SE16 is Rotherhithe – of Tunnel fame but also much else as we shall see.
We start our walk at the Post Office at 142 Lower Road. Turn left out of the Post Office and continue along Lower Road past Surrey Quays station.
Our first stop is just on the left
Stop 1: Southwark Park
But as you go into the park, notice the pub just along Lower Road.
This pub was the site of an 18th century theatre and a 19th century tea garden.
Here is a link to a blog post with a bit of the history:
Unfortunately, it is a pub which may not have much future as the freehold has been sold to developers.
Now go into the Park. This park was opened in 1869 by the Metropolitan Board of Works and was one of the Board’s first parks.
Follow the path as it curves ahead to the left. Just where the path begins to curve the other way have a look to your left and you will see a low white building.
This proclaims it is a Gallery, although it is quite small and seems to be used for special exhibitions rather than being open all the time.
Continue along the path and soon on the left you will see a path to a lake. Go down here and follow the path round to the right. This will take you to the Ada Salter Rose Garden
This lovely garden was created in 1936 as evidenced by this sundial.
Ada Salter (1866 -1942) and her husband Alfred devoted their lives to improving the lot of local people in the first part of the 20th century, and at some personal cost. They lost their only child, Joyce, at age 8 to Scarlet Fever, a disease rife in poor areas, and they were bombed out of their house in 1941.
Sadly neither lived to see the end of the Second World War and the substantial rebuilding of the area after the war. I wonder what they would have made of the area now that the docks have closed and been redeveloped.
Ada was one of the first women councillors in London, the first woman mayor in London and the first Labour woman mayor in the British Isles.
She campaigned to address the slum housing in Bermondsey and she also led a campaign to beautify Bermondsey. She lobbied the London County Council to improve Southwark Park amongst other things and this rose garden was one of the results.
After it opened in 1936, it became known as Ada Salter’s Garden, although the London County Council only formally gave it this name in 1943 after her death.
More about Ada and her husband can be found in this blog post:
Now head out of the gate you came in and look at the green on your left. You will see a small stone going green.
This stone is really hard to read but it is a commemoration to Ada Salter.
Now head back. Ahead, you will see some park gates.
(This by the way is unhelpfully the view you get from outside the park!)
Go out these gates which lead into Gomm Road. Our next stop is in the terrace of houses on the left hand side.
Stop 2: Number 36, Gomm Road
Number 36 has a Southwark blue plaque to another person who was dedicated to improving the lot of others.
Richard Carr-Gomm (1922 – 2008) was the founder of the Abbeyfield Society and the Carr-Gomm Society, which are British charities providing care and housing for disadvantaged and lonely people.
According to the Abbeyfield website:
“The first Abbeyfield house was established in 1956 by Richard Carr-Gomm. He recognised that a lot of older people were living alone and feeling isolated in their own communities and wanted to provide them with a safe and secure home where they could find friendship and support.
Soon after purchasing a house in Bermondsey and inviting two local residents to move in, he had purchased five more properties and formally set up The Abbeyfield Society. Before long, volunteers around the county had formed their own societies and the dream of a nationwide charity providing high quality housing, support and companionship in later life had become a reality.”
Now go to the end of the street and turn left into Lower Road. The building at this corner by the way is the delightfully named Seven Islands Leisure Centre.
This is on the site of Rotherhithe Town Hall which was destroyed by German rockets in 1944.
The attached link has a log of the V1 and V2 rockets which hit this area.
This notes that no less than 3 V1 and 2 V2 rockets landed in the vicinity of the Town Hall, and the nearby St Olave’s Hospital, with devastating effect.
Now cross over and just opposite the Leisure Centre is a building called Orchard House.
Not very inspiring but this was the last London home of an African king – popularly known by the press as King Freddie.
He was actually named Major General Sir Edward Frederick William David Walugembe Mutebi Luwangula Muteesa II (1924 – 1969). He became Kabaka (king) of the Kingdom of Buganda in November 1939. He was the thirty-fifth Kabaka of Buganda and the first President of Uganda. But he was deposed in 1966 and spent his last years here. He died of alcohol poisoning in November 1969 and there was some speculation that he was assassinated by being force-fed vodka.
Now cross over the side street (Surrey Quays Road) and go into the little park on your right. This is called King George’s Field
Stop 3: King George’s Field/Dock Office
This open space is named after King George V who died in 1936. After his death, there were lots of playing fields and open spaces created and named after him. The playing field here was laid out on the site of All Saints Church which was destroyed in one of those German rocket attacks in World War II. This little park opened in 1957.
If you go in the gate and along the path you will see an old building ahead on the right outside the park.
This is one of the few buildings left from the old Surrey Commercial Docks.
The docks here started to be developed in the 18th century and gradually the majority of the land within the sweep of the Thames around Rotherhithe was taken into the dock area. In fact there were nine separate docks; some with names connected with to places being traded with: Canada Dock, Quebec Dock, Greenland Dock, Norway Dock and Russia Dock.
