N.B. this walk will not take place on the following dates:
Where is Rotherhithe Village in London?
A village in South East London may seem an odd concept, but Rotherhithe Village does retain that community feeling. As one of our walkers said, “The centre of Rotherhithe really feels like a quiet village – can’t believe it’s so close to the City of London.” It’s a mere 20 minute walk along the Thames Path to Tower Bridge.
Rotherhithe is London SE16 (and parts of SE8). It sits on the south bank of the River Thames, neighbouring Bermondsey and the Isle of Dogs. Over the water on the north bank, you’ll find Wapping and Limehouse. Rotherhithe is part of the Docklands area, but it’s distinctly different from those glittering business districts like Canary Wharf.
Rotherhithe Village is served by overground trains to Rotherhithe Station and underground tubes go to Bermondsey and Canada Water stations.
A short history of Rotherhithe Village
Our guide Tim says, “The cobbled streets, pubs and warehouses of old Rotherhithe tell a unique story. For centuries the riverbank heaved with mighty sailing ships from all over the world and like every dockside there was vice and violence.”
Rotherhithe Village is defined by its history as a port. The working dockyards were operating from the Elizabethan era to the 1970s. In the 1980s the area began to transform – think warehouse conversions and new developments and the start of a revived Docklands area. When the Jubilee Line arrived in 1999, speedy connections to London’s West End and Canary Wharf were established. Commuters started to move in as the area was smartened up (especially around the Canada Water area). Today, the smart areas like Surrey Quays and Canary Wharf are a far cry from the its days of poverty, trouble and strife (consider that when you’re sipping your oat latte in the Canada Water Cafe!).
A lot of history happened before Rotherhithe Village got to where it is today. These are just a few events of note.
Edward III built a palace in a wilderness of reed-beds for his falcons in the 14th century.
In the Victorian era, Charles Dickens frequented Rotherhithe’s dark and dangerous streets to experience the poverty first hand. He mentioned The Old Mortuary by name in the first chapter of Our Mutual Friend.
In 1825 Marc Brunel (father of the better-known Isambard Kingdom Brunel) started the gargantuan task of building the first tunnel under a river anywhere in the world. The Thames Tunnel was intended to carry freight, but it became a pedestrian tunnel. It’s now used as part of the overground network. The Rotherhithe Tunnel didn’t come along until 1908 and that’s for traffic. The Brunel Museum explores this phenomenal construction in the area. The Brunel Tunnel morphed into “The Eighth Wonder of the World” for 12 years (1843-1855) the first Disney-style entertainment venue in the world. There was a fairground in the tunnel, lots of Variety acts (tight-rope-walkers, fire-eaters, snake-charmers). On the day it opened 50,000 people came. It was hugely popular but being open 24 hours a day all sorts of naughty things started to happen in the tunnel. The morality police had to close it.
The Mayflower: what is it and what’s it got to do with Rotherhithe?
In 1620 “The Mayflower” set sail from the back of a local pub in Rotherhithe Village and changed history. They crossed the Atlantic. They were The Pilgrim Fathers. They changed history. They founded the United States of America. The indigenous peoples were changed forever.
Back in Rotherhithe 400 years later, the captain (Christopher Jones) lies at peace, his memorial a stone keel at St Mary’s Church.
The Mayflower Pub in Rotherhithe Village remains on that site where the Pilgrim Fathers headed across the seas to America. It’s the oldest pub on the River Thames and it feels rather like an old ship. Plus, it serves a cracking pint of ale.
About our Rotherhithe Village Walk
With its cobbled streets and old pubs, it’s not hard to feel like you’re stepping back in history as you walk around Rotherhithe Village.
We’ll salute those Pilgrim Fathers of 1620, along with the East India fleets, adventurers and settlers. We’ll mention the literature of Dickens, the engineering of Brunel and the influence of social reformers as well as many colourful characters that have trodden those paths.
Here’s a taste of what you’ll see.
On Rotherhithe Street, you’ll find the legendary Mayflower pub.
Behind it on St Marychurch Street, is Sands Films which has become a centre of excellence for feature films and the making of historical costumes.
Hear the story of Alfred and Ada Salter who played a big part in turning around the area.
The building of Rotherhithe Tunnel is important and the tales of those who worked on it are enlightening. Surrey Docks was borne out of a need to house these workers.
The Thames Path runs for over 180 miles from source to sea, a section of which runs through Rotherhithe and is worth a look.
This urban village does greenery too. Southwark Park and Stave Hill Ecological Park do it particularly well.
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THE GUIDING
Practical tips for our Rotherhithe Village, London Walk
Ahoy! The Mayflower Village takes place at 2:30 pmevery Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. November 1 – April 30. To be on the safe side check the date on the calendar. Or heed the top-level announcements that read: Click for dates this walk does not take place.
