Monday, March 23, 2015

Canada Water Masterplan - Stage 2 Consultation Report

From Lizzie Bird:

Following the consultation events in December 2014 which looked at the emerging  draft Canada Water Masterplan, all feedback has been compiled and analysed and we are please to share the report.

The full report can be downloaded here (16.06 MB/ PDF)

For a bite-sized version you can download the executive summary here (4.1 MB/ PDF)

All our reports are open to community review, please do take a look and let us know if you have any comments. If you have any difficulties downloading, let us know and we will get an alternate version to you. The feedback presented in this report has been shared and discussed directly with British Land and the design team to help inform development of a more detailed masterplan. 

Surrey Quays Leisure Park Site
It was announced at the beginning of March that British Land have acquired the freehold of the Surrey Quays Leisure Park Site. This is the area between Surrey Quays Road and Redriff Road where the cinema, bingo and bowling alley are. The Draft Masterplan shown in December included indicative proposals for this area, to help inform a joined-up approach. It is now possible for the Canada Water Masterplan to fully consider proposals for the SE16 Printworks Site, Surrey Quays Shopping Centre Site and the Surrey Quays Leisure Park Site together.

Over the next few months the masterplanning team will be working up more detailed proposals for the three sites. The next stage of consultation will be held in the coming months and will discuss the masterplan further; we will be back in touch with details soon.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Best wishes,

Lizzie Bird

Consultation Assistant
t    020 7729 1705

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"Between Bridgers" by F. Mary Wilson - A request for information

A group of local residents were recently discussing Mary Wilson's book Between Bridgers.  I know of only three people in Rotherhithe who have copies, all of whom come from long-standing Bermondsey and Rotherhithe families, but I am sure that there must be more copies squirrelled away and much-valued in local homes.  It would be great to see the book back in print, or made available online, but that depends on obtaining permission from the copyright holder. 

For those unfamiliar with the book, Between Bridgers was written by F. Mary Wilson in 1966, and was illustrated throughout by Mary Want.  I only got my paws on a copy recently, and I really could have made good use of it before.  Mary Wilson was a resident of Rotherhithe's Downtown area, the Head Teacher of Redriff Primary School and had expert knowledge of the area.  More than that, she had a real feel for the place, its present and its past. The "bridgers" of the book's title are the swing and lift bridges that crossed a number of cuts (links between different docks) in the Surrey Commercial Docks.  Although the book is not exclusively about Downtown, it does take a distinctly Downtown-centric view of things, and that's really refreshing because most books about Rotherhithe focus on the area around St Mary's Church, which is nowadays referred to as Rotherhithe village.

The book is divided into a number of chapters, which of which explores a different aspect of life in Rotherhithe:
  1. Rotherhithe Street - The Heart of Down Town
  2. River Mist
  3. Religious Life Down Town
  4. Education
  5. Surrey Commercial Docks
  6. Floods and Disasters
  7. Redriff in Literature
  8. Signs of the Sea
  9. Epilogue

The book was printed in 1966 by Copyprints Ltd of Borough High Street. Copyprints continue to do a good job from their new Borough High Street premises, and they tell me that as they only printed the book the copyright remains with F. Mary Wilson and her descendants.  Effectively, it was self-published.

So the question becomes - does anyone know F. Mary Wilson's family?  If they are still in the area, perhaps they too would be interested in seeing the book become available once more.  And if so, would it be possible to help me to get in touch with them to talk about getting the book either reprinted or published online, so that local residents can once again benefit from Mary Wilson's personal insights into Rotherhithe peninsula?  All help would be gratefully received.  It would be really nice to see this local classic available once again, for the enjoyment of all.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lavender Dock and Lavender Wharf 1684-1937 (today's Sovereign View)

Detail of Rocque's 1746 map showing Lavender Street and
the shipwrights' premises that occupied the sites that later
became Lavender Dock and Lavender Wharf.  The map
also shows some of the market gardens that were all
over Rotherhithe at this time, and probably gave
Lavender Street its name.
There are a number of buildings and features named Lavender, including three that I have already covered on previous posts:  Lavender Pond, Lavender Pumphouse and Lavender lock.   This post looks at the other two:  Lavender Dock and Lavender Wharf.  The site was immediately upriver from where the surviving Lavender Lock was built in 1862.  See the location of the site at SE16 5XH on this map on

The earliest known building on the site was a windmill, dating to around 1684, but no details about it survive.  Lavender Dock was the site of a shipbuilding yard from 1702 and ships were built at the site until the mid 19th Century.  In the early nineteenth century the site was divided into two, Lavender Dock and Lavender Wharf.  By the late 19th Century the shipyard had been filled in and it was replaced by a series of small wharf buildings known collectively as Lavender Wharf.  The site was further subdivided in the early 20th Century into Lavender Wharf and Grand Surrey Wharf.  All remains of the site were erased by the modern Barratts residential development Sovereign View.

