In my current Work in Progress (WIP) Rotherhithe plays a prominent role in the story’s setting. Rotherhithe is a residential district in southeast London, England, and part of the London Borough of Southwark. It is located on a peninsula on the south bank of the Thames, facing Wapping and the Isle of Dogs on the north bank, and is a part of the Docklands area. It borders Bermondsey to the west and Deptford to the south east.
Rotherhithe has a long history as a port, with many shipyards from Elizabethan times until the early 20th century and with working docks until the 1970s. In the 1980s the area along the river was redeveloped as upmarket housing, through a mix of warehouse conversions and new-build developments. Following the arrival of the Jubilee line in 1999 (giving quick connections to the West End and to Canary Wharf) and the London Overground in 2010 (providing a quick route to the City of London), the rest of Rotherhithe is now a rapidly gentrifying residential and commuter area, with current regeneration progressing well around Downtown Road/Rotherhithe Street area and most quickly around Canada Water, where a new town centre with restaurant and retail units as well as new residential developments is emerging around the existing freshwater lake and transport hub.
The name “Rotherhithe” derives from the Anglo-Saxon Hrȳðer-hȳð meaning “landing-place for cattle.” The first recorded use of this name was in about 1105, as Rederheia. In the past Rotherhithe was also known as Redriff or Redriffe; however, until the early 19th century, this name was applied to the whole river front from St Saviour’s Dock to Bull Head Dock, this near the entrance to Surrey Water.
The docks were closed and largely filled in during the 1980s, and have now been replaced by modern housing and commercial facilities, but Rotherhithe retains much of its character and its maritime heritage. The largest surviving dock on the south bank, Greenland Dock, is the focal point for the southern part of the district, while there are many preserved wharves along the riverside at the north end of Rotherhithe. St. Mary’s Church is at the centre of the old Rotherhithe village, which contains various historic buildings including the Brunel Engine House at the south end of the Thames Tunnel. St Mary’s Church
Canada Dock was the dock basin furthest away from the River Thames in the Surrey Docks complex, and it was linked to Albion Dock and Greenland Dock at its northern and south-eastern extremities via the Albion Canal. The dock has been remodelled, and its northwest half retained as an ornamental lake, renamed Canada Water. The canal has remained as a walkway and water feature within the redeveloped area.
Rotherhithe is the former home of the football team, Fisher F.C., who currently ground-share with Dulwich Hamlet. The most popular team in Rotherhithe is Millwall Football Club located nearby in the London Borough of Lewisham.
The sustainable transport charity Sustrans has proposed the construction of a bicycle and pedestrian swing bridge from Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf, and cost-benefit and feasibility studies were undertaken. In January 2009 the London Mayor Boris Johnson said he would not fund the bridge, citing budget cuts due to the credit crunch, with the result that the project is effectively on ice for the time being.
There are two Anglican churches in Rotherhithe St. Mary’s Church,and Trinity Church. There are two Roman Catholic churches: St Peter and the Guardian Angels, and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
King’s Stairs Gardens
King’s Stairs Gardens is a small park on the river towards the Bermondsey boundary. In September 2011 Thames Water announced that they wanted to build an access shaft for the “super-sewer” Thames Tunnel. Due to local action by The Save King’s Stairs Gardens Campaign, which collected over 5000 signatures, it seems as of March 2011 that Thames Water will build the access shaft elsewhere, if the local community agrees.
Severn Islands Leisure Centre occupies the site of the old Rotherhithe Town Hall. The building ceased to be a town hall in 1905 when the former Rotherhithe Council merged with the old Bermondsey Borough Council and the new council used premises in Spa Road. The old Rotherhithe Town Hall became a library and a museum. It was razed to the ground by repeated bomb hits and near misses during the Second World War.
The ancient parish, dedicated to St Mary, was in the Diocese of Winchester until 1877, then the Diocese of Rochester until 1905, and then finally in the Diocese of Southwark. From 1840, as the population of Rotherhithe increased, a number of new parishes were formed:
Christ Church, Rotherhithe in 1840
All Saints, Rotherhithe in 1842
Holy Trinity, Rotherhithe in 1842
St Barnabas, Rotherhithe in 1873
In addition, as the population of neighbouring Deptford increased, parts of Rotherhithe parish were included in the new parish of:
Because much of the former Surrey Docks had strong trade links to Scandinavia and the Baltic region the area is still home to a thriving Scandinavian community. During World War II, in fact, it housed the Norwegian Government-in-Exile. Originally established as seafarers’ missions, Rotherhithe is home to a Norwegian, a Finnish and a Swedish church. The Finnish Church and the Norwegian Church are both located in Albion Street; they were built in 1958 and 1927 respectively (Rotherhithe Library is located between them). There are also a number of “community centres” for the Nordic community in London, including hostels, shops and cafés and even a sauna, mostly linked closely to the churches.
Some of the redeveloped areas were built by Nordic architects, such as the Greenland Passage development by Danish Company Kjaer & Richter. This gives some areas a distinctly “Nordic” feel in terms of house and street design.
The relationship with Scandinavia and the Baltic is also reflected in the names of some of the buildings (such as the King Frederik IX Tower), the street names (e.g. Finland Street, Sweden Gate, Baltic Quay, Norway Gate, Helsinki Square) or other place names (e.g. Greenland Dock). Another major influence factor was trade with Russia and Canada (mainly timber), reflected in names such as Canada Water and the Russia Dock Woodland.
In July 1620, the Mayflower sailed from Rotherhithe for Southampton on the south coast of England, to begin loading food and supplies for the voyage to New England. At that time, the English Separatists, who later became known as the “Pilgrim Fathers,” were mostly still living in the city of Leiden, in the Netherlands. There they hired a ship called the Speedwell to take them from Delfthaven in the Netherlands to Southampton to meet up with the Mayflower.
