The not impossible eighteenth-century spoon in your pocket, where do you go from the Bermondsey Market at 11 am? To the Old Vic to see if you can buy improbable tickets, by a long, erratic walk, looping in and out of docks, across bridges, through tunnels, sucked into coiled alleys, spewed out into broad, explosive streets, often guided by St. Paul’s in its straw basket of scaffolding across the river. (But no mews; the houses that kept stables built north of the river.)
At the top of Bermondsey stretches the length of Tooley Street, leading to the Tower Bridge, through streets named Vine Lane—whose corner pub is called Antigallican—Weaver’s Lane and Potter’s Fields, leading to a dock street whose name is Pickle Herring. Going southward, Bermondsey dips, as a number of its neighbors must in this area where streets hold up railway tracks, and becomes confused with Druid Street and Crucifix Lane in a knotting of dark-gray brick tunnel. To avoid confusion, look for the tunnel that is Shand Street, and return on it to Crucifix Lane, past the warehouses of wine and spirits, a coat of arms painted on old whitewash which might be the symbol of Pilsener beer or a private gest. On the other side of the street Vinegar Yard advertises the availability of “rough, split hides,” “pinned shoulders,” “pinned bellies,” and the appropriate acids and chemicals for their tanning, somehow uncomfortably related to the wines that come from Jerez and Oporto lying in a facing warehouse.
Tower Bridge Opening, 1949
Shad Thames Street
Crucifix Lane broadens to St. Thomas’s Street. It has a small restaurant called Guys and Dolls (not to be confused with the King’s Road wonder) to match the famous Guy’s Hospital. Its iron gate and classic inner façade seem to be surmounted, through an accident of proximity by a strange bulbous skeletal dome topped by a weather vane. Next door, the Keats House (he was a medical student at Guy’s Hospital), a conglomerate of Gothicky arches, Orientalish stars, Corinthianish columns, and faces peering out of the stone jungle. The building suffers additionally from the contrast with the row of handsome, simple red-brick house, a few of them with restrained carved lintels that lead to the old operating theater of St. Thomas’s.
James Elmes and William Woolnoth, Entrance To Guy’s Hospital, 1820
William Hogarth, Reward of Cruelty, 1751
London Leather, Hide and Wool Exchange
Bermondsey Hero Tommy Steele
Joris Hoefnagel, Fete at Bermondsey, 1569
"Faces peering out of the stone jungle”
Text Excerpts from Kate Simon, London Places and Pleasures, New York, G.P. Putnam's and Son, 1968