Jam Tomorrow! Some history and notes on the regeneration and gentrification of North Southwark & Bermondsey: Part One: 1900 – 1987
Hay’s Wharf Hartley’s Jam Factory Butlers Wharf
A chronicler who recites events without distinguishing between major and minor ones acts in accordance with the following truth: nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for history. To be sure, only a redeemed mankind receives the fullness of its past – which is to say, only for a redeemed mankind has its past become citable in all its moments. Each moment it has lived become a citation a l’ordre du jour – and that day is Judgement Day
Walter Benjamin – Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940)
The wind blows hard among the pines
Toward the beginning
Of an endless past.
Listen: you’ve heard everything.
In the year 2000, work started on redeveloping the empty Hartleys Jam Factory at Rothsay St, off of Tower Bridge Rd. It’s former industrial use as a place of employment for hundreds of women and men from the Bermondsey area would be remembered in the branding of the new luxury apartments and fashionable ‘live-work’ lofts as ‘The Jam Factory’.The title of this pamphlet ‘Jam tomorrow!‘ comes from the old working class resignation that a better life is just around the corner.
Part One: 1900 – 1987
“We would all do well to remember the angry protests of the womenfolk of Bermondsey in the 1920’s who fought for two-storey houses with gardens…In this climate of fee competition and scrabbling for jobs, is there no group of architects who will publicy decry…what is going on at Cherry Garden Pier…? Are we all, as people claiming the title of architect, to sit on the sidelines and be quietly haunted by the ghosts of the women of Bermondsey?”
Editorial, Architects Journal, April 1984
Welcome to North Southwark
In the last twenty years of the Twentieth Century, money has once again transformed the skyline of North Southwark and Bermondsey as rapidly as it had previously transformed the skyline at the start of the Nineteenth Century. Whereas then warehouses and wharves seemed to pop up at the riverside over night, nowadays money brings luxury developments of flats and restaurants alongside the springing up of huge office complexes. If you had only ever taken two walks in your life along the south bank of The Thames, with one in 1981 and the other in 2001, you would not believe that you were walking along the same local roads and footpaths. The pace of redevelopment has been astounding. This is especially amazing when you consider that the whole process was slowed to almost a halt by the worldwide recession in the 80’s and early 90’s. Today, at 2001, the process is still in full swing, back with a bang and, barring the signs of another economic slump slowly brewing on the horizon, seems to be gaining speed year by year.
The last lived in post-war prefab in Southwark, next door to early London County Council social housing.
The first development
At the start of the Nineteenth Century, the landscape of the area was transformed by the rapid increase in trade and industry that was becoming centered on the riverside area. Britain’s empire and its associated shipping and trade companies were bringing imports from all over the world to the ever-expanding docks of London. The expansion of Britain’s industrial base brought factories and wharves right across the Thamesside area and the old pleasure gardens, market gardens and farms were built over with crowded streets of houses for the increasing working population.
Factories and processing firms now sprang up all over the area with leather, brewing and food industries being the main source of employment for local people. Some of Britain’s most famous brands were local to North Southwark – Sarson’s vinegar, Courage beer, Peek Freans biscuits, Crosse and Blackwell’s pickles, Anchor Butter, Jacobs crackers, Hartley’s Jam and Spillers dog biscuits.
The Thames was then a working river with large ocean-going ships delivering raw materials and products to Surrey Docks (in the Rotherhithe peninsula) where smaller vessels and barges would bring the stuff upriver to be unloaded at the wharves of Bermondsey and Bankside. The area surrounding the riverside and the inland factories were soon full of row upon row of narrow streets and alleys with hastily erected dwellings built back to back. Where there had once been open fields, now an entirely unregulated house building market saw the classic slums come to cover the landscape. (1)
As a result of the new trade and industry, the population had rapidly increased. In Bermondsey, for example, the population had risen from 17,000 in 1801 to 86,000 by 1881. People worked long hours for low pay, or were frequently unemployed and with a lack of sanitation or clean water supply and terrible overcrowding, cholera, tuberculosis and other diseases were rampant in the close-knit communities1 . By contrast, the rapid growth of trade and industry based on the continuing expansion of the British empire, saw prosperous times for middle-class entrepreneurs and managers.
By the later part of the century, the ever increasing industrial and commercialisation of the area, forced through the first demolition of the slums, to meet its needs for railways, new or wider roads, warehousing and offices. Between the 1830’s and 1860’s, during the railway boom, LondonBridge station and line was built just a little back from the riverside compounding the area’s sense of density and enclosure, as well as adding to the housing problem as renters were displaced without homes or compensation. The poorest residents usually moved into the next nearest neighbourhood, staying close to the source of work, but added to the already significant overcrowding. For example, the Metropolitan Board of Works construction of the new and wide Southwark Street in the early 1860’s further displaced the residential working classes of St Saviours (Bankside), who had previously settled there after having been removed from the Blackfriars area when the railway had been built. As an indication of numbers involved in the clearances for railways or new roads, it is estimated that the Southwark Street scheme and the extension of the railway across the river to Ludgate Hill displaced over 9,000 inhabitants.
Around the 1890’s the construction of new warehousing along the river began replacing the industrial population of North Southwark and Bermondsey, pushing some of the locals South to live in Walworth and North Camberwell. Both of these areas were changing fast as the poor came to dominate the local housing market, renting rooms in the now sub-divided Georgian and early Victorian houses and the middle-classes and artisans began to move away to the newly emerging suburbs. The Metropolitan Board of Works belief that the clearances would contribute to a de-population of the densely overcrowded riverside areas turned out to be false. Lack of cheap housing, food or cheap transport in the suburbs meant that the poor had to stay local to employment in ever worsening conditions.
By the last quarter of the 19th Century, some things had begun to change and it was around this time that philanthropic institutions, responding to the perceived threat of ‘outcast London’ or the ‘mighty mob’, began to try and improve conditions for local working people. Churches and missions provided food and some health and education services were started locally. Cheaper housing was also built by philanthropic trusts like Guinness, Peabody and the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company (2) but although this was an improvement on back-to-back rentals, philanthropic ‘model housing’ could still mean poor quality or badly designed tenements. Regular complaints were of too-steep stairs and dingy interiors (3). Seasonal work and casualisation in the docks plus periods of high unemployment also meant that cheaper than private rents were still not easy to find on a regular basis. Most philanthropic trusts had rents and rules that excluded the low and irregularly waged, favouring artisans and the semi-skilled. Peabody buildings were austere, often referred to as ‘poor law bastilles’, and the rules forbade home-working which was a mainstay of women’s employment (taking in laundry, fur-pulling, box-making etc.). Costermongers were not be permitted to leave their all important barrows in yards of the new model homes. At the end of the day, applicants for flats needed an employers reference but with many locals employed on a casual basis, this would be an impossibility.
The philanthropic housing market, with Peabody supposedly building tenements for the poorest, did not solve any more problems than it created in the long run. The results of the slum clearances were dubious, with the unskilled and poorest families pushed out an area to rent overcrowded rooms somewhere else, while the, by comparison, better off working class households stayed behind in new tenements. Slum landlords benefitted from compensation whilst those forced out did not receive a penny. The trusts, operating housing with middle-class ideas fixated on improving the ‘dangerous classes’ or, if that could not work, separating the hard-working and employed, who could afford the rents, from the bad influence of the casual or criminal poor, began an early process of skewed inter-class gentrification in the area. An 1885 Royal Commission on Housing summed up this philosophy – ‘Destructive classes…you must either do better or you must leave; which is it to be?’ The problem, however, was not one of bad character or lack of morals but usually one of simple economy – if you don’t got the money, you don’t pay the rent! This simple political dimension to the housing problem seemed to elude most philanthropic reformers(4) .
The next half-century would start to see a change in the belief and insistence that the free-market and private house builders could solve the desperate living condition of the poor in London. The housing free-market by mid-century came to be subject to some loose local regulations although the local governing vestries were still unwilling to interfere despite overcrowding and dangerous structural conditions. By the start of the 1900’s, the urban working class had begun to organise and were putting forward demands for a better standard of living. The Great Dock Strike of 1889 had been successful in terms of organisation and outcome. Locally, militancy and determination began to see changes forced through. By the 1890’s, social housing, paid for by local ratepayer, was also slowly being erected by the municipality although locals remained outspoken against the new tenements and demanded the construction of cottages.
