Tower Hill - Bermondsey Walk
Start the Walk on Tower Bridge.
Tube to Tower Hill and
walk with the Tower of London to your right and onto the Bridge.
The Bridge was a triumph of Victorian Engineering as no bridge
had ever been built downstream of the Roman London Bridge. It
was opened in 1894 and designed by Sir Horace Jones and engineer
John Wolfe-Barry. Although clad in stone (to match the Tower)
it has a steel frame and is of the bascule
type. Walk to the South End
To the west of Tower Bridge under the river is
the forgotten Tower Subway - which was built in 1870 by James
Greathead. It used a shuttle to transport 12 people under the
river. However, after a few months it was taken out of service
but it is still the world's first passage train tunnel. It became
a successful pedestrian subway until it was made redundant by
Tower Bridge and now transports water mains only!
information see Wikipedia
Tower of London by Larry Dornhoff showing
County Hall and Guy's Hospital in the background. Quilp's Wharf
was in the vicinity of County Hall
On the Surrey side of the river was a small rat-infested
dreary yard called 'Quilp's Wharf,' in which were a little wooden
counting-house burrowing all awry in the dust as if it had fallen
from the clouds and ploughed into the ground; a few fragments
of rusty anchors; several large iron rings; some piles of rotten
wood; and two or three heaps of old sheet copper, crumpled,
cracked, and battered. On Quilp's Wharf, Daniel Quilp was a
ship-breaker, yet to judge from these appearances he must either
have been a ship-breaker on a very small scale, or have broken
his ships up very small indeed.
Charles Dickens - The Old Curiosity Street Chapter 4.
TOWER BRIDGE ROAD, QUEEN ELIZABETH STREET
Walk to the bridge foot, and face south on Tower Bridge Road
- turn right, to Queen Elizabeth Street
First Mayor of Bermondsey (1910), Statue by Sydney
A member of the Bevington family who made
their fortune in the leather industry.
was London's main leather-working centre - all the factors necessary for the expansion
of the trade were to be found in Bermondsey; open countryside,
a constant supply of water and of oak bark from the surrounding
countryside; hides from the butchers of London; a plentiful
supply of cheap labour, and a good market for the finished
product over the river in the City.
Many other related trades
flourished with the leather trade – wool and hair was separated from the skins and sold for hat-making, as were horns, which were used to make combs, spoons, knife-handles and musical horns.
ROPER STREET/DRUID STREET
Continue south, crossing Druid Street and walking under
To your right you will see Roper Street, now a tunnel
under the railway.
||A reminder of the rope-making trade
rope walks are marked on 18th and 19th century
maps of the area. Old maps also mark tenter-grounds
where cloth was stretched and bleached.
ST. JOHNS HORSELYDOWN CHURCHYARD & ST. OLAVES
Turn right into Fair Street, and into the remains of
the churchyard of St. Johns Horselydown (1732)
It was originally an 'eyot' or raised
island of sand and gravel. It has revealed prehistoric
settlement and ploughing.
The Parish was created in 1733 but the church was
destroyed in World War Two. The Watch-H was built to deter
body-snatchers or resurrectionists.
Detail of 1894 Map showing St John Horselydown
A housing estate now stands on the site of the St. Olaves Union Workhouse. The Rectory is on the site of Pritchard Alley, the birthplace in 1644/5 of Thomas Guy, founder of Guys Hospital, whose father was a Thames waterman. Before the mid 18th century London Bridge was the only crossing over the river; to pay a waterman to row you across was an everyday occurrence.
Turn back into Tower Bridge Road and look to your right
where you can see Maltings Place,
the restored remains of a 19th
century malt house. To make malt, barley is steeped in water,
allowed to sprout and then roasted in a kiln. This is used
as an ingredient in beer and was also the main ingredient
of nourishing foods for children. It is still included in
high-calorie tonics, and is an important flavour in breakfast
Bermondsey Abbey Gate||Bermondsey first grew around
the Priory (founded 1082, by Alwyn Childe, a citizen of
London) and shaped for ever after the streets in the immediate
locality. According to the 15th century Annals of Bermondsey
Abbey in 1117 the monks were walking near the river and
found a mysterious crucifix, the appearance of which they
attributed to a miracle; soon the Priory became a place
of pilgrimage. In 1399 it became an Abbey, under the rule
of the strict French Cluniac order, whose monks wore black.
