07:00 – wake up
07:10 – wash and dress
07:30 – Eat (less often than I would have liked to)
07:45 – walk to train station
08:01 – get on the train
08:50 – Arrive at London Bridge Station. Walk to work
09:00 – Sit at desk
This used to be my morning routine everyday. I used to be so unaware of what was going on in my surroundings and so detached. Although I’d walk through Southwark to get to work, I had always been neglecting some of the most fascinating, radical and ever changing parts of London and with Southwark, being one of the oldest communities within the metropolis I feel that there is definitely something worth exploring here. In hindsight, perhaps this was due the limited amount of time that was available to me in my working day. It is with this in mind that I have decided to revisit the area surrounding London Bridge station and discover for myself what history one can gain from walking. I want to try and establish how useful walking is as a tool for historians.
Perhaps this is one of my main reasons for walking in this area but it is not this reason alone. Walking history could be a great way to uncover past histories. It actually allows for a historian to work hands on with any potential sources. I feel the best way to tackle this project is walk in an unaided and unplanned manner. Just wandering, Just pen, paper, camera, and a comfortable pair of shoes! The immediate downside to wandering was that I was not exactly when I had started or ended my walk! After having walked around the area for about an hour, I sat down in a small quiet library locating the roads that I had just walked through. My walk looked something like this: Starting at London bridge Station, and ending on London Bridge itself. Although the walk had been unplanned, I actually found it difficult to stray onto smaller side streets and take my time absorbing the streets around me. I was constantly worried about annoying the vast amounts of local workers who were walking in a hurry to get to wherever it is they needed to. I came across this poster, which was ironic to say the least
Walking down Borough High Street, I saw many different little side streets. Filled with pubs and inns. The road itself congested with traffic however this is not a modern day thing, As Ed Glinert says in his book The London Compendium (Penguin, 2012, p. 415), Borough High Street used to be a Roman Route from Londinium to Chichester it used to be an extremely busy highway in Medieval times and was lined with coaching inns and places of entertainment. Here is an image of Borough High Street taken from 1903, highlighting just some of the trade and commerce present.
Signs are an immediate and often first point of call for any passer by, however although located on a busy street with cars and pedestrians, walking by I found myself wondering if anyone actually noticed this sign..
This sign interested me, it was big, bold and it mentioned the word ‘monster’. Uniquely placed on the side of a building that mentioned ‘Albion Clothing Company’. My initial reaction to this was that it must be something to do with the first or Second World War. Upon research I had found out that this was what is now considered to be a Ghost sign. There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the exact meaning of ‘ghost sign’ but a lot of enthusiasts of these fading signs are found posting pictures on various photo sharing sites. Signage’s like these however were once a popular form of advertising and can inevitably tell us a lot about the societies in the past. They can also help us to identify the many changes that we see today, and how these societies and environments have changed. As Mention by, Leanne White, Stefan Schutt and Sam Roberts in Advertising and Public Memory (Taylor and Francis, 2016, p. 9) Benedict Anderson writes a lot about the imagined community, and he identifies how print culture was used as a catalyst for developing this sense of belonging and an imagined community via everyday life. For in this example we can see how this was implemented through advertising of a an all British Clothing company for British people. A search on the National Archives website led me to discover a poster advertising gentlemens clothing. Class is a big indicator here but perhaps there was more promotion in this particular point of time than any other due to the financial strong hold of England, the Free Trade acts and imports from foreign trade. It is with this in mind that we can account for the other branches of Albion Clothing Company in Aldgate, Peckham and Brighton. With this particular branch having been established during the last decade of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century, this ghost sign was painted more than 110 years ago
Similarly anther ghost sign was discovered on my walk. Located just on the way to Borough Market. Interestingly this house, housed senior employees of the famous Anchor brewery. Nowadays it is considered to be one of the most expensive council houses in Britain with an estimated value of £3m. This however is a detached house, which could tell us why it was for senior employees. But that doesn’t deter us from the fact that Brewing was a big industry. Within this particular house lived Charles Spurrell. Spurrell, started out his career as an East Indiaman, in the service of the East India Company, however Spurrell longed to be back in England due to homesickness. Upon return John Barclay who was a family friend offered him a job at the Anchor Brewery.
The Hop Exchange
Breweries seemed to be integral to Southwark. As I walked along Southwark Street I noticed a grand building and what looked like a Victorian commercial building, which was being restored by builders. This was The Hop Exchange. The Hop trade was significant to the area of Southwark up until the 1970s. Today it is mainly used for events.
After lots of walking around, interrupting people (because of my slow walking) and absorbing my surroundings, I find myself feeling overwhelmed with the amount of history that has been unveiled to me in an extremely short walk.
Ed Glinert, The London compendium: a street-by-street exploration of the hidden metropolis (London: Penguin, 2012)
Schutt, Stefan, Sam Roberts, and Leanne White, eds., Advertising and Public Memory: Social, Cultural and Historical Perspectives on Ghost Signs, (New York: Routledge, 2016)