Monday, July 28, 2008

Post-Bloomsbury pottering

I have a friend staying with me for the Bloomsbury Summer School and the British Museum Colloquium. He has a cold and I've been working in an office all week so I dragged him over the road to walk in the Woodland and Stave Hill with me for some fresh air yesterday. It was warm and bright, and although the sun was hidden behind a thick layer of clouds it was very attractive. I didn't do much in the way of taking photographs, although that had been my intention, because there wasn't much new that was in flower.

Our first target was the Downtown Pond. I wanted to see if the heron was on his usual perch. At first glance he didn't appear to be in the vicinity, but as we approached there was a flapping of wings and he took off not from his usual perch, but from the pond itself, vanishing off into the reeds. It was staggering how much of it is parched, the water having retreated several feet, leaving aquatic plants sitting on dry land. Presumably their roots are still reaching saturated levels because they don't yet seem to be dying.

In Stave Hill there were some Meadow Brown butterflies and lots of grasshoppers, but apart from a few other human visitors it was very quiet. Below are a couple of the very few photographs that I took.

I'm sorry that I haven't yet posted the next Rotherhithe Heritage installment. It feels a bit like saying "the dog ate my homework" but in fact my beastly Sony Vaio laptop ate the lengthy first installment. It took ages to research, write up nicely, illustrate and embellish and I need to take a small break and start breathing normally on the subject before starting all over again. Part of me cannot quite believe that the wretched thing isn't sitting there somewhere. I need to rebuild the machine because it is no use if it eats things! Very frustrating. This is my third Vaio and every single one has been a pain.

I haven't put captions on the following photographs but I'll try to go back and do them later in the week. But note that the Budleia globosa is back in flower, which is lovely, and that there's a teasel in the making. I managed to spend an afternoon at the British Museum "Origins" colloquium today, and stayed for the Sackler lecture. Not bad at all but it means that I only got home an hour and a half ago and I still have a ridiculous amount of things to do before a 6am rise - I just don't have the time to hit the plant books tonight.

Buddleia globosa

Wild Teasel
Family: Dipsacaceae
Species: Dipsacus fullonum

More local news

Downtown Site update

Steve and other volunteers spent over two hours with Andrew Boff, walking all around the Downtown Site, as well as other parts of Russia Dock Woodland and Stave Hill Ecological Park. Everyone agreed that it was amazing to think that the Downtown site came under the heading of a “brown-field” site. Andrew Boff has promised to bring this to the attention of Boris Johnson as a matter of urgency. Steve has explained to him that other assembly members such as Valarie Shawcross, and Jenny Jones, have opposed this development from the very start.

Good news is that Steve was able to hand in 251 individual objection letters to the planning department last Friday afternoon. We still have more to deliver over the next couple of days.

The local public have responded to our call for help once again.

Graffiti and water flow

Steve will contact the graffiti team regarding the Stave Hill sculpture, for which my thanks.

There has been a problem getting the fresh water from the wind turbine pump to divert to Downtown ponds, which are now becoming dry. They have been desperately trying to solve this problem over the weekend by 'rodding' the associated pipework to this area of the waterways.
We now have some flow into Downtown pond, but it is very slow. Steve will keep checking it.

Update re Wednesday’s meeting about Frogmore plans for the Leisure Park

The meeting is to take place at 22 Brunswick Quays on Wednesday 30th July at 7pm, but if there are too many of us on arrival we will move outside or, if the weather lets us down, to a nearby hostelry.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Graffiti on the Stave Hill sculpture

I took a guest, who is staying with me for the British Museum colloquium next week, to show off the many joys of the Russia Dock Woodland and Stave Hill Ecological Park and just look at what I found when I took him to Stave Hill. On the way up the staircase I was singing the praises of the Michael Rizzello sculpture, which I genuinely love, and I found that it had been defaced with bright red paint. I cannot say how upset I am. I will of course report this to Southwark Council on Monday.

I was in Siwa Oasis in Egypt in March leading a small tour through the Western Desert and we went to a Graeco-Roman temple where a set of German tourists were systematically hammering the fossils in the fossiliferous stone which made up part of the temple, to remove them for souvenirs. What is wrong with people? The urge to destroy something absolutely unique never ceases to amaze and disgust me.

Picnic Power

The Independent newspaper has named the Russia Dock Woodland as one of the Best 50 Picnic Spots to visit in its urban category. Here's what they say about us:

This long, thin park in Rotherhithe was formed in 1980 when a former dock (which was originally used for importing timber fromNorway, Russia and Sweden – hence the name) was infilled and planted as a 35-acre woodland. An artificial hill, Stave Hill, was later added and it's now a popular picnic spot for those in the know.

Getting there: the closest Tube station is Canada Water, with open access.
For more information visit

It is really rather nice to know that we have made it into the nationals! Thanks very much to Mike Scott for spreading the good news.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Latest News

Meeting re Frogmore development plans for Leisure Park on Wednesday upstairs at the 22 Brunswick Quay

The Brunswick Quay Residents’ Association (BQRA) is holding a meeting to discuss the Frogmore plans for the Leisure Park, which is immediately behind their homes. Anyone interested in attending this meeting is welcome to attend at on Wednesday 30th July at 7pm at 22 Brunswick Quay.

I will be taking minutes at the meeting and will circulate the gist of these after the meeting.

South Dock Marina Terms and Conditions

A letter arrived yesterday, which is entitled South Dock Marina Consultation and New Terms and Conditions 18th July 2008.

I'd never heard of this, in spite of the fact that it assures me that "Most of you will be aware that we have been in consultation regarding the new Terms and Conditions for the past 11 months. This has involved SDM Management, residents, the South Dock Marina Berth Holders Association and other berth holders."

