For Richer or Poorer

Salt of the earth

Dr Albert Salter studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital before setting up his own medical practice in 1900 in Bermondsey.

Albert was a good man and decided to do something helpful for the community. Together with his wife, Ada, they set about improving the health and living conditions in their area as best they could. His services were free of charge because people in that area were very poor.

There used to be a life-sized bronze statue of Alfred Salter and his daughter Joyce in Cherry Gardens, Southwark by the river. Joyce died of scarlet fever when she was nine. She caught it because her parents lived and worked among the poorest people in London. Sadly, thieves stole the statue in November 2011.

Ada made history by becoming the first woman Councillor in Bermondsey, the first Labour woman Councillor in London and, in 1922, she became the first woman mayor of Bermondsey.

Ada set up a committee which arranged to cover the local area in trees, flowers and playgrounds, while her work as a councillor helped to protect the countryside around London.

Together Ada and Alfred cleared away thousands of old buildings and built model housing which both improved health and minimized housework.

The changing face of London

In 1815 London was already the largest city in the world and stayed that way until 1925.

Because travel by sea was becoming more popular, people came to London to find jobs and a better life. During the 1840s people arrived from Ireland, where there was a potato famine, to work on the new London and Greenwich railway.

Southwark in particular has changed a great deal in the last 100 years. This area is now home to people from Poland and other Eastern European countries who have come here to find employment, as well as people from China, Vietnam, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. Around 300 languages are spoken in London. Why not take a few minutes to hear how many languages you can hear around you now?

Devon Mansions – social housing

Social housing is houses provided by the government for people who don’t have or don’t earn very much money. Devon Mansions were a very early example of social housing. They were built in 1875 and the first people to live there were working class residents from Bermondsey, which was then known as Horsleydown.

On 29th December 1940, in one of the most devastating bombing raids of the Blitz, German planes bombed the City of London, causing what has been called The Second Great Fire of London. A bomb landed on Building 3 of Devon Mansions. Three residents were killed by the blast. You can still see where the bricks were repaired.

A Victorian role model

In Victorian times, women weren’t treated like men – they were expected to stay at home and look after their husbands. Not many women worked in skilled jobs.

Queen Victoria didn’t help much, calling women “helpmates for men, with totally different duties”.

The first women’s strike in Bermondsey

Strikes happen when people aren’t happy with pay or conditions where they work, so they stop working or “go on strike”.

Women in Bermondsey took action in the summer of 1911. Around 20,000 of them from over twenty factories came out on strike at the same time. Most of these women were involved in food in some way. They were very poorly paid and weren’t treated as well as men.

A young woman outside a chocolate factory summed up their determination to win: “We are striking for more pay, mister, and we won’t go in till we get it”.

They had support from dockers who refused to work until the women won their demands.

It worked! The bosses took notice – in one factory, wages rose from 9 to 11 shillings per week.