We waited too long to book a place to live in London for two weeks. By the time I got around to it, the best I could find was a beautiful flat in the Bermondsey neighborhood, not exactly central London. I wasn’t sure if it was a good choice, considering all I really knew about the area is that it was once considered one of London’s most notorious slums. In fact, it’s where Charles Dickens placed “Jacob’s Island” in Oliver Twist. Speaking of the homes in the neighborhood, surrounded by a river of sludge, he wrote:
“Crazy wooden galleries common to the backs of half-a-dozen houses,
with holes from which to look upon the slime beneath; windows,
broken and patched, with poles thrust out, on which to dry the linen
that is never there; rooms so small, so filthy, so confined,
that the air would seem too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which they shelter;
wooden chambers thrusting themselves out above the mud,
and threatening to fall into it- as some have done;
dirt-besmeared walls and decaying foundations; every repulsive lineament of poverty,
every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage;
all these ornament the banks of Folly Ditch.”
Great. Sounds perfect.
Obviously, I knew it would be better than that now, but I didn’t expect the Bermondsey neighborhood to be quite so incredible. Today, the area is home to The Shard and very close to London Bridge Station. What used to be rows of warehouses are now unique lofts and interesting boutiques. You’ll also find the Fashion and Textiles Museum here, along with a great antiques market and some more edgy offerings like Fuckoffee and Shortwave Cinema. While the neighborhood is much more gentrified than in days gone by, it maintains a humble air and a kind of bohemian vibe.
One of our favorite spots to grab a pint on Bermondsey Street was the Woolpack Pub. It’s a wonderful no-frills option with delicious food and reasonable prices. Customers here are like family, and even dogs are invited.
And speaking of amazing food, Bermondsey St. is very close to Borough Market. This is one of our favorites in all of London. It’s an incredible open-air market underneath railroad tracks in Southwark. It’s the city’s oldest food market and one of the largest. Here you’ll find basically anything you can dream up from fish and meats to vegetables, artisanal cheeses, breads, cakes and pastries. You can spend hours here just looking at (and tasting!) all of the beautiful things. The market has also been a backdrop in multiple movies (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and famous chefs like Jamie Oliver are often seen shopping here. This place is an absolute must see.
Not much of what Dickens said about the Bermondsey neighborhood holds up anymore, and while he didn’t mean it as a compliment then, he might have been right when he said it was the “most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London.”
Have you visited the Bermondsey neighborhood? Tell us what you thought in the comments below!