The Ts and Cs have been uploaded to the following address on Southwark Council's website (see below) and there is a hard copy in Rotherhithe Library on Albion Street and in the Lock Office at Rope Street. You have until 18th August 2008 to respond.

Proposed Bust Stop Accessibility Improvements - Redriff road near Onega Gate (entrance to Russia Dock Woodland)

A leaflet dropped through my letterbox a week or so ago giving details of proposed bus stop changes. The introduction of low floor buses throughout London, fitted with ramps for wheelchair users, has led to to a requirement for appropriate kerbside access to bus stops. A consultation is being held by Southwark Counil to receive comments regarding proposals to help improve bus stop accessibility in Redriff Road at the entrance to Russia Dock Woodland.

The proposed changed include moving the bus stop on the Russia Dock side to the north and adding new red surface dressing wand new footway surfacing. the opposite bus stop will be moved to the south, with the same changes. The gaps left by the old bus stops will be infilled to match the adjacent grass verge.

There’s no website address to point you to, and the illustration of the changes is on A3 so it is too big to scan, but you can see it on the door of the Moby Dick pub, thanks to Joe and Terry. If you want a copy you might try the email address given on the brochure itself: Responses must be in by Friday 1st August 2008.

Red Bull Air Race

The Red Bull Air Race, which will take place in London on the 2nd and 3rd August, will take place at the same time as the closure of the Jubilee Line, which will be suspended for engineering works from North Greenwich to Stratford. There will be a replacement bus service. The main sites for viewing the race are near West Silvertown and North Greenwich stations. Thanks to The Docklands newspaper for the heads up.

Redriff School celebrated its 100 year anniversary

Redriff Primary School was founded in 1908 in Cow Lane and was rebuilt twice - first in 1949 following Second World War bombing and again in 1990 as part of the docklands redevelopment project. Jon Surtees, in Southwark News, reports that old pupils joined current pupils and teachers to enjoy daytime and evening events including singing and dancing and a performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Congratulations to them.

Rotherhithe Angling Club summer holiday programme

The RAC has now launched its programme, which offers free events between 10.00 and 16.00 each Monday, Wednesday and Friday until August 29th 2008. These events will be held in the Canada Water dock in front of Decathlon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

First the birds, now the bees

I am working up in Bloomsbury this week, at the Bloomsbury Summer School - something I do every year. However it is very much of an early morning to late evening enterprise and it means that I haven’t been able to visit the parks over the last week. Hopefully I’ll get over there at the weekend when I don’t think I have any other commitments, but I’ll be back at Bloomsbury next week too, and probably trying to fit in a Predynastic conference at the same time.

So here’s another gap filler to prove that I am still alive and the blog is still very much on my agenda. Not birds this time, but bees. I was in Waterstones raiding the second hand academic book section yesterday and picked up a copy of The Week (19th July 2008 issue) which has an article in its Briefing slot entitled “The strange, sad fate of the honey bee”.

Anyone who has been watching the news over recent months will be aware that the honey bee (Apis melllifera) is in real trouble. At the end of 2006 a mysterious disease termed Colony Collapse Disorder swept across the U.S.. The symptoms of CCD are that most of the bees leave the hive leaving behind only the queens and eggs wit a few immature worker bees. The bees that abandon the hives are never found and are thought to die one by one. Those that are left die, and all other insects and potential honey thieves avoid the remaining hive.

The article says that between September 2006 and March 2007 almost a third of all honey bee colonies had collapsed in 15 American states. The problem is not restricted to America, although that’s where most of the attention has focused. Other regions experiencing the same problem are Canada, South America, Asia and Europe. The article quotes two startling examples: 5 million bees were reported to have vanished in a period of 48 hours in Croatia, and 10 million vanished in Taiwan last year. One of the odd things about it is that it can hit one set of hives but not a neighbouring set. It has been estimated that if they continue to vanish at their current rate there will be none left in the US by 2035.

The long term impact of the decline of the bee, if the trend continues, is not only that honey supplies will be impacted, but that the food chain may be seriously disrupted. Bees are the principal pollinators of flowers. Without bee pollination the knock-on effects are serious, because more than 90 commercial agricultural crops, from apples to onions, are pollinated by bees. Grasses are wind-pollinated and would continue to survive, but the damage to flower, fruit and vegetables would mean that there would be much less food to go around for birds and mammals.

One of the worrying things about CCD is that researchers do not understand what is causing it. They believe that the bees’ immune systems may be damaged but the causes of that remain something that needs far more research. The theories are there but they need testing.

There have been cases reported in the UK, and the environment ministry has stepped up its investigations.

Monday, July 21, 2008

How long do birds live?

Times Online (Derwent May)

The writer Derwent May published an article on The Times, which I read traveling up to North Wales recently. I tore it out to read later as we were just arriving at my station. I thought that it might be of interest, given how much bird life we have in trees and on the docks. Here's an extract but the full article can be read at the above address:

If a razorbill can live to 41 when we thought it only lived to about 13, we may have to rethink our view of avian lifespan

A razorbill, it is reported today, has lived for 41 years, in spite of being buffeted by the winter waves in the Atlantic for a good half of every one of those years. Is that normal? In fact how long do birds generally live?

We know that there have been many other long-lifers. The oldest bird known is a sulphur-crested cockatoo, which was over 80 when it died in London Zoo in 1982. Fulmars, another seabird, have been found alive after 40 years. A golden eagle that spent its life winging over the Highlands reached 32.

Until recently we hardly knew anything about birds' ages. It is ringing them, usually when they are still in the nest, that has taught us that some of them live for so long. Their date of ringing is recorded, and when they are found again with the little numbered ring still on their leg - washed up dead on the shore, or re-ringed when they return to their colony to nest - we know their age.

