Surrey Docks Farm History Trail

Surrey Docks Farm occupies a riverside site with a rich and eventful history. Once part of a great shipyard, it then became a timber wharf associated with some fascinating Victorian characters. Later the Metropolitan Asylums Board used the site as a Receiving Station for their River Ambulance Service, to transfer smallpox and fever patients to isolation hospitals downriver. During WWII the site was badly damaged, but served throughout as a Fire Service river station. Then in the 1980s it became the urban farm we know today.

A history trail has been created which explores the fascinating detail of these stages in the site’s history, pointing out along the way the physical remains and evidence you can see around the Farm and on its Thames foreshore. Many artefacts from the site’s past have been found and can be seen in a display cabinet along the riverside path.

The trail is made up of six information boards sited around the Farm. The route starts at the Farm’s riverside gate by the Herb Garden – the board is on the railings just outside the gates. Alternatively you can start at the history trail map near the farm’s main entrance – as you enter the main gate, you’ll find it on your right, on the fence alongside the orchard.

The history trail panels can also be downloaded here:

INTRODUCTION AND SITE PLAN (open PDF)
1. THE SHIPYARD (open PDF)
2. THE TIMBER WHARF (open PDF)
3. THE RIVER AMBULANCE SERVICE (open PDF)
4. SOUTH WHARF RECEIVING STATION (open PDF)
5. WWII AND THE RIVER FIRE STATION (open PDF)
6. THE URBAN FARM (open PDF)

SCHOOLS PACK
A Schools Pack is available to help visiting school groups to explore the history trail. Laminated copies of the Teachers’ Guide are available to borrow at the farm, but please print out and bring a set of the Activity Sheets for each of your pupils.
Teachers Guide: (open PDF)
Activity Sheets: (open PDF)

ABOUT THE PROJECT
The history trail was created from the research and contributions of dozens of volunteers and local people, and the findings of investigations with the Thames Discovery Programme, as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project at the Farm in 2013/14. All of the photographed objects on the panels were found by project participants on the Rotherhithe foreshore, many alongside the Farm itself.

Project Co-ordinator: Germander Speedwell www.germanderspeedwell.org.uk

ARCHAEOLOGY AND FORESHORE SESSIONS – FILM
A short film was made by Peter Gazey and Rose Ades documenting the archaeology sessions with Thames Discovery, and the foreshore finds sessions to find objects to illustrate the history trail.

FURTHER INFORMATION
The information presented in the history trail is just a summary of our full research findings. If you’d like to know more about any aspect of the site’s history or the sources of our findings, please do get in touch and we’ll be happy to help. Guided tours will also be available at farm events or on request.
Contact: Germander 07986 776488 heritage@surreydocksfarm.org.uk

More information on the Metropolitan Asylums Board and River Ambulance Service is available on the web – we recommend these sites:

Portcities website:
http://www.portcities.org.uk/london/server/show/ConNarrative.68/chapterId/1640/Containing-smallpox-in-Victorian-London.html

Dartford Hospital Histories:
http://dartfordhospitalhistories.org.uk/hospital-ships/hospital-ships-introduction/

Lost Hospitals of London:
http://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/southwharf.html

THANKS TO:
Firstly, thanks to all the volunteers and participants who made the findings and put in the work to make this project such a success.

Thanks to the staff and volunteers of the Thames Discovery Programme for teaching us how to read the foreshore.

Thank you to these libraries and archives for their excellent facilities and service, and the many invaluable treasures and discoveries found within:
Southwark Local History Library and Archive
Rotherhithe Picture Library
London Metropolitan Archives
Wellcome Library
Museum of London Docklands Sainsbury Study Centre
National Maritime Museum – Caird Library
Bishopsgate Institute Library

Special thanks to those who contributed specialist information or memories:
Francine Payne (Dartford Hospital Histories)
William Frank Hickin (author of Fire Force – An Organisational History of the National Fire Service 1941-1948)
William J. Brenland
Eileen Smith and Vicky Green

 

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