Bread and Roses: ‘Red Bermondsey’
In 1899, the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey was created and by the time of the 1920’s and 30’s, the local area had been nicknamed ‘Red Bermondsey’ on account of the militancy of the local working class communities and the progressive Borough programmes that had been developed to raise the standard of living for thousands of poor people in the area. With the influence of Alfred and Ada Salter, both Councillors and then MP and Mayor respectively, far-sighted schemes to tackle deprivation at the root were implemented including the demolition of slums and the construction of decent quality council blocks and cottage-style dwellings, the model being Wilson Grove built in 1927 near Bermondsey Wall East and the few cottages built in Albion St in 1931. As well as the building of a public health centre (‘Prevention Is Better Than Cure’), public baths and laundry, a Borough Beautification Committee planted trees and flowers along local streets and developed public gardens and playgrounds. A wonderful list of trees planted by 1927 by the Beautification Committee includes, for example, ‘Tooley Street – 148 London Plane trees and 6 Black Italian Poplars’ amongst others. A bakery co-operative was also set up that in it’s hey day had over 10,000 local members. But all this was not the result of pure philanthropy. Local working class women and men had fought long hard battles for decent social housing and local provision.
At the start of the 1900’s, the Bermondsey Tenants Protection League and the local branch of the Independent Labour Party had been adding to pressure for working-class housing reform. The 1915 rent strikes in Britain had succeeded in getting rent control put through Parliament and post-WW1 direct action in working class communities with squatting campaigns, resisted evictions and mass demos had, by 1919, via legislation, secured a clear responsibility for local authorities to provide housing with financial support from central government.
In Southwark and Bermondsey, class struggle in the first half of the 20th century was tough with numerous strikes and occupations and riots against the police and employers. In August 1911, a wildcat general strike was held all across the borough with significant militancy coming from non-unionised women strikers in the local food processing trades. After the first world war and the demob, unemployment struggles were also fought hard with demos and action for increases in local authority welfare payements. During the 1926 General Strike, workers committee’s had been established in Bermondsey, Southwark and Camberwell to run local affairs during the stoppage, coordinating welfare and providing information as well as providing uncensored info on the progress of the strike. Pitched battles were fought with scabs and police to prevent unloading at Hay’s Wharf, the biggest wharfage South of the river.
By 1927, the limits of municipal socialism had been reached when the borough council was forced by Parliament to reduce local wages and welfare payments . Despite this, the achievements of ‘Red Bermondsey’ were still demonstrable. By 1938, the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey had built 2252 dwellings, owning a total of 3,350 and the London-wide London County Council (LCC) had built in Southwark another 4,800 homes. During the post war period of 1945 – 1955, a further 9,600 homes had been built by Bermondsey and the London County Council. The death rate from disease and poverty, which was one of the highest in the UK, had been systematically reduced via the re-housing programme and the visionary health policies that had been put into effect in the 20’s.
Decline and Fall of The Riverside
At the end of the Second World War, with an estimated 25,000 bombs dropped on it, much of Docklands had been destroyed. In Bermondsey, only 730 properties, out of 19,500, escaped war damage!
The next decade saw a radical reconstruction of the docking industry’s infrastructure and working practices. New facilities were built and newer working practices were introduced. Palletisation and fork-lift unloading saw the decrease in the number of dockers needed to handle goods and bythe mid-60’s, the system of Roll-On/Roll-Off delivery was gradually taking over the traditional ways of delivering goods to London’s docklands. The rise in wage payments due to the decasualisation of labour in the 1960’s and an increasing awareness of the redevelopment potential of the riverside land was signalling the decline of the traditional worker-heavy industry along The Thames. By the end of the 60’s, with the change in goods transportation to favour large container lorries, the huge deep-wharf ports at Tilbury, further down The Thames estuary and the port at Felixstowe were taking the majority of the old London Docklands trade, the huge size of the container ships making them unable to reach the riverside docks in central and east London.
In Southwark, the large Surrey Docks closed to river traffic in 1970. The age of the riverside industry’s was almost over. With the changes in delivery systems, the old industries of North Southwark began to close down or relocate. It is estimated that half of the manufacturing jobs in Southwark were lost in the period from 1971 to 1986. By the mid-Eighties, all the local major manufacturing factories were gone leaving large areas of industrial wasteland. On the river, the empty wharves ran from Blackfriars Bridge to the middle of the Rotherhithe Peninsula. In the hinterlands, warehouses and factories that had dominated the local life of the area, stood empty and increasingly derelict. Alongside this, ran the closure of local shops and social clubs, cinemas and recreational centres, leaving housing estates often isolated in the middle of nowhere, especially in the eastern reaches of Surrey Docks.
The second development
In 1965, the local metropolitan councils of Bermondsey, Southwark and Camberwell had been amalgamated to form the London Borough of Southwark. The London County Council had at the same time been re-jigged as the Greater London Council (GLC). By this time, a lot of local social housing and services in the Borough had degenerated with different council estates falling down around tenants ears. The borough of Southwark was (and still is) one of the most deprived urban areas in the U.K.
The post-war implementation of the Abercrombie Plan to revitalise London through Government planning had failed by the middle of the 60’s. Detailed proposals for Southwark had been to encourage the rebuilding of local industries; to develop the South Bank as a cultural centre and area of offices; and to decrease the population. The first proposal had initial success but by the 80’s most industry had left. The Hop trade, traditional in Southwark for hundreds of years, disappeared in 1972. Sainsburys, whose food processing site was in Bankside for years, moved away in 1973. Bankside Power Station was built on the Thames riverfront during the fifties but closed in 1981. Courage Breweries moved out in 1982. Spillers in 1983. Ashby Teas went in 1985. All the famous brand names made in the local area had now gone. The second part of the plan saw the construction of the Festival Hall at Waterloo and many large ugly government offices in Southwark but the jobs made available by these new developments were not in areas of work that local people had any experience or skills in. Thirdly, population did fall but by much lower than anticipated despite slum clearance and relocation by both LCC, GLC and Southwark of council tenants to estates outside of the area, mainly to Downham in Lewisham or further afield to Essex.
A host of economic changes including mergers, moves to larger premises, closure of archaic business and loss of trade finally brought about the end of the riverfront industries in Southwark. But the process which accelerated the collapse of business into such a short period was the unprecedented boom in land values starting in 1963 and reaching its first peak in 1973. In 1968, an enquiry had found in favour of a proposed development of a large office development for King’s Reach near the riverside on Stamford St. It had been denied planning permission by the Council but the Dept. of the Environment overturned the decision in favour of the property developers and the complex was built. This decision was to have a knock-on effect for development in Southwark especially in the controversial case of Hays Wharf.
Hays Wharf dockside to yuppie warren
Hay’s Wharf, next to London Bridge, an important landing stage since the Seventeenth Century, began in the 1950’s to buy up land all along the Southwark riverside. In 1965, it owned the freehold of 38 acres of wharves and warehouses between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, along Tooley Street. To aid this speculation, the company built a series of wharves and cold storage depots much further down the river to free up their entire land holding for redevelopment. In 1968, the company employed 5,300 people. Two years later, 2000 jobs had been shed. Suspicion that the riverfront was wanted for development was a key factor in a short strike at the wharf in 1969.
In June 1970 Hays Wharf shares stood at 154p. A little over six months later, the shares were being traded at 402p each. Rumours of a massive 1.5 million sq. ft. development of offices on the Tooley St Hays Wharf site spread around the area. In April 1971, the Council changed the land use of Hays Wharf from ‘waterside uses’ to ‘West End uses’. By August, 6 shop stewards representing the remaining 200 wharf workers ‘protested in the strongest possible manner of the present activities of property companies in acquiring active industries in this borough’. But, by October, the company itself issued to its shareholders a brochure detailing their intentions of a £300 million plan of shops and offices, hotels and homes.