But really these razorbills and cockatoos are exceptions. All they tell us is how long birds have the capacity to live; the truth is, very few of them get there.

We can see this if we stop and realise that in most summers, under stable conditions, there are just the same number of birds around as there were the previous year. That means that a number of birds equivalent to the whole baby boom of last year must die. And they do. Most of the new birds born in any year die. So each year the population is made up of many old birds, and a small number of new ones.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Rotherhithe kaleidoscope

More photographs from Tuesday. One of the things that I really love about the plants in the parks is that they may not be rare or unusual, but that together they form an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colours, shapes and scents. The individual plants may not feature on endangered lists but, like pieces in a mosaic, the overall effect that they combine to make is truly impressive and enjoyable.

Common Toadflax
Family: Scrophulariaceae
Species: Linaria vulgaris

Linaria comes from the Latin term for flax. Vulgaris simply means common.

Black Locust
Family: Leguminosae
Species: Robinia pseudoacacia

Robinia was named for the French herbalist and botanist Jean Robin (who worked for Henry IV of France) and his son Vespasian. The term pseudoacacia means false acacia.

Family: Rosaceae
Species: Rubus fruticosus

The word Rubus is thought to derive from the Latin word for red, ruber. The term fruticosus means "shrubby"

Purple Loosestrife
Family: Lythracaeae
Species: Lythrum salicaria

The Lythrum part of the species name comes from the Greek lythron, which means blood, and is a reference to the colour of the flowers. The second part of the name, which means willow-like, refers to the leaves.

Sundry members of the Scabious family
Family: Dipsacaceae

Friday, July 18, 2008

Butterflies and co.

I am glad that I took the photograph (still unidentified) of the white vetch last week because it has now vanished from all the places where I observed it. That was a very short lifespan.

Tuesday was a good day for flowers - and also for butterflies and other insects. I have been dissapointed that I have been unable to see as many butterflies this year as I have in previous summers, but the weather conditions really haven't been in their favour. However they seemed to be out in force on Tuesday whilst the sun was out.

I also saw my first Burnet (Zygaena) - of which Leslie Butler also has a photograph on his Stave Hill/RDW Flickr site.

I think I managed to see one of the dreaded Harlequins as well - looking very like a ladybird but much larger, with a conspicuously domed profile.

See some of the photographs below (click on the small image to see the bigger photo if required). The butterfly shown above is a Gatekeeper (male).

On a different note entirely, we had a very good meeting at the Surrey Dock Farm last night about plans for the new buildings which are being proposed to replace the one that burned down several years ago. A lot of very good ideas came out of the session, and it was extremely nice to see how much genuine enthusiasm is around.

Gatekeeper (female)

This is a Zygaena filipendulae or Six Spot Burnet - a moth which comes out during the day. Scabious is one of their favourite flowers.

The grasshoppers are a bit beyond me - neither of these photographs has captured sufficient diagnostic information to match up with my insect guide book.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Frogmore plans for Leisure Park

Thanks very much to Mark Del Canto of the Brunswick Quay Residents’ Association for forwarding me the PDF file showing Frogmore’s proposed plans for the Leisure Park site. Here is an extract from the introduction, but you can download the entire file in PDF format here.

    The site is located in Surrey Docks ward in the London Borough of Southwark. Surrey Quays Leisure Site is situated to the east of Surrey Quays Shopping Centre and is currently used for entertainment and leisure facilities as well as on grade car parking. The existing first generation leisure boxes are nearing the end of their life cycle. The current layout of the site is outdated and arguably does not create a positive public space.

    The site is identified in the already adopted Local Plan, The Southwark Plan 2007, which states that the site is suitable for a residential led mixed use development. The guidelines for the site indicate that the site could provide up to 1000 residential homes and that the cinema should be relocated on the site or elsewhere in the Canada Water area.

    The site is also included within the emerging local area action plan which will help to guide and implement future development in the area.

Doubtless I haven’t been paying sufficient attention, but what is the “emerging local area action plan” all about?

Here is an extract from the letter that homes which will be impacted by the proposed development were sent by their management company, Russia Court Management, which draws attention to some important points!:

    Dear Russia Court Management Resident,

    As you have probably gathered, there are plans afoot to completely redevelop the Surrey Quays Leisure Park site across Redriff Road from your home.

    Incredible though it may seem, the site's owners have decreed that the cinema, bowling and bingo etc., are coming to the end of their useful life - even though the site was only fully completed ten years ago!

    Last weekend, the developers - Frogmore - showed off their preliminary plans for the site to residents and interested parties. If you were unable to attend, then Russia Court has obtained a copy of the presentation - and preliminary plans.

    The headlines to immediately note are:

    • Up to 1,000 new mixed social/private homes proposed for the existing site.
    • Additionally a student residential block proposed
    • Existing "Leisure Complex" facilities to be relocated and rehoused towards the western end of the site
    • Existing car parking capacity presumably relocated underground
    • Increased pedestrian traffic through and around the site - as well as proposed funnelling of pedestrian traffic through Brunswick Quay
    • A new traffic junction or roundabout at the mouth of Brunswick Quay - although this is not terribly clear from the outline plans

    It should be remembered that this is only an outline plan at the moment - but it does appear that Morley, the site owners, are committed to a dramatic reconstruction of the original site. (The Quebec Curve has already closed - and its future seems very uncertain at the moment.) A formal planning application to Southwark Council is anticipated for later in the year.

