Another in the series on historic sites on the “Thames Path” walk …
Bermondsey was first recorded as Vermundesei in around 712, and as Bermundesye in the Domesday Book of 1086. It takes its name from the Old English personal name “Beornmund” and “eg”, meaning island, or area of high and dry ground surrounded by low marsh.
The Cluniac Priory and Abbey of St Saviour, or Bermondsey Abbey, was established here in 1082, dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538, and substantially demolished by Thomas Pope, Treasurer of the Court of Augmenations in 1541, to allow for the construction of Bermondsey House, which itself stood until the early nineteenth century.
A plaque marks the site of the abbey church.
Extensive remains of abbey buildings were uncovered in a recent archaeological excavation. Some may still be viewed under a glass floor in a restaurant on Bermondsey Square.
The church of St Mary Magdalen also had its origins in the Medieval period, although the present incarnation is post-Medieval, dating to the seventeenth century.
In the immediate post-Medieval period, Bermondsey began to develop as a well-to-do “garden suburb”, centred on Grange Road and Jamaica Road, which latter took its name from an inn frequented by Samuel Pepys. A pleasure garden was founded there as long ago as the seventeenth century, and a spa in the eighteenth.
During the nineteenth century, after the arrival of the railway in 1836, the area became much more heavily developed and densely populated. It became home to many of the industries that the wealthy City of London did not want on its doorstep, notably tanning and leather manufacture, …
… and also – sweeter-smelling – jam and biscuit manufacture (Bermondsey’s nickname is “Biscuit Town”).
By the time William Booth produced his London “Poverty Map” in 1889, the area along the waterfront had come to comprise a mixture of working wharves and sprawling slums or “rookeries”.
Bermondsey was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War. It has since been subject to much reconstruction and regeneration.
On the modern waterfront are statues commemorating the doctor, social reformer and politician Alfred Salter and his wife Ada, who had worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the local poor in the first half of the twentieth century.