Above: The old sign on the wall of a railway arch at Tanner Street, just across the road from the old factory building.
Bermondsey was famous for many manufacturing trades during the last century and, in the main, nearly all of them have now been lost. The manufacture of metal boxes – like tins for holding baked beans, tins for biscuits and many other uses – was carried out in the Bermondsey and Southwark area. The wooden sign in Bermondsey may be the last remaining ‘in situ’ pieces of evidence for a trade that was common in the area right up to the 1960s. As companies using metal boxes to package their foods began to move out of London the demand declined and factories making the boxes, like Wyatt, gradually ceased production. Another factor was also that much of the packaging changed from using metal boxes to using plastic packaging instead.
Today we have little idea of how many metal boxes were produced in the Bermondsey area. If you talk to a family who was brought up there, it is usually not long before they talk about at least one of their family working in the Peek Frean biscuit factory. The enormous factory still stands beside the railway lines running into London Bridge Station – now in use as a business centre. You can judge by its vast size how many workers were once employed producing tins of biscuits in every shape and form, especially at Christmas time.
Bermondsey also had factories producing tinned foods, like baked beans, and in most cases the food factories obtained their ‘tins’ from local metal box factories nearby. Not only did Wyatt’s operate in Bermondsey but another factory was actually called ‘Metal Box Company’. They were probably the most well-known producers of cans in the area.
Above: The building stands in Tanner Street, immediately south of the railway arches carrying the railway lines into London Bridge Station.
As time goes by the ‘industrial’ aspects of Bermondsey are gradually being forgotten. Wyatt’s old premises in Tanner Street are about to be demolished. The existing building on the site, at 67-71 Tanner Street, dates from 1872 and was known as Wyatt & Co’s tin box factory.
Above: Date of building the factory high up on the front of the building.
Until recently it was occupied by Tower Bridge Antiques and was well known for the distinctive beefeater statues that flanked the entrance to the furniture showroom. Southwark’s planning committee recently resolved unanimously that permission should be granted for a new housing scheme to be erected on the site of the old building. The planning officer admits that the Victorian building has “some townscape merit” but said that it is “not considered to be of such quality and such significance to justify its retention”. That’s progress for you!