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on 17 August 2013
This looks at the inland areas of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, juxtaposing images of the past and images of the present. There is no map of the area that the book purports to cover, but flipping through the pages, its scope extends from London Bridge and Tower Bridge in the west and extends east to Rotherhithe. There is a good mix of municipal buildings, shops, churches and pubs, but comparatively few residential or industrial scenes.

The comparisons between past and present are shown almost exclusively in photographs, which means that the earliest images of each of these areas is usually only as old as the earliest photographs. There are no paintings and very few engravings from further back in the past. Most of the "before" photographs date to the early 1900s, with some rather later, dating to the 40s and 50s. The earlier photographs are mostly sepia or black and white, as you would expect, and the 2011 photographs are all in full colour. In total, there are around 50 photographs over the 96 pages.

There is a one-page introduction, but unlike the Port of London book in the same series, this book is not divided into chapters, and the book has no obviously visible structure, jumping from area to area and back again. There is no table of contents or an index and there is no map to show where these buildings are located. Given the absence of any way of navigating the book, the only way of searching for something specific is to start from the beginning and work your way through.

The format is very straight forward. There are two images on each page, one from the past and one from 2011, with a paragraph of text to explain what is being shown. As you can see in the example below the emphasis is very much on the photographs and far less on the explanatory text.

Most of the "then and now" photos are directly comparable, with shots taken from similar angles showing buildings that remain and those that have been replaced. As you would expect, many of the before and after photographs represent radical changes and it is fascinating, if sometimes rather demoralizing, to be presented with the change from one state to another. A good example of this is the case of the elegant St John's Church in Horsleydown, which was built in 1736 and destroyed during the war; its foundations were used to build the modern and profoundly ugly London City Mission. In other cases, however (as in the the cover image above, of the Rotherhithe dock offices, and the Peele Almshouses on Lower Road) it is remarkable, and reassuring, to see how some buildings have been so very well preserved that their appearance has changed very little over the decades, at least on the outside. In the case of the Brunel Engine House it is a relief to see how well the 1995 restoration resurrected it from its ruinous 1980s condition. Sometimes all that is left of a building is what was rescued after a building was destroyed, as with the pair of salvaged caryatids that flanked the entrance to the destroyed Rotherhithe Town Hall, now standing alone, but cared for, in Southwark Park.

Most of the photographs are of Bermondsey, which makes sense as it is by far the bigger of the two areas, and there are far fewer photographs of Rotherhithe. If you are interested in the old wharves and docks along the Thames waterfront in either area, there are virtually none of these (except for a past and a present photograph of Butlers Wharf). And apart from a photo showing a group of deal porters standing on piles of wood, there are none of the old Surrey Commercial Docks in Rotherhithe, which seems like a major oversight given how much of the interior space of Rotherhithe peninsula the docks occupied, how much employment they provided and how much municipal and residential infrastructure they required.

Although this is primarily a book of buildings, there are some good photographs of people engaged in different activities in the past - Bermondsey Carnival in 1900 is particularly good, but the two women standing in the doorway of the Bermondsey Bookshop in 1921 and the workers on their way in to Lipton's factory in 1928 are also fascinating. There are only one or two photographs that have captured old modes of transport, like a horse-drawn tram, but these are well worth looking out for.

In summary, there are some fascinating photographs comparing the past and present of both areas, which demonstrate both the survivors and the radical changes that have taken place in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. If you are interested in what the area looked like before the 1900s this is probably not the book for you, because this is all about photographic representations and has very few earlier illustrations. Likewise, if you are interested in Rotherhithe you may feel short-changed, because the emphasis is focused on the much bigger area covered by Bermondsey. Similarly, if you were hoping for some photos of the Thames frontage or the vast network of docks you will certainly be disappointed. But this is otherwise a valuable resource for anyone interested in the past of the general area. The old photographs are really engaging, most of the modern photographs taken by David Toogood in 2011 are suitably clear and the print is quality good. The 2011 photographs will probably provide a useful resource themselves in future decades.
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on 12 April 2017
One of the best local history books I've read. It's well put together with plenty of pictures and not too many words, making it an easy read.
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on 27 March 2012
If you have any connection with either Bermondsey or Rotherhithe you will find this book a wealth of information and entertainment. Some familiar old images spread amongst a large amount of pictures from private collections you will have never seen before. Each old image is paired with a recently taken one so you can see what has changed and that which remains the same.

