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Setting the Scene
Why the Curtain Came Down
The Key Role of the LDDC
    ~ Background

    ~ LDDC's approach
    ~ Contribution to social, community and environmental projects
London Bridge City
Tower Bridge
Butlers Wharf
Mill Street to King's Stairs Gardens
The Future of the Area

Other Completion Booklets
LDDC Monographs
Popular Press Releases
Annual Reports and Accounts

Location Map

(Note: This Booklet has been reproduced by kind permission of the Commission for the New Towns now known as English Partnerships. It is published for general interest and research purposes only and may not be reproduced for other purposes except with the permission of English Partnerships who now hold the copyright of LDDC publications)

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by Sir Terence Conran

Some of my earliest memories involve London Docklands. As a small boy, I was sometimes brought here by my father, a dealer in gum copal resin with an office in Stepney. Together, we would come down to Docklands and watch freighters from the Belgian Congo unloading their cargoes.

Unloading cargoes in the Pool of LondonSince then, I've witnessed many changes: the decline of shipping; neglect and dereliction; the establishment of an artists' colony; and the area's renaissance as a vibrant part of London, a process that is still under way. In the next few years, the Tate Gallery hopes to open its new Museum of Modern Art nearby, and the ICA is considering new gallery spaces. Already, we can boast a range of restaurants and commercial art galleries to match any others in London. And the office spaces attract architects, designers and a host of other creative business people.

I have always believed that Butlers Wharf and the surrounding areas were uniquely placed to become a focus of cultural endeavours in London. This booklet provides a fascinating overview of the area's rich history and the many attractions now to be found here. I hope it will encourage you to explore the Victorian streets and to discover their secrets for yourself.

Sir Terence Conran

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On 30th October 1994, Bermondsey Riverside became the first part of the London Docklands Urban Development Area to be handed on by the London Docklands Development Corporation at the completion of its remit. It was the first because the progress of regeneration in Bermondsey Riverside has been rapid and far reaching and the area now faces a bright future as an important business, tourist and residential district of London.

The picture was very different in 1981, when the LDDC came into being. Its statutory task was to secure regeneration by bringing land and buildings into effective use, encouraging the development of existing and new industry, creating an attractive environment and ensuring that housing and social facilities were made available be encourage people to live and work in the area.

Bermondsey Riverside in 1981 required urgent attention under all those headings. It had become isolated from the mainstream economic activity of the Capital and was an increasingly empty and derelict area. The population was declining and stood at just over 3,400. Over 93?7 of households were living in Council rented properties, many in poor condition, and with only 2% in owner occupation. Some 60 acres of land and buildings were vacant or underused. Basic social and community facilities were available, but only to a modest standard. The appearance of the area, the quality of its environment and its public infrastructure reflected its decline.

The LDDC's work in Bermondsey Riverside is already being studied around the world as a model of how to act as facilitator, supporter and pump primer - for that is the Corporation's role throughout the Urban Development Area, rather than (as some mistakenly think) one of a statutory provider of services. In Bermondsey Riverside, only 5.2 of the area's 147 acres were vested directly in the LDDC. This served to underline the fact that the Corporation has had to work through others to paraphrase President Truman's definition of leadership, to persuade the people that what the Corporation wanted them to do for the area was what they wanted to do for themselves.

Tooley Street before redevelopmentFrom the start, the Corporation has worked constructively with Southwark Council, private owners and developers to find viable new roles for the area. Between 1981 and 1986 conversion schemes which enhanced the unique character of the area, such as Anchor Brewhouse, Butlers Wharf, New Concordia Wharf and the redevelopment of the former Courage Brewery (now known as Tower Bridge Piazza), were encouraged. In turn, they stimulated further development of a similar quality and sensitivity. Private contributions to the wider social and physical regeneration of the area were secured throughout the period.

