Tower Hill - Bermondsey Walk


Start the Walk on Tower Bridge.

Stickman iconTube to Tower Hill and walk with the Tower of London to your right and onto the Bridge.

The Bridge was a triumph of Victorian Engineering as no bridge had ever been built downstream of the Roman London Bridge. It was opened in 1894 and designed by Sir Horace Jones and engineer John Wolfe-Barry. Although clad in stone (to match the Tower) it has a steel frame and is of the bascule type. Walk to the South End

Tower Subway

Tower Subway

To the west of Tower Bridge under the river is the forgotten Tower Subway - which was built in 1870 by James Greathead. It used a shuttle to transport 12 people under the river. However, after a few months it was taken out of service but it is still the world's first passage train tunnel. It became a successful pedestrian subway until it was made redundant by Tower Bridge and now transports water mains only!

For further information see Wikipedia


Tower Bridge Tower of London by Larry Dornhoff showing County Hall and Guy's Hospital in the background. Quilp's Wharf was in the vicinity of County Hall

Quilp's Wharf

On the Surrey side of the river was a small rat-infested dreary yard called 'Quilp's Wharf,' in which were a little wooden counting-house burrowing all awry in the dust as if it had fallen from the clouds and ploughed into the ground; a few fragments of rusty anchors; several large iron rings; some piles of rotten wood; and two or three heaps of old sheet copper, crumpled, cracked, and battered. On Quilp's Wharf, Daniel Quilp was a ship-breaker, yet to judge from these appearances he must either have been a ship-breaker on a very small scale, or have broken his ships up very small indeed.

Charles Dickens - The Old Curiosity Street Chapter 4.



Stickman iconWalk to the bridge foot, and face south on Tower Bridge Road - turn right, to Queen Elizabeth Street

Bermondsey Abbey Gate Bermondsey Street by Central St Martin's Students Cruikshank The Drunkard's Children Plate 2
Sam Bevington Statue

Colonel Samuel Bourne Bevington

First Mayor of Bermondsey (1910), Statue by Sydney March.

A member of the Bevington family who made their fortune in the leather industry. Bermondsey was London's main leather-working centre - all the factors necessary for the expansion of the trade were to be found in Bermondsey; open countryside, a constant supply of water and of oak bark from the surrounding countryside; hides from the butchers of London; a plentiful supply of cheap labour, and a good market for the finished product over the river in the City.

Many other related trades flourished with the leather trade – wool and hair was separated from the skins and sold for hat-making, as were horns, which were used to make combs, spoons, knife-handles and musical horns.


Stickman iconContinue south, crossing Druid Street and walking under the bridge. To your right you will see Roper Street, now a tunnel under the railway.

Image of ropes A reminder of the rope-making trade – ‘rope walks’ are marked on 18th and 19th century maps of the area. Old maps also mark ‘tenter-grounds’ where cloth was stretched and bleached.


Stickman iconTurn right into Fair Street, and into the remains of the churchyard of St. John’s Horselydown (1732)

Detail of 1894 Map showing St John Horselydown


It was originally an 'eyot' or raised island of sand and gravel. It has revealed prehistoric settlement and ploughing.

The Parish was created in 1733 but the church was destroyed in World War Two. The Watch-H was built to deter body-snatchers or ‘resurrectionists’.


Detail of 1894 Map showing St John Horselydown


Workhouse kidsWorkhouse Children

The Workhouse

A housing estate now stands on the site of the St. Olave’s Union Workhouse. The Rectory is on the site of Pritchard Alley, the birthplace in 1644/5 of Thomas Guy, founder of Guy’s Hospital, whose father was a Thames waterman. Before the mid 18th century London Bridge was the only crossing over the river; to pay a waterman to row you across was an everyday occurrence.



Turn back into Tower Bridge Road and look to your right where you can see ‘Maltings Place’,

Jar of Malt Extract

Maltings Place

the restored remains of a 19th century malt house. To make malt, barley is steeped in water, allowed to sprout and then roasted in a kiln. This is used as an ingredient in beer and was also the main ingredient of nourishing foods for children. It is still included in high-calorie tonics, and is an important flavour in breakfast cereals.


Bermondsey Abbey Gateway - e-painting by KPFBermondsey first grew around the Priory (founded 1082, by Alwyn Childe, a citizen of London) and shaped for ever after the streets in the immediate locality. According to the 15th century Annals of Bermondsey Abbey in 1117 the monks were walking near the river and found a mysterious crucifix, the appearance of which they attributed to a miracle; soon the Priory became a place of pilgrimage. In 1399 it became an Abbey, under the rule of the strict French Cluniac order, whose monks wore black. The Abbey increased in lands and wealth; the establishment would have employed a large service staff of lay-people: agricultural workers, musicians, cooks and stable-men.

