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[Bermondsey Abbey] [Food Processing] [Leather Industry] [St Mary Magdalen Church] [Railway]

A Priory dedicated to St Saviour was founded in 1082 by Aylwin Child and took 7 years to build. The Cluniac monks came from France and were given property by William II, Henry I, Stephen & Edward I. In 1213 an almonry was set up which later became St Thomas's Hospital. In the 1380s the establishment broke from France and undertook building work becoming a Benedictine Abbey in 1399. It surrended to Henry VIII in 1537-8 when the abbot was given a pension and later made Bishop of Hereford. The abbey buildings were sold and pulled down and the materials used by Sir Thomas Pope to build Bermondsey House (since demolished). The only remnant of the abbey is some stonework of the East Gate (demolished 1760) within 7 Grange Walk where some hinges can be seen. The 300' nave lay along the line of Abbey Street with the crossing at the present Tower Bridge Road junction. Bermondsey Square was the site of a courtyard with an inner gate to the north (demolished 1805) and an outer gate onto Bermondsey Street. Prior to the redevelopment of Bermondsey Square archaeological excavations were undertaken. Grange Walk and Grange Road mark the location of the abbey farm. Goods could be transported along the Neckinger to/from St Saviour's Dock and there was a riverside corn mill at present Mill Street.

The church was built for servants and tenants of the abbey and is first mentioned in the 1290s. After the Dissolution it became a parish church. It was rebuilt in 1680 by an unknown architect incorporating 13th century remains at the west end. Galleries were added in 1793 and the tower and west front was altered by George Porter in 1830. It has two large candelabra of 1698 & 1703, a painted reredos and a churchwardens' pew. The church was repaired in 1952 and again in 1971 following a fire. The salvaged remains of the organ loft were made into a cupboard. The churchyard was closed to burials in 1854 and became a dumping ground until the 1870s when it was made into a public park. The building in the south west corner was a watch house built in 1810. From here graves could be protected against graverobbers attempting to supply corpses to Guy's and St Thomas's Hospitals. It was also where the Bermondsey watchmen reported for duty (10pm in summer, 9pm in winter) before setting off on their rounds. Any malefactors or disturbers of the peace could be detained in the watch house. The premises were later used by Ashford's Laundry. The church is generally open on Fridays mornings.

This dates back to the Middle Ages. Skins came from the butchers of London and were processed using local water supplies and oak bark before being sold in City markets. In the 1830s the market for this trade was set up in Bermondsey. Some of the buildings, including a clocktower and slaughterhouses, were destroyed by bombing in WWII. Those remaining are now occupied by various offices and workshops including glassblowing. The adjacent Leather Exchange building of 1879 (Weston Street/Leathermarket Street) is decorated with plaques showing the processes of the industry. Leather making was one of the noxious industries which was not welcome in the city. Skilled craftsmen were needed and the industry employed immigrant workers from Flanders and Holland. Houses such as 146-8 Long Lane of c1730 would have been the homes of leather merchants. Rocque's map of 1745 shows tanner's yards along Long Lane and by the Grange and the OS map of 1914 shows numerous tanneries in the area. Only names such as Tanner Street, Morocco Street and The Tanneries are left as reminders of the industry. Bevingtons began leather manufacture at the Neckinger Mills in 1801. They moved out in 1981 but their premises remain in Abbey Street. Bermondsey was noted for its hatters, who used the wool removed from sheepskins. Christys, at one time the largest hatters in the world with some 500 workers, left Bermondsey Street in 1972. The Alaska Factory in Grange Road was the premises of Martin fur merchants which made sealskin jackets. The entrance gate dated 1869 has a depiction of a seal. The factory was rebuilt to the designs of Wallis Gilbert and has now become apartments.

London's first passenger railway was opened in 1836 between Spa Road, Bermondsey and Deptford, soon extended to London Bridge and Greenwich. Designed by Lt Col Landmann the 4 mile track was constructed mainly across meadowland and supported on 878 arches using an estimated 60 million bricks! It was proposed to use the arches for housing but they proved unsuitable and many are now used for workshops and storage. A boulevard was incorporated along the length of the railway and the whole line was lit by gas supplied by the company's own gasworks. There were inclined planes or ramps at stations to enable carriages and vehicles to reach the line. Fares were one shilling in carriages and six pence in open cars. By the end of the decade it was carrying 2 million passengers a year. Spa Road Station closed in 1915 but the words 'Booking Office' can still be read from Priter Way.

The Bermondsey riverfront was known as London's Larder due to the volume of foods unloaded and stored. Numerous household names were processed in the area but none remain.
Courages (beer) - Horsleydown Lane
Crosse & Blackwell (pickles) - Crimscott Street
Hartleys (jams) - Tower Bridge Road
Jacobs (biscuits) - Wolseley Street
Pearce & Duffs (custard) - Spa Road
Peek Freans (biscuits) - Drummond Road
Sarsons (vinegar) - Tower Bridge Road
Spillers (dog biscuits) - Jacob Street 2009

This walk was based on information in ‘The Story of Bermondsey’ produced by and available from the London Borough of Southwark archives department. They have details of listed buildings in Southwark and a copy of 'Georgian Bermondsey' an architectural investigation report compiled by English Heritage. They also sell 'Southwark, Bermondsey & Rotherhithe in Old Photographs' by Stephen Humphrey

A free leaflet 'Discover the whole of Bermondsey' has been produced by Southwark Council. There is also a website version [click here]

Old OS Maps – London Sheet 77 - Bermondsey 1872/1894/1914 available to purchase from

View Bermondsey Street listings in street directories as follows: go to and select by location (London). Result 13 is 'PO London Directory 1882 - part 1 official & street directory'. Select Directory then Browse and image 204. Result 24 is 'PO London Directory 1915 - part 2 street directory'. Select Directory then Browse and image 46.

View entries in the notebooks compiled for Booth's Poverty Maps


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