Edward T Clarke.

Bermondsey, its historic memories and associations online

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road, leading from the Grange Road to the Kent Road, is
particularl}' distinguishable for the number of leather factories
which it exhibits on either side — some timeworn and mean,
others newly and skilfully erected. Another street, known
as Long Lane, and lying westward of the church, exhibits
nearly twent}- distinct establishments, where skins or hides
undergo some of the many processes to which they are
subjected. In Snow's Fields; in Bermondsey New Road;
in Russell Street, Upper and Lower ; in Willow Walk and
Page's Walk and Grange Walk, and others whose names we
cannot now remember — in all of these leather, skins, and
wool seem to be the commodities out of which the wealth
of the inhabitants has been created. . . .

" If there is any district in London whose inhabitants
migiit be excused for supporting the proposition that ' There
is nothing like leather,' surely Bermondsey is that place."

This description requires some modification in the present
day, because, although a vast quantity of leather continues
to be manufactured here, and tanneries and leather factories
still abound, this industry is now carried on in a variety of
places. Alterations in the processes, facilitating more speedy
production, the rapidity of conveyance, and other causes, have
combined to make Bermondsey, in the present day, quite as
much an emporium for the sale of goods manufactured else-
where as of its own native products. Most of the leading
manufacturers are now leather-factors as well, and many
once -important tanneries have been within recent years
disposed of for building purposes, or utilized for the benefit
of alien industries. The site of a very extensive leather
factory in Page's Walk is now occupied by some huge blocks
of dwellings belonging to the Guinness Trust, and in the Spa
Road a large tannery has been converted into a jam factory.


Connected with the leather trade are many men, the extent
of whose business operations places them high amongst com-
mercial magnates, and whose public spirit and cultivated
intelligence would render them an honour to any community.
It is impossible within the limits of this chapter to mention
more than a few of these gentlemen, but some details may
not be unacceptable.

All persons having any connection with Bermondsey.
and, indeed, most travellers by the London, Brighton, and
South Coast Railway, are familiar with the great estab-
lishment known as the Neckinger Mills, belonging to the
Messrs. Bevingtons and Sons. In this factory, originally built
for a paper mill, a leather manufacture was established about
the year 1800, by the brothers Samuel, Henry, and Timothy
Bevington, who were succeeded in the business by their
sons. Under the latter, the manufactory attained still
further development, especially through the exertions of
Mr. James Buckingham Bevington, the senior partner of
that generation, who established the warehouse at Cannon
Street, and subsequently in St. Thomas's Street, Southwark.
This gentleman was a very energetic man of business, and
remained an active partner in the firm until his eightieth
year, dying at the advanced age of eighty-eight.

The following description of the factory is worth quoting :

" Here Messrs. Bevingtons and Sons carry on the manu-
facture of moroccos, roans, skivers, seal, kid, chamois, calf,
and glove leathers, on a scale of considerable magnitude.
The whole processes are fully exemplified, from the dressing
of the raw material to the most advanced stages of currying
and enamelling ; and the works, which cover an area of
three and a half acres, give employment to upwards of
500 hands. It may be unnecessary to state that the several
departments of work are under vigilant supervision, and the
firm have an unsurpassed reputation for the superior quality
of their light leathers, all kinds of which arc produced. The
situation of the works is most favourable, and they are
intersected by the lines of the South-Eastern and London,


Brighton, and South Coast Railways, the arches of ^\•hich
afford suitable accommodation for storage. Ample water
is supplied by a special outlet from the Thames. Messrs.
Bevingtons' speciality may be said to lie in the manufacture
of all the principal classes of light leathers of the kinds above
specified, and also those of a like nature. They are widely
known as extensive importers of the very best grades of
French calf, and have large dealings with wholesale houses
all over the country, in every department of the leather trade
and leather-working industries. Another important feature
of the firm's work consists in their operations as wool
merchants, a branch of the business that has assumed
extensive proportions.

" From 1856 to 1874 the firm conducted an establishment
in Cannon Street, City, for warehouse and sale-room pur-
poses, and in the latter year they removed to the present
warehouse in St. Thomas's Street, a structure in which the
fullest accommodation is afforded for the requirements of
the large business there centred."*

In Charles Knight's " Dictionary of Manufactures," pub-
lished in 1851, one of the illustrations exhibits Messrs.
Bevingtons' premises as a typical leather factory.