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538, Sir Thomas Pope bought the Abbey Church, demolished it and used the stones to build his mansion, Bermondsey House. Neither the house nor the Abbey still stands but two hinges of the abbey gate can be seen on the outside of 7, Grange Walk


Stickman iconTurn right into Tanner Street

Photo of Bermondsey Wire Works

Photo of Bermondsey Wire Works, photo by Central St. Martin's Students

Bermondsey Mesh and Wire Works

109 Tanner Street – ‘Bermondsey Mesh and Wire Works’. Wire work was used for ornamental and utilitarian purposes; catalogues show meat-safes, aviaries, and trellises. Messrs W. Cockle and Co, Bermondsey St., are listed for wire-work in late 19th century trade books.

33 Tanner Street, now converted for residential use and called ‘Flag House’, was once a flag manufacturers or warehouse.

The recreation ground was part of the grounds of medieval Bermondsey Abbey, the site being later used as a tan yard. Bermondsey Workhouse covered half of this site, next to a hat manufactory, but was demolished in 1925 due to the efforts of Dr. and Mrs. Salter.

82-84 Tanner Street was in the 1890's P.E. Fisher and Co., Tanners, Curriers, Leatherman,

S.H. and W. Hart, Leather manufacturer, Tanner Street. This firm first set up in Spitalfields in 1792. Their trade was currying harnesses and coach leathers, also dressing hides for powder bags to supply the troops during times of war. (1890s trade book)

Sarsens Vinegar Works, Tanner Street Sarsens Vinegar Works, Tanner Street

Sarsens Vinegar

Until the early 20th Century Tanner Street was the home of the Sarsens Vinegar factory.


Stickman iconOn coming out of the recreation ground/Tanner Street you will have reached Bermondsey Street.

Bermondsey Street

In medieval times this led from the Abbey to the Thames. In the early 18th century there were still some market gardens here and waste from leatherworking was used as fertiliser, along with the contents of cess-pools beneath the local residences!

It is now a conservation area, having many fine 18th and 19th century buildings; number 78 is probably 17th century. noting the 18th /early 19th century terraces and later 19th century warehouses and factories.Tyer’s Gateway probably led to tanneries or market gardens, and was named after a local family.

Wool-stapling – dealing in wool - was another dominant local trade, a by-product of the leather industry. Thomas Pennant commented in 1791 ‘Bermondsey Street may at present be called the great Wool-Staple of our kingdom. Here reside numbers of merchants who supply Rochdale, Leicester, Derby, Exeter, and most other weaving counties…’

Stickman iconWalk southwards down Bermondsey Street

As you approach St. Mary Magdalene Church, look at the Time and Talents Settlement building, dated 1907, built in a Queen Anne revival style to blend with the older terraces.

This was a philanthropic organisation set up to entertain and educate Bermondsey’s factory girls, in keeping with the spirit of the age. Time and Talents is now based in Rotherhithe and is now a social club/education centre for elderly residents.

St Mary Magdelene Bermondsey e-painting by KPF

You pass the early 19th century (post 1829) rectory, and stop at the Church (originally built for the Abbey servants and lay-people). It was rebuilt between 1680 and 1690 as a parish church - the tower and west front altered 1830 to suit ‘Gothick’ fashion. The Galleries were added in in the 18th Century.

Here is another watch-house built to deter resurrectionists’ or grave robbers who supplied the local hospital medical schools with subjects for dissection.

Tan yards once abutted the church yard which supposedly contains a 1665 plague pit. The Bevingtons (leather manufacturers) contributed generously to restoring and furnishing the church.

It is said that a Puritan rector, Jeremiah Whitaker, here once ended his sermon of sixty-nine pages with the phrase ‘…one hundred and twenty-seventhly…’.

In the crypt: are references to many local people and craftsman including: Joseph Watson, founder of the first public institution for the deaf and dumb in 1792, James Hardwidge, needlemaker to Queen Charlotte, 1819, William Browning, Fellmonger, 1758. Floor memorials include one to a tanner, William Mercer, 1718, and Elizabeth Tyers, 1681 (see Tyer’s Gateway, Bermondsey Street).

The works of the striking clock bear a brass plate on which is inscribed ‘This clock thoroughly repaired and altered to an eight-day by Charles Porter, Southwark, 1841.’

45, Bermondsey Street was the workshop of Wynne and Co., leather factors in the 1890s.

158, Bermondsey St. Charles Hymans, Wholesale and Export Skin Merchant, (1890s),

7, Bermondsey Street and Tooley Street. Messrs. E.&H. Measures, Colour and Varnish Man, Lead, Oil and Glass Merchants,

‘…the supply of high class reliable varnishes and colours &etc., has become a matter of vital importance for the various tradesmen who cater for a superior patronage.’ 1890s trade book.

