Saturday, 30 November 2013

Let's reclaim God's own country in London: Bermondsey Beach

From the home of Bermondsey's working-classes, to London's premier pleasure beach?
When taking a lazy evening stroll along  The Queen's Walk, SE1's Thames-side walkway, it is very easy to miss the clues that point to Bermondsey Beach's place in history as the home, workplace and playground of the ordinary working people of Bermondsey.  Riverfront terraced housing, later rebranded as 'slums', has long since been demolished; Hay's dock and with it the livelihood of tens of thousands of locals has been filled-in and 'gentrified'; and the industrial heart of Bermondsey, including the Anchor Brewery and bonded warehouses ripped out of the once gloriously rich Thames promenade.  Whitewashed and airbrushed out, but not forgotten.
Hay's Galleria, formerly Hay's Dock
©Bermondsey Beach 2013
But with the demise of the docks and wharves, and with them Britain's shipping industry, Bermondsey's brightest and best were progressively and brutally ejected from their deckchairs on London's finest beach.

©Bermondsey Beach 2013
Enjoyed today by men and women from all over the world, and toiled over in days long forgotten by innumerable dockers and labourers  from the once all-powerful Bermondsey working-classes, the beach formed the gateway to the now defunct 'larder of London', with over three-quarters of the city's butter, cheese, bacon and canned meats landing there.  Although dockers were poorly paid, they along with many food processing firms such as biscuit manufacturer Peek Freens and Co and Sarson's Vinegar provided additional employment to sustain the lives of our hardworking families. 
St Saviour's Dock, SE1
©Bermondsey Beach 2013
Ships would dock weekly in their thousands, offloading their wares, and in turn feeding the hungry mouths of millions of families across London.  These days, powerboats scream past carrying the wailing well-to-do on their birthday gift experiences.  London's cheese, poultry and meat industries no longer employ generations of Bermondsey families at Hay's Dock - instead our premier markets at  Spa Terminus (Spa Road) and Maltby Street sell some of the best produce in Britain, albeit to an exclusively middle-class elite.
The Beach at Cherry Gardens, SE16
©Bermondsey Beach 2013
In 21st century Bermondsey, the modern beach front houses some of Britain's finest places to spend a Friday night: from The Pont De La Tour and Blueprint Cafe, to the buzzing All Bar One and Browns bars.  In fact, it's thanks to the Butlers Wharf and Shad Thames pioneer Terence Conran that much of this area was redeveloped at all.  The question is, how can these be made more inclusive, and as a result inviting, to those living in the poorer parts of Bermondsey?

Butlers Wharf, Shad Thames, SE1
Nonetheless, if you haven't seen lately the views from the beach, get down there today: London's testicle, otherwise known as City Hall, is provocatively tickled by the Shard; the Cheese grater shaves off slices of the Gherkin before your eyes; and standing majestically in the distance  is St Paul's Cathedral - but is Sir Christopher Wren looking down with delight or disdain?
The Shard and City Hall (known affectionately as The Testicle), SE1
©Bermondsey Beach 2013
Views across the river of  Wapping and Tower Hill are nothing short of spectacular.
View across the beach to Wapping
©Bermondsey Beach 2013
Today, we are extremely fortunate to be able to float away to Greenwich, the South Bank or even onto Hampton Court by catching a clipper boat from at least two Bermondsey piers: Cherry Gardens and London Bridge City behind Hay's Galleria.  Thanks to both Ken and Boris, the Thames is being used more often - now it's time to make it cheaper and easier to use by the very same Bermondsey Brits who breathed life into it through passion and gritted graft over hundreds of years.
View across the Beach to The Tower of London
©Bermondsey Beach 2013
When you've seen the views, at dawn and at dusk, there is only one conclusion that can be reached: Bermondsey is God's own country in London!
View from the beach - Tower Bridge
©Bermondsey Beach 2013
The problem is that the only place tourists and locals alike fail to venture down to is the beach itself: sandy, sometimes silty, it is a veritable haven for probe wielding treasure-hunters and those who want a minute's peace, but unfortunately not for much else.

Rugged and rich in history - the Beach near Cherry Gardens
©Bermondsey Beach 2013
This decade's real challenge is to turn Bermondsey Beach into London's foremost pleasure beach; not with chutes, slides and big-wheels, but by sticking up two fingers to the 'elf-'n'-safety bigwigs and following the example set by our parents and grandparents: playing football, launching small tethered sail boats, building sandcastles and even paddling in the Thames. (These people built an empire and fought and won two world wars, and the beach didn't harm them!) Furthermore, the disturbing and unacceptable outbreak of rickets and vitamin D deficiency in modern day Southwark could be beaten decisively by beach bathing on a towel  or a deckchair - oh, and of course by feeding our kids a healthy diet, rather than neglecting them.  Let's reclaim the beaches from the exclusive enjoyment of the privileged few that can afford to live there - we will all benefit.

View of Bermondsey Beach from Rotherhithe 
©Bermondsey Beach 2013
From sunrise to sunset, the views from Bermondsey Beach have strangely medicinal qualities, lifting tired and broken hearts and breathing new life into cynical and weary souls.  So, bring your knotted handkerchiefs, bucket and spade and a copy of Southwark News - then, stop and marvel at world-class views.  And for the truly daring, come on in - the water's lovely!

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