Colonel Samuel Bourne Bevington, the present head of this
firm, son of the Mr. J. B. Bevington previously mentioned,
may be considered, both from his personal qualities and from
the prominent position he hasso long and worthily occupied,
as a representative of the manufacturing interest in Ber-
mondsey. Well known as an active and energetic man
of business, the Colonel is even more widely appreciated
as one of the most distinguished Volunteer officers. His
name is identified with the history of the Volunteer move-
ment in Bermondsey.

When after the Italian campaign of 1859 the strained
relations which had for some time existed between England
and France, the vapouring of French military men, and the
ambitious designs attributed to the Emperor, aroused feel-

* «'

Southwark and Bermondsey."



ings of serious apprehension, and awakened the memory of
that remarkable association which in the beginning of the
century had contributed to avert the danger of a far more
formidable invasion, a wave of patriotic excitement swept
over the country, thousands of men eagerly enrolled them-
selves as volunteers, and formed the nucleus of that citizen

Colonel Bcvinr^ton, J -P.

army which has now becom.e one of the permanent forces of
the kingdom.

Bermondsey, as on the former occasion, was one of the
first districts to respond to the patriotic call, and amongst
those who enthusiastically volunteered for this service none
displayed greater ardour than Mr. Samuel Bevington,
Having joined the ist Surrey Riiles as a private in 1859,


Mr. Bevington was gazetted Ensign in the loth Surrey
(Bermondsey Rit^es) in 1861. Passing through the succes-
sive grades, he became in 1885 Commanding Officer of the
3rd Vohmteer Battahon, Queen's Royal West Surrey Regi-
ment. From first to last the Colonel has shown unflagging
zeal in promoting the efficiency of the service, and it has
been well said of him that " keen and strict disciplinarian
as he is, Colonel Bevington has won the esteem and regard
of all who serve under him, for, in addition to many other
qualities, he has the advantage of an enthusiasm for his call-
ing, and so found it an easy task to obtain the confidence
and regard of his fellow-soldiers."

Colonel Bevington has recently retired from the command
of the fine battalion, which now has a full strength of 621.
His successor is Lieutenant-Colonel Walter C. Dixon, a
member of the important firm of Dixon, Sons, and Taylor,
leather manufacturers. As a testimony to Colonel Beving-
ton's generosity and solicitude for those who have served
under him, it was stated at the banquet in celebration of the
Volunteer Centenary, held in July, i8gg, by Colonel (then
Major) Dixon, that Colonel Bevington " had helped them out
of many difficulties. When the corps was first formed, they
had a room in the Leather Market, in which they kept their
arms, and they drilled on the hard rough cobbles in the
yard. That went on until Colonel Bevington said he could
not and would not stand it any longer. Others said that
many times, but they did not know how to get out of it.
But the Colonel knew a way out of it, and in 1876 he built
the hall in which they were assembled entirely at his own
cost. There was a time when the 23rd Surrey Rifles had
headquarters at Rotherhithe. They, however, got into
financial difficulties, and in order to put matters right the
Colonel paid £^00 of the ^1,000 which they were in debt.
Had they not possessed such a Colonel, the Volunteers would
have fizzled out."

Colonel Bevington, in response, said " it was quite true
that he built the hall, and he supposed that in all he had


spent ;^io,ooo first and last on the Volunteer service. Nor
did he think the money could be spent much better. Money
was not of any use unless it was laid out well. Those who
commanded money were bound to spend it, and should do
so in the interests of others. He could not take it with him
into the future world, but was only too pleased to use it for
the benefit of his fellows. He believed that good had been
done by means of the Volunteer movement, for one who
renders himself subservient to military discipline is a better
citizen in consequence in many ways."