The Lavender dock, wharf and lock names come from the name Lavender Street, which was what this stretch of Rotherhithe Street was called during the 18th Century, shown on the Rocque map of 1746, above.  Lavender Street was probably named for the growing of lavender in the local market gardens, where I was surprised to learn that it was a popular crop.

Unfortunately, the history of neither site forms a nice linear sequence, and the sequences of both sites are composed of bits and pieces of information cobbled together, but it is fascinating that such a small site should have such a multitude of uses over time.

All the ships mentioned in this post will be covered on future posts, if they have not already been covered.  

Lavender Dock

The site was a shipbuilding yard from 1702 until 1708 when, Stuart Rankin records, Edward Swallow had the site and built ships including the 50-gun Leopard and the 40-gun Southsea Castle.  In 1709 Swallow moved to Limehouse.

Following Swallow the yard was occupied by John Whetstone, one of a prominent family of barge and ship builders operating along the Thames.  He built a 50-gun ship called Gloucester at the yard, launched in 1745.  It appears to have been his only Royal Navy commission, perhaps because it took him two years to build, which was double the time taken by other ship builders in the area to complete similar vessels.  It is not recorded when Whetstone left the yard.  Rocque's famous map shows the whole section of frontage along Lavender Street between being occupied by shipwrights in 1746 (above right). 

Robert Inwood's frigate Southampton, built at Lavender Dock. From
British Warships in the Age of Sail 1714-1792: Design,
Construction, Careers and Fates, by Rif Winfield
In 1756 Rankin says that the yard was in the hands of Robert Inwood who built a number of ships for the Royal Navy during his tenure at the yard including the 10-gun sloop Spy, the 32-gun frigate Southampton, the 28-gun Aquilon, the 14-gun sloop Beaver and the frigate Boston and the 28-gun Hussar.  The frigate Southampton deserves special mention as she was the first of a new type of ships, indicating the esteem in which Inwood was held by the authorities who entrusted him with the job.

After Inwood's departure, at some point between 1770 and 1773 the yard was held by a number of ship builders to supplement their existing operations.  Immediately following Inwood, for example, the shipyard was briefly taken by the well known Peter Everit Mestaer, who already operated a number of other yards along the Thames, although he was here only briefly.  Although it is not recorded which of his ships were built here, it is possible that he took the yard only to fulfil specific commissions whilst his other yards were busy, or that he expanded too far and had to reduce his holdings later on. 

Trethivick's Catch-Me-Who-Can.
Sourced from Wikipedia
The site was split into two in the early 19th Century, with the dry dock and related ship building structures next to the remains of today's lock, and Lavender Wharf, as it became known, immediately downriver.  The dock was taken over as a ship breakers in the name of Job Cockshott in the early 1800s.  Ship breaking became a popular activity as the ship building industry went into decline, and there were several along Rotherhithe's frontage.  Ships were broken up and sold off for their parts.  Most valuable was their wood and their metal fittings, but even old rope had a certain value, as it was processed and re-worked into other products. Many famous naval warships met their ends at ship breakers like this.   Job Cockshott operated from the yard until 1824, when he died.  He invested in property in the immediate area, was a shareholder in the Commercial Docks Company, owned two ships of his own, and had an interest in Lavender Wharf.  Job Cockshott's story intersects with that of the engineer Richard Trevithick.  Trevithick is notable for many reasons, whose previous connection with Rotherhithe was  the failed attempt to tunnel under the Thames at Rotherhithe before Sir Marc Brunel's successful Thames Tunnel, and this will be covered on another post.  At the time of his meeting with Job Cockshot he had premises nearby and was working on a number of projects to develop ship and dock related machinery.  His most famous invention was the high pressure steam engine to power his Catch Me Who Can railway locomotive, which was displayed with great fanfare in July 1808.   The Catch Me Who Can was not, however, a commercial success, attracting crowds, achieving enduring novelty status, but no investment.   Trethivick presumably went into business with Cockshott to reduce his losses and they entered into an agreement to install the locomotive's machinery in the former Lord Mayor's State Barge to power an internally installed paddle wheel.  Unfortunately the story ends there, and nothing seems to have come from the venture.