Today Bermondsey Riverside's historic urban character has been conserved while its economy and environment has been transformed. New and vibrant businesses have become established, providing the area with a durable base for continued and sustained regeneration. For visitors, it contains major "must see" attractions such as HMS Belfast, Hay's Galleria, the London Dungeon and the Design Museum. Thanks to Sir Terence Conran, an area that was once a gastronomic desert contains the Gastrodrome, described by Egon Ronay as " An Aladdin's Cave for foodies". Imaginative warehouse conversions and new riverside housing have made it a highly desirable place to live. Regeneration is not finished. There is very substantial development and enhancement yet to come under the leadership of Southwark Council, building on the sure foundations laid by the LDDC during its 14 year stewardship. The future for Bermondsey Riverside is bright.

Eric Sorensen, Chief Executive
London Docklands Development Corporation

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Setting the SceneNew Concordia Wharf

Bermondsey Riverside stretches one and a half miles from London Bridge to the edge of Rotherhithe at King's Stairs Gardens.

The 18th and 19th century development of the area is inextricably linked to the growing importance of the Port of London and the British Empire. The area developed rapidly with wharves and warehouses served by a complicated maze of narrow streets lined with tightly packed rows of workers' houses, interspersed with larger and grander houses for merchants and dock officials. The dock economy was a fundamental influence on the physical and social structure of the area.

The massive warehouses became known as London's Larder: every variety of food, estimated to amount to three-quarters of London's imported provisions, was stored in Bermondsey Riverside. Often, the ships took a human cargo back with them on their return journey. For example in the 18th century, south German Protestants fleeing persecution were housed at Hay's Wharf before taking ship for America.

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Hays GalleriaWhy the Curtain Came Down

London's man-made docks to the east of Bermondsey Riverside were dogged by obsolescence from the moment they began to be dug at the start of the 19th century, and the waterside wharves and warehouses of Bermondsey were similarly affected.

The advent of steam meant bigger and bigger steamships as well as a railway network that revolutionised cargo distribution, whilst free trade and the liberalisation of port legislation allowed many other ports to open up and take business away from London. Whilst the Second World War saw a period of intense use, in the 1960s the inability of the older parts of the Port of London to compete with the expanding container ports downstream became rapidly evident.

It is said that containers were invented as a by-product of the Vietnam War to allow rapid, pilfer proof transportation of massive amounts of material. What is certain is that they caught on very quickly on this side of the Atlantic. Moreover, with containers came a new preference for road transportation away from the docks and Bermondsey Riverside, with its densely packed wharves and warehouses accessible only by narrow streets leading down from Tooley Street and Jamaica Road, was as ill-suited to container trucks as it was to container ships. Commercial shipping was thus rapidly driven out of the upper tidal reaches of the Thames.

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The Key Role of the LDDCDesign Museum


The London Docklands Development Corporation was established in July 1981 as the regeneration agency for the Docklands Urban Development Area. The then Secretary of State for the Environment, the Rt. Hon. Michael Heseltine, MP, emphasised at the time that the UDA offered "a major opportunity for the development that London needs over the last 20 years of the 20th century". He also emphasised that "London Docklands can only be successfully regenerated by a single-minded development agency".

Under the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980 the LDDC was given powers of development control and compulsory purchase. It was not, however, given powers or duties to make statutory development plans, which in the case of Bermondsey Riverside remained with the London Borough of Southwark. The Borough also retained responsibility for the full range of local government services in the area, including housing, highways, education and social and community services.

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The LDDC's approach

The regeneration of the area was not led by major investment in physical infrastructure, site preparation and land disposals. This was partly because very little land was vested in the LDDC, and also because Bermordsey Riverside differed from most other parts of London Docklands in that it already had a basic road infrastructure, so that site preparation costs were low: they mainly involved site clearance, river wall works to the vested land and archaeological excavation.

Cotton's AtriumThe LDDC achieved regeneration through partnership with other agencies - the private sector in particular, but also the local authority and other statutory authorities.

