Living in Bermondsey: area guide to homes, schools and transport
Packed with character and history, the bustling south London district of Bermondsey has changed beyond recognition. It's a hit with walk-to-work City types and foodies, boasting a weekend market that's a tourist destination in its own right.
South London district Bermondsey has gone from bust to boom in a generation. When the Duke of Westminster — owner of the Grosvenor Estate and some of London’s richest real estate — makes a journey across the river to snap up a 13-acre site behind Bermondsey Tube station, you know the area has arrived.
Art galleries, restaurants and quirky shops in Bermondsey Street, the riverside flats along Shad Thames that are now reaching prime London prices, and the weekend foodie market around Maltby Street that rivals Borough Market as a tourist destination have all contributed to changing this historic working-class neighbourhood beyond recognition.
However, as estate agent Mark Andrews from the local branch of Daniel Cobb points out, Bermondsey covers a large area. It stretches from Southwark Park to the east, Borough High Street to the west, Old Kent Road to the south and the Thames to the north. As a result, Bermondsey remains a place of great contrasts.
House prices currently range from £6 million, or £1,764 a square foot, for a four-bedroom penthouse in Shad Thames, to £270,000, or £402 a square foot, for a two-bedroom right-to-buy flat in Brydale House, a council tower block a few minutes from Southwark Park.
For years Bermondsey was famous for its tanneries and, by the end of the 18th century, a third of all the country’s leather came from the area. It left a legacy of fine industrial buildings that give the roads around Bermondsey Street their character.
Take a video tour of Bermondsey:
What there is to buy
Bermondsey has a real mix, from small terrace houses to lofts in converted industrial buildings, and from new flats to right-to-buy flats on council estates. A large two- to three-bedroom loft with more than 3,000sq ft and a roof terrace is currently for sale in Tannery Lofts in Tower Bridge Road for £2.65 million.
Andrews says demand remains strong for flats, with the busiest price range between £700,000 and £1 million.
Renting: Bermondsey has a busy rental market, with the area close to Bermondsey Street the most popular with City workers. Flats range from £250 a week, such as a one-bedroom flat on the ground floor of a low-rise council block in Cadbury Way available to rent for £254 a week, to £675 a week for a 1,100sq ft loft with two bathrooms in the Alaska Building in Grange Road.
Taking the heat: Elliot Walker of London Glassblowing, a workshop in Bermondsey Street that creates stunning glassware
The area attracts: investors and professionals, especially City workers who enjoy being able to walk or cycle to work, and parents buying for themselves and for children starting work or university. “About 75 per cent of our buyers are currently buying for their own occupation rather than as an investment,” says Andrews. “We think this trend will continue after the stamp duty changes in April, which may deter buy-to-let investors.”
Staying power: the range of properties in Bermondsey offers scope for upsizing and downsizing, and many residents take this opportunity, while others move to the suburbs to buy their first house.
Travel: London Bridge Tube station is on the Northern line and the Jubilee line in Zone 1. Bermondsey Tube station, in Zone 2, is on the Jubilee line, while South Bermondsey (Zone 2) is on the rail network, a few minutes from London Bridge. An annual travelcard covering Zones 1 and 2 costs £1,296.
Best roads: Shad Thames has long-established riverside warehouse conversions, east of London Bridge. Pioneered by Sir Terence Conran in the early Eighties, the neighbourhood is characterised by its cobbled streets straddled by imposing iron bridges linking the warehouses. Equally popular are the warehouse conversions close to Bermondsey Street arranged around quaint mews or yards, such as The Jam Factory in the former Hartley’s plant, Tanners Yard and The Glass House.
Postcode: the most fashionable areas of Bermondsey fall into SE1, which covers the whole of South Bank, but to the west it becomes SE16, the Rotherhithe postcode, and to the south SE15, the Peckham postcode.
Up and coming: there are attractive two- and three-bedroom flat-fronted Victorian cottages in Thorburn Square conservation area, which lies between Lynton Road and Southwark Bridge Road. Houses in Alma Grove, in the conservation area, sold last year for between £605,000 and £725,000.
A cut above: Jamie Wilmot of B Street Deli, a popular café in Bermondsey Street that specialises in charcuterie and artisan cheeses
What’s new: the largest current scheme is the long-stalled Potters Fields development between the Greater London Authority building and Tower Bridge. Here, Berkeley Group is building One Tower Bridge (020 7871 0011), a mixed-used development of 367 one-, two- and three-bedroom flats in seven separate buildings including a tower block and a hotel. The flats are being sold off-plan and range from £1,275 for a one-bedroom flat to £14.5 million for one of the penthouses. The first residents will move in this year and the development will be complete in 2017. The development includes a new theatre for former National Theatre artistic director Sir Nicholas Hytner and executive director Nick Starr’s London Theatre Company. This too will open in summer 2017.
Crest Nicholson has recently launched Snowsfields Yard (020 3640 7577) in Melior Street, close to Bermondsey Street. There are 37 (nine affordable through housing association Hyde New Homes) one-, two- and three-bedroom flats and penthouses, with a shared communal roof garden. Prices start at £765,000 off-plan, with the first residents moving in this summer.
