History of the Area

The Romans built the first London Bridge and Southwark grew up at the south end of it. The Thames was generally much wider until recent times with a great deal of marshy land. The Romans also built two major roads that converged on London Bridge at Southwark:

  • Stane Street that went to Noviomagus Reginorum (Chichester).
  • Watling Street that went from Dubris (Dover), via Southwark and London to Viroconium Cornoviorum (Wroxeter)

After the departure of the Romans in the early 5th century, the bridge collapsed and Southwark was abandoned. A new bridge was built at an unknown date in the time of the Saxons and Southwark appears in a 10th century Anglo-Saxon document as Suthriganaweorc meaning 'the defensive work of the men of Surrey'. The Saxon bridge got a battering by competing groups of Saxons over the years.

William the Conqueror's army were unable to force their way over the bridge when they invaded in 1066 and William had the bridge rebuilt. Southwark is recorded in the Domesday Book as 'Sudweca' meaning 'southern defensive works'. William's bridge was destroyed by fire in 1136 and rebuilt again during the reign of Stephen.

The next bridge was a replacement in stone commissioned by Henry II which opened in 1209. The bridge had nineteen piers and the largest one, the eleventh from the Southwark end, incorporated the Chapel of St. Thomas. Henry had it built in penitence for the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. There were many shops and houses built on the bridge and it had a drawbridge in the middle. The heads of executed traitors and criminals were exhibited on pikes on the bridge as a warning to others. Southwark became the starting place for pilgrimages to the shrine of St. Thomas at Canterbury and is celebrated in Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales''.

London Bridge
London Bridge in 1682 [8]

Southwark had become an Ancient Borough by the 12th century which gave it the alternative name of 'Borough'. The main road leading south from London Bridge is still called Borough High Street and the market near the bridge is called Borough Market.

Southwark became the location of both The Rose and later The Globe theatres. All theatres were closed by the Puritans in 1642. Southwark was also the site of several old prisons including The Marshalsea, King's Bench and Clink prisons.

Construction of Southwark Bridge

The bridge seen in the photos on this page was the second Southwark Bridge. The first, designed by John Rennie, opened in 1819 as a toll-bridge and was originally named 'Queen Street Bridge'. It had three 240 feet cast-iron spans supported on granite piers and was the longest of its type ever made; the spans were cast in Rotherham.

Rennie's Bridge
John Rennie's bridge at Southwark by T.H. Shepherd 1829 [18]

I wondered how on earth such huge lumps of iron would have been brought from Rotherham to London, but found the following [18]:

The three arches were relatively flat but the voussoirs - the wedge shapes that keep the arch in place - were made of solid cast-iron, bolted together, to minimize thrust. The two side arches were each of two 210 feet. The ironwork, weighing between five and six thousand tons in total with individual pieces of up to ten tons, was cast by Walkers of Rotherham. Granite was brought from Peterhead in Aberdeenshire and transported as large blocks around the coast on cargo streamers.

The castings would have been brought via the River Don navigation to the Humber by barge and loaded onto seagoing vessels to be transported to London. According to Grace's Guide, Walkers ceased operation in 1821 - the same year the bridge opened. It is possible that they didn't get paid for the ironwork [20].

Rennie's bridge was a success from an engineering point of view but not so commercially. There were free alternatives and there were two practical problems: the approaches were too steep for horse-drawn carriages, and the fact that it had three arches whilst neighbouring bridges had five arches made it difficult for strings of barges to be navigated along the river.

The replacement bridge seen in these photos and still there was designed by Ernest George and Basil Mott and opened on 6 June 1921 by King George V and Queen Mary.

New Southwark Bridge
George and Mott's bridge at Southwark from the river [19]

Southwark Bridge/Southwark Bridge Road

Southwark Bridge was located between Blackfriars Railway Bridge and Cannon Street Railway Bridge at the time my grandfather's photos were taken, but the construction of the Millennium Bridge next to Bankside Power Station changed that. Completion of what Londoners nicknamed 'The Wobbly Bridge' was already too late for the Millennium and, due to a design defect that caused it to sway alarmingly, it had only been open for two days when it was closed for two years so it could be stabilised.

Millenium Bridge
Millenium Bridge viewed from St. Paul's Cathedral [8]

It would be interesting to know the overall plan that my grandfather's work contributed to. Given the proximity of Bankside Power Station, some of the cables being laid in his photos may have terminated there.

This set of photos were taken a little before 1930 as construction of Vintry House, which appears in many of them, started in 1928 and finished in 1930 and work was still under way when they were taken. This building had 10 floors, was primarily used as office space and was presumably named after the old Vintry Ward of the City of London whose boundary starts on the North side of the river by Cannon Street. Vintry House served as the headquarters of the Reserve Fleet during WW2. The building was demolished sometime in the 1980s.