‘There are in Bermondsey about twenty or thirty manufacturers called fellmongers, whose business it is to bring sheep-skins into a certain state of preparation before the leather-dresser commences his operations thereon.’
A Day in the Factories, 1843

London Scotia Bar - commemorates the erstwhile trade in seal skins with Nova Scotia..

For a complete list of artisans and factories in Bermondsey Street Click Here

Detail from Cruikshank's Drunken Children Plate 2 Detail from Cruikshank's Drunken Children Plate 2

Christy’s - Hatters, Bermondsey Street.

Christy's workshops were on on both sides. In 1843, Christy’s was reputed to have been the world’s largest manufacturer. The Southwark silk hat trade employed about 1500 workers at the end of the 19th century. In the early Victorian period felt hats were popular.

An important chemical during the shaping of the hats was dilute sulphuric acid, a highly poisonous substance – hence the saying ‘as mad as a hatter’. Beaver and rabbit skins were also used to make hats. Beaver skins were imported by the Hudson’s Bay Company from the 1670s. In contrast to leather-workers, hatters organised themselves into ‘combinations’ and unions.

Morocco Street, Bermondsey photo Central St Martins' students Morocco Street, Bermondsey photo Central St Martins' students

Morocco Street

‘Bermondsey has been for many years the principal seat of the leather-manufacture in England, and derives from this circumstance a character and appearance different from those presented by any other district in London. The cause to which this localisation seems to be most correctly assigned, is the existence…of a series of tide-streams, which, twice in every twenty-four hours, supply a large quantity of water from the Thames for the use of the tanners and leather-dressers...The skins from nearly all the sheep slaughtered in London are conveyed to a Skin-Market in the western part of Bermondsey, and there sold by factors or salesmen, who act for the butchers, to the fellmongers.’
A Day in the Factories, 1843

The writer says that although each type of leather-worker was employed in very different tasks, the yards and buildings in which they worked looked very much the same; they would have lived ‘over the shop’ or very nearby. ‘The surface of the court or yard is in most cases intersected by pits, or square cisterns, in which the skins are steeped during some part of the manufacturing process.’

Henry Mayhew wrote of ‘a series of closely-adjacent pits, filled to the brink with a dark, chocolate-coloured, thick liquid.’

Leathermarket Roundel trading in leather Leather Market Roundel Unhairing and de-fleshing leather Leather Market Roundel hide being agitated in a pit.


Butchers, Fellmongers, Leather Factors

The impressive building dates from 1879, although it is built on the site of its 1830s predecessor. Look at the roundels showing various activities in the leather industry. The complex was essentially divided into two, the market and the exchange. Some of the market, including slaughterhouses and animal pens, was destroyed in WWII. There was also a grand clock tower which has been destroyed or demolished. On the walls are roundels describing activities in the leather trade,

1.buying and selling of hides
2.unhairing and de-fleshing
3.hide being agitated in a pit.
4.tanned hide being rolled by hand and hides being hung up to dry.

Leather prepared by tanning using solution of oak-bark – oxen, bulls, buffaloes, cows – the strongest hides. These leathers took the longest to soak (up to two years) and were used for the soles of shoes and for saddles. In Thomas Hardy’s novel The Woodlanders, Mr. Melbury’s forest business includes bark-stripping.

Leather prepared with Sumach (extract from a tannin-rich plant grown in Hungary) Goat, a thinner hide.

This became Morocco leather, which took rich dyes well and was quicker to produce. It was used for coach-linings and chair-covers.
An inferior type, made from split sheepskin – skiver – was used for book-covers, hat-linings, and pocket-books.

Leather prepared with Alum – kid, imitation kid (made of sheepskin) and lamb

This process was called ‘tawing’ and the finished product was used for gloves and ladies’ shoes. Kid was used for better products, and ‘imitation kid’ for cheaper goods.

All leather-work created foul smells. Alum was made partly of urine, and another essential ingredient for Alum preparation was ‘pure’, or dogs’ faeces! ‘Pure gatherers’ would be paid to pick it up from the streets and from pedigree kennels on the outskirts of London. (A 19th century public heath inspection revealed that a railway arch was used to store the stuff in, giving the immediate area a very foul smell.) Curriers softened the hides, parchment makers created fine filmy sheets out of split sheep-skins.
Dickens remembered the Leather Market as full of evil smells from the hides, and the substances they had been processed in.





Page updated 5th Feb 2005
Ind. Rev.

The Lost Industry of Southwark Project is supported by:

the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs

Project Director- Kevin Flude

Email Kevin Flude.Site Template last Updated on 5 February 2005Cultural Heritage Resources

To find out more on Southwark visit the SOUTHWARK LOCAL STUDIES LIBRARY
& buy the excellent book by Leonard Riley entitled 'Southwark - an illustrated guide.'

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