Bermondsey is now on the brink of its second wave of regeneration. The Mayor of London has nominated Old Kent Road as one of his favoured Opportunity Areas, with a vision for 1,000 new jobs and 2,500 new homes. Just before Christmas, Berkeley Homes announced it had acquired three sites in the Opportunity Area off Old Kent Road behind Asda — the former Hygrade Meat Factory in Bianca Road, Acorn Wharf and Surrey Wharf.
Around Millwall football ground in south Bermondsey, regeneration specialist Renewal has been working on the New Bermondsey project for more than 10 years. The master plan devised by architects Studio Egret West envisages 2,400 new homes, a new sports centre, which is set to be the largest indoor community sports centre to be built since the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace in 1964, and a new Overground station between Surrey Quays and Queens Road Peckham.
Property company Grosvenor is developing a 13-acre site behind Bermondsey Tube station to the west of Southwark Park, which will integrate some heritage buildings from the former Peek Frean biscuit factory — Bermondsey was known for many years as Biscuit Town — and some former Lewisham Southwark College buildings. The mixed use development will include a new secondary school designed by architects Cottrell & Vermeulen. The former college buildings are currently providing temporary premises for the Compass free school and a performance space for Old Vic New Voices.
Shops and restaurants
Bermondsey is a great place to spend a leisurely long weekend, starting early on a Friday morning with a visit to the antiques market in Bermondsey Square.
Saturday brings the foodie delights of Borough Market and the less-touristy food shops and cafés in the railway arches around Druid Street and Maltby Street. Walking back to Bermondsey Street, dog owners can pick up a sparkly designer collar for their pet from Holly & Lil. You can also grab a coffee from one of the many cafés or a tasty Spanish meal at Pizarro and its popular little sister, José.
There is also Casse-Croûte for French bistro fare or Tanner & Co for burgers. The Garrison and The Woolpack are two popular gastropubs. Round the corner in Tooley Street, Magdalen serves modern British food.
In and around Shad Thames and Butler’s Wharf, there is top brasserie Le Pont de la Tour and Blueprint Café.
Del’Aziz in Bermondsey Square serves food with a Middle Eastern twist and, for traditionalists, there is M.Manze eel, pie and mash shop, dating back to 1902.
Since we last visited Bermondsey, two primary schools have joined the list of schools rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. They are The Cathedral School of St Saviour and St Mary Overy in Redcross Way, which has close links with Southwark Cathedral, and Charles Dickens in Toulmin Street. The others are Boutcher and St Joseph’s RC, both in Grange Road, and Riverside in Janeway Street. The following comprehensive schools are also judged “outstanding” — St Saviour’s and St Olave’s CofE (girls, ages 11 to 18) in New Kent Road, St Michael’s Catholic College (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Llewellyn Street, and Harris Academy Bermondsey (girls, ages 11 to 18) in Southwark Park Road.
In recent years, two new state secondary schools have opened. Compass (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) is a Free school in Drummond Road. It opened to its first intake of year 7 pupils in September 2013, but it is currently judged “requiring improvement” by Ofsted. University Academy of Engineering South Bank (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Trafalgar Street opened to its first intake of year 7 pupils in September 2014. It is sponsored by London South Bank University and specialises in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, but has not yet been inspected by Ofsted.
The two nearest top-performing private schools are in the City — City of London School (boys, 10 to 18) in Queen Victoria Street and City of London Girls (ages, seven to 18) in the Barbican.
There are lovely riverside walks taking in many of south London’s major landmarks, such as Southwark Cathedral, the Globe Theatre and the Oxo Tower. Southwark Park is where Bermondsey meets Surrey Quays. The park has two modern art galleries — The Gallery, and Dilston Grove, which is in a converted chapel.
Leisure and the arts
With the arrival of Sir Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr’s London Theatre Company at One Tower Bridge next year, Bermondsey is set to become a major centre for performance. There is also the children’s theatre, Unicorn, in Tooley Street and the Union Theatre in Union Street. Bermondsey Street is home to White Cube gallery, while the attractions of the South Bank and Tate Modern are a short walk away.
Shortwave is a 50-seat independent cinema in Bermondsey Square. Sadly the Design Museum in Shad Thames closes in June ahead of its move to the Commonwealth Institute building in Kensington. Seven Islands Leisure Centre in Rotherhithe is the nearest council-owned swimming pool.
Council: most of Bermondsey is in Labour-controlled Southwark and Band D council tax for 2015/2016 is £1,207.14. However, regeneration around Millwall football ground lies in Lewisham, which is also Labour-controlled, and Band D council tax here is £1,355.35.
Three things about Bermondsey
Who got a nasty shock on May 7, 2015?
Along with 48 other Liberal Democrat MPs, Sir Simon Hughes — the long-standing MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark — lost the parliamentary seat he had held since 1983. It was a seat he won in a controversial by-election battle with gay campaigner Peter Tatchell.
Where in Bermondsey do diners look down on the remains of this Benedictine monastery?
There is a glass floor in the Del’Aziz restaurant in Bermondsey Square that reveals a section of Bermondsey Abbey, founded in 1082. For a time it was one of the most influential in the country and rivalled Westminster in religious prestige.
What did self-taught painter Thomas Keyse (1722-1800) discover in 1770?
This was the year that Keyse discovered mineral water on land he owned close to what is now Spa Road. He opened a pleasure gardens where people could take the water and, for a while, Bermondsey became a popular resort, but its success was short-lived and it closed in 1804.