If you ask most Londoners, even those rare fellows who were actually born in our great capital, they’re unlikely to have heard of Rotherhithe. Having lived in this river-fronted peninsula for a decade now I can attest to the blank stares received when you say where you live.
Despite being across the river from Canary Wharf and only 12 minutes from Bond Street on the Jubilee Line, most people still believe its somewhere out in Kent with its quaint sounding name. Though in recent years the names, Canada Water and Surrey Quays have been used – these were both created by marketing departments. And haven’t done much to boost the areas fame.
So why do I feel so passionate about the least well know part of Zone 2? Why have I spent a decade in an area that even black cabs often fail to locate? Simple. It’s all due to the area’s peninsula geography that has made it an oasis in the hustle and bustle of the city.
Before I delve into why you should pay SE16 a visit or even consider living here, a little history lesson. The name Rotherhithe comes from ‘Rother’ meaning cattle and ‘hithe’ meaning to land. For Centuries this area of the docklands is where cattle was taken off ships and then walked to the market at Smithfield.
In the Victorian period the area underwent a huge transformation with the building of the docks and by the end of the 19th Century the majority of the area was water. The docks thrived throughout the next fifty years, surviving numerous bombing attacks in the Blitz but with containerisation of worldwide shipping, the old docks started to dwindle, officially closing in 1970.
Then came the 1980s and with it the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) who took one look at the closed and abandoned docks and decided to transform the area. Within a few years, 80% of the docks were filled in and new roads and houses sprang up. However, being the 1980s these weren’t high density high rises but rather cul-de-sacs in the middle and warehouse conversions around the Thames fronted perimeter.
History lesson over, what is there actually to do that helps make it the hidden gem of the Docklands? Here are my top five:
The Mayflower Public House
This pub is famous the world over for being the actual starting place of the ‘Mayflower’ boat with its many pilgrims on board. Pop inside and you’ll find a collection of small rooms, most lit by candle light only. With a wide selection of beers on tap it’s great for a quick pint, however, where the Mayflower excels is it’s the food. A traditional pub menu done exceptionally well with a few twists all cooked with the best ingredients. When the weather is fine head out the back and you’ll find yourself above the Thames on a wooden jetty – the perfect place for a summer pint!
Random fact: Due to its ‘Mayflower’ connections, it is the only pub in the UK that is allowed to sell US Postage Stamps.
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One of the best jogging routes in London or the perfect spot for a lazy Sunday afternoon stroll, the Thames Path runs the length of the river through the city centre on both sides. The Rotherhithe section is just under 2 miles long and includes some of the best views of Tower Bridge, The City and Canary Wharf. Free to walk along and with multiple statues to admire en-route it’s a great way to see the capital.
Random fact: Several parts of the Thames Path deviate away from the river onto Rotherhithe Street, which was London’s longest street until Oxford Street was completed.
Surrey Docks Farm
Halfway along the Thames Path you’ll come across the Surrey Docks Farm, which as its name suggests is a fully functioning farm in the Docklands! For a modest donation you can wander in and see the goats, chickens, pigs and cows all happily enjoying their city acreage. The farm Café offers an excellent Breakfast and Lunch menu with a lot of the ingredients coming from the farm itself.
Random fact: It is rumoured that Surrey Docks Farm is the largest inner-city farm in Europe.
Located on Albion Street, close to Rotherhithe Overground station, is the Finish Church. One of three Scandinavian Church’s to be found in the area, what makes this one special is its beautifully preserved mid-century architecture. Feel free to wander in and admire the beautiful artwork, decoration and furniture.
Random fact: The Church’s gift shop is actually a treasure trove of Finish foods you can only buy from here and nowhere else in London. There’s also a popular sauna.
Wander around the area known as ‘Rotherhithe Village’ and you’ll get a real sense of this area’s industrious past. The many warehouses and narrow streets are joined by the Brunel Museum. This museum marks the spot where the Brunels, father and son, built the world’s first underwater tunnel – today used, somewhat ironically, by the Overground railway. The museum has many interesting artefacts from the era and explains how this tunnel revolutionised the world due to its new building technique.
Random fact: It was while building this tunnel that Isambard Kingdom Brunel fell ill and went to Bristol to recover. Here he drew up plans for the Great Western Railway, Great Western steam ship and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. What a recovery!