Meet outside the exit of Bermondsey underground station, Jamaica Road, London SE16. Bermondsey tube is on the Jubilee Line, with quick connections to London Bridge, Canada Water and Canary Wharf.
The team of Mayflower Village guides is headed up by Robert.
Robert is Mr Mayflower Village himself. He lives locally; he’s extremely well connected; he’s the distinguished retired Curator of the Brunel Museum; he’s a boon companion of the Landlord of The Mayflower, “the oldest pub on the river.”
LONDON WALKS PRIVATE WALKS
If you can’t make one of the regularly scheduled, just-turn-up, Ahoy! The Mayflower Village it can always be booked as a private tour. If you go private you can have the Ahoy! The Mayflower Village walk – or any other London Walk – on a day and at a time that suits your convenience. We’ll tailor it to your requirements. Ring Fiona or Noel or Mary on 020 7624 3978 or email us at [email protected] and we’ll set it up and make it happen for you. A private London Walk – they’re good value for an individual or couple and sensational value for a group – makes an ideal group or educational or birthday party or office (team-building) or club outing.
GIVE THE GIFT OF LONDON WALKS
A private London Walk makes a fab gift – be it a birthday or anniversary or Christmas present or whatever. Merchandise schmerchandise (gift wrapped or not) – but giving someone an experience, now that’s special. Memories make us rich.
Winifred Dine –
Great walk with Tim on Saturday. Many of our group knew the area well, some had even been born and grew up here, and yet still learned new and fascinating facts! Thank you Tim for a very enjoyable afternoon.
Karen Hall –
Just brilliant. Mary Beth lives locally and gave us the inside track on this unusual walk. Rotherhithe and Bermondsey are fascinating river-side villages dripping in history. All worked well – met as arranged and the walk itself is easily manageable in the 2-hour slot. Didn’t know, nor had ever been to this unsung area of London and it’s a refreshing alternative to the ‘usual suspects’ of a day out in the capital. Highly recommended. Mary Beth was lovely, sharing her extensive knowledge in an engaging way. Thanks so much. Highly recommended.
Fascinating tour. So much history and character. Tim tells a great story.
South of the City is where the action is.
What are you doing reading this…get down there!
Jenny Lowing –
Thoroughly recommend this walk. We were fortunate to have Robert as our guide and he gave an extremely informative, interesting and entertaining commentary. As well as a lot of historical information we were also treated to many amusing anecdotes about the area.
Sarah Ireland –
Tim was lovely, funny and incredibly knowledgeable about the area, living in the heart of the Rotherhithe himself. I do enjoy these walks and Tim’s was one of the best. Thank you!
Catherine Randall –
Fascinating walk around a part of London we had never visited before despite living in and around London for years. The centre of Rotherhithe really feels like a quiet village – can’t believe it’s so close to the City. It was a privilege to be guided by Tim who is clearly well known in the area, extremely knowledgeable, and very good at conveying that knowledge in an interesting and entertaining way. We learned so much – it’s a great area. We will definitely be back.
Peter Dargue –
I met Tim for the Saturday afternoon walk around Rotherhithe on the 9th of July. It turned out I was the only one who turned up and therefore had a personal tour around this underrated and fascinating area of London. Tim was a charming and knowledgeable guide who is fortunate enough to live locally. I really enjoyed the walk thanks to Tim and was left as always wanting to learn more about the various historical figures and buildings he described. These walks are fast becoming part of my London day out menu as they are such good value and stimulate the mind much more than my previous aimless West End wanderings.
Victoria White –
Fascinating walk – led by Tim. Learned so much about an area I thought I knew well!
Catherine Ward –
Great walk with a lovely guide Tim ThomasVery interesting,entertaining and funny.Most enjoyable afternoon out
Lorraine Roth –
Thoroughly enjoyed the walk today guided by Tim. He gave us so much information about the history of the area. He is a excellent guide and his personality added to the enjoyment of this intetesting area. The time went too quickly. Highly recommended
So glad we chose this walk!
Learned to love an area we wouldn’t have even known to check out (or how to spell).
Peter Lawless –
an interesting tour in a part of London I had never visited before , Maribeth is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, great views of the London skyline over the river Thames particularly from the Angel pub , which is well worth a visit after the walk is over. Before the walk started I called in at the Mayflower pub and had fish and chips , very nice. A very enjoyable walk.
Vivien Marno –
This was such an interesting walk. We learned so much. Michael was very well informed. He told us wonderful stories with a gentle sense of humour. He peeled back the layers of this area of London and helped us see it through different eyes; his love and enthusiasm for this are was obvious and contagious. Thank you so much Michael.
What a great tour! Did this walk with Tim on 17 October and thoroughly enjoyed it. His connection to the area is clear and he entertains while still informing. Loved his stories not only about his history in the area, but everything he had to share about a very fascinating village that is so near to the city, but so far away. Thank you, Tim! GREAT walk.