This was published in the COMPAS Blog in May 2013.
They never call it Bermondsey any more
A couple of weeks ago, in Bermondsey, South London with my colleagues Ole Jensen, Simon Rowe and Ida Persson, we met a man called Albert, at the entrance to his council flat. Born on Christmas Day 1926, Albert had lived his whole life in Bermondsey (apart from his national service at the end of the war, spent in Scandinavia). He had lived over half a century in his current flat, since it had been built as part of the massive post-war social democratic housing expansion whose legacy completely dominates the landscape of South London. He worked as a drayman at the Courage brewery, brought up three daughters and a son – and slowly watched his neighbourhood change almost beyond recognition.
The Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey was merged into the London Borough of Southwark in 1965. Its town hall had been bombed in the war, and Bermondsey no longer exists as an administrative unit. “They never call it Bermondsey any more”, Albert insisted. At its height, the docks employed huge numbers of men; the Peek Frean biscuit factory employed thousands of women. The docks closed one by one from the 1960s, the brewery closed in 1981, and the biscuit factory houses work units for creative businesses. The council estates are no longer sites of utopian hope but now carry the stigma of residualised poverty. A tidal wave of gentrification ripples down from the riverside, and the UK’s decade of mass migration has transformed the demographics. Continue reading