A well presented book and worth the cover price. With the Amazon discounted price this is not to be missed. Buy now, you won't be disappointed.
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on 30 April 2012
This is a must for anybody who has an interest in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe and the history of London. By using the simple 'before and after' technique, the extremely knowledgable author, Debra Gosling, presents us with a range of attractive photographs and readable text which illustrate the area's past and present. The copies I bought for family and friends have been consumed with as much relish as pie and mash from Manzies. People just enjoy comparing what was once in our streets with what is there now. In my view all schools in the locality could benefit from copies to help their pupils understand the history of their neighbourhood.
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excellent book, entertaining history of the borough in which i have always lived. Brings back lots of memories of childhood places where we played. So much change nowadays lovely to remonise. really enjoyed this book.
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on 22 April 2012
This is a fascinating book packed with pictures of long lost Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. A reminiscent must-have for people who knew the area before the recent transformation, but also essential and eye-opening reading for newcomers.
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on 17 March 2015
A fascinating, well researched glimpse into Bermondsey's past from an author with an obvious fondness and connection to the area. As a Bermondsey girl myself, who writes novels set in Bermondsey during the first half of the twentieth century, I was very pleased to find that the majority of the photos in this book are new to me. I really appreciate that the author has dug deep to find pictures from private collections, especially those with a story attached, such as the tragic twin sisters who ran the Southwark Park Road newsagents, both killed in an air raid during1941. I like the balance of captions to photographs, so that the research doesn't overshadow the images, but lets them speak for themselves. I will definitely be buying Debra's other book 'Down the Blue' a history of Southwark Park Road.
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on 13 September 2012
This books claims to show "Bermondsey & Rotherhithe through time". I have lived in Rotherhithe for many years and barely recognise how this book portrays the area.

The overarching history of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe is how they have been transformed from primarily an industrial working class area of thriving docklands and industry into more affluent urban residential areas. Pre 1970, you had no reason to go to Rotherhithe unless you worked there, as it was essentially just docks.

In the last 40 years, Rotherhithe has been completely transformed from around 80% of its land area being docks to those docks now mostly being filled in, and then developed into residential flats and houses. Not one single picture exists in this entire book of ANY of the former or current docks that utterly characterise Rotherhithe then and now! The writer of the book clearly has no idea of its hisory and I doubt they even live there !

There is no mention of Brunel's iconic first tunnel under the Thames (now used by the Overground line)
There is no mention of Shad Thames - what were run down warehouses and are now very expensive river front apartments.
There is no mention of how Bermondsey was once it's own borough until it was incorporated into Southwark.
There is no mention of The Mayflower pub - where the Mayflower ship sailed from.
There is no mention of how the Jubilee Line extension in 1999 transformed access to the area. Bermondsey and Canada Water tube stations literally put the area on the map.

Many of the before and after photographs are sloppy and have not even been aligned with the original photograph. Most photos just have 4 or 5 lines of vague description. There is no depth of history or insight here.

Further on, the writer states "It would be possible to walk to Limehouse through the Rotherhithe tunnel, but the fumes and treacherous drivers would make this a dangerous, if not impossible practice". I have regulary walked or cycled through the Rotherhithe tunnel and many people still do. The writer doesn't know what they are talking about !

0/10 a total waste of money.
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on 29 June 2012
A lovely book of old Bermondsey memories which has lots of unseen old photographs. The new pictures do the area credit and show what has replaced the old factories, etc. Being very old and someone who knows the area well I like the way the new pictures give a positive outlook (and, instead of depicting miles of boring road & yellow lines, have put a new spin on it, showing nearby bits of interest!)Lovely photos - love St James' church, (both then and now) it looks like the country!
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on 13 October 2012
I loved the size of the book, as it is easy to take anywhere, especially if you are visiting the area shown in the book. Fascinating 'now and then' photos. Just what i was looking for as some family members come from the area and the book shows where they used to live, making it quite personal. Great photos.
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