(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
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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
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
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.
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
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 Scene
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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Why 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 LDDC
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.
LDDC achieved regeneration through partnership with other agencies - the
private sector in particular, but also the local authority and other statutory
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
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
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.
It 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.
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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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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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
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.
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.<
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.
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
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"
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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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
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.
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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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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