To find viable new roles for the area, and uses through which to recycle vacant land and buildings, the LDDC drew up a broad usage pattern for Bermondsey Riverside. This meant: first, mainly office redevelopment in the central area between London Bridge and Tower Bridge; second, the encouragement of mixed use redevelopment for the Butlers Wharf area; and third, the improvement and expansion of the existing mainly residential environment to the east of St Saviours Dock.

The success of the LDDC - and of individual developers - in achieving these targets can be judged in the area descriptions which follow.

The LDDC's positive and encouraging attitude proved to be of crucial help to the visionary new owners of Hay's Wharf, Butlers Wharf and other major sites. So did the importance which the LDDC attached to design quality and the need for development to respect established street patterns and built forms. An extremely good working relationship developed between the LDDC and the London Borough of Southwark, and the modified version of Southwark's Unitary Development Plan (1994) constitutes a flexible and responsive development framework which will ensure the continued regeneration of the area.

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The LDDC's contribution towards social, community and environmental projectsPlayground

Between 1981 and 1994, over 1,600 housing units were completed in the area (96% for owner occupation), of which 108 were constructed on land formerly owned by the LDDC. A further 333 local authority homes were refurbished in partnership with the London Borough of Southwark. These include the Cherry Garden and Millpond Estates, and represent an LDDC investment of 3.9 million.

The period following the closure of London's docks coincided with a period in which unskilled work opportunities rapidly declined across the Western world, rather than just in London Docklands. In 1987, 66% of the unemployed population of Bermondsey Riverside were long term unemployed. The LDDC pursued a strategy to establish and/or enhance vocational training to provide the skills required by new employers in the area, and set up a basic skills team to support all training organisations in Docklands.

It also provided support training in numeracy, literacy and life skills, alongside vocational skill training. Examples are the support of programmes in the Bede House project, which received 150,000, and Beormund Centre, which received 250,000. In cash terms the LDDC's education and training contributions include 439,000 to Southwark College's Bermondsey site, 223,000 to establish a construction training centre, 223,000 to set up IT computer training, 75,000 to St Joseph's Roman Catholic Primary School, 34,000 to St Michael's Roman Catholic Secondary School, 35,000 to the Riverside Primary School, and 263,000 to the Butlers Wharf Chef School.

The LDDC provided over 1 million from the capital programme and 700,000 revenue towards improvements to community facilities and services in the area.

Cherry Garden ParkIt made major contributions towards the renovation costs of the Beormund Centre, St Peter's Youth and Community Centre, the Scout House Building in Jamaica Road and St James's Church, and secured accommodation for a community nursery and Tenants' Association meeting hall in Butlers Wharf. Capital and revenue support were provided to local projects both in these facilities and elsewhere. For example, it provided funding to equip and run Bermondsey Nursery and support to Bermondsey Carers to enhance respite care for the elderly. Through liaison with the statutory health providers, medical facilities were also improved to keep pace with the increased demand arising from the growing population. A new doctor's surgery was established in Mill Street and the John Dixon Clinic was refurbished in partnership with Optimum Health Services Trust.

The LDDC contributed towards environmental works including the laying out of Cherry Garden Riverside Park. It improved facilities at Millpond Estate, and set up a rolling programme of street improvements and environmental enhancements in partnership with the local authority and private developers: this included street resurfacing, pavement renovation and tree planting. The extensive archaeological excavations of the remains of King Edward lll's Manor House were funded by the LDDC, which also commissioned the construction of the 400,000 pedestrian swing bridge at the mouth of St Saviours Dock, thus providing one of the few missing links in the Thames Path riverside walk on the south bank of the Thames.

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London Bridge City

Although this area of Southwark has served as part of London's harbour front since Roman times, the first key real estate development phase followed the completion of the original London Bridge in 1250. Monastic inns with gardens sprang up to serve country monks visiting London, such as the Inn of Battle Abbey on the site of Hay's Wharf.