Lavender Wharf and Lavender Dock.
Rotherhithe Rating Valuation Plan 1862.
From Stuart Rankin's Shipbuilding in Rotherhithe No. 4b
The next couple of decades are unclear, and the site was probably used for various small ventures, including ship breaking, repairs and barge building.  However, by 1865 the shipyard had passed into the hands of John and William Walker and it entered another great ship building phase, this designing and building commercial rather than naval ships.  Of John Walker there is no surviving record, apart from the name of the business, although he was clearly related to William Walker.  William Walker was a shipbuilder who operated, at different times, out of Rotherhithe, Deptford, Poplar and Millwall.  William Walker specialized in composite ships. It was here that the Walker brothers built the composite clipper ship Mikado (upcoming post) and the subsequent three composite clippers about which I have already written: Shun Lee, Ambassador and Lothair.  Clippers were originally designed to serve the China tea industry, and were used in the Antipodean wool industry as well.  Sleek cargo carriers with tall masts and vast billowing sails, they were designed for speed.  Originally made purely of wood, they were improved by the use of iron frames to reinforce the structural integrity of the ships and expand the available storage space.  These composite ships came at the end of the age of the wooden tea clippers, and are amongst the most beautiful and successful. The Walkers' Lothair was one of the fastest ships of her day, her speeds comparing to those of the more famous Thermopylae and Cutty Sark.  Lovely Lothair, launched in 1870, was the last large sailing ship to be built in a Rotherhithe shipyard.

Ambassador, built by William Walker
at the Lavender Dock (Thomas J. Duggan 1869)
Lavender Dock was marked on the 1868 Ordnance Survey map, and James Turner had the dock from October 1873 to 1886, and was succeeded by John Medhurst who was there until at least 1890, but the dry dock had vanished on the Ordnance Survey map by 1894, by which time it had been filled in and the entire site was now marked as Lavender Wharf.  There is a lot of overlap between the dock and the wharf, with wharf buildings being occupied at the same time as the dock site from at least the early 19th Century.

Lavender Wharf

Wharves are a nightmare to find out about from secondary sources.  I've already posted about other wharves and have found that as with many of the almost countless other wharves around Rotherhithe, it is frustratingly difficult to find out much about any of them.  Many of them had additional buildings added and removed over time, and not all of the available maps show these transformations.  Many of them had name changes, which make them difficult to trace in records. Wharves habitually changed hands many times, sometimes with new owners, sometimes new leaseholders, and tracing their histories is often more a matter of listing names of successive owners rather than learning much about how individual buildings were used, what cargoes were handled and what their owners were like and where they came from. Lavender Wharf is unfortunately no different.

Lavender Wharf and Dock, from the 1843 Rotherhithe
Rating Valuation Plan. From Stuart Rankin's
Shipbuilding in Rotherhithe No. 4b.
Lavender Wharf was a river frontage and buildings immediately down river of the Horseferry Stairs, which divided it from Horseferry yard.  It was built over part of the shipbuilding yard of Lavender Dock, which it eventually replaced, and wharf premises co-existed with the dock for many decades. The company Beech, Whitaker and Brannon had Lavender Wharf until 1818, when they published in the London Gazette to announce that the partnership had been dissolved but it is by no means clear what they did.  As wharfingers they would have handled cargo delivered by boat, but whether they specialized in a particular cargo or handled general content is unknown.  According to an anonymous comment on a previous post, the James Brannon of the partnership lived from 1762-1818, so the partnership seems to have been dissolved on his death.  Job Cockshott had an interest in the wharf between around 1806 to 1824, apparently an extension of his shipbreaking activities at the Lavender Dock.  The overlap in these two sets of dates can probably be accounted for by the fact that Lavender Wharf was made up by a number of different buildings.