The Labour-controlled Southwark Council had readily agreed to the, then Conservative controlled, GLC plans for North Southwark to re-zone the area for hotels and offices. The Council’s own ‘Strategy Plan for Southwark’s Thames-side’ came out in draft form in April 1971 but was not debated in council meetings. There had been a certain amount of panic within the local council about planning blight and dereliction and so they had embarked upon an advertising campaign to developers promising acres of land for ‘immediate redevelopment’. No surveys were undertaken to consider the effects of large-scale office and service industry redevelopment on the social patterns of local area. The expected revenue in rates from five million sq. ft of development was seen as the solution to the poverty of the Borough. By 1972, as word spread and rumours of the Strategy Plan turned into fact, local tenants and community associations began to develop a campaign of opposition to the Hays Wharf plan which resulted in the plan being delayed for four months. Arguments about the disastrous effects on the local small business, the needs and wishes of the local community and the lack of consultation about the development plans made their way into the national press and to TV. In 1973, the final draft of the Strategy Plan was passed at a full Council meeting with a few amendments on social housing but with plans for re-zoned big development intact. The Labour controlled borough was offering millions of feet of development space across from The City without substantial planning gains (i.e promises of some local facilities paid for by the developer) in a time of London-wide restriction of high-rise development. Land and property speculation in the North Southwark area went mad. In a two year period, land values went rose from about £150,000 per acre for office land to over £1 million. North Southwark was a development industry dream come true.
Heygate Estate in Walworth
As an example of rapid changes in the riverside area, the traditional working-class area of The Borough, beneath London Bridge, saw the local community destroyed in a five year period as the local shops and homes along Borough High Street were systematically turned into office developments (5). In September 1975, 30 office buildings had been recently completed or were underway. Fairfield Property Group, via a dozen subsidairy companies all with the same four directors, built 12 or so office developments alone in The Borough in the early 70’s. Here the Borough High Street’s status as a Conservation Area worked against the local community as companies developed the more economically profitable offices, and not residential buildings, as it was easier to comply with the conservation of the physical (but not social) character of the area.
The GLC’s widening of Jamaica and Lower Rd in the 1970’s, as first set out in the 1943 Abercrombie plan, and the construction of a large roundabout by the entrance to the Rotherhithe Tunnel was similarly socially destructive. The western part of Rotherhithe’s riverside community, a town centre of shops and public buildings, was removed in favour of the re-jigging of the vast traffic artery that runs near the river from East to West. As a result, the most ancient streets of Rotherhithe were all demolished including a unique row of 18th century captain’s houses and replaced by an official open space that was scarcely utilised.
Running parallel to what developers were up to in North Southwark and Bermondsey, houses, shops and public buildings all over the Borough were also being bulldozed for disastrous local authority-led ‘regeneration’ schemes (6). In 1970, at Bricklayers Arms on the Old Kent Rd, a massive concrete flyover and roundabout ruined very many old and functional buildings to create a series of intimidating pedestrian subways that run through a car-dominated concrete wilderness. Lost to the borough were some architecturally lovely Georgian and Victorian buildings including the 1907 Neo-Gothic public library with it’s external mosaics.
By the mid-60’s, the disastrous Elephant and Castle regenearation scheme had also landed in Southwark, its dark and half-filled shopping centre an immediate failure as local people continued to shop, as they had always done, in their traditional communities like Walworth Rd and East St, The Borough or The Cut at Waterloo. The heartland of the Elephant and Castle area, ‘the most unselfconscious muddle of buildings and traffic’, was replaced with the ‘confidently tough aesthetic of exposed concrete’. Alongside this, two massive high-density housing schemes were built in Walworth. The Heygate and Aylesbury Estates, built to house 9,500 people, were soon described as ‘instant slums’. By the year 2000, both were facing demolition or vast regeneration projects. The Aylesbury’s inclusion in the Guinness Book of records for the longest block in Europe would count for nothing!
This period of public and private re-building contributed very little to the needs and expressions of the differing local communities and has come to be seen as a time when almost anything and everything redeeming in the physical landscape was torn down for an ‘improving’ concrete replacement. Despite surviving the bombing of the war, numerous buildings worth much in architectural quality and style, as well as familiarity and sense of place, were lost in this period making the borough, despite its dense population, one of the more ugly places in London.
But, some successes had also been achieved. The Queen’s Buildings tenements, an early example of model philanthropic housing built on the site of the old King’s Bench prison, was by the mid-60’s, one of the borough’s most mouldering slums. In1978, after close on fifteen years of struggle, tenants from the buildings had finally been re-housed in the newly built Aylesbury Estate in Walworth.
Some 2-storey houses and cottage-style dwellings on the pleasant and well-designed Scovell Estate, off Borough Rd were built around 1970. Other council re-housing schemes were almost as good, for example, the seventies Newington and Pasley Estates in SE17. Or, in Bermondsey, low-rise villagey-feel homes built at Setchell Estate (1972-78) and Keetons Rd (1981). The start of the 80’s also saw Falcon Point built at Bankside, right by The Thames and next door to the empty power station that would become the Tate Modern, twenty years later.
Further downriver however, the signs were ominous for local people. Back in 1969, in what would be an early example of the taste of things to come, a newspaper advert promised ‘a luxury home on London’s riverbank’ and one of the first of a series of new developments was begun in Custom House Reach, in Rotherhithe. Wally Fletcher, the then chair of the Downtown Estates Tenants Association and the Surrey Docks Action Group, speaking in 1975, could not have imagined the future – ‘the riverside must not be allowed to develop on the lines of …Custom House Reach in Odessa St, whereby a few people get those parts of the riverside exclusively’. Echoing local feeling and expectation that the area should be developed for the people who lived and worked there, he continued ‘(the landowners) got their assets out of the blood and sweat of the river and docks communities; they must be made to put some of it back for the benefit of those communities’.
Docklands – ‘Big Money is Moving In’ (7)
Various government agencies had been set to work on what to do with the failing London docks. In 1971, the London Docklands Study Team proposed a slow phase out by 1988 of all the remaining open docks in the East End. Another government body, The Docklands Joint Commitee of 1974, lead to the creation of a Strategic Plan in July 1976 that recommended the retention of local trades and the building up of new industrial estates of small factories. The plan also wanted relief roads built into the docklands area with low income housing and schools to be constructed as well. It suggested a modernisation programme for the remaining docks but the Port of London Authority (PLA), the docks managers, were back in debt by 1978 and announced the closure of all its upriver docks. The age of the London Docks was over and with the industry gone, the empty buildings would become once more occupied, not by local workers as cheap and decent housing but as penthouse flats and luxury apartments for the middle classes. As had begun to happen in the East End riverfront of London, Southwark and Bermondsey began to see the conversion of warehouses and factories into private residential housing and office developments. To oversee the free-for-all, in 1981, the Conservative government, elected two years earlier, created the infamous London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) to oversee the recreation of the Docklands area. Board members were all appointed by central government and ranged from bankers and financiers, former new town corporation members, Dept. of the Environment (DOE) officials to members of the Board of various private companies and architectural or planning practices plus chairs of giant property investment companies.
The LDDC was given powers of development control but, in theory, no power or duty to make statutory development plans which would be left in the hands of local authorities. (Later on, they would oppose and destroy Southwark’s own development plan). Powers of compulsory purchase were established and £70 million a year towards the initial purchase of public sector authorities’ land (mainly Port of London Authority owned). The LDDC, and its mission to attract private finance for the regeneration, was still subsidised from public taxes to the tune of £1,098 million between 1981 and 1990. Curiously enough, old-guard Labourite Bob Mellish, the then sitting MP for Southwark and Bermondsey was enthroned as vice-chair of the corporation and ex-Council leader John O’Grady, Mellish’s right-hand man for many decades, was appointed as another board member.
In 1982, the docklands ‘Enterprise Zone’ was put into effect in the East End. Developers could secure a ten year deal of no rates and investments offset against tax for office and commercial developments and be sure of no planning enquiries. In Bermondsey, the LDDC working with Southwark Council and with private finance, set about transforming the riverside, not as a ‘provider of services’ or builder of housing but as a ‘facilitator, supporter and pump primer’ for urban development. The LDDC’s power was demonstrated when the Council attempted to implement it’s North Southwark Plan whereby the first objective would be to develop the area for the needs of the local inhabitants. A clash of concepts occured with the Council’s notion of ‘effective use’ for land and vacant property meaning to restore modern industry to the area. For the LDDC ‘bringing into effective use’ meant selling land or buildings for speculative developments. At a public inquiry into the draft plan the LDDC appeared as one of the main objectors. In May 1986, the Dept. of the Environment then stepped in to provide the country with it’s first example of a local council being prevented from implementing its own plan that it had a statutory right to draw up in the first place. DOE rejection of the plan was based on ‘the plan’s opposition to office and other private development…its unrealistic commitment to public housing’. The provision of low-cost rented housing in the riverside was dismissed as a ‘nice gesture’. The future of what was known as ‘the Southwark site’ was up in the air again. Since the closure of the docks, numerous other schemes outlining homes and industry for the site (Trade Mart in 1980, the Little Holland plan a little later) had fallen by the way side.
