12 January 2009
By John Prendergast
A FARMER chewing on a straw of hay, ploughing his meadow as bullocks graze nearby. Not a scene you'd associate with Bermondsey, but step back 700 years and that's probably what you'd find.
Believe it or not, in the pre-Tesco era people had to live off the land. Fields covered much of London, and the struggle to find a patch to farm forced the desperate onto flood plains such as early Bermondsey. Plough marks dating to between 1520 and 1220 BC prove this.
But Bermondsey's luscious past was drowned out by the burgeoning Thames, which outgrew its banks and took over its low-lying swampy land.
The image of a leafy London of ploughed fields and lush grass is startling when mapped out, as can be seen in Cathy Ross and John Clark's London: The Illustrated History.
The book takes a pictorial look through the history of the capital, showing Southwark through Roman to present times. Maps pinpoint where Roman ironworks, milling or bakers and mosaic workshops were all found by archaeologists.
The Romans claimed to have civilized London, introducing public baths across the capital, including one by Winchester Palace built somewhere between the mid second to fourth century. The sauna like baths were either public or private and allowed people to have a good sweat and chat.
The Romans didn't just bring leisure to London, they also brought their religion. Two Roman-Celtic temples once stood in Tabard Square, along with statues to the gods in an outside plaza. The temples are thought to have been dedicated to the Roman god Mars combined with French god Camulus.
Cemeteries (shown in the map above) have also been found in the borough as the dead were buried outside of the City walls. Walled cemeteries have been found on Great Dover Street and mausolea in other parts of the area. A South London cemetery was also created, where rich Romans had their own areas and the dead were cremated in special pits.
While the City was a walled fortress, the settlement on the south bank may have been unfortified, the authors say. It may have had a permanent military presence though, as a garrison was stationed near the old London Bridge.
The Roman south bank is not the only thing mapped in the book. It also mentions how Medieval London's concerns mirrored its more modern anxieties. Londoners were not keen on immigrants. After 1400 the largest influx of foreigners to London was the Dutch moving into Southwark, where they prospered by making beer, brass goods, bricks and through working with leather.
In 1440 there were 445 Dutch taxpayers in Southwark, working in 40 different occupations. Fifty of the households had servants.
The tightly-knit group lived together in the parish of St Olave, on Tooley Street, where they kept their language but learnt English to survive. They also had to dish out on extra taxes and were discriminated against in the courts.
"East Southwark, by the sixteenth century, was an industrial zone largely occupied by the Dutch immigrants, producing clothing, beer, pottery and glass; they were also dyers, leatherworkers, builders, joiners, cobblers and shoemakers," the authors write.
But Southwark, as in recent times, was an ever changing place. The book charts the rise in theatres, palaces, and the docks through the Victorian and Georgian eras, the world wars, the sixties and the seventies through maps and images showing how things were and might have looked.
London: The Illustrated History by Cathy Ross and John Clark is published by Allen Lane and costs £30.
No comments have been posted.
RAILTON ROAD SE24,
Leasehold, For Sale
TEA TRADE WHARF SE1, £1,295,000 , For Sale
TOWER BRIDGE WHARF E1W, £550 , per week, For Sale
PROVIDENCE SQUARE SE1, £1,600,000 , For Sale