|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.
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
|Redriff Estate on a modern|
map of Rotherhithe
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
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?
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
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 on the building.co.uk website entitled How do we get from this ...... to this?
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 https://twitter.com/e44blackwall/status/526803231566229504.
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 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.
Sonia Soltani's article How do we get from this ...... to this?