Now, local private development began to snowball. St Martins Property Group, the owners of Hays Wharf completed the first phase of its planned massive 2.5 million square foot redevelopment of the river front from London Bridge to Tower Bridge in 1981 despite continuing local opposition (including an occupation of HMS Belfast in April that year). Called London Bridge City (Phase 1) the old wharf and warehouses were converted into a private hospital, the massive Cottons Centre office block, Hays Galleria shopping centre, as well as the newly built No.1 London Bridge offices. Despite fierce local opposition that had managed to keep the massive development at bay, the LDDC pushed it through with no public inquiry. The caption on a Docklands Community Poster Projects billboard ‘Big Money is Moving In’ was coming true. This collage with its skyline of new offices and flats has in the foreground a rubbish bin overflowing with the local authority statutory plans for Docklands.
On the other side of Tower Bridge, the large Butlers Wharf site was developed by Conran Roche, the practice of Sir Terence Conran (the founder of Habitat et al) to include the Design Museum, five fancy restaurants, six warehouse conversions for luxury apartments, the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum and residences for London School of Economics students.
Conran Roche had been slowly acquiring the 5 hectares of mainly riverside property (17 buildings) that made up the Butlers Wharf scheme. With the backing of the LDDC, and with so much property and infrastructure to play with, Conran Roche came to be seen as ‘a small, privatised planning authority’7. Between 1981 and 1986, conversion schemes at the Anchor Brewhouse by Tower Bridge, New Concordia Wharf at St Saviours Dock and other local warehouses created high-cost residential housing. £2.5 million was paid for the penthouse flat at the old brewery. Other residential developments near to Tower Bridge included The Circle on Queen Elizabeth St, nearby Horsleydown and Brewery Squares, plus China Wharf and the gradual redevelopment of all remaining warehouses at the inland St Saviours Dock. Much of this land included the former civic spaces, streets and passageways of the older community. After redevelopment, it was commented that although the street network was kept in tact, the ‘resulting environment took on a quality not of public space but of private strongholds’. The Circle, Shad Thames and Queen Eliazbeth St are decribed as ‘an outdoor private lobby with pedestrians allowed through’.
In 14 years, 1,600 housing units were completed in the LDDC Bermondsey Riverside area. Of this a staggering 96% were for owner-occupation. This in a London Borough with a rate of council house occupancy at 51% of the resident population (in 1991).
Similarly with employment opportunites, local people were never really part of the plans. By 1988, about 70% of firms in the LDDC zones were in the service industries with an emphasis on high-tech and finance. One in four jobs required high finance or business skills. Despite some initial LDDC investment in retraining and sponsorship of some education centres, unemployment continued to rise in the the Urban Enterprise area. Early investors in the Surrey Docks area such as the new Associated Press printworks created few jobs as employees were transferred over from Fleet St. The flagship Surrey Quays shopping centre built on the half-filled in Canada Dock, and the later nearby restaurants and cinema, offered mainly low-paying service industry employment as cleaners, retail staff or security guards.
By the mid-80’s, local people had watched as their community’s were either relocated in LDDC/Southwark Council schemes or their estates were hidden from view by the development of high-rise luxury flats. One early comment made on behalf of the LDDC concerning Charlie Lunn’s cafe on Redriff Estate summed up the ethos of the years of development to come – ‘there’s no room any more for a working man’s cafe’.
But local people were far from powerless. From the start of the decline of the docks, local people had been organising to try and resist big office and yuppie developments.
Resistance to the Plans
At the very start of the 80’s, local people, tenants groups and political activists in the North Southwark Community Development Group were putting out flyers, holding public meetings and flyposting against the rampant speculation in North Southwark and especially opposing the Hays Wharf and Butlers Wharf developments. They also issued numerous reports on social issues including what local people wanted and studies of declining industry and employment in the area.
In October 1981, on the first day of the LDDC’s reign, people from Southwark, Newham and Tower Hamlets, joining together as the Joint Docklands Action Group, picketed the Corporation’s offices in Poplar demanding the implementation of the London Docklands Strategic Plan from July 1976. For many people living in the Docklands area, the LDDC was an undemocratic and unaccountable impostion. To avoid red-tape on development and troublesome local opposition, the LDDC had simply denied local groups representation on the Board, or had created non-representational roles for local authority leaders. The Board met without agendas, published no minutes and granted no public speaking rights at meeetings. The then LDDC chairman, Sir Nigel Broackes summed up their attitude on local democracy in a Guardian interview – “why face aggravation from councils opposed to the profit motive and home ownership”.
Campaigners also argued that the LDDC would give free rein to private developers with no overall structured planning process and that local businesses, and thus local jobs, would continue to be pushed out or forced to close.
In November 1982, local tenants and activists from the Bermondsey Labour Party and a number of local councillors occupied the scaffolding of the conversion of Corbetts Wharf warehouse in Bermondsey Wall East, between the river and the run down Millpond Estate. The protest was against one of the first LDDC-assisted private developments of a former riverfront wharf into luxury flats. The demands were for the abolition of the LDDC and the implementation of the Southwark Council and GLC plans to develop Surrey Docks and Bermondsey for local people including industrial jobs, council houses with gardens, new shops and better public transport.
Other local initiatives and community organising was centered around equality issues and childcare provision, especially the Surrey Docks Childcare Project. Another local campaign for homes in Elephant Lane, near the riverside, saw local school children devising and putting on a play to protest about the threat of yuppie flats being planned for their area.
Later, in the years 1984-86, a flotilla of boats named The People’s Armada sailed from Docklands up to Westminster to present petitions to the Commons and No.10 demanding local democracy, more social housing, better transport among other things. The GLC-funded procession carried banners proclaiming ‘Give Us Back Our Land’, ‘Docklands for the People’ and ‘Jobs not Snobs!’. A total of 123 different community groups were consulted in organising the Armada and on the demands to be made of Parliament.
In what was to be one of the successes of local opposition to the LDDC, the Corbetts Wharf occupation leaflet had raised the question of the future development of Cherry Gardens in Bermondsey which the LDDC had put out as an architectural competition in May 1984. The eventual winner Lovell Farrow planned that 250 luxury homes were to be built including four pairs of seven-story blocks right along the river front. Not only were local people to be excluded from the new housing (approx price £100,000 a home) but the riverview was to be completely blocked out by the new yuppie housing. With the assistance of the Rotherhithe Community Planning Centre, over 200 people met at the Millpond Estate Tenants Hall and overwhelmingly rejected the LDDC plans. An Action Committee was established and work started on publicising what was happening through leaflets, posters and an extensive graffiti campaign – LDDC Think Again!, Bermondsey For Bermondsey People, Graffiti Looks Better Than Luxury Flats”.
In the 1970’s, the local tenants had already fought off a developer who had wanted to build offices all across the river front and the land had been bought by Southwark Council for £2 million. An imaginative scheme for housing with gardens and a riverside walk was proposed instead. Falling foul of Central Government spending restrictions, the scheme was abandoned leaving the land empty but enclosed. Local people soon pulled down the corrugated iron fences to have access to and enjoy the Thames side wilderness. When the LDDC came about, it vested the land from the Council using compulsory purchase powers, paying the knock-down price of £600,000.
Initially the LDDC refused the listen to the Cherry Gardens Action Group campaign, ignoring a petition from several hundred residents of the area. In September 1984, at a stormy public meeting, local campaigner Beryl Donovan made local feelings clear – “The proposed development will devastate this area and I and many others are prepared to stand in front of the bulldozers. We shall not be content until the LDDC throws out the scheme entirely and starts again by listening to what local people want”. Others suggested that arson would be the result of homes being built for the wealthy in the local area. In the end, arson, as had been speculated to be the cause of the spectacular half million pound burning down of Commodity Quay in the newly redeveloped St Katherine’s Dock on the other side of The Thames, was the some time property developers tool against listed and conservation-area building obstacles especially around St Saviours Dock in the early 1980’s.