A sketch of this gentleman's career given in the " South-
wark Annual " states :

" Colonel Bevington was born in 1832, educated at a
Quaker school in Croydon, and subsequently at King's
College, London, where he spent two years in the school
and three in the college, in the department of applied
sciences. He entered the firm of Bevingtons and Sons,
Neckinger Mills, Bermondse}^ and St. Thomas's Street,
Southwark, in 185 1. As his father did, he takes an active
part in the management of the concerns of this house, which
enjoys a wide reputation in home and foreign markets, and
of which he is now senior partner. In i8go Colonel Beving-
ton made a visit to the United States, largely for the purpose
of gaining information with regard to the American markets,
and as the result of this journey he obtained possession of
much exceedingl}' useful knowledge in this connection, as
the letters which he sent to the leather trade organs
evidence. In 1895 he also travelled to Ceylon, Madras, and
Australia, visiting the principal cities in that colony. . . .
We may add that Colonel Bevington is a J. P. for Surrey
and the county of London, and is member of committee of
various local Board Schools in Bermondsey ; Chairman and
Treasurer of Bacon's School ; an Associate of King's College,
London ; Past Master of the Worshipful Company of
Leathersellers ; Chairman of Herold's Institute School for
Tanning ; Chairman of the Bermondsey Free Library ;
member of the Council of the Borough Polytechnic ; and


for the year i8g6 President of the Swedenborg Society,
besides being associated with numerous other societies. In
poHtics he is a Liberal Unionist and a member of the
Reform Club."

The Colonel, in addition to many contributions on
technical and trade subjects, has published " Journal of
an Italian Tour" and "Journal of a Voyage to Australia."
His eldest son, Mr. R. K. Bevington, is a Major in the
3rd Volunteer Battalion (Queen's).

Another firm, not so old as that of Messrs. Bevingtons,
vet exhibits a conspicuous example of what may be achieved
by industrial skill and business energy.

" Probably in South London, or, for that matter, in any
part of the kingdom, it would be difficult to find a con-
temporary house whose status in the tanning industry is of
a more conspicuous and firmly-established character than
that of the well-known firm of Messrs. Samuel Barrow and
Brother, Limited. Fifty-three years ago the founder, senior
partner, and present chairman and director of the concern,
viz., Mr. Samuel Barrow, J. P., came to London, and took
service in the tanyard of Mr. Elias Tremlett. Here he
worked side by side with his father, who was also one of
Mr. Tremlett's employes up to the year 1848, acting for the
greater part of this period as manager of the beam-working
department. In the year named Mr. Tremlett's yard was
closed, and for the moment Mr. Barrow's occupation was
gone. With characteristic enterprise, however, he decided
to open a yard of his own, and with this view acquired pre-
mises in Wild's Rents, where a business was started under
the style of John Barrow and Sons, the partners being Mr.
John Barrow, Mr. Samuel Barrow, and Mr. James Barrow."

From these small beginnings the firm, after many changes
to be presently referred to again, ultimately rose to a most
commanding position.

" Important developments had been effected, not the least
momentous of which was the purchase of a supplemental
yard at the Grange, and the erection of the present sub-



stantial warehouses in Weston Street by Mr. Samuel Barrow,
who in 1864 purchased a large tannery at Redhill, where
he has since resided, and in 1891 the entire enterprise was
registered under the Limited Liability Companies Act, with
a capital of /300,ooo, privately subscribed by the partners.
As it stands to-day, Messrs. Samuel Barrow and Brother's

\^v| I

R. V. Bavroiu, Esq., late M.P. for Bcnnondsey.

organization embraces four great tanneries, viz., the Grange,
the Grange Road, the Spa Road, and the Redhill establish-
ments, together with warehouses in Weston Street, Maze
Pond, and St. Thomas's Street. . . .

" Over the commercial, technical, and general ramifications
of this immense business, Mr. Samuel Barrow still continues
to give that personal attention to which much of its past


success has been due. He enjoys the respect and esteem
of a wide circle of business friends and connections, and is
equally well known as a public man and as a liberal sup-
porter of various philanthropic movements."*

The " Brother" of this firm is Mr. Reuben Vincent Barrow,
late M.P. for Bermondsey. We have been enabled to gather
some particulars of this gentleman's remarkable career from
authentic sources.

Mr. R. V. Barrow, born at Exeter in 1838, was brought
to London in 1842, on the removal of his parents to the
Metropolis. He received the rudiments of his education at
the Church school in Star Corner, from which he was trans-
ferred, at the age of ten, to the Borough Road School, so
famous as a training institution. Here he highly distinguished
himself by his intellectual energy and eager pursuit of know-
ledge, and gained a first-class Queen's Scholarship. He did
not, however, pursue the scholastic vocation, but devoted
himself to business, spending twelve months in a currier's
shop, and twelve more in his father's tannery.

