Rotherhithe is a residential district in southeast London, England, and part of the London Borough of Southwark. It is located on a peninsula on the south bank of the Thames, facing Wapping and the Isle of Dogs on the north bank, and is a part of the Docklands area. It borders Bermondsey to the west and Deptford to the south east.
Rotherhithe has a long history as a port, with many shipyards from Elizabethan times until the early 20th century and with working docks until the 1970s. In the 1980s the area along the river was redeveloped as upmarket housing, through a mix of warehouse conversions and new-build developments. Following the arrival of the Jubilee line in 1999 (giving quick connections to the West End and to Canary Wharf) and the London Overground in 2010 (providing a quick route to the City of London), the rest of Rotherhithe is now a rapidly gentrifying residential and commuter area, with current regeneration progressing most quickly around Canada Water, where a new town centre with restaurant and retail units as well as new residential developments is emerging around the existing freshwater lake and transport hub.
Severn Islands Leisure Centre occupies the site of the old Rotherhithe Town Hall. The building ceased to be a town hall in 1905 when the former Rotherhithe Council merged with the old Bermondsey Borough Council and the new council used premises in Spa Road. The old Rotherhithe Town Hall became a library and a museum. It was razed to the ground by repeated bomb hits and near misses during the Second World War (see below).
Rotherhithe had its own general hospital, St Olave's Hospital, on Lower Road close to the old town hall. Built originally in the early 1870s on land adjoining Rotherhithe Workhouse, it became the infirmary of St Olave's Union in 1875, and was renamed St Olave's Hospital in 1930. Subsequently becoming part of the Guy's Hospital Teaching Group in 1966, it closed in 1985 and the site has been redeveloped into the residential Ann Moss Way.
When the roundabout facing the Rotherhithe Tunnel was redeveloped in the early 1980s, several 19th century buildings were demolished including a school and a nunnery. A public house, the "Europa", described in an early 20th-century history of the area as one its oldest, was also demolished. Max Bygraves frequently played piano there at weekends.
Because much of the former Surrey Docks had strong trade links to Scandinavia and the Baltic region the area is still home to a thriving Scandinavian community. During World War II, in fact, it housed the Norwegian Government-in-Exile. Originally established as seafarers' missions, Rotherhithe is home to a Norwegian, a Finnish and a Swedish church. The Finnish Church and the Norwegian Church are both located in Albion Street; they were built in 1958 and 1927 respectively (Rotherhithe Library is located between them). There are also a number of "community centres" for the Nordic community in London, including hostels, shops and cafés and even a sauna, mostly linked closely to the churches.
Some of the redeveloped areas were built by Nordic architects, such as the Greenland Passage development by Danish Company Kjaer & Richter. This gives some areas a distinctly "Nordic" feel in terms of house and street design.
The relationship with Scandinavia and the Baltic is also reflected in the names of some of the buildings (such as the King Frederik IX Tower), the street names (e.g. Finland Street, Sweden Gate, Baltic Quay, Norway Gate, Helsinki Square) or other place names (e.g. Greenland Dock). Another major influence factor was trade with Russia and Canada (mainly timber), reflected in names such as Canada Water and the Russia Dock Woodland.
Other connections include with the Indian subcontinent, with wharves being named Bombay Court and East India court. A neo-Indian community has also now found root there with many young upcoming Indian professionals moving to London to work in the technology, financial services and legal professions. The proximity to the City and Canary Wharf has made this a convenient choice and hub for graduates from the Indian Institutes of Technology.
In July 1620, the Mayflower sailed from Rotherhithe for Southampton on the south coast of England, to begin loading food and supplies for the voyage to New England. At that time, the English Separatists, who later became known as the "Pilgrim Fathers", were mostly still living in the city of Leiden, in the Netherlands. There they hired a ship called the Speedwell to take them from Delfthaven in the Netherlands to Southampton to meet up with the Mayflower.
The ship's captain, Christopher Jones, died shortly after his return in 1621 and he is buried in an unmarked grave at St Mary's Church. The Mayflower sailed from near a public house called the Shippe in Rotherhithe Street, which was substantially rebuilt in the 18th century and is now named the Mayflower.
On Lower Road, about half way between Surrey Quays and Canada Water stations, is a public house called the China Hall; at one time it was the entrance to a riparian playhouse visited by Samuel Pepys and mentioned in his diary. It is not known how long the theatre remained on the site, but it was reinvigorated in 1777 and during 1778 George Frederick Cooke acted there, but in the winter of 1779 it was destroyed in fire. The site of the theatre became a well known tea-gardens, with the "usual arbours and 'boxes'" during the Victorian period, but by the 1920s most of the gardens had been absorbed into the Surrey Commercial Docks as part of a timber yard.
Second World War
Like the rest of the London Docks, the Surrey Commercial Docks were targeted by the Luftwaffe. On 7 September 1940, on the first day of the London Blitz, the deal yards of Surrey Docks were set ablaze. The raid ignited over a million tonnes of timber in Quebec Yard, causing the most intense single fire ever seen in Britain.
The bombing of the old Rotherhithe Town Hall during the Second World War gives an indication of how heavy the bombing in Rotherhithe was. The first damage to the building occurred when Luftwaffe bombs landed nearby in April 1941, and there was more bomb damage in February and June 1944. Later the same month (June 1944) the Town Hall was very severely damaged by a direct hit by a V1 doodlebug. In November 1944 it was further damaged by near misses, and it was finally destroyed by one of the last V1s to land on London during the Second World War.
King Haakon VII made many of his famous radio broadcasts to occupied Norway from Saint Olav's Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe, where the Norwegian Royal Family were regular worshippers during their exile in London.