In March 1985, the LDDC offered one third of the site to housing associations for rent claiming that this would provide 90 homes. The Cherry Garden Action Committee disputed this, putting the figure at closer to 30 with gardens. After persistent opposition, the LDDC gave in and released half of the land back to the Council. After three years of campaigning, the Cherry Gardens Action Commitee could draw up plans for 64 council houses (42 homes and gardens and 22 flats) modelled on the ‘Red Bermondsey’ era Wilson Grove cottages. The original 70’s plans of a river walk and the new Fountain Green open space were also realised.
On March 13th 1985, spurred on by the success of Cherry Gardens tenants, dozens of tenants from Swan Rd estate formed a picket across the entrance to a piece of nearby empty land to prevent contractors from entering the site. Building a barricade and setting fire to it, the tenants succeeded in getting the LDDC to listen to tenant representatives who outlined their opposition to the proposed development of luxury flats on the vacant land. In the end, the campaign secured one third of the site for rented accomodation.
Another success was the local CHOP campaign that stopped the construction of a preposed Heliport at Chambers Wharf, near to Cherry Gardens. Just outside the LDDC Southwark area, the former Courage bottling plant by Southwark Bridge was bought by the GLC in 1983 and with planning by the North Southwark Community Development Group and the Council, 3-storey terraced housing and a sheltered housing scheme was built for local people. In a similar GLC-helped out move at the South Bank, the Coin St Community Builders campaign during the 80’s turned the impressive riverfront Oxo Tower building into a cheap-rent housing co-op and continues to build new cheap and quality housing for local people on land that stradles the Southwark / Lambeth border.
But these were small victories compared to what was to come. The campaign at Elephant Lane, Bermondsey had come to nothing, the area being finally developed for expensive riverfront flats. Some, soon to ubiquitous, housing association flats were built by the river in the old Thames Tunnel Mills but these were described by the Rotherhithe Community Planning Centre as ‘fairly expensive single-person’ rentals. However, it was the outcome of the Downtown Estates campaign that saw a new low in the area with the eventual selling off of council blocks and a reduction in the number of local council tenancies.
Built after WW1, the Downtown Estates, which run around the Rotherhithe Peninsula, were falling apart by 1970. Southwark Council had reclaimed some of the former Surrey Docks and local Tenant Associations had negotiated for new rented houses on the new land. 281 houses had been built by 1981 when the LDDC vested the land and become the unaccountable planning authority. Negotiating with the LDDC, tenants wanted those remaining on the half-empty and decaying estates to get new homes as well. The Council struck a deal to buy homes from the private builders for 110 housing association homes and to sell some of the Downtown blocks to the LDDC. Following the borough elections in May 1982, the new Council, refusing any debate with the LDDC, did not take up the new homes at Lavender Green allocated for rental. Apart from the political standpoint, the homes were poorer quality than the standards the Council would have imposed. The LDDC had a public relations field day accusing the Council of not caring about the plight of local people. In the end, the LDDC asked the Government to let it build the houses and pass them onto a Housing Association. Some of the old Downtown blocks were then sold to Barratts, a private property developer. Of the 380 tenants left in the estates, 110 were rehoused in rented accomodation in 1983/84 and the rest had to buy into other property schemes in the area if they wished to stay local. (8) Right from the start, the LDDC had clearly indicated that they wanted to reduce the areas 85% of population living in council housing to one of 50%. The Downtown scheme was one outcome of that original intention.
The remaining Downtown estates were finally renovated but the main emphasis was on external decoration making the places less of a blot on the landscape from the point of view of the nearby luxury flats. LDDC grants to council housing in Southwark were mainly for refurbishment and environmental upgrading, especially on estates near Tower Bridge, which acted as the marker for private house prices depending on how near or far you were from it. Out of 3143 council dwellings in the Southwark LDDC area, 591 had external enveloping (roofs and structural work) or environmental works carried out. For example, on the Millpond Estate at Bermondsey Wall East, adjacent to recently-built expensive riverside properties, new windows and doors were funded by the LDDC, but controversy was caused by the inclusion of Grecian pillars, flowerboxes, coloured railings and other cosmetic additions. An LDDC Corporate Plan from 1986 hinted at the reasons for the paintjobs – ‘concentrating environmental improvements on housing estates (Swan, Millpond, Dickens) and in the St Mary’s and Cherry Garden areas where there is a potential for tourism’. One tenant summed it up – “We all know for whose benefit these improvements are for – the people buying the luxury houses, so they don’t have to look at the slums we have to live in”. Although any improvement was welcomed, tenants badly needed internal improvements as the blocks were infested with damp (and fungus), many bathrooms had no sinks and the water pipes would often crack in winter due to their terrible condition.
‘Adjusting the mix‘
Early in 1986, a rundown shop in a terrace near Surrey Docks tube, was transformed in a week to open as The Docklands Property Centre. What had been experienced in the East End a few years before was now about to come to Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. The LDDC zone in Southwark ran from the riverside back to Tooley St, along Jamaica Rd and down Lower Rd and back around to the river again. The entire Rotherhithe peninsula of Surrey Docks was included, land that Southwark had bought from the PLA in 1969. It was a massive parcel of empty land waiting for new buildings and development.
In Southwark’s case, the Council had already spent £35 million to put in place a local infrastructure of roads, sewers and filling-in and removing the quays of the vast empty docks and putting up 10 industrial units. By 1981, 281 houses with gardens had been built by the Council as well as the giant Salter Rd around the entire peninsula. The Russia Docks woodlands and Lavender Pond Nature Reserve had also been built. This redevelopment of the derelict landscape had also made the area very attractive to developers as the East End side of the LDDC zone was less advanced in terms of new roads, land clearance and demolition. In the late-70’s, when developers had begun their free rein in the Thames riverside redevelopment, the Council had promised the creation of 2000 new council homes in the less popular and isolated Surrey Docks area considering this a more suitable location for family housing. What happened next was the opposite.
In 1984, the Conran Roche development team created a masterplan for the site, ‘Greenland Dock: Framework for Development’, which recommended the parcelling up of land into blocks for the development of residential housing. This publically-funded and primed site, with heavy marketing by the LDDC and the developers, now saw wave after wave of new luxury and higher-priced flats and homes built in the newly renamed Surrey Quays. In a few years, private developers came in to Bermondsey and Rotherhithe and made millions. The big volume building companies such as Barretts, Bellway or Wimpeys built houses across a range of LDDC-released sites and other property developers turned around any empty warehouse, ex-municipal building or other, into ‘luxury’ apartments. Flexible planning frameworks, reduced land prices and intense speculation attracted companies prepared to take risks. The Jacobs Island Company acquired by 1987 14 acres of land in the all-important, exclusive Tower Bridge area eventually building New Concordia Wharf (penthouse valued in March 1988 at £675,000), China Quay and The Circle. In 1983, the company had bought up the desirable former Anchor Brewhouse, parcelling it up and selling it on for £5 million. Andrew Wadsworth, the late-twenties entrepreneur behind Jacob’s Island Company was reputed to have made a personal fortune of £25 million in less than five years.(9)
In Surrey Docks, housing initially clung to the remaining massive 22.5 acres of open water Greenland Dock, and followed close-by at the re-excavated Norway and South Dock. Numerous developments then continued to hug water or quayside with houses built along the Albion Channel and Surrey Basin. South Dock saw the creation of large marina for private boats and LDDC-initiated statues and public art accompanied some of the new homes. The Conran Roche masterplan had recommended ‘the integration of new development with existing communities’ but the plan was ultimately abandoned by the developers in favour of market-led and opportunist regeneration. The old exisiting neighbourhoods were not integrated and developers built with no continuity in land use or urban design. The new housing became an island within the peninsula, built to face away from the exisiting housing estates. Landscape features such as the Albion Channel walkway or the brick pavements of Greenland Quay did not connect up with the wider and older system of pedestrian routes and parks. The streets, nothing more than service routes for the new homes, bypassed the older streets. Landscaping became a buffer zone between the old and the new. A tree corridior shielding council housing on Elgar St from the new Norway Dock development. Trees and hedges, acting as ‘green barriers’, insulated Greenland Quay from the old terraces on Plough Way.
Unsurprisingly, house prices in Docklands rose rapidly through the roof. At Elephant Lane, houses built in 1984 were being sold in 1987 at 400% above their original price. Volume housing at Brunswick Quay, valued in 1985 at £69,000 was selling at £160,000 by 1988. With so much money to be made, speculation was rife with individuals and companies buying new homes before they were even built to immediately sell them on at higher prices on completion.
