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A Brideshead moment in Bermondsey 9 March 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in Uncategorized.
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Last weekend was crisp sunny and I was walking round Southwark with my friends Ian and Miki. In Borough Market, we admired decorative vegetables, such oxymorons as jumbo quail eggs, and the new railway viaduct that slices over it (decapitating a Young’s pub). Outside, I was surprised to find that I like the Shard that towers over it. We progressed eastwards via City Hall, Shad Thames with its overhead gangways and the Design Museum. Beyond that the designers have built a little footbridge over St Saviour’s Dock and this leads to a quarter of Bermondsey that I had been to before.

Vogan's Mill, 17 Mill St SE1

Vogan’s Mill, 17 Mill St SE1

I had one of those Brideshead Revisited moments, when the past comes flooding back as it did to Charles Ryder when his regiment is billeted in the house of that name. As we walked up Mill Street, we came to Vogan’s Mill, on our right and with its back overlooking the dock. It’s such an odd name, reminiscent of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I realised that some time around 1980 I had been sent there by Suma Wholefoods to collect sacks of something. I can’t remember exactly what, but it was quite probably red lentils as they milled them there.

At that time, Suma lived in a similar mill building, though lower and more recently built, on the Wharfe in Leeds. It still had its three hoist towers, with narrow doors out onto the river to enable unloading from barges, and the helter-skelter sack slides that Spillers had used to shift their flour around. It was a matter of stacking, roping and sheeting hundredweight sacks by hand in those days, although we bought a posh curtain-sided trailer about then.

Today, Vogan’s façade survives but it is very glitzy inside, and the silo tower has been rebuilt to contain glamorous apartment with panoramic views over the city. Vogan’s milling business has decamped to Fulbourn near Cambridge.

I find that the area is called Jacob’s Island and provides the setting for Oliver Twist. It consists of a strange mixture of private and social housing, with renovated mills and wine bars facing privatised council flats across the street. It’s good to see the area thriving, but it makes the lorry-driver’s job a good deal less interesting.

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