Following the death of Job Cockshott in 1824, Cockshott's Lavender Wharf lease was taken over by Thomas Beech, also for ship breaking.  On the Rotherhithe Rating Valuation Plan of 1843 it is shown as "Lavender Stone Wharf, Mr Manuelle," and there are seven buildings shown, four of which are labelled:  sheds, dwelling, blacksmith's shop and granary.  The granary was probably the former mould loft, adapted to a granary after the site ceased to be used for ship building.  Mould lofts were large flat surfaces that were used to draw out the hull and cross-sections of the ship, drafted by loftsmen, which were then used for templates for building ships.  In 1862 William Walker had amalgamated the dock and the wharf until around 1870, when the wharf and the dock were again leased as separate units and the wharf was leased to William Lund.  It seems likely that he is the same as the William Lund who commissioned Ambassador from the Walker. W. Lund and Sons established the Blue Anchor delivery line in 1869, and Ambassador was purchased as the primary ship of the brand new line particularly for the tea trade.  In 1895 part of the site was leased by a chicory manufacturer.

Lavender Wharf in 1914, highlighted, which is flanked by
Grand Surrey Wharf and Lavender lock
Between the 1890s and the late 1930s a number of Lavender Wharf  buildings were collectively occupied by W.B. Dick and Company (their registered premises was 233 Rotherhithe Street), which handled barrels of oil, delivered by river and stored in large tanks behind the premises.   The 1914 Ordnance Survey map shows that the site had now been further divided into two, with Lavender Wharf occupying the downriver part of the site next to Lavender Lock, and Grand Surrey Wharf occupying the upriver section.  W.B. Dick also occupied a building on the other side of the Lavender lock, and operated a number of motorized barges from its premises.  A rather nice account in London Night and Day 1951 describes how the W.B. Dick site could be distinguished by its aroma:  "In fog, pilots smell their way upriver.  Well, this is one of the places they smell.  And the distinctive smell is that produced in the processing of mineral lubricating oils."  One wonders quite what the smell was.  W.B. Dick expanded to take in Grand Surrey Wharf. The oil containers, five of them, are still shown on the 1984 Docklands History Survey.

Lavender Wharf in 1937, when it was the premises of W.B. Dick and Co.


Nowadays the land it inhabited is occupied by a modern pseudo-Regency residential development named, somewhat grandiosely given its dubious architectural merit, Sovereign View, running along the Thames Path.  I wonder which sovereign the developers (Barratts) may have had in mind when they named it?

The site of Lavender Dock and Lavender Wharf today,
seen from the Thames.  Lavender lock is at far left.
Courtesy Google Maps.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Canada Water Consultative Forum - Tonight's Agenda

Monday, 9th March 2015
at 7.00 pm
Alfred Salter Primary School, Quebec Way, Rotherhithe SE16


1.    Welcome and Introduction                                                                  7.00

2.    Apologies Approval/Amendments 1/12/14

3.    Matters Arising 1/12/14  

Rotherhithe & Surrey Docks Neighbourhood Planning
Brian Hodge

Broadband for Rotherhithe                                                   7.10
Brian Hodge & Damian Belson

4.    LBS Plan, Scoping Document and; CWAAP changes               7.20
           Tim Cutts – LBS

5.    BL Canada Water Masterplan -                                                        7.40
feedback from Stage 2 consultation and next steps
Eleanor Wright – BL
6.    Decathlon Site                                                                   8.10                  Tony Garner / Charlotte Steedman - Sellar  

7.    Site Updates                                                                       8.30

Albion Street former library        -  13-AP-4332 / Pauline A
Convoys Wharf                         -
Downtown                                -   Steve Cornish
Docklands Settlement                -  11-AP-2242 Lorraine Cavangh / Steve Cornish
Greenland Dock                        -
Library / Plaza                                        - 
Mast Leisure Centre                   -   BL      
Mulberry/ Kings                         -   13-AP-1429 + timetable Kim Humphreys
Open Spaces                            -   Jerry Hewitt
Site A  + B                                -   BL - Postbox   
Site C & E                                 -   12-AP-4126 Sellar’s report
Seven Islands                           -
Surrey Docks Stadium               -   14-AP-0309 / 14-AP-0310
QWIE (Woodlands)                   -   11-AP-2565 report

8.    A.O.B.                                                                                       8.45

Date of Next Meeting
Meeting will close at 9.00 pm

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book: "On The River: Memories of a Working River"

Enormous thanks to Alfie Read for lending this book to me.  It was he who loaned me Between Bridgers, and has plenty of terrific stories of his own.  On The River was published in 1989, on the centenary of the Dockers' Tanner Strike of 1889.  It covers all of the docks and the main channel of the river.  Fascinatingly it began as a piece of Reminiscence Theatre that used the words of the contributors and the songs they remembered to assemble a touring show. 