At June 1993, the number of residential units completed in Surrey Docks on LDDC land was 3475. Only 27% of these were for rent and 63% were for sale. Housing for local people for sale at the magic ‘affordable’ LDDC figure of £40,000 or less made up only 875 units overall, although 75% of local people were low-waged at the time and would have been unable to afford even this amount. Two years later, the £40,000 houses were selling at double the ‘affordable’ price. As time went by, the notion of providing affordable housing, even if beyond the means of most locals, waned. In 1982, 99% of housing on LDDC land (inc. East London) had been below £40,000. By 1984 the figure was reduced to 43%, sliding down to only 330 homes by 1987. Most of these were studio or one-bedroom homes, often below council house building standards and far from suitable for local families. LDDC figures showed that only 12% of the buyers of the £40,000 or less homes were former council tenants. In Southwark, the figure for tenants buying new homes was 4%. By contrast, over 80% of private buyers in the LDDC Southwark area had not previously lived in the Borough, with 40% of these coming in from outside London.
The politics were clearly laid out in the 1984 LDDC strategy document on their forthcoming redevelopment of Greenland Dock in Surrey Docks – ‘Around 20% of the proposed housing is intended for rent but the scope that exists to adjust the entire mix during implementation of the plan is emphasised…To place the proposed mix in context, it should be noted that the present mix in the Rotherhithe district is 80% council tenancies’. In other words, the adjusted mix would promise a minority of social housing in an area of majority social housing. To make matters worse, 700 local jobs around the Greenland Dock area were pushed out, some with LDDC grants to relocate miles away, as the Corporation facilitated the ‘adjustment’.
St Saviours Wharf develpments
At the height of the madness, Andrew Wadsworth’s Jacobs Island Company put forward a plan for the Jacobs Island wharf near St Saviours Dock involving 11 residential blocks from 8 to 20 storeys high, 600+ car parking, restaurants, a cinema, a swimming pool and a further 60,000 sq ft of offices, and all this on an already heavily developed 3.5 acre site. The blueprints looked like something out of Bladerunner. In this case, local council residents concerned about losing more of the riverfront area to luxury flats and private owner-occupiers of the new warehouse conversions worried about noise, dust and increased traffic, formed the Jacobs Island Action Group (JAG) to campaign against the development. After a year-long campaign, beset by contempt from the LDDC towards JAG, a planning inquiry was forced although this only resulted in a 20% reduction on the original plans. Private residents in the luxury New Concordia Wharf on Mill St , built in the first phase of LDDC-overseen developments, complained that the ‘secretive and unaccountable procedures of the LDDC are a totally unacceptable means of controlling development in Docklands’. In a similarly mad moment, residents of another warehouse conversion near Tower Bridge formed an Action Group to fight the property company who had sold them flats with the promise of a luxury health centre that had failed to be there when they had moved in.
The legacy of this round of development for Southwark was a number of flashy luxury developments near Tower Bridge with restaurants and galleries for the new upwardly-mobile locals. Further on, a chain of expensive but architecturally dismal and low-quality volume-built private housing estates runs all along the Thames side of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe creating a long empty and soul-less riverfront. One visitor has described the physical nature of these newly created riverside estates as the following – ‘huge golden house-numbers and grand entrances tell you who is supposed to frequent the place and who is not’.
The much vaunted tourist trail of the miles and miles of Thames Riverside walk is constantly interrupted by these new buildings which push the sightseer back and forth down side roads to bypass the privatised riverside view. In some instances, despite right of way through developments, signs marked ‘Private’ still attempt to deter the local stroller.
Butlers Wharf then and now
The proliferation of private owner-occupier properties in Bermondsey and Surrey Docks was not something peculiar to the regeneration of this Dockland area. The 1980’s was the decade when right-wing Conservative policy established a new era for local housing authorities with their role as providers greately diminished. In the general squeeze on public expenditure, where the Tories saw public spending as the root of society’s ills, housing was the area singled out for the most cuts. In 1980, the government announced expenditure plans in which at least 75% of all planned reductions were concentrated in the housing programme. It was also the year in which the Housing Act finally put on the political agenda the Right-To-Buy council homes for council tenants. From the heyday of council house building in the post-War 50’s, it had taken only twenty or so years for council house building and rental to come under political attack from both Conservative and Labour parties with a series of Housing Acts through the 70’s and 80’s that would pave the way for the return of private sector domination of the housing market. Rent strikes and a national campaign did not stop the Tory 1972 Housing Finance Act which forced councils to adopt ‘fair rents’ for council homes which translated as raised rents. A Labour Housing Act in 1974 gave aid to Housing Associations, who would slowly, by the 80’s, become the number one provider of new social housing.
The Tory flagship 1980 Housing Act with its ideological right-to-buy programme, saw an eventual loss of 1.5 million council homes by 1992 through the selling of council homes to their tenants. The right-to-buy was usually exercised by the more well-to-do tenants living in the more desirable properties. It was noticeable that council house sales were not even across the borough but in fact added to what became known as ‘residualisation’ – as the better class of housing such as terraces or cottage-style dwellings (eg Sunray Estate10 in Denmark Hill) were bought and removed from the council stock, the less appealing point blocks and deck-access estates in poorer areas came to typify council housing (Heygate Estate, Elephant).
Those who couldn’t afford to buy faced rent rises from changes in the subsidy system. Council rents rose in five years by 119% against a retail price index rise of only 55% in the same period. 1980 represented a major turning point in the development of council housing and marked the end of sixty years of growth. In the decade following the end of the Second World War, 1,344,000 council houses were built as opposed to 347,000 private homes. By 1986 through to 1995, the figures had reversed to 304,000 council and 1,611,000 private.
The new Conservative government also abolished the 1975 Community Land Act that had sought to bring development land under public control and brought in new laws in favour of forcing local authorities to release land into the private market. As a follow up to the 1980 Act, another Housing and Planning Act in 1982 increased the discount available to tenant right-to-buyers, with a maximum of 70% off sale price available for those who had lived in flats for over 15 years.
By 1988, further attacks on council housing came with a new Housing Act that pushed the slow privatisation of social housing by putting forward schemes for tenants to change their landlord from local authority to approved landlords who could buy parts of the council stock. It also wanted to establish Housing Action Trusts to take over estates where tenants voted in favour of the trust. In the main, the H.A.T’s were seen off by council tenants. A vigorous campaign on the North Peckham and Gloucester Grove Estates threatened that any goverment official who tried to come to the area to establish a H.A.T would be ‘ripped to pieces’. They voted 3:1 to scupper the H.A.T in October 1990 in a ballot that was front-page news and watched with interest (and, for some, with horror) by housing analysts nationwide.
Adding to the changes in the law that forced a decline in council house building programmes, bad and corrupt management of local authority housing and the knock-on effect of a rapidly deteriorating housing stock changed the notion of social housing from one of a solution to mass housing needs into the problem of falling down inner city estates. In Southwark, as elsewhere, council estates had moved quickly away from 1930’s homely cottage-style dwellings to first tenement buildings (eg. Brenley House, Tennis St), then ‘slab-like blocks’ (Sceaux Gardens, off Peckham Rd) to 1970’s high-rise buildings (Canada Estate, Surrey Docks). Despite high-rises being generally more expensive than other style estates, government subsidies from the late 50’s until 1968, saw council housing in Southwark, and particularly Bermondsey, reaching for the heavens and even winning awards for the dreadful 21-storey high-rise blocks in Canada Estate, Renforth St in Surrey Docks. The Abbeyfield Estate, in Abbeyfield St, built between ’65 and ’67, reached 26 storeys. The LCC’s 1962-65 Draper Estate, off Newington Butts at the Elephant, was more restrained at 25. The mid-60’s GLC-built Ledbury and Tustin tower block estates on the Old Kent Rd and the Wyndham and Comber estates at Camberwell Rd, were more of the same.
