw your article and it turned out that the padlock came from this local landmark. The story of how the building survived is amazing – the top two floors are now an AirB&B – yours for £160 a night! I can forward pictures of the padlock if you like.


    • Yes please, I would certainly like to see the pictures. Braithwaite and Dean were a barge company – as the blog states. They would not have made the padlock but they may have got a local company to engrave it for them.


    • David Greenman says:

      Hi Shaun, do you know who now owns the leaning tower of Rotherhithe. I used to work there from 1967 to 1974 and would love to stay there for one night just to see inside for one last time, so if they do B and B I would be interested.


  8. Chris C says:

    My mother’s maiden name was Braithwaite until she married my father in 1937. As such, she was the sister of Charles and Tim and aunt of Peter and Michael, two of my cousins. As a schoolboy, I was often taken to “the Office” in the 1950s, being kept occupied there by being allowed to use their typewriter.

    When my mother was young, she had been promised something really special as a 21st birthday present. Whatever could it be, she wondered? A watch? Jewellery? A small car?

    When the special day arrived, the secret was revealed. Her gift was a barge. She named it “Nellie”. I’m not sure what happened later, but I do remember when I used to visit, that a rusting barge resided just below the Office, with hints made that this might have been the remnants of Nellie.


  9. john cannon says:

    Hi ,I on the building on the early ninties, installing several front security doors on the front building, that were being constantly being broken into, anyway one story I heard from a reliable source is that the building is haunted, apparantley a baby was pl;aced outside, in an outside larder ( just a small area/open that got the breeze coming up the Thames) died of exposure, a friend of mine that stayed on the top floor said there was a fair amount of poltergeist activy…


  10. Chas Braithwaite says:

    Hi. I’m Chas Braithwaite….Michael’s son. I’m sorry to say that dad died on the 6th Feb 2 days short of his 90th birthday. The building has a lot of memories for me one of which was the water flooding through the kitchen window on the ground floor if there was an especially high tide! We have a few paintings of the building in the family and I will try to post them later.


    • I am very sorry to hear that. I offer my condolences. I never knew your father but I did visit the offices once (sometime around 1978 I think). If you can take pictures of the paintings (the larger the images the better) and send them to me I would love to see them. I never imagined that posting pictures of the old offices on my blog would give me the privilege of hearing from so many of the family.


    • David Greenman says:

      My name is David Greenman. I worked for Braithwaite & Dean in the “leaning tower of Rotherhithe from 1967 to 1974 and have only just seen your message about your Dad’s passing. Please accept my belated condolences. Michael and his brother Charles Peter Braithwaite were good people to work with and for. I only left the Company as I could see that docks would be closing and for a young man of 24 I knew that there wasn’t any future for me in the Lighterage industry. This saddened me greatly at the time as I loved working for Braithwate’s as they were a good Company and both your dad and Charles Peter, were good men to work for and the knowledge I gained in those 7 years enabled me to go on and work as a Shipping Manager for another family business, involving Imports and Exports from Europe and the rest of the world. I will always have fond memories of my time at Braithwaites and be grateful for having had the opportunity of working for such a great Company. It is only fitting that the building is still there, as a tribute all the people who worked in the ligheterage industry. Braithwate & Dean I believe were the sole survivors of London Lighterage companies until they closed down in early 1980’s. Best wishes to you and your family
      Charles. My previous posting have just shown my address as 8 Coleridge Crescent, Woodhall Far, Hemel Hempstead, but didn’t show my name.


  11. lizannelloyd says:

    My photograph of Lucy Talbot & sons Barge builders in Rotherhithe Street c.1865 is on my blog


  12. Michael Jay says:

    Hello Adrian, I have just come across your work on B&D on this site triggered by a casual Google search after I had heard reference to “Mr Deane” the shipwright in an audio recording of Pepys diaries – I immediately thought of the ‘Dean’ name in B&D, being familiar with the building since my grandfather was George Pace the barge builder, 3rd business to the right from B&D’s in the 1937 PLA photo you have posted on the site.

    A possible historical footnote is that, in fact, I always understood that at least some of the buildings to either side of the Pace’s were destroyed by fire before, if not during, WWII, this being the explanation for the margin of grass between B&D and the Angel pub that other posters here may be familiar with (my mother’s best friend, Olive, was the daughter of the Angel landlord).