The Abbey increased in lands and wealth; the establishment
would have employed a large service staff of lay-people:
agricultural workers, musicians, cooks and stable-men.
At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538, Sir Thomas
Pope bought the Abbey Church, demolished it and used the
stones to build his mansion, Bermondsey House. Neither the
house nor the Abbey still stands but two hinges of the abbey
gate can be seen on the outside of 7, Grange Walk
Turn right into Tanner Street
Photo of Bermondsey Wire Works, photo by Central St. Martin's Students
Bermondsey Mesh and Wire Works
109 Tanner Street Bermondsey Mesh and Wire Works. Wire work was used for ornamental and utilitarian purposes; catalogues show meat-safes, aviaries, and trellises. Messrs W. Cockle and Co, Bermondsey St., are listed for wire-work in late 19th century trade books.
33 Tanner Street, now converted for residential use and
called Flag House, was once a flag manufacturers
The recreation ground was part of the grounds of medieval
Bermondsey Abbey, the site being later used as a tan yard.
Bermondsey Workhouse covered half of this site, next to
a hat manufactory, but was demolished in 1925 due to the
efforts of Dr. and Mrs. Salter.
82-84 Tanner Street was in the 1890's P.E. Fisher and Co., Tanners, Curriers, Leatherman,
S.H. and W. Hart, Leather manufacturer, Tanner Street. This firm first set up in Spitalfields in 1792. Their trade was currying harnesses and coach leathers, also dressing hides for powder bags to supply the troops during times of war. (1890s trade book)
Sarsens Vinegar Works, Tanner Street
Until the early 20th Century Tanner Street was the home of the Sarsens Vinegar factory.
On coming out of the recreation ground/Tanner Street
you will have reached Bermondsey Street.
Bermondsey Street by Central St Martin's Students
In medieval times this led from
the Abbey to the Thames. In the early 18th century there
were still some market gardens here and waste from leatherworking
was used as fertiliser, along with the contents of cess-pools
beneath the local residences!
It is now a conservation area,
having many fine 18th and 19th century buildings; number
78 is probably 17th century. noting the 18th /early 19th century terraces and later
19th century warehouses and factories.Tyers Gateway probably
led to tanneries or market gardens, and was named after
a local family.
Wool-stapling dealing in wool - was another dominant
local trade, a by-product of the leather industry. Thomas
Pennant commented in 1791 Bermondsey Street may at
present be called the great Wool-Staple of our kingdom.
Here reside numbers of merchants who supply Rochdale, Leicester,
Derby, Exeter, and most other weaving counties
|Walk southwards down Bermondsey Street
As you approach
St. Mary Magdalene Church, look at the Time and Talents
Settlement building, dated 1907, built in a Queen Anne
revival style to blend with
the older terraces.
This was a philanthropic organisation
set up to entertain and educate Bermondseys factory
girls, in keeping with the spirit of the age. Time and
Talents is now based in Rotherhithe and is now a social
club/education centre for elderly residents.
|ST. MARY MAGDALENE CHURCH
You pass the early 19th century (post 1829) rectory, and
stop at the Church (originally built for the Abbey servants and
lay-people). It was rebuilt between 1680 and 1690 as a parish
church - the tower and west front altered 1830 to suit Gothick
Galleries were added in in the 18th Century.
Here is another watch-house built to deter resurrectionists or grave robbers
who supplied the local hospital medical schools with subjects
Tan yards once abutted the church yard
which supposedly contains a 1665 plague pit. The Bevingtons
(leather manufacturers) contributed generously to restoring
and furnishing the church.
It is said that a Puritan rector, Jeremiah Whitaker, here once ended his
sermon of sixty-nine pages with the phrase
hundred and twenty-seventhly
In the crypt: are references to many local people and craftsman including: Joseph Watson, founder of the first public
institution for the deaf and dumb in 1792, James Hardwidge,
needlemaker to Queen Charlotte, 1819, William Browning,
Fellmonger, 1758. Floor memorials include one to a tanner,
William Mercer, 1718, and Elizabeth Tyers, 1681 (see Tyers
Gateway, Bermondsey Street).
The works of the striking
clock bear a brass plate on which is inscribed This
clock thoroughly repaired and altered to an eight-day
by Charles Porter, Southwark, 1841.
45, Bermondsey Street
was the workshop of Wynne and Co., leather factors in the 1890s.