The docks closed in 1969 as they were too small to handle container ships. Most of the docks have been filled in except for Greenland Dock and a bit of Canada Dock. The area has now been redeveloped mainly with housing, but also with the Surrey Quays shopping centre.
The old building was the Dock Superintendent’s office built 1887.
There is also a Southwark borough blue plaque on the building.
This commemorates the fact that on 7 September 1940 the docks were set on fire in the first air raid of the Blitz. Obviously being a dock area this was a prime target throughout the War.
Now retrace your steps back to Lower Road, cross over the road and turn right along Lower Road. Our next stop is just on the left past some almhouses (which are worth a peek)
This terrace of 7 cottages was built in 1902 under the terms of the will of Charles John Peele, a director at a local factory Brandram Brothers, to the memory of his mother who had died in 1890. Brandrams ran a chemical works dealing with many rather nasty substances such as white lead, saltpetre and sulphuric acid. Their factory was nearby, just behind All Saints churchyard. It closed in 1958 and demolished for the construction of a housing development called the Canada Estate in 1962.
These cottages are now managed by Hanover Housing Association.
Go a short way along Lower Road. Our next stop is at the corner of Ann Moss Way, which is on your left.
Stop 4: Site of St Olave’s Hospital, Lower Road
The land here was once the location of St Olave’s Hospital. Almost the whole site has been redeveloped for housing but at the corner of Ann Moss Way is an old house and on that house is another Southwark blue plaque.
This commemorates the fact that St Olave’s Hospital was in 1933 the birthplace of actor Sir Michael Caine. Of course the name he was given by his parents was not Michael Caine – it was Maurice Joseph Micklewhite Jr. And there is an often told story of how he came to be known as Michael Caine.
When he started acting (in 1953 in Horsham, West Sussex!), he took the stage name of Michael Scott. But the next year, he got work in London and there was already a Michael Scott performing as an actor in London. Caine learnt this when speaking to his agent from a phone box in Leicester Square. His agent told him to come up with a new name immediately. The young actor looked around for inspiration and seeing that The Caine Mutiny was being shown at the Odeon Cinema, he decided to change his name to “Michael Caine”. The rest as they say is history.
Now keep going along Lower Road and you will see a roundabout and off this is the approach road to the Rotherhithe tunnel, our next stop.
Stop 5: Rotherhithe Tunnel
The Rotherhithe Tunnel is one of three road crossings which go under the Thames. It was opened in June 1908 and unlike the other tunnels (Blackwall and Dartford) it was not later duplicated, so uniquely the Rotherhithe Tunnel has two way traffic.
It also has a footpath along each side, if you are brave (or foolhardy) enough to walk through. It is not unknown for cyclists to use the footpaths, which is hardly surprising given the heavy traffic on the actual road and the road’s limited width.
Now if you look to the right of the Tunnel approach road you will see an elegant church building, which is at the start of Albion Street, our next stop.
Stop 6: Albion Street
Albion Street is rather sad today with its shabby shops bookended by two closed pubs. The Albion and the Little Crown.
But it does have two unusual churches, which are legacies of this area’s seafaring connections. First at the start of the street, on the left, is the Norwegian Church
This dates from 1927 and is dedicated to St Olave.
Olave was King of Norway, who attempted to convert his people to Christianity and was martyred in 1030. He was an ally of the English King, Ethelred the Unready, and is said to have helped defend London against Danish invaders. As a result, he was quite popular in London. There were at one time 5 churches dedicated to St Olave in the City plus one in Southwark, near London Bridge.
And a little further along the street is the Finnish Church, which dates from 1958, and does not look at all like a church. In fact the tower is rather reminiscent of a post-war fire station.
By the way just before the church, opposite the shops, there is an empty site. This I think was the location of Rotherhithe Civic Centre and Library. And between that and the Finnish Church, there was once a small piazza.
This was the location of a statue called “Bermondsey Boy” by Tommy Steele – yes that Tommy Steele the 1950s rocker, later star of stage and screen. He was born in Bermondsey.
Sadly we cannot see that statue today because it was stolen (presumably for its scrap value) in 1998. Architectural guru Pevsner notes that the statue is “of curiosity value only”.
There is a picture on Twitter of Tommy Steele unveiling the statue in 1975: https://twitter.com/bermondseybeat/status/747853313551523840?lang=en
A little way past the Finnish Church you will see a passageway with an old lamp above it.
Go down here and you get to the Rotherhithe Tunnel approach road. Here you can get a much better view of the tunnel portal and the inscription above.
Go back up to Albion Street and turn left then turn along Old Railway Walk.
Ahead you will see Rotherhithe station.
This station, like Surrey Quays station, was on the old East London railway line which opened in December 1869. This utilised the tunnel under the Thames designed by Marc Isambard Brunel and built by him and his rather more famous son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. This line has been part of the London Overground since 2010.
The Tunnel was the first under a navigable river and had been built between 1825 and 1843 for horse-drawn carriages. The tunnel had generous headroom and two carriageways separated by arches. Whilst it was a triumph of civil engineering, there was not enough money to complete it properly with ramps for the carriages, so it was a commercial failure because it could only be used a foot tunnel. By the 1860s it had become an unpleasant and disreputable place but its scale meant it was big enough to be converted to rail use.
