Oonagh Gay of Crouch End Walks and I were joined by a very interesting group of walkers for our Ada Salter – Beautifying Bermondsey walk for Open Garden Squares on Saturday afternoon. Instead of our usual circular route that takes in all aspects of Ada’s fascinating life in Bermondsey, we concentrated on her horticultural achievements.
For the first time since we started the walks in the Spring we were able to use the grasp in Ada’s left hand, carefully crafted by sculptor Diane Gorvin, for some of her favourite dahlias. These long-stemmed imports, though are not as hardy as the seed-grown, single flowered Coltness variety favoured by Bermondsey Council nurseries in the 1920s that provided the Borough’s famously colourful displays in parks and window boxes. Bermondsey’s planting was rightly famous and Mr Johns, Superintendent of Gardens had three new strains of dahlia confirmed by the Royal Horticultural Society: Coltness Purple, Yellow and Salmon. The salmon-coloured was renamed Bermondsey Gem and the yellow, Rotherhithe Gem. Coltness mixed dahlia seeds are available from many suppliers – but I haven’t been able to track down any Bermondsey or Rotherhithe Gems.
Mr Johns’ favourite street tree was the flowering cherry and we saw cherries in abundance.
The Cherry Gardens of Samuel Pepys day are long gone, but the present Cherry Gardens, a small stretch of garden between River and housing on Bermondsey Wall marks a tussle between the local community and developers that Ada would surely have approved. Originally ear-marked by the local authority for low-density housing the land was compulsorily purchased in the 1980s by the London Dockland Development Corporation who threatened to obscure the River view and access with high rise blocks. Cherry Gardens today is part of the compromise reached when local people won out against the LDDC and Southwark Council regained half the land.
I don’t think the sculptor intended Ada and Alfred’s daughter Joyce to be embellished but when we visited on Saturday she was shaded from the sun by a distinctly contemporary baseball cap and fishing with the local lads. On a previous visit she was listening to music in a way unforeseen at the time of her tragically early death in 1910.
And further along the river wall at Providence Square, as Oonagh and I made our way back after visiting the wonderful floating gardens at Garden Barge Square, we met another young person fishing. This Banksy is much faded and it’s hard now to see the syringe on the end of his line.
And if you would like the full version of this walk, Oonagh is leading the next one on 9th July. You can book here
We got both fresh air and fun on yesterday’s Bermondsey walk and some stunning views of the Thames and the London skyline to boot! Each time I walk these streets as spring turns to summer and the trees come into full leaf, I marvel at how green Bermondsey is and how forward thinking Ada Salter was. After almost eighty years Bermondsey’s streets are still tree-lined and the estates full of well-maintained shrubs and playgrounds.
I was delighted and very touched when Bermondsey novelist, Mary Gibson gave me a copy of her second novel Jam & Roses, in which Ada features and which covers many of the places we covered on the walk. Mary has now published four novels set in Bermondsey and you can find out more about them on her website http://www.marygibsonauthor.co.uk
It was pretty windy when Oonagh led the first of our Ada Salter walks in Bermondsey last week, but that didn’t put off the group who all enjoyed the mix of Garden estate, old warehouses and sunning Thames views upriver. Ada’s trees, planted as part of the Beautification programme should look even better next Saturday with more in leaf. Why not join us and enjoy the Salters’ legacy?
The next walk is on Saturday 13th May at 11am. Click here to book.
After a couple of months of hibernation and planning I’m shall be starting to offer a regular programme of walks again from March. I’m excited to announce new walks for 2017 about two women I admire very much.
Ada Salter: Beautifying Bermondsey
This year Capital Walks ventures south of the River to Bermondsey celebrating the life and achievements of Ada Salter; socialist, pacifist, environmentalist, youth-worker and Quaker. Ada was the first female Mayor in London and the first Labour woman mayor in the British Isles. Ada loved singing and plants; with her husband, local doctor and MP Dr Alfred Salter, she made a significant impact on health, housing, employment and labour relations. The Garden Suburb she created and the tree planting she championed can still be seen today. Oonagh Gay, of Crouch End Walks, and I have put a route together that explores her achievements and the ethical socialism that underpinned them.
Back in Bloomsbury, I have been indulging long-held enthusiasm for the writing of Dorothy L Sayers and developing a walk around some of DLS’s haunts along with those of her alter ego Harriet Vane and other familiar characters from the novels. See where Peter Wimsey broke his collarbone, where Harriet lived, where her fictional lover Philip Boyes imbibed Strong Poison and find out more about the woman who brought them all to life.