It begins with  a short Preface by Pam Schweitzer, one of the book's editors, and an Introduction by Ron Todd, the then General Secreatary of the Transport and General Workers' Union.  These are followed by some reflection son the Dockers' tanner Strike by Jack Jones.  But this book is not about political, commercial or industrial history.  It is social history, because this is a book of stories by people who lived on the river, worked in the docks and lived the lives that the river provided for them.  There are a series of chapters, each divided into a whole series of short themes.

The chapters are:  A Child's Eye View of the River; A Sense of Community; Riverside Views; Up and Down the River; Hard Times on the River; Disasters on the River; Riverside Trades; Lightermen The Aristocracy of the River; Dockers and Stevedores; The Building of the Dock; Labour Organisation and Industrial Disputes.

There are some terrific photographs of the river and the docks throughout, but the stories are what makes this come to life.  I'll give just a couple of examples, local ones.

This was written by Bill Lindley in the chapter "A Child's Eye View of the River," under the theme "Swimmers and the River Police:"
I've swum across to Wapping from Rotherhithe when I was twelve. You'd do it with a couple of your mates for a dare.  We used to go from Platform Wharf.  You'd wait for high water.  Couldn't do it if it wasn't high water.  We used to have to do it when there was no what they call 'Four Beetles and a Log' around - that was the coppers.  They used to call them 'Four Beetles and a Log' because they used to be in these long black boats you know.  And you had to watch them because Wapping police station was over there.  They'd drag you out of the water and give you a walloping.

In the chapter "Disasters on the River," Flo Lindley wrote about The Blitz:
Three o'clock in the afternoon, Jerry lit up the place.  He set fire to Surrey Docks. Again at five o'clock.  And then he came back at seven.  Luckily one bridge remained open.  Otherwise we would have lost everybody there.  That night I had a carrier bag with a blanket and two children in my arms and my mother and father with me.  I was going to the pub, and the police said to me, 'Don't go.'  They turned me back and I said, 'Why?' And of course, being inquisitive I went, didn't I?  I went and had a look.  And he'd bombed it, the pub, and the church, and the shop.  The first daylight raid we had. 

In the chapter "Lightermen" Frances Amelia Edwards writes about an incident with a coal barge in the Surrey Docks in 1954:
My husband Harry was working on the coal barges.  What happened one day was that there were six coal barges they were working on.  They'd got five of these away, but they couldn't get the other one out as the tide was too high and they had to cut the rope because they couldn't get out to it.  They left it, and they went and had a drink and a rest, and when they came back, the whole barge had got fixed inn between the dock piers.  People came from all over the place to have a look at it.  They had to wait till high tide to release the barge again.  There was a court of enquiry and they nearly lost their jobs, but the company was very short-staffed so they kept them on.  that was in the Surrey Docks in 1954.

The amazing generosity of the people who contributed to this book has made it an absolute classic, if you are interested in local history as it was actually lived.  In case people reading this post are interested, those contributors who are listed as living in Rotherhithe and Surrey Docks are:  Harry Brown, Fed Coombs, Nell Coombs, Morry Foley, Bill Lindley, Flo Lindley, Jimmy Newcombe, Lil Newcombe, Bill Wardell but there are contributors from all over the area, including Deptford, Greenwich, Blackheath, Limehouse, the Isle of Docs, Charlton, Stepney, Woolwich, Canning Town, Silvertown, Poplar etc.

There's no table of contents or index, so it's a matter of enjoying it in the order in which it is delivered, rather than flipping to the pages that might interest you most.  That suits me just fine, as the stories are all so fascinating.  Although it's about the Port of London as a whole, there's enough about Rotherhithe to keep me going for a very long time, and my recent Downtown post is going to need a major update, as are several others!

It's a wonderful book, and I've just ordered a second-hand copy of it.  So sad when books like this go out of print but thank goodness for online sources of second-hand books.