The local authorities were going for quantity over quality which the high-rises could fulfil. Standardised designs and pre-fabricated components meant that the point blocks were fast to build (10). The tenants, stuck in the middle of political games, faced the usual problems associated with the breaking-up of traditional communities by regeneration or badly designed housing estates – isolation, crime and material decay. By the late 1960’s, with tower blocks out-of-fashion, a re-think concluded that the demolition of working class neighbourhoods had been a mistake. These latter-day slum clearances increased local housing waiting lists with the knock-on effect of justifying quick and dreary high-rise solutions to housing shortage. It was argued that many of the original houses could have been brought up to modern standards more easily and cheaply than the eventual cost of demolition and re-building, despite government subsidy on new builds. The point was made at the time, that local people forced out of terrace communities and moved into isolating high-rise or deck-access estates, ended up in front of the telly watching the inhabitants of ‘Coronation Street’ leading lives rather like the ones they had been forced to give up.
In one example, the Bonamy Estate in Rotherhithe, system-built with all the utopian optimism of the late 60’s for concrete high-density estates, was by mid-80’s half-derelict due to poor quality of design and construction. It had been built over demolished Victorian terraces. By 1990, the remaining 600 tenants were living cheek-by-jowl with 300 other empty flats, beset by constant fires or flooding and probably wondering how such a ‘solution’ to bad housing, with its shelf life of just over twenty years, could have ever been built.11 Deeper inland, the LCC’s Brandon Estate scheme of 1955 -58 did actually preserve and convert some older houses in amongst its many tower blocks.
With the Conservative administration’s squeeze on public expenditure beginning in the 1970’s and continuing through the ‘rate-capping’ policy in the 80’s, maintenance of estates declined with repairs quickly mounting-up and on-site facilities closing. Estate janitors, who were an important part of the social fabric, were got rid of and local community facilities or cultural centres were soon underfunded or cut from local authority budgets.
The changing face of Southwark housing is not then just a simple matter of gentrification of an area by a property developer invasion. The foreground is an unaccountable and all powerful (and publically subsidised) government development corporation with a planning strategy based solely on demand. The background, the loss and sell-off of council housing in Docklands and elsewhere in Southwark, is the result of a political bulldozer which has systematically legislated to change the nature of the housing market once and for all into a world of owner-occupiers, every English person’s dream. From 1991 to last available figures in 1997, no council housing was built in Southwark. In contrast, Housing Association homes trebled since 1986 and the private housing market went ballistic, with 71 house builds from 1986-1990, 273 builds in 1991-1995, 296 in 1996 and 732 in 1997.
Despite Housing Associations basic emergence after the 1964 Housing Act and the establishment of The Housing Corporation to administer available government funds, it was not until the 1980’s that Housing Associations came to the fore of providing social housing. In Surrey Quays, after 1989, the only source of money for building social housing has been from the Housing Corporation, the government body responsible for giving out money to the Associations. The LDDC was happy to let Housing Associations develop rental or shared-ownership schemes in the area. Alongside many other H.A’s active in the area, South London Family Housing Association has built the bulk of housing.
Housing Association is the generic term that covers various agencies who provide, through new build or conversion, housing on a ‘not for profit’ basis. Here ‘not for profit’ does not necessarily mean cheap social housing as most larger Housing Associations have to make money to maintain themselves. They remain more accountable to banks than to their tenants. Over the lasttwenty years, these housing managers have been forced to work more in line with the logic of the private housing market through a number of Acts of Parliament with the end result of higher ‘social’ rents. In 1999, Housing Association’s were running a ‘surplus’ (from tenants rents) of £7 billion.
The 1972 Housing Finance Act was the first attack on local authority’s monopoly of provision of subsidised rent housing when the Housing Corporation quango was given powers to lend to most Associations. A deficit subsidy was also introduced based on the assumptions of steep rent rises that would eliminate the subsidy within ten years. In 1974 further rules were pushed onto the Associations.
By 1980, the right-to-buy had been imposed on most Housing Associations rentals and the late eighties saw an increase in private sector finance for the Associations. The 1988 Housing Act introduced further fundamental changes where, in line with the private rented sector, new Association tenancies were removed from the fair rent system and tenancies were diluted from the safeguard ‘fixed’ tenancy to the more precarious ‘assured’ tenancy. Rents were also changed to become fixed by the individual associations (and thus no longer a rent officer) at a level that would recover their mortgage required to to meet residual scheme costs. Before 1988, H.A’s were meant to complement local authority building. After 1988, they were pushed and legislated to privatise social housing and are now the main provider of general housing needs in place of the councils. Increasingly their are moves by Housing Associations to refuse local authority nominated tenants in favour of more upwardly mobile types.
By 1999 however, Housing Corporation-overseen new builds were starting to decline. Problems of Housing Associations were piling up alongside criticism of a tendency to raise rents and impose service charges, of enormous increase in H.A evictions over the previous 5 years (11), the too-high salaries for managers (the average H.A executive salary being £67,000) and of poor performance and unaccountability.
In 2000, Southwark Council, in line with similar moves made elsewhere in the country, initiated a move to try and transfer its housing stock from itself to another social landlord. Despite a large propaganda campaign, the plan was roundly defeated by a vociferous counter-campaign from tenants groups and the Socialist Workers Party-led coalition Defend Council Housing. Although thrown out by the council, it is obvious that council housing nationwide is increasingly under threat as Governments extend the role of the private sector into the realm of public sector provision and service. Considering that in 1970, local authorities built 75% of all new houses, the figure for 1991 stands at a not surprising 1.5%. With that in mind, many estimate that the time it will take before council housing is a thing of the past runs between 5 to 10 years!
The Bubble Bursts
When the Black Monday Stock Exchange crash of October 1987 hit beyond The City, the first wave of the LDDC-inspired development was finally halted with the bursting of the unrealistic land-value bubble. The times of the rich and wealthy buying luxury homes by the river was, temporarily, brought to a halt. Property companies shares sunk from pounds to pennies and new developments were halted overnight. Companies went bust or offered luxury incentives to housebuyers, from membership of exclusive fitness clubs to offering a free Porsche per flat. Across Docklands, supply became out of step with demand. In 1989, the Jacobs Island Company, one of the biggest speculators and developers in Bermondsey, put off the latest stage in their building empire to wait out the recession. Companies tried to offer incentives rather than drop prices but through 1988 and 89, discounts of 12-15% were happening. Land prices were dropping too. A 5 acre site in Rotherhithe was priced in 1989 at £10 million, a drop of £5 million on its value two years previously. Change-of-use also became necessary for companies to profit from their development investments. Unit Page, the developers of Scott Sufferance Wharf, changed the use of the building in 1989 from sixteen residentials to office space. In the same year, Islef applied to change its 130 unit Columbia Wharf in Surrey Quays into a hotel development, the construction becoming a Holiday Inn.
At the time, it was hoped that the crash would result in a number of positive moves towards a revived social housing market. Builders and developers might switch to the public sector as a more guaranteed market or local authorities might buy unsold private homes. It was even thought that developers might off-load private land back onto the public sector desperate to recoup something on the failed investment.
At the LDDC, the previous few years had seen mounting criticism of the Corporation’s style with internal personality clashes, power struggles, government investigation and criticism now coming from the developers and builders themselves. In four months between 1987 and 1988, five key players had resigned from the LDDC. Despite early assurances that money would flow back via Docklands to The Treasury after a few years, the development had become a black hole sucking in public expenditure to underwrite the whole regeneration project.
The LDDC chair in 1987, Christopher Benson, was now talking about ‘social regeneration – meeting people’s needs – is more important than physically building the fabric’. A year later the LDDC Annual Review, ‘Working for the Community’, was stressing the need for longer-term strategies to meet the best needs of local people. This was to be achieved, they reported one year later, ‘by attracting significant investment from the private sector in partnership with Government, local authorities and local community, or more government subsidised infrastructural work with private companies supplying the housing and offices. Despite the move to public / private partnerships, the results for Docklands were still more of what had already been.
With the downturn in the housing market, developers were now more inclined to deal with Housing Associations for secured grants from the Housing Corporation and LDDC for funding to build on sites where private housing was no longer commercially viable. This is where talk of building for the already existing community could come in but despite the building of more HA social housing, there was sense of the regeneration biding its time for future upturn and a return to the business of profit making in a increasingly deregulated market place.
Return of the Bubble
As it turned out, developers would not have to wait too long for the crisis to pass and for business to resume. At the start of the 21st Century, with a change in government and a ‘new realism’ in the air, the fortunes of the developer were about to be made again with the all-encompassing start of the regeneration of the entire river front from Vauxhall to Greenwich and the inland areas as well.