    Although few local residents are probably very fond of the existing site - with its bleak, wind-swept appearance and immensely unattractive facades, these proposals have the potential to have a dramatic effect on the immediate vicinity:

    • Anticipating 1,000 new homes on the site - is incredibly dense for an already well-populated area. That's more than five times the number of homes than currently occupy the whole of Brunswick Quay on a site not much bigger than Brunswick Quay! That's not including the re-housing of the existing leisure facilities or the student residence!
    • Provision of underground parking for 1,000 new homes AND the current leisure park customers will involve massive earth-workings and local traffic disruption.
      The need to stagger development - re-siting the leisure facilities whilst the old site continues to operate - will involve an extended period of construction and substantial disruption lasting several years.
    • It's not clear what height the new residential buildings would achieve, but in order to accommodate 1,000 homes, they will have to be considerably higher than the surrounding buildings. Furthermore, the residential buildings are proposed to be fully adjacent to Redriff Road - and not offset like the existing leisure park.

    At this point with the development, Frogmore, are apparently keen to hear the views and reactions of local residents. Attached you will find the presentation unveiled last weekend. Following shortly is a feedback/survey form. Although the feedback form would appear to be somewhat skewed in favour of the proposals- most of the questions are seemingly uncontroversial and it offers only the opportunity to "Strongly Agree" but not "Strongly Disagree" it is important Frogmore get a feeling for the views of Brunswick Quay residents. Respondents can also add further comments or objections.

    Russia Court Management would urge all residents to make their views known - in an effort to get a new Leisure Park that actually provides wanted services and contributes positively to the attractive neighbourhood. Don't forget, you can also lobby our local MP, Simon Hughes - who was also present at the presentation on Saturday. (

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rotherhithe Heritage 6 - A few introductory paragraphs to the 1800s

Well, I've covered the really easy bits of the area's history so far. I've sprinted from the Royal Docks of Henry VIII at Deptford, I've looked at the construction of Howland Great Wet Dock and I've dipped into the rather sad world of whaling in the same dock, renamed Greenland Dock. I've headed back in time over 2000 years. Now I've landed up on the turn of the 19th century, teetering perilously on the edge of a cliff that overlooks the entire industrial and social tornado that made up the 1800s in Great Britain. And I am getting closer to talking about the main subject matters of this blog - the histories behind Russia Dock Woodland and Stave Hill as well as adding to details about Greenland Dock.

It will be necessary to precis on a fairly grand scale, even within this small geographical area, and to handle the century in chunks. Life exploded in all sorts of directions in the Nineteenth Century and it is impossible to cover it in one post. Much of this was built on work that took place in the 1700s, which was a period of invention and scientific innovation in Great Britain. The experiments and discoveries were built on and invested in, and the ideas produced by a few remarkable brains were built upon by many others, running with new knowledge and taking the world into a new era.

In 1800 the world’s population reached 880 million and London was Europe’s largest city with a population of 864,000. Rotherhithe itself in the centre rather than at the edge of water-based industry. This growth was set against a background of continuing political and military unrest in the UK and in Europe, in which Britain had an active role: the legalization of trade unions in 1824, the Reform Acts, trade union activity, the succession of Queen Victoria to the throne, the Napoleonic wars of 1803-1815, the Peninsular War of 1818-14, and at the end of the Nineteenth Century the Crimean War (1854-56) and the Indian Mutiny (1857). Between the 1830s towards the end of the Century, the successes already achieved by existing docks and ship building enterprises saw building all along the Thames, extending out to Milwall and Tilbury.

From 1800 onwards in Rotherhithe became an absolute patchwork of buildings, docks and ponds, physically connected in a bizarre and confusing way, and each specializing in a different form of business. Trying to follow its development is something of a minefield. Not only were new docks, ponds and channels added over time, but the connections between them were opened and closed at different times, businesses lived and died. Ship building was diversifying with new steam ships being built on Rotherhithe and an increasing number of wooden sailing ship builders turning to breaking and repairs rather than building. The first iron ship was build in local shipyards. Other industries included iron works, gun powder manufacturers, paint producers, warehousing and various services which served the employees of those industries. The population expanded, which meant that residential areas grew up.

Trying to gain a snapshot of the place at any one time is truly difficult. Even when the Surrey Commercial Docks was at its height in the late 1800s and the 1900s and peopled by numerous long-term workers, there were many complaints that the place was almost impossible to navigate on the ground. Hindsight should make matters easier but doesn't seem to be doing the trick, somehow!

With so much work becoming available here, the residential area expanded, housing increasing numbers of families. Shortages of land meant that residential areas eventually became dense and often deteriorated into squalor.

So much of Rotherhithe has been demolished and replaced with new housing and associated shopping and other services that there are only a few places left to see in the flesh - the rest has to be pulled together from original documents and later research.

And I thought that the wild flowers were complicated :-) If anyone has any corrections to make please do feel free - but I promise that I am researching this period most carefully from good quality secondary resources with the aid of original maps, archive newspaper articles and prints.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"With land comes responsibility"

I stumbled across this whilst looking for something quite different on the Southwark Council website. Or rather, I had given up on the Council's website, which is one of the most un-navigable entities I've come across in a long time, and was using Google instead.

I thought that this was an interesting and slightly entertaining logo for Southwark Council's surveyor recruitment page, if you like irony. Don't miss the all-important tag-line: "with land comes responsibility". If you've visited the blog before you'll probably guess that I'm thinking about the suggestion that Surrey Dock Farm could be demolished for the creation of a new pier just a couple of hundre yards away from the existing and functional Greenland Pier. It made me give a rather twisted smile, at any rate.

More photographs from last Tuesday

The white vetches are widespread at the moment, but are particularly dense in the waters in the field to the side of Stave Hill.

The only wild roses still in flower are the bramble roses, whose blackberries are very slowly beginning to change from green to red.