On The River. Memories of a Working River.
Edited by Pam Schweitzer and Charles Wegner
An Age Exchange Publication
ISBN 0947860096

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A brief history of Redriff Estate from 1931 - 1990

The area now occupied by Redriff Estate as it was
in 1914, with rows of terraced housing.  The Ship and
Whale public house, picked out above in dark
purple, is still open for business today.
Up until this point I have focused mainly on commercial buildings that were erected at the turn of the 20th Century.  But even though much of the older housing has been demolished, Rotherhithe is full of residential architecture - it's the main sort of building put up here since the First World War, and following the extensive destruction during the Blitz of the Second World War.  Much of the residential property built in the inter-war years was social housing, and there is a lot of it in Rotherhithe that survived the Blitz.

Before I start, I know that Redriff Estate has a great many residents living there today, and I'm sure that many have done a lot of research of their own and found out much more than I've been able to in the short time that I've been looking into it. I have doubtless missed out some important information but I have really done my best to keep the facts in order.  Redriff Estate has a splendid history, so please get in touch if you know of anything that you think should be added. One of the nice things about publishing on the Web is that everything can be updated! 

Redriff Estate, highlighted in purple, on a
1940 map of Rotherhithe
In the early to mid 1800s the site of the estate had been earmarked for high quality housing by the Bedford Estate Trustees who owned the land.  Some of those properties been built, but the surrounding dock industries, with its associated sounds and smells, made it an unattractive location in which to live. Instead, properties related to Greenland Dock grew up, including down-market houses, workshops and small shops. One of the workshops was the last figurehead carver in Rotherhithe. The above map shows what the area looked like by 1914, with terraced houses lining three roads:  Elgar Street, Odessa Street and Derrick Street in the middle. Although many of the buildings had changed by 1930, the road layout was still the same. Buildings, homes, shops and workshops that had stood where Redriff Estate now lies were destroyed in 1930.  F. Mary Wilson, the Head Teacher of Redriff Primary School remembered the area before the estate in her book Between Bridgers:  "The Odessa Street Clearance Area, so called by the Bermondsey Borough Council swept away many alleys, courts and tenements.  Such ancient names as Derrick Street gave way to Gulliver Street.  Sedgers Buildings, York Cottages, Gilbert Terrace, and the local bakehouse, all became locations of the past." Stuart Rankin says (in his Maritime Rotherhithe History Walk B) that "many proved to have been built using old ship's timbers."  One of the surviving buildings from the former residential area was the Ship and Whale public house which was built in the mid/late 1800s and is still there, serving Rotherhithe residents as it has for over a century (covered in an earlier post).

Redriff Estate on a modern
map of Rotherhithe
The Redriff Estate was put up in the 1930s. Derrick Street was effectively eliminated, Redriff was the traditional name for Rotherhithe, a suitable name for the large estate, but it was also the name of the nearby wharf (shown on the 1914 map above, now the site of the modern New Caledonia Wharf development).  Work began in 1931 and the complex was completed in 1940. Odessa Street and Elgar Street were retained, but Derrick Street was no longer required as a street and was subsumed into the development.  It is mentioned in several places that dignitaries from all over the UK attended the opening of such an enlightened project, but I have been unable to find out who they were.

The Redriff Estate was made up of eight blocks, but they differed from one another in size, as can be seen in the aerial photograph from the early 1950s below.  The three- and four-floor development stretched over several acres, with extensive communal facilities and outdoor areas.  

Redriff Estate in 1952. From the
"Britain From Above" archive, EAW045684
Although built with economies of scale in mind, to a single design concept throughout the site, it was conceived as anything but the faceless blocks associated with the 1960s. Designed to be both attractive and to house a community rather than just large numbers of people it had personality and colour, even before the modern paintwork.  All made of dark yellow and red brick, with white-painted upper levels, each block is slightly different, with decorative brickwork touches.  One of the blocks features a  wonderful soaring Art Deco arch through Walker House, picked out in black brick work, which is both charming and impressive. Pop Art supremo Roy Lichtenstein once called Art Deco the Art Nouveau for the home.

Stuart Rankin says that although electricity was now standard in most new homes, these were built with gas lighting and solid fuel cooking ranges, probably due to the fact that the nearest electricity works at Spa Road in Bermondsey being at full capacity.  The local gas supply station in Rotherhithe didn't shut down until 1956, and had supplied houses with lighting and heating for over a decade.  The Council gave residents the option to buy furniture for their new homes by adding small additional payment to their weekly property rental.