In December, 1855, Mr. Barrow competed for and obtained
the appointment of schoolmaster on board an emigrant ship
bound for Adelaide, after arriving in which port he pro-
cured a situation with a firm of tanners and curriers in that
city. The hours of manual labour were from 6 a.m. to
6 p.m., and from 7 to g p.m. Mr. Barrow conducted an
evening school for young men. After a service of three
years, Messrs. Peacock, his employers, decided upon an
effort to develop their trade by sending a representative
throughout the settled districts of the colony, and appointed
him their first traveller. As a pioneer of commercial enter-
prise, Mr. Barrow's journeys contrasted strangely with the
experiences of those who traverse the same region in the
present day. The colony was then in its infancy : very few
roads existed, few rivers were bridged, all travelling had
to be performed on horseback and under very primitive
conditions. After pursuing this occupation for two years,

* " Southwark and Bermondsey."


j\Ir. Barrow resolved to comply with the urgent desire of his
parents that he should return to England. His natural
intelligence had been further developed by the strange and
unfamiliar conditions under which he had lived ; the diffi-
culties he had been compelled to overcome had redoubled
his energy and rendered him fertile in resource. The esti-
mation of his business capacity was shown in the public
dinner given to him before his departure. Returning to
England in June, 1861, Mr. Reuben Barrow entered his
father's firm, and on the death of the latter, in 1864, accepted
the offer of partnership made by his elder brother Samuel.
The joint undertaking has since developed into one of the
largest tanning and leather-factoring businesses in the trade,
having branches in Leicester, Kettering, Madras, Boston,
and Sydney.

Mr. R. V. Barrow removed to Croydon in 1873, where he
has since resided, and speedily gained popularity in his new
sphere. On the town obtaining a charter of incorporation
in 1883, he was returned to the Council at the head of the
poll, and elected an Alderman, becoming Mayor 18S5-86.
But higher dignities were in store. Bermondsey, in the
meantime, had been created a Metropolitan borough, and
it was natural that Mr. Barrow should desire to represent
the constituency with which he and his family had been so
long and closely associated. At the General Election of
1892, therefore, Mr. Barrow stood for the borough, and,
after a hard contest, was elected Member for Bermondsey
by a majority of 653. Although he may have justly felt
proud of having attained this position, it was not for the
gratification of such feelings that Mr. Barrow sought the
distinction. He was actuated by motives which reflect the
highest credit upon him, and bear the most striking testimony
to his public spirit.

The question of equalization of rating had long engaged
the attention of politicians, but, like many other matters of
great public importance, after being occasionally revived and
made the subject of prolonged discussion, was again suffered



to fall into abeyance. Mr. Barrow having, with his usual
energy, applied himself to the mastery of the details, was
resolved that this important question should be brought
" within the range of practical politics," and within eight
months of entering Parliament moved a resolution for
" the greater equalization of the rates throughout London."
Having carried his resolution, Mr. Barrow had the further
satisfaction to find it adopted by the Government, and made
the basis of a measure destined to relieve the pressure on the
poorer parishes of London. An idea of the gross inequalities
then prevailing will be gathered from the fact that some of
the richest were rated at 3s. lod. in the pound, whilst the
poorest were rated as high as 7s. lod. The effect of the Bill
was to inflict an extra rate of 6d. in the pound upon all
parishes paying less than 5s. 3d., and handing the proceeds
over to the relief of districts paying more than that sum.
This measure resulted in Bermondsey receiving about -^'SjOOo
the first year towards its rates, which amount has gone on
increasing each successive year. As a consequence of the
Act, the richer parishes of the Metropolis are extra-rated to
the amount of ;£"320,ooo (the Cit}^ itself contributing ^^140, 000),
all which is applied to the relief of the poorer districts. It
is an achievement of which any private member might be
proud, to have, shortly after entering Parliament, initiated
a measure which has produced such prodigious results, and
it should be a source of pride to the inhabitants of Bermond-
sey that this triumph was scored by one who was not merely
their Parliamentary representative, but identified with the
industry of their quarter.

