THE LARDER OF LONDON – FOOD & DRINK PRODUCTION IN BERMONDSEY OF PAST
Hay’s Galleria, as it’s known today started life in the mid 17th century as Hay’s Dock. The dock expanded quickly and at one time up to 75% of London’s bacon, cheese and chilled foods etc, was passing through it’s doors, giving rise to it being named as London’s Larder.
As the wharves expanded eastwards, companies whose business was in food production moved into Bermondsey, and they kept coming ! Many taking over industrial premises left empty by the previous largest employer in the area, tanning (process of leather making). Some of these names roll of tongue as their foodstuffs once rolled onto the tongue. They included Sarsons, Courage and of course Crosse & Blackwell. Condiments (and yes, I include beer as a condiment) that once sat happily on every British table at supper, and proclaimed a patch in the larder of British housewives as theirs for eternity.
These immense factories, some employing generations of families, and up to 3,000 at peak production times, have all now been lost to the sands of time, with the last food manufacturer (Sarsons) closing its doors in the early 1990’s.
Come on Ade’s stroll around this fascinating part of Southwark and soak up part of Bermondsey’s major industrial heritage. Ade will sprinkle a little vinegar of knowledge on your chips, spread a layer of Jam history on your bread, and dunk a Bourbon of information in your brain mug.
Laced not only with interesting vignettes of thoroughly researched material, I’ll also invite you for a half way pint at an absolute diamond of a back street Bermondsey boozer. The Victoria on Page’s walk was built in the late 1880’s for the railway workers of the nearby Bricklayer’s Arms train goods yard. Lovingly cared for by Pat and family for many years, they do a fine line in craft ciders, including Sloe Gin, grapefruit and chilli and ginger ciders. Alongside that, they also have every kind of Gin from Peckham to Vancover !
Along the way we will learn of very different working ethics of the owners of some of these factories including mass sackings, underpaying workers and all sorts of dodgy dealings at E&T Pink’s jam factory, to the exact opposite just along the road at Hartley’s Jam factory, where the Methodist beliefs of William ‘Pickles’ Hartley (and ironic joke name maybe) allowed him to give away a huge chunk of profits away to charity, and treated his staff with dignity and respect.
Strike at Pink’s factory
I can’t write this spiel without mentioning Peek Frean’s biscuit factory, our last stop on the tour, as they are possibly the most fondly remembered employer of the area. Having closed down in the late 1980’s, and having employed so many of Bermondsey’s population, the passing of this institution was sadly mourned, if not just for the delicious smells that used to waft across the streets of summers evening letting you know what flavour of biscuits was baking that day.
I’ve heard it said that you could find your way home with your eyes closed just following your nose, because of all the major food smells drifting around every corner.
With local food markets opening and some thriving markets taking over the old arches under the railway arches, 15 micro breweries now open, not to mention gin distilleries, it appears that food has once again come back to fill the belly of Bermondsey.
Take a stroll with Ade, a qualified London Borough Guide
‘Enthusing the enthusiastic’