Ed's blogs

As pure as.........

There is an eating place near London Bridge station with name "Pure".  I don't know who owns this chain of eateries but I wonder at their choice of location for a food shop with name Pure.  It may well be that they are not aware that in this part of south London that "pure" previously had a connotation far removed from food.


Many will know that this part of Bermondsey was originally the location of a large number of tanneries. There was also a music hall song about collecting pure.


I am an old pure-finder, yes pure is the word 

 What I find, me and my kind, you might find absurd 

 I searches out what lurchers left, it’s a strange kind of job

 Picking up a job or two, to pick up just two bob.


Yes dog poo as it is now almost quaintly called was used extensively in the curing of animal hides in the tanning industry.   Dog faeces contain enzymes that break down collagen in hides, part of the tanning process called “bating.”   Animal skins of all kinds arrived at a tannery bloody and wet with whatever animal remains still clung to them. They were first soaked in water to clean them, then came urine to help make them pliable enough that the hair could be scraped off with the tanners  knives.

And that’s where the poo came in.  It may sound disgusting  now, but in the nineteenth century and before  there were no ready-to-use chemicals so the lovely sheen of fine leather goods was achieved by soaking the hides in a mixture of water and dog poo.

The trade is barely remembered now except in the names of some of the Bermondsey streets , like Leather Market, Bevington street and so on.  The strong smells that pervaded this part of the borough probably still possibly linger in  the fabric of some of the yuppified flats in places like Snowfields.









The AFS in Wapping

My brother Tom joined the Auxiliary Fire service in 1938 soon after it was established.  The AFS was a volunteer service set up to supplement the London Fire Brigade in anticipation of the forthcoming war. Tom' was 18 at the time and probably thought that being a fireman would be a bit more exciting than his day job as a typewriter mechanic .

Although the London Fire Brigade estimated that they needed 28000 volunteers there are no statistics about how many men, young and old, signed up to be trained as firemen.  In Wapping there is a kind of snapshot of some of men and women who had volunteered to become a part-time firefighters .

There were 18 men listed on the National Register on the 29th September as being on duty at the substation and two young women.  Their ages ranged from a 55 year old taxi driver to a 26 year old warehouse packer.  Most of the men were married and generally older than many would have expected. 

The occupations were also disparate including a shipping clerk and a barristers clerk as well as a tailor and a meat Packer, a lorry driver and a hardware salesman There was of course a couple of wharf labourers as well as a rubber stamp maker and a painter and decorator.  There was just  one full-time fireman on duty that night who  was no doubt responsible for the training of these volunteers.. The  two young women at that time would have been learning the control room duties: one was a typist  during the day and the  other a dressmaker. 

Tom learned the hard way about the dangers of firefighting.  Whilst he was at the top of a ladder with a hose a colleague, No doubt with insufficient training, increased the water pressure without warning with the result that Tom was thrown to the ground  damaging his knee.  That ended his firefighting career but of course it did not prevent him being called up into the RAF when the war started. The valiant work carried out by the firefighters both the full time men of the London Fire Brigade and their part-time colleagues in the AFS during the Blitz of the following years is well known but it doesn't hurt to be reminded of this from time to time and realise that firefighters today face equal dangers.

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