Wood vetch ?
Vicia sylvatica
Fagaceae or Leguminosae

Wild carrot
Daucus carota
Apiaceae or Umbelliferae

A rich source of vitamin C, its oil is an ingredient of many anti-wrinkle creams

Friday, July 11, 2008

Rotherhithe Heritage 5 - Pre 1515

Before I launch into the vastly intimidating world of the 19th Century I thought I would step back much further in time and look at the world of Rotherhithe that existed before my first heritage post. I began the heritage posts in 1515 which was the year that Henry VIII established the Royal Docks at Deptford, which effectively kicked off the ship building heritage that grew up south of the river. This post goes back in time and looks at what happened in Rotherhithe before then.

The early past of Rotherhithe will always remain something of a matter of speculation because of the mosaic of docks which eliminated the earlier layers of land, as the 1916 map to the left shows. Archaeology had not been invented in the 1800s, and excavation of heritage was confined to "antiquarians" who focused on very distinctive and easily identified monuments and sites. By the time archaeology became a discipline in its own right any archaeological data remaining in Rotherhithe would have been cleared along with all the other earth during the creation of the network of docks. Any prehistoric and Roman settlement traces would have been removed forever. Most of the artefacts which are loosely provenanced as belonging to Rotherhithe are in fact discoveries from Thames mud and could have washed here from just about anywhere up and down stream.

Other areas have been more revealing. For example, Excavations which took place at the time of the Jubilee Line construction unveiled an enormous amount about archaeology south of the river. It is possible to extrapolate, albeit to a very limited degree, from that data about life south of the river.

The only certainties about Rotherhithe come with documentary evidence, illustrations and, later, photographs. Even so, the fact that until the docks came Rotherhithe was clearly a fairly unimportant place when compared with Southwark and Bermondsey means that references to it are fairly few and far between in Saxon and early Medieval periods.

Sadly for a prehistorian there is no record of prehistory on Rotherhithe. In fact, the area was almost certainly uninhabited. In the prehistoric period the peninsula was mostly marshland and was highly prone to flooding, and part of it will have been underneath the old path of the river Thames which was much wider and reached up to half a mile in width in some places. In a Great Britain where plenty of first, second and even third rate land was available for cultivation and pastoral farming there would probably have been no need to occupy the unattractive poorly drained flood-prone marshes and swamps of this area. Other areas of Southwark, however, were inhabited in prehistoric times from post-glacial times onwards One of the most important discoveries has been plough marks dating to around 1500BC (Iron Age) from Bermondsey at the Wolsely Street site.

There was a big Roman town at London, named Londinium, many remains of which survive and some of which are displayed in the Museum of London. Southwark, probably a series of islands, had an important role to play as a southern route into and out of the town. A thriving extension of the fortified town grew up here. Communication with areas south of the Thames was important, with vast towns like Calleva Atrebatum in Silchester being an important part of the vast Roman urban network. A bridge was built to connect Southwark and Londinium at around AD 50-70, around 60 yards downstream from London Bridge. Southwark was a busy settlement by AD 60 and excavations of Borough High Street uncovered timber houses which were clay-lined. Cart ruts were found preserved in side roads. Signs of widespread burning found during excavations in Southwark date to between AD 60 and 70, and it is thought that they represent the famous Boudican rebellion of AD 61. By the end of the second century AD Roman Southwark extended over an area of around 45 acres.

At the borders of Rotherhithe and Bermondsey, excavations revealed the remains of a Roman cemetery at Cherry Garden Street.  Roman pottery has been found in Rotherhithe - including some items of grey ware and black burnished ware which are preserved in the Pump House Educational Museum in Rotherhithe. The Pump House also has, amongst other things, a spearhead, a brooch, coins and some human remains - including a jawbone and a skull, all found near Trinity Wharf. However, it is extremely unlikely that Rotherhithe was occupied by any Roman settlement and far more likely that the pottery arrived with people who were in transit through the area.

The Romans abandoned Britain in 410 AD. Saxon invasions between the early fifth and late sixth centuries changed the character and landscape of Britain. For two hundred years following the departure of the Romans the area that made up Roman Londinium was largely abandoned, with small villages dotted around the London area until a new centre, Lundenwic, eventually growing up in the area of present day Strand and Covent Garden.

Viking raids began in the eighth century and lasted for 300 years, and in AD 895 Danish Vikings conquered much of central and northern England. In 886 King Alfred moved the occupants of Lundenwic within the walls of the former Roman city so that they could defend themselves against the Scandinavian raiders. This settlement became known as Lundenburh.

At this time Rotherhithe was a wet area of meadows and small streams. The name Rotherhithe is thought to derive from two Saxon words meaning cattle (hrother) and landing place (hythe). This could refer to the peninsula as the harbour where the cattle landed, and the peninsula would certainly have offered good pasture for herds. Rotherhithe is also known as Redriff. This may mean red stream. The first village of Rotherhithe was probably built between the eighth and eleventh centuries on the highest ground on the peninsula, to avoid the perils of flooding. Flooding, however, was an ongoing problem for centuries to come. At that time the village was probably a mixture of rural agriculture, fishing and trading post, taking advantage of both road and river traffic.

