An Alphabet Of My Life: B


Very few people will know about the existence of Bermondsey. It was once a London Borough, and is now just a district, consumed into the huge Borough of Southwark, in South London. It had its own council, Bermondsey Borough Council, responsible for refuse collection, Libraries, swimming baths, housing, public buildings, street lighting and roads, among other things.

It is where I come from, born into two rooms above an old lady who lived next door to the gates of the biscuit factory. It was close to the River Thames, boasted docks and wharves, and is directly at the southern end of Tower Bridge.

When I was a child, it provided a happy life for most residents. There was the Solarium, for public health, and the marvellous main Library in Spa Road, where I discovered my love of books in an atmosphere of complete silence, presided over by severe female librarians. I could take out three books a week, every week. And I did.

There was also full employment. The Docks, the Leather Tanneries, the Jam factory, the Vinegar factory, and the Sausage factory where my paternal grandmother once worked. The biscuit factory priovided employment for my mother, who worked in the offices, and the Flour Wharf was where my maternal grandfather worked, on the banks of the River Thames close to London Bridge.

It was a working class area, with predominantly white British residents. In fact they were predominantly Londoners, and most from the same families well-known in the area. We played in the parks and on the many bombsites left over from WW2, and most of our relatives lived in the same street, or the next street over.

Every corner had a pub and a corner shop. Some streets had small rows of shops, and there was the nearby street market in Southwark Park Road. We had a small cinema, a branch of Woolworths, and there was nothing we needed to leave the borough to buy, unless we wanted to. It was a self-contained community, in every sense of that description.

For many years, I described my self as being ‘From Bermondsey’. Not London, not South London, but Bermondsey. I was proud to be a ‘Bermondsey Boy’, to go to school in Bermondsey, get my haircut in Bermondsey, and to go to the Wimpy Bar in Bermondsey. I felt I had little or no need (or desire) to leave that small borough.

Then in 1967, when I was fifteen years old, my dad decided to leave Bermondsey and buy a house in the Kent suburbs, fifteen miles east. I never really forgave him for that, and for the next two-plus years I made the long commute to and from school, often staying with friends or relatives back in Bermondsey at weekends. I had my first serious girlfriend in Bermondsey, and once I was driving, it was my first choice to drive back and spend time where I felt comfortable.

Many years later, and much of that area has been gentrified. The pubs have closed, and outsiders have moved in paying small fortunes for houses once considered to be slums.

I remain content with my memories, and have written quite a lot about it on my blog. Here’s a link.

53 thoughts on “An Alphabet Of My Life: B

  1. You had an idyllic childhood, not unlike mine with relative close by and the library being my haven! Not much has changed as I now live only blocks from the family home with my three grand daughters across the street! A good childhood is a treasure. 💕C

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My B would be Badger Village in Wisconsin. I spent some of my formative years there. they had a grocery store, post office, and school and lots of apartments in single level arrangements. It no longer exists. warmest regards, Ed

    Liked by 1 person

  3. (1) If you were born in two rooms, did you get motion sickness as the bed was rolled back and forth between them during labor?
    (2) Meanwhile, at the factory, employees were baking the biscuits. In the biblical sense.
    (3a) Doc and Dwarfs? Sounds like a Disney tale to me.
    (3b) I had to weed out six dwarfs to find the Flower Dwarf.
    (4) “I could take out three bookies a week, every week. And I did.” (source: “Confessions of a Las Vegas Mobster”)
    (5) The Bermondsey Boy is now the Beetley Bloke.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s important to have a sense of belonging and it’s hard when you go back to find everything changed. I was only 8 when my parents took me “abroad” and we bounced around so there has never been a place I could really call home. Redcliffe Square where I was born still looks much the same as far as I can tell from Google maps but I think the residents are a very different group. Your descriptions are so good, Pete. I can see it and feel it all and I feel as if I recognize the people. Salt of the earth, most of them, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They were indeed. Glad to hear you could see and feel it.
      Redcliffe Square is unchanged, except for house prices. A 1-bed flat would cost you £955,000, and a 3-bed house would stretch you to £2,300,000!
      Best wishes, Pete.


  5. What? Not Beetley? 😁 Okay, Bermondsey! I can picture the place and the times you describe so well. On our first trip to London we stayed on that side of the river. On our second trip we did too, and I remember the Southwark Cathedral and Market fondly. Also, the Imperial War Museum around there somewhere?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bermondsey is my roots, and Beetley has already been covered extensively on this blog. 🙂
      The Imperial War Museum is in Lambeth Road, S.E.1, and is very close to Bermondsey, Susanne. I could certainly walk there from where I lived then, which was two miles east. It is in the Borough of Southwark, the same as Bermondsey is now.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Lovely memories, Pete and similar to mine in many ways inc the stern librarians I too took out the maximum allowed…we then grow up and if we go back everything has changed the library no longer exists it is something else and the little shops taken over by the multiples…but at least we had happy childhood memories 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My old Bermondsey library is now a Bhuddist Centre. But the local library for Beetley is in Dereham Town Centre, and is well-used. We even have the mobile library calling in Beetley. (Not that I use that, as I have too many books still waiting to be read.)
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Lovely memories! We moved around so often, I never put down roots as a kid. And, oh, how I remember stern librarians! They seem so much more approachable these days. Like you, I borrowed as many books as I could. Thanks for sharing this bit of nostalgia, Pete. Hugs 💕🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sounds very much like Poplar, where I grew up. There were the docks, wharves and warehouses for employment, a swimming pool, library, shops and a market, and schools and parks. We didn’t often travel out of the area until Dad bought a car in the late 1960s.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Only a few times over Tower Bridge then direct to the Elephant & Castle. I never went left or to Rotherhithe. I went to KCH & Woolwich military hospital a few times, from the Camberwell end. The LAS cricket team played in Elham often & I went there by train. So does that put me through Bermondsey??

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yes. Tower Bridge Road SE1 is in Bermondsey. Part of it runs parallel to Bermondsey Street, and it passes Grange Road on the left as you proceed toward the Elephant and Castle. Grange Road was where the swimming baths and leather tanneries were located. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

All comments welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.