Southwark Bridge Road
Southwark Bridge Road marked on extract from a 1936 Ordnance Survey map [2]

The first photo looks south across Southwark Bridge and was taken close to Southwark Bridge Steps. It shows cable drums and workmen on the western footpath. According to the label on the cable drum, it belonged to Post Office Telephones. It looks like the cable is being prepared for installation in an underground duct in which the man on the bottom right is standing. Perhaps this was a separate bit of cable-laying by Callender's while they were in the area? It certainly doesn't fit with the other photos in this set which show cables being installed on the other side of the road. A policeman looking like one of the 'Keystone Kops' is stepping into the road.

Southwark Bridge
Southwark Bridge [1]

The next image shows the same view from Google Street View. The former Bank Power Station with the square chimney can be seen to the right of the bridge; it is now the Tate Modern Art Gallery. The ornate lamp posts on the bridge are still in place but may have been converted from gas to electricity.

Southwark Bridge
Southwark Bridge looking towards Southwark Google Street View 2023 [7]

The next two photos were taken on Southwark Bridge looking north with Cannon Street Station on the far right. The first is a group of Callender's engineers with my grandfather with his ever-present pocket watch on the far left. I think the second photo shows the senior engineer.

Southwark Bridge Southwark Bridge
Callender's Engineers on Southwark Bridge [1]

The next photo looks across Southwark Bridge towards the South and shows the Art Deco Vintry House still under construction with work being done on the roof and windows being installed. Cable laying across a bridge must have been difficult as it would only be possible to excavate a few inches. The trench for installation of cables has shaped concrete depressions to hold cables that are yet to be installed and will presumably be covered with slabs of some kind before the surface is re-laid.

Southwark Bridge
Southwark Bridge looking south [1]

There is an electric tram crossing the bridge; several tram routes used Southwark Bridge, but I can't read the number.

  • Routes Nos. 6 and 10 ran from The City, across the bridge and terminated at Tooting Junction.
  • Route 46 ran from The City across the bridge and to Woolwich via New Cross, Lewisham and Eltham.
  • Route 48 ran from The City across the bridge and on to West Norwood via Elephant & Castle and Camberwell

There is also an old commercial vehicle on the bridge that I think could be a Morris R-type van.

The next image shows the same location taken from Google Street View in 2023. The bridge features are still clearly visible but all the buildings in the earlier image have been replaced.

Southwark Bridge
Southwark Bridge looking towards Southwark Google Street View 2023 [7]

The next photo is taken close to Vintry House and shows workmen loading a heavily constructed wooden wheelbarrow with excavated concrete. I found it surprising that wooden wheelbarrows would have been in use as late as this, but they were still in use in WW2. There are signs advertising the availability of offices and showrooms in Vintry House.

Southwark Bridge
Workman with wheelbarrow on Southwark Bridge [1]

The next photo was taken alongside Vintry House and shows engineers in their favourite occupation of staring into holes in the ground. The site of Vintry House is now occupied by the Financial Times building. The southern end of the bridge parapet is clearly visible behind the hole-gazers.

The building has a sign advertising Crittall Windows. Crittall started business in Braintree in Essex, and manufactured steel-framed windows that became associated with the Art Deco and Modernist movements. They were fitted in houses and many famous locations including the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London and even on Titanic.

Southwark Bridge
Engineers outside Vintry House on Southwark Bridge Road [1]

The aerial photograph below looks towards the Thames estuary with Southwark Bridge in the foreground, followed by Cannon Street Railway bridge and London Bridge. London Bridge Station can be seen top right and the arc of railway lines leading to it from Cannon Street stretch over Borough Market. The chimneys of Bankside Gasworks can be seen bottom right but Bankside Power Station is just out of view. There are a great many barges and lighters moored in the river or going about their business.

Although the Britain from Above website gives a date of 1932 for the image, it must have been taken at an earlier date as the building that preceded Vintry House can be clearly seen.

River Thames - extract from Britain From Above image EPW037972 [13]

Click image for enlarged view

The next four photos show the west side of Southwark Bridge Road further away from the river and looking south. On the right is the premises of Charles Letts & Co. the diary publishers; the company had moved to 18 Southwark Bridge Road in 1921. A bit further into the distance you can see the sign of lithographers Johnson, Riddle & Co. at 32 Southwark Bridge Road.

You can see from these photos that there was much more to installing cables than digging a trench and dropping them in. It was necessary to work around whatever was already in the ground including other cables, gas pipes, water pipes and sewers. These obstructions needed to be dug under, supported and generally worked around. No doubt there were occasions when the existing infrastructure was damaged. The second photo next to Park Street has my grandfather in his usual pose of looking down the trench

Southwark Bridge Southwark Bridge Southwark Bridge Southwark Bridge
Cable-laying in Southwark Bridge Road [1]

Johnson, Riddle & Co. had produced many WW1 propaganda and public information posters, as well as maps and theatre posters. Many of their productions are now collector's items - this is one of the most famous recruiting posters.

Southwark Bridge
WW1 Poster from Johnson, Riddle & Co. [17]

The next page covers cable-laying at power stations and substations.