A Little London History
Walking around London is always fun – there is so much to see, so many tiny parts of our past left for us to find. However, not all of it is obvious, so here are a few snippets I learned recently.
Did you know, that if a name ends ‘sey’ it was once an island? Bermondsey, near London Bridge, was once a small area surrounded by marsh land. Most of the south bank was marshy, which is why there was only one bridge – London Bridge – crossing the Thames. When you are next crossing London Bridge, just after leaving the railway station, look down at the road underneath. You will see two metal tram lines. These mark the position of the original bridge. They are surprisingly narrow, considering the bridge was a main thoroughfare and had houses and businesses on both sides, over-hanging the river. There is a story (possibly not true) that because people crossing the bridge had to pass very close to each other, they would pass with their sword hands next to each other. Most people were right-handed, so people walked on the left side – and this is why today, English people drive on the left. Apparently Napoleon was left-handed, which is why the French drive on the right side.
If you walk along the south bank through Bermondsey, there are many buildings which were the original dock buildings. Most are now converted to homes, but when you look at them, it doesn’t need much imagination to see how they would have been. At St. Saviours Dock you can see the setting where Dickens wrote the death of Fagin in Oliver Twist. If you walk back to the river, there are areas of floating gardens, and on Sundays they are open to the public.
Many of the railway arches are now small businesses. If you wander around Bermondsey on a Saturday morning, you can buy all sorts of fine produce – a foodies paradise. There is a fine honey shop, which uses the honey from London beehives. Did you know there are beehives on top of Fortnum and Mason, which are shaped just like the shop? There are also hives on top of the KPMG building, though I doubt they are shaped like a set of accounts!
Near to London Bridge is Borough Market, a hive of human activity. This is the place to shop if you want unusual spices, fancy breads, or specialist fish. Just beyond, is Neal’s – the place to buy English cheese. There is also Monmouth coffee house, which I am told sells the best coffee.
The South Bank is where the prostitutes worked and they were called ‘wild geese’. A short walk from Borough Market is a plaque, marking their graves.
Many of the areas of housing are named after what the area was previously used for. So, the housing on the Neckinger estate is so named because it was an area of execution. I’m not sure that the current residents realise that…
Thank you for reading.
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I have always written a diary on holiday, so last Christmas, I decided to find all my old diaries and blogs, and make a book for my children. However, several other people also asked for a copy, so I have written a public version – it’s available on Amazon and has been described as “The Durrells meet Bill Bryson”!
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