London Bridge City - before and afterAfter Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, the area became increasingly given over to wharfage and commerce. Today's imposing brick warehouses were built on the site of smaller buildings in the I9th century. Fenning's, Cotton's and Hay's wharves were run by the proprietors of Hay's Wharf, whose association with the area went back 300 years. The Tooley Street fire in 1861 was the greatest spectacle London had seen since the Great Fire of 1666, and caused the worst damage sustained until the Second World War, which destroyed the old frontage of Hay's Wharf. In the early 1960s the pattern of wharfage began to change with the advent of containers, and by the 1970s river activity was virtually dead.

Revitalisation of the district began in the early 1980s when the St Martins Property Group, owners of Hay's Wharf embarked, with full LDDC support, on a mixed redevelopment comprising offices, apartments, a hospital, shopping and leisure, plus a riverside walk and public spaces. This first phase of London Bridge City, completed in 1987, created 1,250,000 sq ft of net office accommodation and other uses. It marked the first London Docklands office development to tempt City residents, just as Hay's Galleria marked the first new London Docklands tourist attraction to draw visitors to this side of the river.

Today, landmark buildings such as No. 1 London Bridge (or the old Fenning's Wharf site), the carefully refurbished art deco masterpiece of St 0laf at House, Cottons Centre and Hay's Galleria have established the high reputation of London Bridge City, whiIst HMS Belfast, the busy events programme at Hay's Galleria, food fairs, concerts and much else have put it firmly on the leisure map.

Successful though London Bridge City has been in creating a new city in the heart of the old, it is important to remember that this is only the first phase. Phase II is planned to complement what now exists, with a fine new piece of cityscape fronting the riverside at Queen's Walk, enclosing the beautiful new St Martin's Square, with its colonnades, fountains and decorated paving. Then Phase IIl will link Phases 1 and II, providing direct access to London Bridge station through its large circular atrium, and leading pedestrians from the Phase 1 to the new Phase IV quarter via a "Winter Garden" ground level internal street. The proposals for Phase IV of the development include a major riverside theatre which will enhance the attractions of the South Bank.

Phases II and III will complete the regeneration of this magnificent bank of the Pool of London, giving a riverside development complementing the City of London to the north. The 20th Century renewal of this historic area combines the grace and elegance of the ecclesiastical palaces of olden days with the bustle and life of its more recent past. The promising future for this new area is a tribute to St Martins Property Group, the LDDC and to Southwark Council.

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Constructing Tower BridgeTower Bridge

Tower Bridge is one of London's most famous and well-loved landmarks. Whilst the exterior is beautiful to view, the inside also has much of interest with a state of the-art exhibition and unrivalled panoramic views of London from the walkways.

The exhibition is housed in the two Gothic towers at either side of the bridge. Featuring animatronics, computer technology and videos, it takes the visitor back in time to Victorian England where you can be present when the decisions were made to construct the bridge, see how it was built and then join the Prince and Princess of Wales, in 1894, as guests of honour at the opening ceremony. The walkways along the top of the bridge offer an ideal opportunity for clear views down the River Thames and across the London skyline, taking in the Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral and Canary Wharf.

Tower Bridge is a masterpiece of Victorian architecture and engineering. At a time when London was one of the world's busiest and most important ports, it was necessary for the bridge to be able to provide easy access for pedestrians and carriages, as well as allowing 140 feet of clearance for shipping. These requirements led to the famous design of Tower Bridge whereby the crossing could be lifted by hydraulic power to allow ships to pass through.

Tower Bridge has truly stood the test of time. Whilst the technology was modernised in 1972, it still operates as was originally intended and at present it is raised on average 10 times a week.

