Bermondsey (St. Mary Magdalene)

BERMONDSEY (St. Mary Magdalene), a parish and union, in the borough of Southwark, E. division of the hundred of Brixton and of Surrey, 1½ mile (S. S. E.) from London; containing 34,947 inhabitants. This place, in Domesday book, is described as a royal demesne, and, in other ancient records, as having been occasionally the residence of William the Conqueror, and his successor, William Rufus, who had a palace here. In 1089, a priory for Cluniac monks was founded by Aldwin Child, a citizen of London, as a cell to the abbey of La Charité in France, from which establishment brethren of that order are said to have been sent hither through the influence of Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury. To this monastery William Rufus and some of his successors were great benefactors. Henry I. gave the palace to the monks, for the enlargement of their cloister, reserving part of it as a residence for himself, in which King John having subsequently resided, it obtained the appellation of King John's Palace, and has been by some antiquaries considered rather the original site than, as it was in reality, only an appendage to the monastery. This establishment increased so much in wealth and importance that it was found necessary to enlarge the buildings; and an hospital was erected adjoining it in 1213, for the reception of their converts and the education of children of indigent parents, which was dedicated to St. Thomas the Martyr. In the 45th of Edward III. it was sequestrated, with other alien priories, to the use of the crown, but was re-established. Richard II. elevated it into an abbey, and it retained its grandeur and importance till the Dissolution, when its revenue was estimated at £548. 2. 5¾. The site appears to have been very extensive, comprising the present churchyard, and an adjoining area, still called King John's Court; and vestiges of the place and conventual buildings may be traced in the gardens of the houses which have been erected on the site: a gateway, which was standing in 1807, has been taken down, in order to form Abbeystreet. Bermondsey owes its origin to the monastery, in the vicinity of which a gradual accumulation of buildings had formed a village in the reign of Edward III. when a church was founded by the prior, for the use of the inhabitants. Catherine of France, widow of Henry V., lived in retirement in the monastery, where she died in 1436; here also, in 1486, Elizabeth, queen of Edward IV. who had been sentenced by the council to forfeiture of lands, ended her life in confinement.

Bermondsey is situated on the southern bank of the river Thames. The houses are in general ancient and irregularly built, but there are several modern and handsome structures; the streets are paved, and lighted with gas, and the inhabitants are supplied with water from the South London and the Southwark water-works. An act for more effectually paving, lighting, and otherwise improving the parish, was passed in 1845. A great alteration has lately taken place by the formation of the London and Greenwich railway, which commences near the foot of London bridge, and crosses the parish by means of a magnificent viaduct of lofty arches, for the construction of which numbers of houses were purchased by the directors and pulled down along the line. The Bricklayers' Arms branch of the Croydon railway is almost exclusively within the parish; it was opened in May 1844, and is about 1¾ mile long: the cost was defrayed jointly by the Croydon and South-Eastern Railway Companies. The tanning of leather is carried on to a very great extent; there are numerous woolstaplers, fellmongers, curriers, and manufacturers of vellum and parchment, besides an extensive hat-factory, some vinegar-works, a distillery, and brewery. The situation is also favourable to other trades; there are a small dock and several yards for boat-builders, and within the parish are likewise rope-makers, anchorsmiths, and stave-merchants, and an establishment for the printing and dyeing of calico. About 200 acres of land are cultivated for the production of vegetables.

The living is a rectory, valued in the king's books at £15. 8. 11½., and in the patronage of the family of Knapp; net income, £514. The parish church, of which the west front and tower were repaired and embellished in 1830, is in the later English style. A district church, dedicated to St. James, was completed in 1828, partly by a grant from the Parliamentary Commissioners, at an expense of £21,412; it is a handsome edifice in the Grecian style, with a tower, and a portico of four pillars of the Ionic order: an altar-painting, of the Ascension, which cost £500, the bequest of Mr. J. Harcourt, was put up in 1845. The living is a perpetual curacy; net income, £300; patron, the Rector of Bermondsey. A church district named Christchurch was endowed by the Ecclesiastical Commission in 1845, and one named St. Paul's in 1846: a church has just been consecrated in the former district, which has consequently become an ecclesiastical parish; the edifice is in the Romanesque style, built at a cost of about £4600, exclusive of the site, and situated at an angle formed by a road crossing the road to Lower Deptford. There are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyans; and a handsome and spacious Roman Catholic chapel erected in 1834, at a cost of about £6000. Close to it is a convent of the Sisters of Mercy, erected in 1839, for about forty inmates, with a private chapel and a schoolroom for 300 female children; it cost about £4000. "The Bermondsey Free School," for sixty boys, who are instructed in reading, writing, and arithmetic, was founded in 1709, by Josiah Bacon, who left £700 for building the premises, and £150 per annum for its endowment; the schoolroom, which was erected in 1718, in the Grange road, is a neat brick building, having a bust of the founder in a niche over the entrance. The united "Charity Schools," established in 1712, are supported partly by an endowment of £109 per annum. In 1770, a chalybeate spring was discovered, and a spa established which, for many years, was a celebrated place of entertainment. Israel Mauduit, an ingenious writer on politics and commerce, was born in Bermondsey in 1708.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.