Out of print for many years, this is a collection of material from largely secondary sources, supplemented by oral testimony from elderly local residents, about life in the Downtown area of Rotherhithe or “Redriff”. This was a mixed community of mariners and dock workers, which became an island every high tide, when the “Bridgers” closed off the roads and the locks opened for shipping to enter and leave the Surrey Commercial Docks.
Mary Wilson, sometime Headteacher at Redriff Primary School, came to the area soon after WWII and collected many stories about the evacuation of school children, and the devastation wrought by the Luftwaffe. Her description of the destruction of Holy Trinity Church is particularly graphic. As one might expect given her profession, Mary is very thorough in her treatment of education and religion – indeed two thirds of the booklet are devoted to these topics. On the other hand her coverage of shipbuilding is weak and her history of the Surrey Commercial Docks is muddled.
The rough nature of the area at an earlier period is exemplified by the fact that schoolteachers were advised not to walk alone to Lower Road for homeward bound trams and trains. A £10 per annum bonus was paid to teachers posted to Redriff. This was jokingly referred to as “Danger money” until a headmaster caught a pupil attempting to steal a teacher’s pay packet. The boy pulled out a gun and shot him. One sometimes feels that things do not change that much…
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