The ship’s captain, Christopher Jones, died shortly after his return in 1621 and he is buried in an unmarked grave at St Mary’s Church. The Mayflower sailed from near a public house called the Shippe in Rotherhithe Street, which was substantially rebuilt in the 18th century and is now named the Mayflower.
On Lower Road, about half way between Surrey Quays and Canada Water stations, is a public house called the China Hall; at one time it was the entrance to a riparian playhouse visited by Samuel Pepys and mentioned in his diary. It is not known how long the theatre remained on the site, but it was reinvigorated in 1777 and during 1778 George Frederick Cooke acted there, but in the winter of 1779 it was destroyed in fire. The site of the theatre became a well known tea-gardens, with the “usual arbours and ‘boxes’” during the Victorian period, but by the 1920s most of the gardens had been absorbed into the Surrey Commercial Docks as part of a timber yard.
Like the rest of the London Docks, the Surrey Commercial Docks were targeted by the Luftwaffe. On 7 September 1940, on the first day of the London Blitz, the deal yards of Surrey Docks were set ablaze. The raid ignited over a million tonnes of timber in Quebec Yard, causing the most intense single fire ever seen in Britain.
The bombing of the old Rotherhithe Town Hall during the Second World War gives an indication of how heavy the bombing in Rotherhithe was. The first damage to the building occurred when Luftwaffe bombs landed nearby in April 1941, and there was more bomb damage in February and June 1944. Later the same month (June 1944) the Town Hall was very severely damaged by a direct hit by a V1 doodlebug. In November 1944 it was further damaged by near misses, and it was finally destroyed by one of the last V1s to land on London during the Second World War.
King Haakon VII made many of his famous radio broadcasts to occupied Norway from Saint Olav’s Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe, where the Norwegian Royal Family were regular worshippers during their exile in London.
**Marc Isambard Brunel (1769–1849) and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel built the Thames Tunnel connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping.
**Max Bygraves, entertainer, was born in Rotherhithe.
**Michael Caine, actor, was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite in Rotherhithe.
**Thomas Coram (1668–1751) a philanthropic sea captain, retired to Rotherhithe where he campaigned for establishment of the Foundling Hospital.
**Eliza Fay (1755 or 1756–1816), author of Original Letters from India (1817), was born in Rotherhithe.
**Malcolm Hardee lived on a houseboat in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, owned and ran the Wibbley Wobbley pub-boat on the same dock, and was drowned there in 2005.
**Alfred Hitchcock filmed scenes for his first film as director, Number 13 (1922), in Rotherhithe before it was pulled from production.
**Myleene Klass lived in Rotherhithe in the early 2000s.
**Aaron Manby assembled and launched the world’s first seagoing iron-hulled ship at Rotherhithe in 1822.
**Princess Margaret met her future husband, photographer Tony Armstrong-Jones, in a house in Rotherhithe.
**Billy Mehmet, professional footballer, attended Bacon’s College in Rotherhithe in the 1990s.
**King Mutesa II of Buganda died in exile in his flat in Rotherhithe in 1969 following an interview with journalist John Simpson.
**James Walker worked on the design and construction of Greenland Dock, where a memorial bust of him stands.
**In the popular television drama series Upstairs, Downstairs the character James Bellamy stands as a Conservative Party candidate for the constituency of Rotherhithe East.
**The James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies used Harmsworth Quays Printing as the scene for Carver’s print works.
**Redriff was the fictional birthplace of Jonathan Swift’s character Lemuel Gulliver, of Gulliver’s Travels fame, and where his family waited for him.
**Rotherhithe is alluded to in the British Sea Power song Carrion and the Elvis Costello song New Amsterdam.
**Adam Carter from Spooks supposedly lives in Canada Wharf on Rotherhithe Street, and much of the series is filmed on locations around Rotherhithe and the Docklands.
**The final chapter of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1839) provides a lively depiction of a Rotherhithe slum-district of the mid-19th century.
**The famous Gujarati poem, ‘Rajashahi Ghodi,” talks about a bicycle, allegorically a royal steed as it passes by the narrow by-lanes of Rotherhithe every morning, describing landmarks and monuments like the Mayflower Pub, the Picture Library and Southwark Park, along its way.
**A song from the musical Cats, “Growltiger’s Last Stand,” mentions the cottagers of Rotherhithe.
**”The man from Rotherhithe” is an unnamed, recurring character in the long poem In Parenthesis by David Jones.
**A period costumier, picture library and minor film producer Sands Films is located at Rotherhithe Street, close to the Mayflower pub.
**Long-running ITV series London’s Burning was based at local fire station Dockhead for the first few series, with most scenes filmed in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. For example, leading character ‘Vaseline’ was filmed drowning in Greenland Dock, and another leading character, Bert, campaigned to save the local city farm, filmed at Surrey Docks Farm in Rotherhithe.
**The 2004-2005 ITV drama series The Brief often filmed in Rotherhithe, with internal scenes filmed at the Mayflower pub. Lead character Henry Farmer, played by Alan Davies, lived a few doors away.
**2007 film “The Riddle”, starring Vinnie Jones and Derek Jacobi, was largely filmed on location in Rotherhithe. It features the interior and exterior of the genuine Blacksmiths Arms, Rotherhithe, although the rear of the pub in the film was a temporary set built adjacent to the Downtown nightclub, close to the Surrey Docks Farm.
**In “The Adventure of The Dying Detective,” Sherlock Holmes pretends to Dr. Watson that he has contracted a contagious disease in Rotherhithe, while working on a case.
**The first and last episode of Dempsey & Makepeace was filmed at the Mayflower public house and in the area.