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Butlers WharfButler's Wharf 1985

The Butlers Wharf building that dominates the south bank of the Thames to the east of Tower Bridge also lends its name to the 25 acre site on which it lies. It is named after a Mr Butler who traded in grain and in 1794 rented warehouses from the Thomas family. This reach of the Thames is known as the Pool of London, which from Roman times through to the building of enclosed docks in the 19th century accounted for much of the wealth, growth and prominence of London. However, the economic prosperity generated by shipping did not stop the surrounding area from being desperately poor; it was an urban slum that haunted the novels of Charles Dickens from Oliver Twist, his first, to Our Mutual Friend, his last.

Once known as the larder of London, the warren of streets and alleys that greet the visitor today are redolent of the area's rich history. For example, there is Horsleydown Lane, where some say King John was thrown from his horse; the lane lay on the edge of Horsey Downe, a large field used for fairs. Then there is Shad Thames, now the best surviving example of the dramatic canyons formed by warehouses in the area: the name is a corruption of "St John at Thames", a reference to the period when the area was settled by an Order of the Knights Templar in the 12th century. John Courage's Anchor Brewery was opened in Shad Thames in 1789 and operated until 1982.

The Butlers Wharf building was completed between 1871-73, Today the largest and most densely packed group of Victorian warehouses left in London, its sheer size was unusual even at the time: lightermen did not like working there because bridges between buildings meant they had to take their loaded barrows much further back from the shore than usual. Ships would unload grain, sugar, tea, cloves, cinnamon, rubber and tapioca. Trade continued to be brisk until the end of the Second World War, but soon afterwards business started to be lost to automated container terminals and the last ship called in 1972. In the early 1970s a group of artists, including David Hockney and Andrew Logan, had their studios in the area but Butlers Wharf was becoming increasingly derelict. Today, however, it is again a centre for studios and galleries, as well as wine bars, restaurants and cafes.Butler's Wharf today

In 1981, Sir Terence Conran, his business partners and his architectural practice Conran Roche put forward a bid for mixed use redevelopment which won approval from the LDDC. This included moving the Design Museum to Shad Thames from its basement space known as the Boilerhouse Project at the Victoria & Albert Museum, which took place in 1989. Next door is the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum, which traces the history of these two important former trades in the area.

The Conran group concentrated along the waterfront, renovating and developing six buildings: the Butlers Wharf Building itself, and the renamed Cardamom, Clove, Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Coriander warehouses. Further inland, other leading architects and developers converted derelict space and Victorian warehouses to handsome residential and commercial complexes such as Julyan Wickham's Tower Bridge Piazza and Piers Gough's The Circle, as well as a residential building for students of the London School of Economics. Today a bronze statue of "Jacob", a drayhorse, dominates The Circle. The LDDC built a pedestrian bridge linking Butlers Wharf to St Saviours Dock.

Today, the riverfront is dominated by the Gastrodrome, a complex of four restaurants and five specialist food shops, all run by Conran Restaurants, and dubbed "an Aladdin's cave for foodies" by Egon Ronay. The LDDC's last grant before handing over the area was 263,000 for the Chef School at Butlers Wharf, which officially opened in February 1996. The school is independently run and includes a guaranteed quota of places for local people. There is currently a shortage of chefs in London, in part caused by Sir Terence Conran's opening of several very large (and very successful) restaurants in the West End as well as in Butlers Wharf, so it is doubly appropriate that the Chef School should be located here.<St Saviour's Dock early 20th century

There is now a thriving community of people living and working in the area, and the number of tourists eager to visit Butlers Wharf is rapidly rising. They are already very well served by bars, cafes and restaurants too numerous to mention individually, as well as by fascinating and unusual shops.

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Mill Street to King Stairs Gardens

This part of Bermondsey has a history of settlement dating back some 3,500 years, older than any other part of south-east England. The landscape at that time would have been very different, with low-lying islands and a much wider, constantly flooding Thames: ploughmarks dating to c.1500 BC have been discovered in Wolseley Street, some three metres below present-day ground level. The Romans must have found it an attractive, fertile spot despite the flooding, and excavations at Cherry Garden Street have revealed part of a Roman cremation cemetery.