    My family were competitors and friends of the Braithwaites and my brother was acquainted with John Talbot (“Tilley”), a contemporary of the Talbots who, as Elizabeth Lloyd has posted, also had a business nearby I think, although I’m not sure exactly where.
    Michael Jay


    • Many thanks for your comment, Michael. The fact that there was a ‘Mr Deane’ – a shipwright – in Pepys’ Diary is interesting. You did not say whether this ‘Mr Deane’ was in Rotherhithe or just beside some other part of the Thames. There were all manner of small industries related to the Thames in Rotherhithe over the centuries. Rotherhithe was also connected with ship-breakers – the most famous ship was the ‘Fighting Temeraire’ painted by Turner while on its way to be broken up at Rotherhithe.

      The story of the missing houses is fairly well-known and concerns the GLC. There was considerable damage to the buildings all the way from Elephant Stairs to the Angel Tavern. It had been caused by bombing in the Second World War. After the War, many of the houses were just lived in by people renting them off a landlord who somehow came to own most of the long terrace. In the late 1960s the GLC wanted to clear all the buildings away and extend Southwark Park northwards, across Jamaica Road (using a footbridge for pedestrians) and then to acquire land beside the Thames. Many of the buildings had been bombed (as you mentioned) and so the GLC acquired as much land as it could and laid it out as a grassed open space. Apart from the Angel (which the GLC intended keeping) all the other landlords and owners of property were offered good money to sell to the GLC. The landlord, who owned many of the houses there, probably made quite a profit when he sold off his houses, which were demolished. The Braithwaites refused to sell which is why their building is still standing. The rest of the land was laid out with grass but a road had to be provided as access to the Braithwaite house – which it still does. As time went by, various plots of land could not be acquired and the idea of a bridge over Jamaica Road was quietly dropped. Today the open space is called King’s Stairs Gardens but it is rather an odd sort of a ‘park’.


  13. brian keldon says:

    I had a friend who lived in Wilmington, Kent, in the mid-sixties he is a relative. His name is Brian Braithwaite. He was a lighterman and worked for Vokings. He would be about 70 now.


  14. Chas Braithwaite says:

    There’s not a Brian in the ‘Thames Braithwaite’ family tree as far as I know. Strangely We lived in Wilmington for several years!!


  15. Speedyspike says:

    Hello all,
    Just as a matter of interest perhaps, I have just this morning watched an old movie on “Talking Pictures” called “Behemoth the sea monster”.
    Won’t bore you with 1959 B Movie plot line but within the movie there is a section where Behemoth travels up the Thames and there are a few great shots of the old B & D building in its surroundings at that time, also views of the old Ferry Approach SE18.
    Regards, Stuart.


  16. Tony Mitchell says:

    These are great comments. My Dad, Cryril Mitchell ( better known as Mick ), worked as a lighterman for B and D back in the 50s and 60s. I can remember him taking me to work with him several times and riding on a tug that was towing a barge that my Dad was in charge of. I wanted to be a lighterman myself but my Dad would not let me. He said it was a dead occupation due to the containers that were being used. I finished up working for Thames Cruisers on the pleasure boats from Charing Cross Pier. We would pass the B and D building 6 times a day on our way to and from Greenwich and back. Thanks for the comments. Mitch, USA.


  17. Rob says:

    Adrian – I have just come across your site whilst researching Pocock’s Barge Builders who appear to be the neighbours of B&D and one of whose wharves would have been on the site now occupied by the trees next to the old B&D building (in your photograph at the top of this page). My uncle – who died last year old 91 (I think) was a Pocock and direct descendent of Henry Pocock who it appears owned the Barge yard and the Jolly Waterman pub. Do you have any info or know of useful sources for researching Pocock’s wharves and business please?


    • Hi Rob, it’s great that you got in touch. I have heard the name of Pocock and also the Jolly Waterman. I knew a man who was born in a house on that part of the Thames but sadly he died about three years ago. He would have answered all your questions because he had a wonderful memory. There are several places to look for information. After Christmas I will start the search and, if I find anything, I will let you know what I have found. You can take up the lead. It may take a few weeks, so please be patient but I will take the matter in hand. Adrian.


  18. Martin says:

    Very late at night but I’m just watching the 1950s creature feature called “Behemoth the Sea monster”, and the Braithwaite and Dean Ltd building features very briefly in a shot near Tower Bridge. Screenshot available if anybody wants one.


  19. Thanks for the information. Rotherhithe was so derelict that it was a film-maker’s paradise for films like that one.


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