‘The Three Tanners’ – The history of the leather trade & the lost industries of Bermondsey.
‘To go hell for leather’ and ‘to be as tough as leather’ are frequently used idioms relating to a cattle’s hide, and I’m sure would have been used in jest in Bermondsey a hundred years ago or more. For Bermondsey wasn’t just known as ‘Biscuit Town’, for obvious reasons, it was also the home of the UK’s leather trade, starting around the 17th century and lasting until the last tannery closed just after WW2.
As we will find out on this walk, Bermondsey was once a heavily industrial area. It’s proximity to the City of London, just over the bridge, made it an obvious choice for industries that were no longer permitted to operate in the square mile. One of these industries was tanning. The process of soaking cattle hide in urine & faeces made for one hell of a pong, and Bermondsey being mostly fields then, became the centre of the trade.
Although the main theme of this walk is the legacy of the leather trade, this walk is not be all about pooey pongs, but focuses on other industrial centres once in the area. We will learn of one of London’s largest hat factories, a piece of clothing that up to WW2 was seen as a necessary part of being dressed, and an internationally renowned flagmaker just off Bermondsey Street.
We’ll slice up the history of the Bakers Arms goods yard. An immense yard and terminus used to bring in commodities necessary to keep the local industries burning brightly, and how it was once billed as a ‘west end’ railway terminus, as arguments raged between rival train companies about the use of London Bridge station in the middle of the 19th century.
As we stroll around the streets of Bermondsey, we’ll jump into the saddle of horse history in London, and the use of our equine friends in helping London grow to the powerhouse it was at the start of the 20th century, before the introduction of the automobile. Our last stop will include us dipping our toes into the fairly unknown history of Britain’s first railway terminus at Spa Road, built one year before Euston station was erected over the river in Camden.
I’ve learnt so much recently about this fascinating area of London. I once knew this as a place to avoid. Known for social deprivation, unemployment, bad housing etc. Well, this area has had a spruce up since then. The closure of the nearby docks at the beginning of the 80’s ushered in a new wave of gentrification. The difference is remarkable, and although certain parts of the old spirit of the area have long disappeared together with much of the old community, thankfully a lot of the interesting industrial parts of the area still exist for us to marvel historically over and hopefully to teach us of the long gone past of Bermondsey.
So join me and lets get our hands dirty in the history of the industry of Bermondsey.
Take a stroll with Ade, a qualified London Borough Guide
‘Enthusing the enthusiastic’