St Saviour's Dock todayIn the early medieval period the monks of Bermondsey Abbey diverted the river Neckinger (now subterranean) to serve a water mill, after which Mill Street is named. Edward Ill built a moated manor house at Rotherhithe: now partially excavated, it can be seen at the junction of Bermondsey Wall Street and Cathay Street.

The 17th century saw a growth in overseas shipping and trade, and tanning had become a major industry in Bermondsey by the 18th century. By the 19th century, the area known as Jacobs Island had become, in the words of Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist, "the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London".

One of the first initiatives to revive the area came from the former Bermondsey Borough Council which - taking its cue from the work of Dr Alfred Salter, a pioneering local doctor, Member of Parliament and campaigner - built the Wilson Grove Estate in the 1920s, one of the first in London to provide municipal housing in "garden village" form.Edward III Manor House This is now a Conservation Area named after Dr Salter. The area to the north is Cherry Garden Pier and King's Stairs Gardens. There were indeed cherry trees growing here once, and Samuel Pepys is on record as having bought some to take home to his long-suffering wife. As for the King's Stairs, the King in question was Edward Ill, the chivalrous king who not only won the Battle of Crecy in 1346 but created the Order of the Garter by picking up a lady's fallen garter and declaring "Honi soit qui rnal y pense" (Evil to him who evil thinks). As for his manor house, which he used the stairs to get to, after a controversial architectural competition in 1983, a compromise resulted in one third being developed as local authority housing and one third as private housing. The remainder - Edward III's Manor House, whose discovery was a happy by-product of the competition - being left as an historic site after excavation, which was funded by the LDDC to the tune of 700,000.

The main Conservation Area is centred around St Saviours Dock. At the back of the dock, in Mill Street, is New Concordia Wharf, the very first residential conversion in Docklands. Bought in 1980 by the 23 year-old Andrew Wadsworth, this became a model conversion, both for the meticulous respect for history, and for the care taken to make the development mixed-use. Next door is Piers Gough's China Wharf, which has to be seen from the river for the full effect: its spectacular orange red scalloped windows look out over the Thames.

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Dr Salter's DaydreamThe Future of the Area

The Pool of London -the area stretching from London Bridge through the Butlers Wharf and Mill Street developments to Rotherhithe - forms one of the most distinctive locations on the south bank of the Thames. The area boasts a unique history, a rich and varied architectural and cultural heritage, and a range of opportunities for the visitor to experience.

Now more than ever, visitors are discovering the delights of the south bank, aided by the active participation of businesses, local authorities and other agencies. London continues to attract millions of tourists each year, drawn by the unequalled mix of day- and night-time culture, historic sites and excellent modern design and cuisine. Such attractions are increasingly available south of the Thames.

Initiatives to improve public transport are continuing the process of returning the south bank of the Thames to its role as an integral part of central London: the extension of the Jubilee Line, the upgrading of London Bridge Station and Southwark Council's provision of safe, convenient and stimulating pedestrian routes are all part of this process.

Handing over ceremony 1984Bermondsey Riverside will continue to be supported by Southwark Council to play its unique role in the future shape and function of central London. Its architectural richness will continue to be protected and enhanced by sensitive traffic-management schemes which will enable pleasurable and safe pedestrian exploration. The contribution the area can make to a stimulating riverfront, to increase use of river transport, and to an expansion of retailing on the south bank are matters the Council will actively pursue in tandem with local commercial and residential interests. Together with its local partners, Southwark Council will realise the goal of fulfilling the area's potential and integrating it as a pearl in the crown of central London.

London Borough of Southwark


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Completion Booklets


LDDC Monographs published in 1997/98

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Annual Reports and Accounts

As with most organisations the Annual Reports and Accounts of the LDDDC are a good source of chronological information about the work of the Corporation and how it spent its money. Altogether these reports contain more than 1000 pages of information. These have been scanned and reproduced as zip files on our Annual Reports and Accounts page

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