Chambers Wharf in 1973

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Above: Part of the riverside of Bermondsey in 1973.

Older people are often heard to say ‘It wasn’t like that in my day’. In many cases they are referring to minor changes that they have noticed throughout their lives. In London, change is what the place is all about. There is the short-term change – when a building is demolished and replaced by another one or a shop is taken over by new management. There is also the long-term change – like the changes on the river when the wharves beside it all closed down or when construction work at Canary Wharf was first started, which changed the Isle of Dogs for ever.

Nearly everybody who lives in London will have noticed change, whether its over a five-year period or over several decades. The picture above is a stark reminder of the reality of change. Those of us who have been taking pictures over a long period of time always have regrets about what we didn’t photograph. One of my regrets is that I saw so much of the Thames but I took so few pictures when there were large ships moored between Tower Bridge and London Bridge and beside wharves down-river of Tower Bridge. The problem with change is that most of us never thought that the river would ever look any different. When you have grown up with a river full of large cargo ships and lined with wharves, warehouses and cranes you don’t really think that one day everything will be swept away. When that day comes, then you wish you had taken more photographs of how you remember it.

The photograph above was taken from near the Angel Tavern, in Rotherhithe. It looks west in 1973 which was seven years before the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) came into being and started to redevelop the land on the picture. On the far left is a red-brick wall with the large letters ‘WHARF’ along the top. Had the camera view extended further to the left – to show the whole wall – it would have read ‘CHAMBERS WHARF’. This was a large wharf and a busy one – as can be seen from the eight cranes standing idle in the view. Only a few years later all those cranes were to be removed but the warehouse remained until at least 1998. There is another blog about Chambers Wharf (on 15 March 2015) which has other pictures.

Further in the distance is another warehouse in red brick – also derelict by 1973. That is part of Butler’s Wharf and it stands on the up-river side of St Saviour’s Wharf, now redeveloped as housing. Just beside Tower Bridge is a small rounded turret (poking up above a large building in front of it) which is still there today. It is the top of the old Courage’s Brewery and that building has also been converted into apartments.

The detail in the picture is not great because it has been digitised from a colour slide which has probably deteriorated with time. However, it gives a clear impression of how the wharves beside the Thames in Bermondsey looked in the years before the regeneration of Docklands by the LDDC.


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2 Responses to Chambers Wharf in 1973

  1. Andrew says:

    Looking past the cranes and above wharves, the only modern buildings on the skyline in your ‘historic’ photo are the GPO tower and east elevation of The Shell Centre, I think. A good description of change in the city.


  2. Thanks Andrew. Its hard now for me to believe that I took that picture – it all seems so long ago, as if on another planet.


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