Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Bermondsey Pubs Under Threat!

St James' Tavern
A bit distressed to learn today of the likely closure of two of my old locals - the Grange, and St James' Tavern, both in Bermondsey.

Apparently the current owners, Enterprise Inns, want to sell the pubs, and there is no restriction on future use of the land. So we are talking about more flats, I guess.

The Grange has been thrown a lifeline as it has been listed as a 'community asset', and so has a certain degree of protection. It is St James', which has been there since 1884, that is more of a worry. Too many pubs in the area have vanished in the last couple of decades.

St James' is a great pub, just outside South Bermondsey station, which is the point of arrival for many visitors to the Den, home of Millwall FC. It is a real breath of the old East End, complete with a seafood stall outside, and the food inside is pretty good as well.

These pubs should be protected - Bermondsey is one of the last strongholds of the traditional London community, a community with a long and proud history. 

So successful was the area in economic terms that at one time the City of London actually attempted to ban the sale of goods produced in Bermondsey within three miles of the City.

The docks and warehouses were a hub of Britain's maritime trade, and were bombed to buggery during the war. The first German bomb fell on Surrey Docks on September 7th 1940, and bombs continued to fall for 57 consecutive nights. (During that first bombing raid, the front was blown out of the Cock and Monkey in Neptune Street, which was turned into flats in 2003). There was a Neptune Pub, by the Rotherhithe roundabout, but that deserved to close when it did back in the 90s, it was a bit of a dump. Apparently you had to be a manic depressive with ME to get a job there. Guess what... they knocked it down and built flats on the land.

The Collen Bawn in Southwark Park Road, just opposite the Blue Market, was turned into solicitors offices in about 1995. My great aunt Doris loved it there, because they had a piano, and when the sirens sounded it only took a minute or so to get under the railway arches. Many nights they used to sleep there for safety, but that practice stopped after the Stainer Streeet arches, near London Bridge, took a direct hit on February 17th 1941. 68 people were killed, and 175 injured. Most were women and children, with some bodies never being recovered. They remain buried in the rubble beneath the surface to this day.

The area also has a surprising literary history. Chaucer began his pilgrimages to Canterbury nearby, and Shakespeare of course put on his plays at the Globe theatre just up the road in Southwark. Samuel Pepys admitted getting a tad merry from time to time by the Cherry Gardens, and Dickens is associated with the area. In fact, my own daughter attended primary school at St Josephs' in George Row, which once marked the eastern boundary of Jacob's Island, of oliver twist fame. (It really did exist, and was even worse than Dickens described). Tommy Steele was a previous pupil, and writes about the school in his autobiography, Bermondsey Boy.

The poet John Betjeman was associated with the area, and in fact is remembered for his work in saving St James' Chuch, one of the famous Waterloo Churches, built to commemerate that great victory. If you visit the church you will note that the gravestones have all been moved and propped up aginst the churchyard wall. This was done at the beginning of the last century at the behest of Dr Alfred Salter, who was desperate to create some space for children to play. Salter, who was to become an MP, is remembered as one of the greatest of health and social reformers. Bermondsey underground station (Jubilee line) sits on the site of Salter's surgery. There is a children's playground in St James' Church to this day.

Even Swift depicted his character Gulliver as being born at Redriff - an old name for Rotherhithe. I used to be a governor at Redriff Primary School, a splendid establishment.

Walk along the foreshore by the aforementioned Cherry Gardens when the tide is out and you will find the remains of some interesting wooden constructions, and you don't have to dig too deep to find heaps of rusty nails. This is where ships used to be broken up. In fact, Turner painted the classic Fighting Temeraire from the waterfront at Rotherhithe, on her way to Beatson's Yard to be broken up.

Now the sunset breezes shiver
Temeraire! Temeraire!
And she's fading down the river.
Temeraire! Temeraire!
Now the sunset Breezes shiver
And she's fading down the river,
But in England's song for ever
She's the Fighting Temeraire.

A lot happens in our neck of the woods, and so I reckon that we deserve the right to at least keep our old pubs.

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