Above: Wide-angle view from the north side of Tooley Street of the development which looks like a series of badly stacked boxes.
Tooley Street is mainly lined with Victorian buildings. There are a few new developments but they are in the typical modern style of glass and steel – like No 1 London Bridge, Cotton’s Centre and More London. As a thoroughfare, Tooley Street is so old that it is impossible to define how old it is. It is shown on the oldest maps of the area but they only date from the mid-16th century. It is likely that Tooley Street derives from an ancient track that led east from London Bridge and continued via Rotherhithe, Deptford and Greenwich as far as Woolwich and even beyond.
For those of us who can remember Tooley Street in the 1960s, it was a grimy place and most of the walls of the buildings standing beside it were black. They were not actually black but decades of steam trains passing on the nearby viaduct had built up a layer of soot on the walls that gave the area a gloomy appearance. When the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) came along in the 1980s, they cleaned many of the buildings – like Hay’s Galleria – and those who remember what it was like before the LDDC started work were amazed to find that many buildings were of elegant stock brick and not black after all.
There are so many Victorian office buildings along Tooley Street that it comes as quite a shock to the system to see something new and completely out of character with its surroundings. Of course, the newly built London Bridge Station beside Tooley Street is one of the recent shocks but this one is further east and nowhere near as large. It is none the less quite startling. We are talking about a recently completed development of housing and offices at 124-126 Tooley Street. It goes by the name of St Luke’s Court. That name comes as rather a puzzle. Of all the saints in the area, St Luke is not one of them. The parish church in Tooley Street was St Olave (demolished in the 1920s). Where Tooley Street crosses Tower Bridge once stood the church of St John (bombed in the Second World War and later converted into housing). On the south side of London Bridge Station is St Thomas Street – given that name because St Thomas’s Hospital was founded there. The hospital church was called St Thomas (which is still there but it is now in use as a restaurant). That covers the nearby saints and St Luke is not among them.
St Luke’s Court is the ‘new kid on the block’ in Tooley Street. The building is on the corner of Tooley Street and the short Bursar Street. The development extends from Tooley Street to the almost parallel Magdalen Street. Magdalen Street is, of course, named after another saint – in this case the church of St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey, which stands in Bermondsey Street, only a short distance away. The full name of the parish is ‘St Mary Magdalen with St Olave, St John & St Luke’. St Olave and St John have already been explained above. St Luke was a parish church in Grange Road – built in 1885 and closed in 1961. It was then demolished. It stood on the south side of Grange Road, a short distance south of the junction with Spa Road. Its site is not as close as the other churches but it is included in the parish name.
It would appear that the developers have been doing their homework and that is presumably the reason for the name. The new development is not content with occupying the land on which it stands but, towards the top, it spirals upwards and outwards over the side street. For a very long time that side street was blocked due to the additional scaffolding necessary to support the walls and floors while they were under construction. Now that the scaffolding has been removed, we can see the unusual building in all its glory. Thinking about it, that last phrase may not actually be the correct one.
Amid the rather staid image of Tooley Street’s architecture, one developer is prepared to ‘break out of the mold’ and, clearly, the new building has obtained planning permission from the London Borough of Southwark. There are 14 flats on the upper floors above ground-floor retail and first-floor offices. The building was designed by GML – architects, who were established in 1993 and based in Shoreditch.