As in Roman times Southwark became important as the main southern approach to the Saxon town of London (Ludenwic) and its original name Suthringa geworche reflects this, meaning "the defensive work of the men of Surrey". It is clear that London required its defences because King Sweyn (or Sivegen) attacked London at London Bridge. There are a number of versions of the story, but one version suggests that he attacked in 1013, took London (and effectively the country) but only lived for another five weeks. In 1014 King Cnut (or Canute the Great), son of Sweyn, was proclaimed the King of England by the Danish army that was stationed in England. Cnut sailed up the Thames to repeat his father's attack London, during the reign of Ethelred. It is recorded that he excavated a canal through the marshes following his father's expedience of London's defenses. It has been speculated that the canal may have been started in Rotherhithe where Greenland Dock is now located and ran across Southwark, bypassing London Bridge entirely before re-connecting with the Thames at some point near Vauxhall. Cnut was forced out of England by the joint efforts of the deposed English King and the Norwegian King Olaf II Haraldsson. He was a Norwegian Viking king who helped the English King Ethelred the Unready to free London from the Danes. Their boats destroyed the wooden timbers holding London Bridge. Olaf converted to Christianity, was eventually canonised and is usually credited with being the tipping point which converted Norway to Christianity. He became the patron saint of Norway. We have a Norwegian church dedicated to St Oval on Rotherhithe near the entrance to the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

The Normans invaded in 1066.

In 1082 a priory was established, which later became the abbey for which Bermondsey is best known historically. It was named St Saviour's Abbey. It was built on a low gravel island which kept it above the surrounding marshland, which was characteristic of the area, and was occupied by Cluniac monks. As with many of these types of religious institutions it also served as an educational establishment and was charged with draining the marshland and maintaining the Rotherhithe river wall which prevented tidal flooding. A recent exhibition at the Wellcome Collection featured skeletons excavated from Abbey Street in the 1980s, land, formally part of the Abbey's land. Some of them were arthritic,, and one had suffered a fracture which his right hip which failed to knit properly and must have placed him in considerable ongoing pain. It is thought that he must have continued to walk because his bones were not wasted. The poor man also had osteoarthritis in both shoulders. Surprisingly, in an order which was supposed to promote abstinence, some of the monks were obese (presumably not those tasked with maintaining the river wall!).

Rotherhithe is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 possibly because it was considered to be affiliated with Bermondsey where an abbey gave it precedence. Bermondsey belonged to King William and the Domesday book records farming activities including corn growth, herding for cows and the maintenance of oak trees for supplying pigs with acorns.

In 1094 Rotherhithe was formally transferred to the ownership of Bermondsey Abbey by William II, together with land in Southwark and Dulwich. Bermondsey had a local lay and the monks were involved in building and monitoring flood barriers along the Thames. A river wall followed the line of Rotherhithe Street, and this was breached regularly.

The Annals of Bermondsey Abbey record that Henry II spent the Christmas off 1154 at the Abbey. Rotherhithe was declared a separate manor in the twelfth century.

The mediaeval period saw an explosion of the country's economy, the consolidation of royal and political power in Westminster and a positive rash of new buildings - royal, religious, political and prestigious. New market towns supplied larger towns and cities, and new manor estates were established, both in rural or semi-rural areas.

In 1209 London Bridge was rebuilt in stone and was the only river crossing into London until 1750.

In 1230 the Rotherhithe river wall was breached and is mentioned in the Annals of Bermondsey Abbey. In 1295 Edward I was forced to intervene in local matters south of the river when the Thames breached the river wall at Rotherhithe and swept over much of Southwark, apparently due to neglect by those whose role it was to maintain it. Many of the local flood walls became thoroughfares as people used them to avoid the waters and saturated land below.

The first church of St Mary was present by the middle ages and was perhaps built on the site of an Anglo-Saxon predecessor. Its first known rector was John de Tocqueville in the early 1300s.

It seems improbable today, the the river banks outside the main town were regarded as prime sites for large rural mansions. The remains of Edward III's small palace survive just opposite The Angel public house, to the west of Rotherhithe village. It was built in 1353, costing £1200.00, and its survival is partly due to the fact that it avoided being subsumed into the network of docks to its east. It was excavated in 1985, revealing two courtyards and a moat. It was known as the "paradise", referring to its walled pleasure gardens where exotic fruits were grown. The name Paradise Street echoes this lovely piece of heritage. The King's Stairs which survive today mark the landing stage where the royal party disembarked to visit the palace.

The leather industry was already established in Bermondsey by the fourteenth century, marking the beginning of the end for Bermondsey as a semi rural area. Local streams were put to work in the process of turning animal hides into leather goods.

The Angel public house dates back to the 14th Century. It was originally named The Salutation and monks from Bermondsey Abbey brewed beer there, which they sold to pilgrims.

In 1412 Henry IV, son of the third son of Edward III, stayed in Rotherhithe arriving from his palace at Westminster along the Thames. It was hoped that a break from the city air might cure his disfiguring skin disease, from which he suffered for several years at the end of his life, together with sudden attacks of illness. It has bee speculated that it may have been leprosy, but there are few firm facts to confirm or deny this. He died in 1413 and was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

Details about Rotherhithe (and Bermondsey) in the next century are somewhat confusing but it appears that land exchanged hands numerous times, with portions being allocated to different owners and landlords. I'll try to find out more, but at the moment the picture is distinctly unclear.

Two months on

I feel as though I have been writing this blog forever, but I have only been doing it for two months, as of today.

It never ceases to surprise me how much the place changes, in terms of bird, animal, insect and plant life, from one week to the next.

But some things are reassuringly dependable. Every time I visit I make sure that I go to the Downtown pond to see if the heron is on his perch, and he so often is.

As well as the wildlife I've met and talked with some really rather fascinating and knowledgable people. They have opened my eyes to numerous aspects of a very nearby world which I simply didn't realize existed and about which I am still learning.

All in all, two months in to writing this blog, life has turned out to be full of surprises and I'm having huge fun. Can't be bad.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

DDC information and objection package

Downtown Defence Campaign website

Please be aware that the Downtown Defence Campaign team have been working hard on getting an overall information and objection package together for the general public to take on board, in order to make a judgment on the new application by Barratt Homes for the development of the Downtown site on Rotherhithe.