Back in May 2014 I was fortunate in being able to walk along the Brunel Thames tunnel. Here is link to my blog about that day:
Go down the side street by the station, following the sign for the Brunel Museum, which is our next stop.
Stop 7: Brunel Museum
The museum in housed in the Brunel Engine House, which was designed by Marc Isambard Brunel to be part of the infrastructure of the Thames Tunnel. Although the blue plaque outside is dedicated to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the museum is as much about the father as the son.
Now you will see a sign pointing to Sands Films. Follow that round, which takes you into St Marychurch Street.
Stop 8: Sands Film Studio
Sands Films is a small British film production company, founded in the mid 1970s. The business is housed in a former granary and includes a small film stage, film theatre, picture library, workshops and costume stores.
I was hovering by the door when a man called Neil came up to me and asked if I would like to go in. I took him up on his invitation.
He told me about the film they are currently working on (The Good Soldier Schwejk, based on an unfinished satirical dark comedy novel by Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek.).
And he explained about The Rotherhithe Picture Research Library. Established here in 1975, it is a reference collection, freely available to anyone wishing to do picture research. But unlike most other picture libraries which are commercial, this one is a non-profit-making charity.
And he took me further into the building past miscellaneous costumes and props to show me a cinema like no other.
They have regular screenings of films here. It is free but they ask for a donation.
Here is a link to the booking page:
Thank you Neil for your time.
Now continue down St Marychurch Street and our next stop is ahead at the end.
Stop 9: The Mayflower pub
Here is a nice old pub and it is called the Mayflower after the ship that sailed from here in 1620 taking religious puritans to settle in the New World.
This is one of the most atmospheric parts of Rotherhithe, and a nice pub to pop in.
Now you will be able to see the church from here. Head to the right side and go into the churchyard.
Stop 10: St. Mary’s Church, St. Marychurch Street
There has been a church here since medieval times but the church we see today was built in the 18th century.
Pevsner says “The rebuilding started in 1714 but was still incomplete in 1737. The west tower has an inscription of 1747 and the chancel is possibly as late as that.” The spire though is even later having been rebuilt in 1861
Go round the church past the spire and find the door on the south side. Note the Southwark blue plaque about the sailing of the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower.
The church is lovely inside
Now return to Rotherhithe Street and turn left and go straight ahead through this alleyway..
When you reach Kings Stairs Close, you will see a terrace opening up to the river and the way ahead is called Kings Stairs Close.
There is no way through straight ahead and you need to go along the riverside terrace. But you would anyway be drawn to this as it has great views of the City.
Walk under the brick structure and along the river terrace. The view gets changes, with St Paul’s now visible. But the Walkie Talkie dominates, standing as it does away from the cluster of other tall buildings in the City.
Then you will see this Silver Jubilee stone. Keep going
Head past the Angel pub which will be on your right..
Stop 11: site of King Edward III’s Manor House
Then just here on the left is a bit of a surprise – some stones which turn out to be all that is left of a house dating from the mid 14th century.
King Edward III reigned from 1327 to 1377 and built a house here in 1353. The buildings were surrounded by a moat on three sides and with the fourth side originally open to the River Thames. This allowed the king to arrive by boat.
By the end of the 16th century the Thames waterfront had been pushed northwards by land reclamation, so the old King’s residence was now completely enclosed by a moat. The Crown eventually sold the residence and it passed into private hands and was known as the “moted place”.
In the 17th century the site became used as a pottery and in the 18th and 19th centuries warehouses were built across the site. In the 1970s the warehouses were demolished and in the 1980s the London Docklands Development Corporation redeveloped the area and in doing so allowed archaeological investigations by the Museum of London which established here were the remains of Edward III’s residence.
There is some more detail on the following link: https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/king-edward-iii-manor-house
Now look back towards the river and you will see our final stop.
Stop 12: The Salter family sculptures
Sitting facing the river is Dr Salter. To the left is his wife, Ada. Then on the riverbank wall is their daughter and her cat.
And here is a view looking back to the Angel pub.
In 1991, sculptor Diane Gorvin created ‘Dr Salter’s Daydream’ which had the Doctor watching his daughter play and her pet cat. However in November 2011 the statue of Dr Salter was stolen, presumably by metal thieves. Southwark Council put the remaining statues of Joyce and her cat into storage. Money was raised to make a replacement of Dr Salter plus a new one of his wife. All four pieces were installed in November 2014, guarded over by CCTV.
We are now at the end of our SE16 walk. Rotherhithe is a fascinating place once you start looking. I was surprised to find the remains of a 14th century manor house and to learn of the connection with the Mayflower and the puritan emigrants. Then we have two tunnels under the river, the Brunel Museum and the Sands Film Studio and associated picture library.
It is probably easiest to go back to Rotherhithe station for onward travel. But if you are feeling energetic (and the weather is nice) you can keep walking along the Thames Path and drop off at Bermondsey or even go all the way to Tower Bridge or London Bridge.