Redriff Estate in 1959. Photograph from Stephen Humphrey's
book Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Remembered.
Wonderful cars, but what on earth is that pile of
debris on the corner that seems to be drawing such
attention from both street and 2nd floor level?
The site, including 126 flats, was badly damaged during by fires during the bombing of the 7th September 1940, the first night of the 39-day London Blitz. The bombs hit Rotherhithe so badly that the fires were uncontrollable and had to be left to burn themselves out, largely due to the intensity of the fires in the timber yards. The area was evacuated and much of the Downtown area of Rotherhithe was lost in the blaze.  The 1838 Trinity Church, which had served the community for over a century, was one of the first churches in London to be destroyed by German bombing.  It was lucky that any of it survived at all, as much of Downtown was eradicated by the fires.

An eye-witness account was given by Tom Winters, a boy at the time of the Blitz.  He and his family had lived in the Holyoake Estate but when this was bombed they moved to Catford to live with his grandmother.  When this property was bombed four weeks later, they were re-housed in 136 Redriff Estate, a four room apartment on the ground floor.  He and his brother shared a bed in one room, whilst his parents and his two younger sisters shared another room.  Various accounts of life on the Redriff Estate during the Blitz by Tom Winters are reproduced in "The Longest Night: Voices from the Blitz" by Gavin Mortimer.  There is far too much to reproduce here so if you're interested in life in Rotherhithe at this time, it's well worth the purchase price.  Here's a short taster from the book, recounting Tom's experiences:

They heard the bombs come down, pushing the air before them.  Tom counted six, each one "absolutely terrifying."  "The noise quickly developed from the whistling down sound to a rushing ugly noise like an express train about to hit you."  Everyone in the flat threw themselves under the large wooden table in the centre of the room:  "We arrived in an untidy heap under the table at the same time as six bombs crashed into Redriff Estate" recalls Tom.  "Not with individual explosions but seemingly one terrific, almighty and terrible ear-piercing bang."

A harrowing story on the BBC website by another resident, Kenneth Alford Haines, who was also a boy at the time, says that many of the Redriff Estate residents perished after they had been evacuated for their safety to the local Keetons Road School:

As we got closer, we heard the faint sound of machinery, but didn't see a soul until we rounded the corner into Keetons Road where we were met with a scene of devastation.  The big school wasn't there anymore, just a few bits of wall and great heaps of rubble with clouds of dust rising from the activity of the Rescue Squads with their gear and lorries. A Rescue Worker stopped us getting any closer, and turned us away. We were horrified, the school had obviously suffered a direct hit when full of people.  We afterwards learned that close to 400 people had been killed there, some of them our neighbours and schoolmates, but mostly they were people who'd been evacuated by coach from the council estates close to Surrey Docks, mostly blocks of flats in the Redriff Road area, which was known locally as "round town". Many dockers and their families lived there.
Redriff Estate squat, 1983,, from
Ben Trovato's article "Squat
Post-war repairs were carried out, and people moved back in.  Photographs of the area in the early 50s shows people milling around, cars parked all along the roads, suggesting a generally well used residential area.  But when the docks began to close in the 1960s and work became hard to find, people moved away to find work, and most of Redriff Estate became derelict.   By the mid 1970s there was an uncomfortable mixture of paying tenants and squatters.  There is a brilliant set of colour photographs on Flickr of the estate in the late late 70s by Dave.P.C. at   (with thanks to @E44Blackwall for sending me the link on Twitter).

Author Ben Trovato, who was then unknown, wrote about inhabiting one of the squats on the estate in 1983, in an article called Squat Property on the Times Live, ZA website.  The link is now dead, and I've been unable to find a copy of it anywhere else, but I copied an excerpt from it at the time, which is sufficiently evocative of the article as a whole:
We’ve already picked out a ground-floor flat. Sticking to the shadows, we reach the door and go to work on the lock. It takes three minutes for the hacksaw blade to snap. The crowbar is no help. Nor are the screwdrivers. This leaves the sledge hammer. I pick it up with both hands and am about to deliver a death blow when a police siren cuts through the fog. We grab the tools and make it to the stairwell just as a sleek, white Rover veers into the estate. Cops pile out of it and begin searching an area 50m from us. They leave. We exhale. Ten minutes later, the lock shatters and the artist uses his Doc Marten boot to open the door. We replace the lock and become the legal occupants. Vote Labour. It seems too good to be true. A clean three-bedroom flat with a view of the Thames for which no rent will ever be paid or demanded. Sure, there is no electricity, gas or hot water, but we can’t exactly complain to the council.  After weeks of living by candlelight, which doubles as our central heating, we meet a gentleman who shows us how to bypass the meter for the price of a bottle of rum. Rotherhithe is a rough area, no doubt about it. There are half a dozen heroin dealers living within a five minute walk of one another. Some squatters have their cars set alight at night. Punks, skinheads and anarchists share an uneasy existence alongside angry, rent-paying Cockneys. These legitimate tenants hate us for living in flats identical to theirs, but for free. I come home one night to find “Squatters Will Die” spray- painted across the door.

