Thursday, June 25th 2015
We had arranged to meet friends for a trip to Bermondsey to see an exhibition. This was being held at the Fashion and Textile Museum.
The district we now call Bermondsey lies south of the river and is part of the Borough of Southwark. The name dates from Anglo-Saxon times when a man called Beornmund claimed the land hereabouts. An ey or eg was an island or a raised dry area amid marshes and could be turned into farmland. There are no farms here now in what is a densely populated area.
On the way to meeting our friends we changed buses at the Borough, where I photographed the war memorial. Its official name seems to be St Saviour’s War Memorial though it is often referred to as Southwark War Memorial. St Saviour’s was not a church, as you might reasonably imagine, but the name of a civil parish which was discontinued in 1930 with the creation of the London boroughs.
The memorial commemorates the First World War and was made by Philip Lindsay Clark in a realist style, unlike many war memorials of the period which used allegorical figures representing Victory, Peace, etc. In addition to the main figure, an infantryman with fixed bayonet, making his way, half crouched, across dangerous terrain, there are panels showing lively depictions of battle. The monument was unveiled in 1922 and is Grade II listed.
Bermondsey has had many industries, including breweries, leather working and wharfs along the river frontage. Many buildings remains, such as the above, that were perhaps warehouses or factories but, with the disappearance of these industries have been diverted to other purposes. This one, for example, is an apartment block. (I should say that I have not been able to find out anything about this building, such as its date or original purpose, and that my conclusions about it may be erroneous.)
The local church is dedicated to St Mary Magdalen. Like many old London churches, this one traces its origins back to at least Norman times though the present building was erected in 1675-9 with the inclusion of a 15th-century tower. It has been added to at various times and was remodelled in the 19th century in what the English Heritage listing (Grade II*) calls ‘playful Gothick style’.
Mary Magdalen’s churchyard was closed to burials with all other in-town burial grounds in the 1850s and is now a public park. It has been cleared of gravestones but a few of the better preserved large tombs have been left in situ.
Next to the church is the Old Rectory, which presumably once served as the home and office of the priest in charge. This house, with its unusual dark grey brickwork, was built sometime in the 19th century, perhaps when the church was last refurbished. No longer serving its original purpose, it has been divided into flats but retains its Grade II listing.
Next to the Old Rectory stands a business-like but handsome Arts and Crafts building upon whose façade one can read the legend ‘TIME AND TALENTS SETTLEMENT’. It no longer fulfils this original role, being given over to studios and a flat, but the organization that commissioned it, the Time and Talents Association, still exists and continues its charitable work though the emphasis of this has necessarily changed. The movement was founded in 1887 and was intended to mobilize the young woman of affluent families who had nothing to do with their time but to cultivate the arts of leisure and provide an outlet for their energies in helping and training girls of less fortunate families.
And so to the Fashion and Textile Museum. It is sited in what I believe is a converted 1970s warehouse, providing space for galleries of various sizes. The exhibition we had come to see was entitled RIVIERA STYLE Resort & Swimwear since 1900, rather a mouthful but at least indicative of the materials on view.
The exhibition consisted mainly of costumes for ladies to wear while bathing or lounging on the beach.
When you see bathing costumes, you expect to see sunshine and the museum’s harsh spot lighting created a somewhat eerie effect, not to mention the sinister atmosphere of this headless fashion parade!
Among the modern costumes appears the Burkini, designed originally for Muslim women who wish to bathe on public beaches while remaining modestly dressed. Burkini (a name made by combining burqa and bikini) is a trademarked name and should really be applied only to costumes made by the Ahiida Burkini Swimwear company but, like Hoover before it, has escaped and is popularly applied to any costume of similar design. I said that the Burkini was originally designed for Muslim women because it has also been taken up by non-Muslims. Reasons for this seem to include protection from sunburn and the fact that the costume covers what the wearers may consider a less than perfect beach body.
I was intrigued by these 1930s vintage trousers for women. It is often thought that in Europe women started wearing trousers, or ‘slacks’ as they were popularly called, during the Second World War, initially for practical reasons in workplaces such as munitions factories and then, later, daringly, as leisurewear. Fans of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and similar productions will know, however, that women’s trousers had appeared before that.
The museum’s collection also includes shoes…
…Lots of shoes. But, then, shoes do seem to be an important part of a lady’s wardrobe, a passion which I – as a man who owns exactly one pair of shoes at a time – have never been able to understand.
If this special exhibition did not particularly grab my enthusiasm, others have done so (see, for example, Two design revolutions, textiles and maps), and it’s worth keeping an eye on the programmes of the Fashion and Textile Museum.
Out in the streets, we found some street art, of which I photographed two examples.
These are two paintings from a series called Rude Kids that is literally appearing all over London. The artist works under the name Dotmasters (sometimes without the final ‘s’) and that is all I know about him, apart from a summary biography on the artist’s blog, Dotmasters (see also his Facebook page).
I need hardly say that we confined our attentions today to a very small part of Bermondsey. This area has many mote treasures and is worth returning to as we shall surely do.