The long delayed London Bridge City Phase Two was finally moving along, with the positioning of the new £100 million Greater London Authority building on the western side of Tower Bridge. The massive scheme, renamed More, was finally under construction despite argument and disagreement with local tenants associations. Some of the estates, St Olaves and Dickens, located close to Tower Bridge where land values are high, were also in dispute with the council who wished to sell parts of them off to developers to raise money for regeneration.
Further back along the river, past Hays Wharf and London Bridge, this mainly untouched area was now opening up with new buildings and conversions. The opening of the Tate Modern in the old Bankside power station in 2000 was the most visible crowning act of what the building of The Globe theatre in 1993 and the later promise of the new gallery had set in motion locally. New lofts and warehouse refits appeared in the backstreets of the Bankside and Borough area. Here, there was more emphasis on one-off developments and the opening of new business that accompanies the changing nature of a local area. In developer circles, as well as in the marketing spiel of the council, this area was ripe for new projects. Previously distant South of the River neighbourhoods became flavour of the month. First The Borough featured heavily in style and property columns of local and national magazines and dailies. Then it was the turn of Bermondsey, or at least the area just to the east of London Bridge station. By 2000, it was even possible to consider Walworth or the Old Kent Rd as possibilities, areas with little or none of the surrounding amenities the more affluent might want to enjoy. The opening up of luxury lofts at The Old Telephone Exchange, off Liverpool Grove in Walworth or The Paragon School lofts, off the Old Kent Rd, herald an early start in the gentrification that underlies the massive regeneration schemes that are just around the corner at the Elephant.
(1) For some local colour, the Jacobs Island slums near Tower Bridge are described in famous Victorian novels by Charles Dickens and Charles Kinglsey. Bill Sikes meets his death here in ‘Oliver Twist’ (1840) and similarly there is ‘Alton Locke’s deathly climax (1850). Charles Mayhew, the barely celebrated but intriguing writer on the invisible class, had written his first Morning Chronicle piece on this ‘capital of Cholera'(1849). The article entitled ‘Pest-Nests’ describes the Jacobs Island slums as ‘a Venice of drains’.
(2) For example, Cromwell Buildings, Redcross Way (Improved Industrial Dwellings Co. 1864), Peabody Square, Blackfriars Rd (Peabody Trust 1871) and Guinness Trust buildings in Snowsfields, 1897
(3) Light and fresh air was an important factor in tackling tuberculosis and other illnesses.
(4) The celebrated Octavia Hill was one local Southwark reformer who misunderstood this point. Putting morality over and against the ravages of the political economy, she could instruct – ‘You will have, before you can raise these very poorest, to help them to become better in themselves. Neither despair or hurry, but set to work with a steady purpose of one who knows that God is on his side…’. Her cottages and flats all around Liverpool Grove / Merrow St, and the Redcross Cottages at Redcross St, are worth a mooch past though.
(5) For a good visual example of this, see the surviving old parade that contains Cobbler’s Nest, 157 Borough High St and its neighbouring local offices.
(6) For another example of this unsympathy, see the office / shops that contain McDonalds (184 Walworth Rd) and the nearby Metropolitan Police bunker (corner of Amelia St / Walworth Rd) in comparison to the neighbouring late 18th century terrace of John Smith House, and the Newington Library (1893) and Health Centre (1937) over the road. Other monsters from the period include Minerva House near Clink St and the Lloyds Bank computer centre in Hopton Street, as merely a starter.
(7) This was the caption on a Docklands Community Poster Project billboard. The collage has a skyline of new offices and flats. In the foreground is a rubbish bin overflowing with local authority statutory plans for Docklands. The Docklands Community Poster Project was amazing. See here. The project was mostly the work of Lorraine Leeson and Peter Dunn, both of who have moved onto into other community art projects (Cspace and Art.e respectively). Sadly Peter Dunn was responsible for the CCTV disguised as public art ‘Weaving Identities’ in Weavers Fields, Bethnal Green (2003).
(8) In the case of the Downtown fight, as tenants were moved out and flats became empty, homeless people moved in and established a local squatters community. Downtown Tenants Association members became very hostile to the squatters and, in August 1983, fell for a media propaganda campaign that the Housing Committee was using to justify a change in their policy on squatting from one of sympathy and help to one of criminal law evictions. The T.A repeated claims first made by local housing bureaucrats that squatters were planning to descend on mass on Downtown for a Bank Holiday festival and mass squat of empty flats. No such invasion had been planned or took place Rotherhithe Action Group Squatters later pointed out. At the time of the supposed invasion, there were over 4500 Council homes laying empty across the borough. Ironically, squatting in Bermondsey after both WW1 and 2, was a factor in uniting local people to fight for and win for cheap local housing including some of the Downtown Estates.
(9) He had already made a ‘small fortune’ by age 22 by selling t-shirts that read ‘I didn’t go to university’
(10) And winning awards for the deadful high-rise Canada Estate in Surrey Docks!
(11) Possession orders granted by courts against tenants in rent arrears to Housing Associations has doubled since 1994
Useful Reading for Part One
• Outcast London: A Study In The Relationship Between Classes in Victorian Society – Gareth Steadman Jones (Penguin 1984)
• The Making of a Socialist Arcardia: The Work of the Bermondsey Borough Beautification Committee 1920-1929 – Elizabeth Lebas (Architectural Association June 1997)
• The Property Machine – Peter Ambrose and Bob Colenutt (Penguin 1975)
• Developing London’s Docklands: Another Great Planning Disaster? – Sue Brownhill (Paul Chapman Publishing 1993)
• Our Side of The River – Rotherhithe Community Planning Centre (1986)
• From Shabby to Shining? Consequences of 12 years market-led regeneration in Surrey Docks – Claudia Drexler (Dept. of Geography, Bern 1994)
• London Docklands: Urban Design in an Age of Deregulation – Brian Edwards (Butterworth Architecture 1992)
• AZ Super Scale London Street Map (Geographers A-Z Map Company 2001)
I have included in this text many street references to the locations of most the buildings under discussion. This is to encourage the picking up of the above map, and then the visiting of places mentioned above, just to actually stand there and see them. It’s always worth it.
Some notes and basic themes towards Part Two 1987 – 2005 (as yet unwritten)
“Once the stupidest borough in London, (Southwark) is now a model of Blairite enterprise for a new Britain”
Paul Barker, News Statesman 13/12/199
· Regeneration versus Gentrification: The changing face of change!
From galleries to multi-million pound revamps. The regeneration of The Elephant and Castle and the creation of South Central, a Southern West End myth. The wider market forces behind the changing areas. What is happening where? Eg Bermondsey St (Gentrification. or regeneration), knock-on effect Tower Bridge Rd, Old Kent Rd, Walworth…and talk of Camberwell, a backwards pincer attack. A brief intro to stand as a historical marker of the current state of play..a balance sheet of forces, a survey of what is where now -Bankside, Borough, Bermondsey…
· They make heritage, We make history!
Jam Factory development and sales pitch. What is lost in the process – the sublime, decay of the area and here and now description of the ghosts of a brighter future, once and for all evicted as the buildings are re-fitted…Jacobs Island Co. – slums as heritage. The return of resistance and work as sales pitch.
· Lifestyle and culture: All of the above
A summary of what changes have not been referred to above. The role of art and food in the gentrification of North Southwark. Resistance to The Globe (80’s) but not The Tate (90’s) in Bankside’s new ‘cultural quarter’. Terence Conran and Butlers Wharf, LDDC art and food as gentrifyer at Borough Market.Colour schemes and regeneration? Postcode madness. The McClellan website. A digression on Space magazine..Dormitory homes in Surrey Quays, not so much around Tower Bridge.
· Changes and tensions in the class
Downtown contradictions, Blair economy, yuppiefication, disposable income, borrowing and debt…The mythology of local communities. Class reaction and cross-class battles
· Privatisation everywhere
The homogenization of life and living…the social ideology of homes and gardens…the closure of communal facilities such as bathhouses, laundries, libraries in favour of leisure and recreation and indoor entertainment…changes in technology…tv, video, phones, computers, internet
· And the resistance to all this..where is it?
For example, squatting is some resistance to market forces but exists on the margins / waste of the market and can be a precursor to gentrification ..Brixton but whatabout in Rotherhithe?
Written by past tense (who later became part of Southwark Notes blog)
c/o 56a Infoshop
56 Crampton St
SE17 3AE UK
version 1:1 – winter 2001
version 1:2 – winter 2005