The DDC has also put together a letter to the supporters of the DDC. Please view it on the DDC site or download it in MS Word or PDF format.

The objection letter for the general public will be finalised and printed by this weekend and DDC members will be knocking on their doors for members of the public to put their names and addresses down if they agree that this application still does not go anywhere near satisfying the people of Rotherhithe. You can see a draft version of this letter here.

As Chairman of the DDC Steve Cornish has written an objection letter, which you can view on the DD site or download it in MS Word or PDF format.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Dodging the showers

I was lucky with the weather yesterday. Having returned from a soggy visit to Bloomsbury, collecting my repaired camera and sticking my head into the British Museum to check on a particular artefact, I arrived at home just as the sun came out. So I grabbed the camera to put it through its paces, new firmware and all. You can see some of the results below. It seems to be back to normal which is a good reflection on the Canon technical team - not only did I drop camera and lens onto a large rock from the seat of a Toyota Landcruiser (partially destroying the lens, which I jury-rigged with parcel tape to last for the remainder of the expedition), but it was exposed to a sand storm a few days later. I've never heard a Tamron lens rattle quite like that. It is amazing how much easier it is to use the camera without desert sand filling every nook and cranny!

I turned out to be a bit too optimistic about how long the weather would hold out for me. A lengthy tour of my usual haunts found me at Stave Hill, and it was only a short trip from there to Spice Island for a Peroni in the sunshine. Spice Island is bedlam at the weekends but the garden tends to be almost empty during the week, and it is a good place to watch the Thames go by. But the weather only held for half a glass before the skies opened leaving me scrambling my scattered possessions together and jogging for cover. Stranded on the wrong side of Rotherhithe in the only pub around here that sells Peroni on tap it seemed silly not to order another, so I sat and read my book and enjoyed my beer until the rain eased off. And lo! the sun reappeared and I made it home without need of my brolly - which probably wouldn't have been much competition for the wind anyway.

Here are some of the new flowers that have burst into life since my last visit. Nothing very remarkable in the grand scale of things, but very pretty. And there are more to come.

Yellow Loosestrife
Lysimachia vulgaris

The word Lysimachia is thought to derive from a combination of the Greek words luo "to loose" and mache "strife", although a second theory is that it was named after the King of Thrace Lysimachus who is alleged to have discovered the plant's medicinal value. Vulgaris simply means "common"

Cichorium intybus

Chicory is an old Arabic word for a plant originally used as a salad vegetable (but derived ulitmately from the Greek kichore) and intybus is the Latin for endive, an old name for chicory

Great Willowherb
Epilobium hirsutum

From the Greek epi (upon) and lobos (pod) = "upon a pod". Hirsutum = hairy

Hedge bindweed
Calystegia sepium

The term calystefia provably derives from a combination of the Greek words "kalyx" (cup) and "stege" (a covering). The term sepium means "of hedges"

Hedge Bedstraw
Galium mollugo

Galium, as I've said in a previous post, derives from the Greek word for milk, gala. I have no idea what the second part of the latin name means - my book stops short of that!

Meadow Brown

The first of these are a bit furry - it was moving around so much that I was lucky to get the shot atall and I focused away from the butterfly by accident. Still, there's enough here to identify the specie. I saw a Red Admiral as well, but the little so and so wouldn't settle.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


One of the things that I like about the Stave Hill Ecological Park and Russia Dock Woodland is that I catch glimpses of the world outside, at buildings where life is carried out at a frequently frantic working pace whilst I wander easily through the trees. Those glimpses always emphasise to me how much of an oasis we have here.

Following on from that I get a real sense of pleasure about the actual regeneration that the Park and Woodland represent. Not in the Tim Thompson sense of knocking down the Surrey Docks Farm so that yet another boat pier can be added, but in the Phoenix rising from the ashes sense. Well up until the mid 1800s Rotherhithe was laced at its edges with ship-based activities and docks but it was still divded from Deptford, Bermondsey and Southwark by fields and streams and market gardens. The massive urban expansion of the late 1800s and early 1900s created a bewildering mosaic of docks and ponds and a crush of buildings of all sizes and types. Shortage of land meant that every inch of it was used for industry and housing. Looking at maps and illustrations of Southwark in the 1700s I am always staggered by how many fields and marshes were elminated in the process of planned explansion.

It is therefore really quite good to know that somewhere in a planning office in the late 80s or early 90s a group of people had the good sense and consideration to return some significantly pleasureable green spaces to Rotherhithe, a faint but very welcome echo of its rural past. Not only did the park make the new developments at Rotherhithe a more attractive proposition for potential buyers looking with some doubts at the very speculative dockland experiement, but it created another reason for us to stay here once the area took off. When you look at the photographs of the abandoned docks in the 1970s, the industrial carnage left behind, that little oasis is a minor miracle. In the days when the dockland innovations first took place "regeneration" was about more than adding endless new buildings to areas without the infrastructure to support them .

I was walking through the park today with my newly repared camera glued to my eye, and I could hear the laughter of children coming from Stave Hill. I rounded a corner and there they were - a small group of young school children, boys and girls, having a terrifc and good-natureed time playing on the rails, running up and down the stairs and laughing with each other. There was no shouting or pushing, no tantrums or squabbles, no tears or grumbles. Just laughter and enjoyment. A rare and beautiful thing these days!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Recent news items from the newspapers

Oil slick hits dock after Rotherhithe boat sinks

Southwark News writer Jon Surtees reported in this week's Southwark News on the soil slick in Rotherhithe's South Dock, which links both to Greenland Dock and the Thames. It was caused by the sinking of a boat which was moored at the eastern end of the dock last Friday. The oil had already damaged some of the local bird life soon after the slick had formed, and was expected to have a negative impact on fish stocks. The Anglers' Co-Operative Association is looking at the possibility of bringing legal action against Southwark Council. Southwark Council, however, say that they have done everything possible to control the situation in close consulation with the Environment Agency.

