Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Originally known as Spa Park, Bermondsey Spa Gardens has acquired its new name as part of the current ongoing Bermondsey Spa regeneration. The original park was opened in 1954 and laid out over the cleared streets of Alfred Street and Ernest Street, two streets of terraced houses that were badly bombed during the Blitz in the second world war. The boundary to the park is formed by Grange Road, Alscott Road and Spa Road and is not far from the site of the 18th century Bermondsey Spa Pleasure Gardens.
The original Spa was located south of Spa Road and extended roughly from the east of Rouel Road to the railway viaduct though of course when the Spa was operating it was surrounded by little more than fields. Thomas Keyse purchased the Waterman’s Arms and about 4 acres of surrounding wasteland in 1765 where he opened a tea garden with benches and arbours where refreshments were taken. Keyse was a self-taught artist and displayed his pictures, including those that depicted a butcher’s shop, a greengrocer’s stall and Vesuvius, in a Gallery the same size as that of JMW Turner. He was said to be a skilful artist and a cheery and ingenious landlord, remarkable among other things for his preparation of cherry-brandy.
In 1770, he discovered or, as one commentator has suggested, invented a chalybeate spring which were popular for the supposed health giving properties of their water. The establishment became known as Bermondsey Spa Gardens and in 1784, having obtained a license for music, £4,000 was spent on improvements, and hoped to rival the popular Vauxhall Gardens. There was a row of trees leading from the entrance which at night were hung with lamps of red, blue, green and white and the entertainment included
concerts - one female singer was described as “most dashingly dressed, immensely plumed and villainously rouged" - and grand firework displays.
For a while the Spa attracted a clientele but it was not as central or as easy to get to as Vauxhall and “on the whole, the Bermondsey Spa appears to have been a respectable though hardly fashionable resort, which brought its proprietors a moderate income and supplied harmless, if not very exalted, means of recreation.” (Warwick Wroth, London Pleasure Gardens of the 18th Century) Thomas Keyse died in 1800 and Bermondsey Spa finally closed in 1805.
Two tokens used at Bermondsey Spa Pleasure Gardens
(Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum)
When Spa Park was opened in the 1950s, it provided almost a central focus for the civic amenities in Bermondsey. To the north in Spa Road were the public library and Bermondsey Town Hall and municipal offices. In the south west corner of the park in Grange Road were the public baths and wash-house and to the south east the Bermondsey Health Centre. But the Town Hall had suffered bomb damage during the war and demolished in 1963, the public baths were closed in 1973 and demolished two years later, and the public library closed in 1989. The area became rundown and partly derelict.
The Bermondsey Spa area which extends eastward from the park as far as St James’s Church is currently undergoing a regeneration programme and as part of this the park was refurbished and re-opened in 2006. Work included new park seating, lighting, a toddlers' play area, a multi-use games area, a 333m running track, a plaza and the Ellen Brown Bermondsey Play Centre which provides facilities for children and their parents. A Green Flag was awarded in 2007.