Illuminating The Past With The Light Of The Present – The Blue: Behind The Name
The Blue Bermondsey is a unique place, because you will not find it on any map but it is generally defined as a space no more than a gentle ten minute stroll in any direction from the central shopping area in Southwark Park Road and there are many theories as to how and why the area became known as ‘The Blue’.
The most credible explanation is that it comes from The Blue Anchor Pub, where the present building has stood since 1878 which replaced the previous wooden structure on the site, where the earliest known depiction of a Inn or Tavern appears on the first map of the area dating back to 1695. So the ‘Blew Anchor’ must have been a well know landmark by this time to have been included on a 1695 map and it is probably safe to conclude that given the trend of continuity in ancient times, the site must have been the location of previous incarnations of a similar nature for many centuries previously, that would have served to provide respite and a safe haven for travellers to Bermondsey Abbey and beyond, from what must have been a very hostile landscape of swampy marshlands. But how did the Blue Anchor get its name?
Bermondsey Abbey was founded in the eleventh century and replaced an earlier monastery on the site, so it is conceivable that an Anchorhold, which is the small room or cell that was the residence of an Anchorite, could have been established on or near the site of the Blue Anchor to cater for the pious traveller. Anchorites gained prominence in the middle ages by spending their days in prayer and were committed to a life of solitary communion with God. Through a window in the sparse cell they would dispense spiritual advice to visitors and earned a reputation for wisdom and religious observance. Strong factual evidence supports this, as it is documented that there were over 500 Anchorholds in England during these times and it is well known that colour Blue appears in many religious traditions as the symbol of heaven, eternity and spiritual devotion and is especially sacred to Christianity. Therefore it is entirely plausible that the origins of the Blue Anchor Pub were a site of pilgrimage way back in the mists of time and it is incredible that through the millennia and all that has been, people are still visiting the site for a communal pint.
Throughout the ages the area would have been relatively unaffected by modification until the arrival of London’s first passenger railway station to Spa Road in the 1830’s which was to be the catalyst for major change. Marshes and market gardens were replaced by factories and legendary brands such as Peek Freans (Biscuits), Shuttleworth’s (Chocolate), Pearce and Duffs (Custard) provided employment for thousands of people and with this rapid increase in trade and commerce, the landscape was transformed into something like the Blue as it is today. Alongside this, local family owned businesses were beginning to establish themselves and the oldest shop in the area, the Blue Anchor Fish Bar has been on the site since 1888 and one of the Blue’s most treasured businesses, Thorowgood’s furniture shop is still going strong after celebrating its centenary in 2013.
The main attraction was the Blue Market, which in its heyday grew to consist of more than 200 stalls lining Southwark Park Road and you could buy the freshest food and literally anything one could imagine from the stalls ‘down the Blue’. The increase in road traffic through Southwark Park Road lead to the Market moving from the road to the purpose built Market Square in 1976 and around this time a second wave of great change occurred as the docks closed followed by the factories and trade to the shops and Market was diminished but the Blue retains its strong sense of identity and passionate community spirit to this day, with a large proportion of independent shops and businesses, providing a wide and varied range of goods and services. The Market has reduced to a handful of stalls but still there still hanging on valiantly in the modern age of the internet and online shopping. The aim of the Blue Bermondsey BID is to promote and raise awareness of our local businesses and help build a more prosperous environment for all who live, work and trade in the community, so that the positive and unique character of the Blue and its market are preserved and celebrated for many future generations.