It would have been natural to expect that, after rendering
this important public service, Mr. Barrow would have
had a long political career, but at the General Election of
1895 he was unseated.

The importance of Mr. Barrow's position, and the estima-
tion of his merits in other quarters, are shown by the
honours conferred upon him. In 1886 he was elected a
Whitgift Governor and a Borough Justice of the Peace, in

A. Lafone, Esq., M.P.


1889 appointed a Justice of the Peace for the counties of
London and Surrey, and in 1894 elected Chairman of the
Croydon County Bench. In June, 1898, he was elected
President of the Free Church Federation for Croydon and
district, and re-elected in 1899.

It is needless to say that the present work is altogether
independent of politics, and that, in speaking of eminent
persons associated with Bermondsey, we are merely attempt-
ing to do justice to incontestable merit.

The sitting member, Mr. Alfred Lafone, who now repre-
sents the constituency for the second time in the Conservative
interest, is the head of one of the greatest firms of leather-
factors, trading under the st3'le of Boutcher, Mortimore,
and Co. Mr. Lafone has been honourably associated with
the Public Library movement ; he was the first Chairman of
the Bermondse}' Library Commissioners, and we are in-
formed that he is the only surviving member of the original
Committee of the Liverpool Public Library. This gentle-
man has always maintained more than a business association
with Bermondsey, having filled many local offices and taken
an active part in parochial administration. At the present
time the sympathies of all are with him in the melancholy
bereavement he has sustained. His eldest son. Captain
Lafone, of the Devonshire Regiment, was killed in the
gallant defence of Ladysmith against the assault delivered
by the Boers in January, 1900.

Mr. Henry Lafone, of Butler's Wharf, brother of the
Member for Bermondsey, is also widely known and re-
spected for his interest in local matters, and his benevolent
exertions in promoting the settlement of serious trade

A notable politician and public man in Bermondsey is
Mr. John Dumphreys, who presents a conspicuous example
of that character which at one time was believed only to
exist in the fertile imagination of Lord Beaconsfield, the
" Conservative Working Man." Mr. Dumphreys> who is a
leather-dresser, continued for many years to work as a


journeyman, whilst leading a life of great political and
general activity, addressing public meetings, and acting as
member of the London School Board, County Councillor,
and member of the Bermondsey Vestry, His political
courage is evidenced by the fact that he on one occasion
contested West Birmingham against Mr. Chamberlain.

Two gentlemen occupying high local positions deserve to
be specially noted for their interest in antiquarian research,
and their efforts to awaken public interest in the history of
this quarter. These are the Rev. W. Lees Bell, Vicar of
Christ Church, Bermondsey, and Rural Dean of Southwark,
who wrote a " History of Bermondsey," published in 1S83,
and Dr. John Dixon, Medical Officer of Health for Ber-
mondsey, who pursued extensive researches on this subject,
the results of which he embodied in able and highly-
appreciated lectures.

A native of Bermondsey who now occupies a distin-
guished position in another hemisphere is one of whom we
may feel justly proud. Mr. W. J. Ashley, educated at
St. Olave's Grammar School, gained a scholarship at Balliol
College, Oxford, and, after graduating with high honours,
became Fellow of Lincoln College. In 1883 he published
"James and Philip Van Artevelde," a historical work
greatly commended for the research and painstaking accu-
racy it displayed, and subsequently a treatise on political
economy. Mr. Ashley's mastery of this science is demon-
strated by the fact that he is at the present time Professor
of Political Economy in Harvard University.

We must now sa}' something about the religious and
educational condition of Bermondsey.

In 1801, when the population was 17,169, the whole
district comprised one vast parish, and, as in the monastic
times, the only church for the accommodation of the
orthodox was that of St. Mary Magdalen. For those not
belonging to the Establishment, there were three or four
Dissenting chapels, and a small Roman Catholic chapel
existed near the river. Compared with this meagre pro-


vision, the ample means of religious instruction we now
possess seems remarkable, for although the population has
increased fivefold, spiritual organization has more than kept
pace with it. The ancient parish church still continues to
be the centre of Church work ; it has been served during

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Online LibraryEdward T ClarkeBermondsey, its historic memories and associations → online text (page 20 of 22)