The BBC’s recent adaptation of the Dickens novel Little Dorrit put the spotlight on Borough, south of the City between Southwark Bridge and Tower Bridge.
- © BBC/Todd Anthony/Mitch Jenkins
Set 200 years ago, Amy Dorrit walks its streets on her way to and from the notorious Marshalsea debtors’ prison, where her father is locked up for a debt of £40, as was Dickens’s father.
'Today, Borough is a sought-after postcode'
In this fable for our times, peopled by incompetent Treasury officials, crooked financiers and their victims, both extreme poverty and excessive wealth are seen as corrupting forces.
Today, Borough, far from attracting the poor, is a sought-after postcode. All that remains of the Marshalsea prison is a section of wall on the south side of the church of St George the Martyr in Borough High Street.
In fact, this landmark church, where Little Dorrit was baptised, married and slept one night with her head on the burial book, is the only place in Borough that Amy would recognise. Her legacy, though, lives on in Borough’s street names, such as Marshalsea Road and Little Dorrit Court.
Once one of London’s poorest neighbourhoods, Borough has undergone a quiet revolution over the past 10 years. Stretching south to Elephant & Castle and the Bricklayer’s Arms, this is now an area that provides a blueprint for how cities can regenerate without losing their character.
In Borough, council estates rub shoulders with converted loft-style flats and architect-designed blocks. It is where the hip café-cum-art gallery visitors and the eel-and-pie shop customers meet; it is where smart new wine merchants set up business and residents walk to work in the City and central London.
Borough received a huge boost with the arrival of Tate Modern in the Nineties, and the subsequent development of London’s best riverside walk, while the huge success of foodie haven Borough Market has put the neighbourhood around London Bridge firmly on the map for Londoners and tourists.
'It is an area of little-known treasures, with some of London's finest Georgian squares'
But it is in the quiet hinterland that Borough’s residents have seen the greatest change. From iconic developments such as the Jam Factory, the conversion of the old Hartley’s jam factory into smart lofts; to the sleek, modern Thames-side offices at More London next to City Hall; the restoration of fine old warehouse buildings; and the backland development of new flats between Bermondsey Street and Tower Bridge Road. There the pace of change has been relentless.
It is an area of little-known treasures, too. Trinity Church Square and the adjacent Merrick Square are some of London’s finest Georgian squares. Houses and flats there rarely come up for sale because the estate is still mostly owned by Trinity House, the organisation that looks after the country’s lighthouses, and most of the properties - many lateral conversions over several houses - are still let out. For information about renting on the estate, contact Nelson Bakewell at 020 7407 1223.
In Redcross Street, the philanthropist Octavia Hill, who started the National Trust in 1895, built a row of pretty cottages and a community hall, and now the adjoining public garden is newly landscaped with help from the National Lottery.
Art and culture extend way beyond Tate Modern and the highlights of the South Bank. Zandra Rhodes’s famous salmon-pink Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street is now a creative college; the Unicorn children’s theatre occupies a new building in Tooley Street; the Jerwood Space in Union Street is showing the work of its photography prize winners; while the award-winning Menier Chocolate Factory theatre is to be found in Southwark Street.
New homes in SE1
Although the pace of change in Borough may have slackened of late, there are still opportunities to buy into new developments. Bermondsey Square is a new £60 million mixed-used scheme from Igloo built around Bermondsey’s famous Friday antiques market.
The scheme contains 76 flats, a new hotel opening in April and an art cinema opening soon. There are 36 flats left, with prices starting at £340,000 for one-bedroom and rising to £595,000 for three bedrooms. Igloo may consider letting out some unsold flats. For more information about sales and lettings, contact Stirling Ackroyd on 020 7940 3888.
The Raven is a development of eight flats in Tanner Street, off Tower Bridge Road, which will be ready for occupation in February. There are six flats remaining, with prices starting at £329,950 for a one-bedroom penthouse and £390,000 for a two-bedroom flat. For more information, call Felicity J Lord on 020 7089 6490.
Housing association Amicus Horizon (020 8726 8839) has a selection of shared-ownership flats at the Buxton Homes development known as 140 Southwark Bridge Road. This large scheme at the junction of Webber Road has one-bedroom shared-ownership flats starting at £73,950 for a 30 per cent share plus a monthly rental starting at £395.