Jenny Jones letter re proposed Downtown Development

A letter to the South London Press from Jenny Jones, from the Green Party Group, London Assembly, has raised some of the concerns about the Barratt Homes Downtown development proposals. She writes:
With Southwark Executive's decision to grant Barratt Homes a "new contract" for the sale ot the Downtown site in the north of Southwark, we have moved a step close to losing public land, plus its valuable 300 mature trees. Whilst most people accept that some development is necessary, it seems unwise to do this now, in a time of falling prices and unresolved planning applications with Barratt Homes.

Letters suggest that Southwark News Rotherhithe interview left out key issues

Pauline E. Adenwalla, Chair of the Canada Water Consultative Forum has highlighted various gaps in the interview with Tim Thompson in the June 26th edition of Southwark News. She says that the regeneration interview omitted to mention "a number of very important key issues, namely non river transport, employment, sustainability, poor air quality and commitment to deliver the swimming pool as per the Master Plan. All of which are major inter-related concerns of the current population - before regeneration has really started." Her points about the transport infrastrtucture (or lack of it) are most pertinent, and she adds that the Downtown proposals for over 200 dwellings include plans for minimal family units and limited employment opportunities which would raise overall levels of communter traffic in the area.

Councillors Paul Noblet and Lisa Rajan of the Surrey Docks ward also responed jointly to the interview. Whilst making it clear that they are not against all development discussions they say that they "are opposed to any plans to move Surrey Docks Farm". They go on "We are against plans to redevelop the cinema site and replace it with flats. And if the Quebec Way does not turn out to be the optimum site for the new Rotherhithe Academy, we will oppose any residential scheme which threatens the unique, low rise character of much of the area."

The staff at the Surrey Docks Farm were predictably and understandably angry about the proposals, with Kath Wittham saying that "No one in their right mind would want to get rid of it [the farm] to build another wharf."

See the newspaper for the full letters.

Locations of ten new police bases revealed

David Yuill from Southwark News has reported this week on the new locations proposed for the Safer Neighbourhood bases, to be introduced as part of police modernisation plans. Plans include the Rotherithe police station which will be replaced with a new base "with front counter provisions".

Bermondsey hit by wave of fake £20.00 notes

Southwark News have reported this week that fake twenty pound notes have been cirucalating in Bermondsey.

Leisure Park Developments

I posted about the proposed development of the Leisure Park by Frogmore last week. Southwark News added some details in their 26th June edition - the Odeon cinema, Hollywood Bowl and Gala Bingo, plus the restaurants, would be relocated under the new plans, into a multi-storey leisure complex. This will be located behind the newly enlarged Tesco store and the rest of the land will be taken up with over 400 houses and flats. The full planning application is expected to be unveiled in Autumn.

I still have the Frogmore flyer sitting on my desk - there is no mention of the 400 houses and flats on that page and it will be interesting to see how the space is going to be used when their initial proposals are unveiled on the 11th and 12th July at Alfred Salter Primary School.

Rotherhithe Festival - Saturday 9th August

The main festival is planned to take place in King George's Fields off Lower Road. It will include a live concert, face painting, stilt walkers, a bouncy fun run, Punch and Judy, a balloon race, fancy dress and a fishing competition. There will be food and information stalls which will include police and wardens, Southwark libraries, BL Canada Quays, Barratt Homes, Conrad Phoenix, St Crhisopher's Hospice, Army Cadets and Time and Talents. Opening days on various sites around Rotherhithe will include St Mary's Church, Sands Films, Time and Talents, Brunel Engine House, Lavender Pumphouse, Docklands Settlement, Surrey Docks Farm, Swedish and Finnish churches and Stave Hill Ecological Park.
Nominations wanted for the Our Heroes 2008 awards

Categories for 2008 are
  • Child of courage
  • Community campaigner
  • Young ambassador
  • Sport achiever
  • Carer of the year
  • Good samaritan
  • Community project
  • Fundraiser of the year
  • South London Press Award
  • Star of the South, London
Nominations can be submitted online at the South London Our Heroes Awards 2008 web page (or by a form in the newspaper itself). The closing date for nominations is September 19th 2008.

Redriff Primary School Centenary Celebrations

As part of their Centenery celebrations Redriff Primary school are holding two events to which they are inviting past pupils, parents and members of staff. The events are on Wendsday 9th July 2008 and Friday 11th July 2008. They are asking for memorabilia that you might have from any past connection with the school on a strictly loan basis. Contact the School Office on 020 7237 4272.

Late June wildflowers

The last of my wild flower photographs from last week.

Red-leaved Rose
Family: Rosaceae
Species: Rosa glauca / Rosa rubrifolia

Woody nightshade, also known as Bittersweet
Family: Solanaceae
Species: Solanum dulcamara

The name Solanum was given to the nightshade family by Pliny, the famous Roman naturalist. The word may have been derived from the Latin word "solamen", which means solice and may have been a tribute to its medicinal properties.

Common Mallow
Family: Malvaceae
Species: Malva sylvestris

Malva is a Latin word which derives from the Greek "malakos", which means soft or soothing which may refer to the seeds, which produced an emollient.

Lady's Bedstraw
Family: Rubiceae
Species: Galium verum

Galium derives from the Greek "Gala", which means milk. The leaves of Galium verum were once used to curdle milk.

Common Vetch
Family: Leguminosae
Species: Vicia sativa

Vicia is a Latin word, possibly derived from the Latin word vincio, which means "to bind".