In this blog I continue my series of explorations of areas of London. This time I look at St Saviour’s Dock.
From Slum to Luxury Apartments At St Saviour’s Dock
Where Is St Saviour’s Dock?
St Saviour’s Dock sits at the point at which the River Neckinger (a subterranean river) meets the River Thames. It is on the South Bank of the Thames 420 metres east of Tower Bridge. You can walk along the bank of the River Thames from Tower Bridge, past Butler’s Wharf to St Saviour’s Dock. It forms part of Shad Thames. The East Side of the Dock is known as Jacob’s Island.
I had never heard of the River Neckinger before researching this blog. I just assumed everything in this area of London was linked by the River Thames.
According to London Remembers, the river was given the name ‘Neckinger’ from the London slang for the noose used to execute pirates – the ‘Devil’s Neckinger’ or ‘Neckerchief’. More about pirates later in the blog.
The History of St Saviour’s Dock
It All Started With Monks
Monks created St Saviour’s Dock. Well, that is according to ‘Exploring Southwark‘.
Bermondsey Abbey, dedicated to St Saviour, was built in 1082. It was a part of the French Abbey at Cluny. The monks of the Abbey were forward thinking sort of chaps and reclaimed and drained the land around the outflow of the Neckinger. At the same time they were embanking and enlarging the main outflow to form St Saviour’s Dock. They built a windmill next to it for grinding corn powered by the ebb and flow of the tidal Thames. The Abbey closed at the time of the Dissolution of Monasteries and was handed over to Henry VII in 1539.
The Docks in Full Swing
Then followed 200 years of intense activity, with the River Thames allowing the transportation of both raw materials and finished goods. It was particularly popular for processing food. Which must have been at great odds with the other big industry – tanning. The docks were so popular that ships could wait for days in order to gain entry and were ripe pickings for pirates (I told you we would come back to them).
Tanning leather was a particularly smelly affair back then. Banned from inside the City of London, this area of Bermondsey became ‘tanning central’, using the water from the River Neckinger for part of the process. The other part involved using urine and dog’s faeces – can you imagine the smell??? Probably best not to.
Decline and Regeneration
St Saviour’s Docks declined and ditches became filled with waste from the manufacturing process.
In the early 1850s the area was cleared and has gradually since been redeveloped. So much so that in 1981 St Saviour’s Docks was the first of the London Docklands to be converted into luxury living accommodation.
Walking Around St Saviour’s Dock
While there is lots of history at St Saviour’s Dock it is difficult to imagine what it would have been like as a working dock. Although it covers a large area, you almost stumble upon it as you come along the bank of the Thames. You round the corner of a building and this wonderful view is laid out before you.
The first thing I did was walk across the hydraulic cable stay swing bridge that allows an uninterrupted walk (or jog!) on the Thames Path. The bridge is very impressive.
The views of St Saviour’s Docks are spectacular with many original features retained on the buildings including a number of the docking cranes. I did actually wonder if they were still in use today. I am thinking of the Netherlands where goods arrive on canals and are transported up to upper floor rooms by a pulley system. It is a nice thought.
Walking beyond New Concordia Wharf at the entrance to the docks there are a number of colorful houseboats at Reed Wharf which is quite a contrast to the sober look of the St Saviour’s Docks itself. It is certainly an interesting and impressive area to walk around, particularly with a camera.
All of the images in my blog today are available to buy as prints, just click on the image to be taken to a purchase page with more information.
Before you go
My name is Dorothy Berry-Lound an artist and writer. You can find out more about my art and writing at https://dorothyberryloundart.com.
Thank you for reading!