Bermondsey St. Charles Hymans, Wholesale and Export Skin Merchant, (1890s),
7, Bermondsey Street and Tooley
Street. Messrs. E.&H. Measures, Colour and Varnish Man, Lead, Oil and Glass Merchants,
the supply of high class reliable varnishes
and colours &etc., has become a matter of vital importance
for the various tradesmen who cater for a superior patronage.
1890s trade book.
There are in Bermondsey about twenty or thirty
manufacturers called fellmongers, whose business it is
to bring sheep-skins into a certain state of preparation
before the leather-dresser commences his operations thereon.
A Day in the Factories, 1843
London Scotia Bar - commemorates
the erstwhile trade in seal skins with Nova Scotia..
For a complete list of artisans and factories in Bermondsey Street Click Here
Detail from Cruikshank's Drunken Children Plate 2
Cruikshank The Drunkard's Children Plate 2||
Christy's workshops were on on both sides. In 1843, Christys was reputed to have been the worlds largest manufacturer. The Southwark silk hat trade employed about 1500 workers at the end of the 19th century. In the early Victorian period felt hats were popular.
An important chemical during the shaping of the hats was dilute sulphuric acid, a highly poisonous substance hence the saying as mad as a hatter. Beaver and rabbit skins were also used to make hats. Beaver skins were imported by the Hudsons Bay Company from the 1670s. In contrast to leather-workers, hatters organised themselves into combinations and unions.
Morocco Street, Bermondsey photo Central St Martins' students
Bermondsey has been for many years the principal
seat of the leather-manufacture in England, and derives
from this circumstance a character and appearance different
from those presented by any other district in London.
The cause to which this localisation seems to be most
correctly assigned, is the existence
of a series
of tide-streams, which, twice in every twenty-four hours,
supply a large quantity of water from the Thames for the
use of the tanners and leather-dressers...The skins from
nearly all the sheep slaughtered in London are conveyed
to a Skin-Market in the western part of Bermondsey, and
there sold by factors or salesmen, who act for the butchers,
to the fellmongers.
A Day in the Factories, 1843
The writer says that although each type of leather-worker
was employed in very different tasks, the yards and buildings
in which they worked looked very much the same; they would
have lived over the shop or very nearby. The
surface of the court or yard is in most cases intersected
by pits, or square cisterns, in which the skins are steeped
during some part of the manufacturing process.
Henry Mayhew wrote of a series of closely-adjacent
pits, filled to the brink with a dark, chocolate-coloured,
THE LEATHER MARKET AND LEATHER EXCHANGE
Butchers, Fellmongers, Leather Factors
The impressive building dates from 1879, although it is built on the site of its 1830s predecessor. Look at the roundels showing various activities in the leather industry. The complex was essentially divided into two, the market and the exchange. Some of the market, including slaughterhouses and animal pens, was destroyed in WWII. There was also a grand clock tower which has been destroyed or demolished. On the walls are roundels describing activities in the leather trade,
1.buying and selling of hides
2.unhairing and de-fleshing
3.hide being agitated in a pit.
4.tanned hide being rolled by hand and hides being hung up to dry.
Leather prepared by tanning using solution of oak-bark oxen, bulls, buffaloes, cows the strongest hides. These leathers took the longest to soak (up to two years) and were used for the soles of shoes and for saddles. In Thomas Hardys novel The Woodlanders, Mr. Melburys forest business includes bark-stripping.
Leather prepared with Sumach (extract from a tannin-rich plant grown in Hungary) Goat, a thinner hide.
This became Morocco leather, which took rich dyes well and was quicker to produce. It was used for coach-linings and chair-covers.
An inferior type, made from split sheepskin skiver was used for book-covers, hat-linings, and pocket-books.
Leather prepared with Alum kid, imitation kid (made of sheepskin) and lamb
This process was called tawing and the finished product was used for gloves and ladies shoes. Kid was used for better products, and imitation kid for cheaper goods.
All leather-work created foul smells. Alum was made partly of urine, and another essential ingredient for Alum preparation was pure, or dogs faeces! Pure gatherers would be paid to pick it up from the streets and from pedigree kennels on the outskirts of London. (A 19th century public heath inspection revealed that a railway arch was used to store the stuff in, giving the immediate area a very foul smell.) Curriers softened the hides, parchment makers created fine filmy sheets out of split sheep-skins.
Dickens remembered the Leather Market as full of evil smells from the hides, and the substances they had been processed in.
Page updated 5th Feb 2005