Even the squatters left eventually, as described in an article by Sonia Soltani on the website entitled How do we get from this ...... to this?
Rotherhithe's derelict Redriff Estate, before
its 1980s rebuild.
The Redriff Estate on the fringe of London Docklands had all the problems of a typical rundown estate - and worse. When even squatters abandoned the derelict estate in the early 1980s, the alarm bells rang. Built around the perimeter of the Rotherhithe peninsula in south-east London in the 1930s as model local authority rented homes for dockers and their families, the Downtown Estates, to which Redriff belongs, were in a dire state 20 years ago, little more than a collection of burnt out shells. The decline of this part of the London Docklands after the Second World War was such that its only claim to fame was being used as a setting for war films such as Full Metal Jacket.

It was also used in the 1986 pilot episode of the 1980s television series London's Burning - photos of which are on Twitter at

However, as part of the London Dockland Development Corporation plans for a regenerated Rotherhithe, the entire estate was refurbished, as the article goes on to explain:

In the 1980s the dramatic juxtaposition of new upmarket private housing in London Docklands with the obvious poverty of the other docklands boroughs led Southwark council to transfer its vandalised squats to the London Docklands Development Corporation. This allowed the LDDC, local housing associations and the private sector to create a major mixed-tenure scheme. The amount of money poured into the project revealed the faith in the area's potential. The £55m Redriff Initiative on the Redriff Estate benefited from the largest ever single grant from the Housing Corporation - £22m. The rest of the funding came from the LDDC, a combination of public and private sector investment and Southwark council. A client consortium was set up comprising six locally based housing associations (South London Family Housing Association/Crystal Palace HA, Shackleton HA, Wandle HA, Housing for Women, Carr-Gomm HA and Peckham and Dulwich HA) together with Southwark council, the Housing Corporation and the LDDC. 

Although one block was demolished, formerly located on Odessa Street, 229 homes were created on the Redriff Estate for rent and shared ownership. A school and community facilities that had been located in the centre of the estate were demolished and this area was landscaped with additional car-parking areas added.  Part of the job was given to a private company:  Barratt East London, established in 1983 under project manager Alastair Baird.  It's nice to be able to credit Barratt with something good for a change (don't get me started on Ontario Point again). Sonia Soltani quotes Baird's recollections of the work: 
"We cleared the wreckage, from burned out cars to discarded drug needles, and then stripped out the shells, including all walls that were not load-bearing, which gave us the chance to reconfigure the flats. They were then re-roofed, re-floored and totally refurbished to provide modern conveniences such as fully-fitted kitchens and en suite bathrooms, increased levels of thermal and sound insulation, full heating, modern integrated wiring, and disabled facilities and access where required."

Bow-ended balconies were added, outside areas landscaped and parking space was expanded. Bright blue, red and green paint cheered things up considerably, nicely complementing the dark yellow brick.  
Barratt was fortunate with Redriff in that the buildings are traditional brick, rather than the sometimes more problematic system-built concrete. Also, there were no structural problems to contend with. Baird points out that all the original external features remained: "You've got character here. We've kept the character of this. It's better if you can keep the original features."

Flats are now occupied by both council tenants and private owners.  Wandering through on a sunny day, Redriff Estate has a range of colours and shapes to it that many estates simply lack.   It contrasts notably to the bland modern block opposite, New Caledonia Wharf, which lacks any of the warmth and variety of the far older Redriff Estate. 

The corner of Walker House
Photograph by Andie Byrnes

Walker House

Walker House arch

Elgar Street flats, showing decorative
brickwork. Photograph by Andie Byrnes

The corner of Gulliver Street and Elgar Street. 
Photograph by Chris Lordan,
under Creative Commons licence.

Particular thanks to the websites UK Housing Wiki and
Sonia Soltani's article
How do we get from this ...... to this?