Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Just a short walk from Borough High Street, off Long Lane, is a small, well tended rose garden called Hankey Place Gardens, created as a part of a slum clearance programme after the First World War. It had previously been the burial ground attached to the Wesleyan Southwark Chapel. The Chapel was built in 1809 and able to seat a congregation of 1,500. It faced onto a road that became known as Chapel Place and the burial ground lay behind the chapel, away from the street. It closed for burials in the 1850s and Mrs Basil Holmes in her book London Burial Grounds, published in 1896, described it as closed with a few gravestones and a hen coop.
The Chapel was situated on the edge of a warren of narrow streets of small, overcrowded, badly built and insanitary two storey houses. In the first years of the 20th century, the London County Council declared the area unfit for habitation and commenced a slum clearance programme. The first completed five-storey blocks of the Tabard Gardens Estate was completed in about 1917 and the whole rebuilding programme was ongoing until the end of the 1930s. The Chapel closed in 1918 and demolished a few years later. The burial ground was cleared in 1928, with the remains reburied in Nunhead Cemetery. It was laid out some time before 1938 as Hankey Place Gardens.
Chapel Place had been renamed Hankey Place in 1920 after Donald Hankey, who had come to Bermondsey as part of the Oxford and Bermondsey Mission to run a boy’s club. He enlisted at the beginning of the war in August 1914 and was killed fighting in France in October 1916. Before then, he had written a series of articles under the nom de plume ‘Soldier at Arms’ that had been published in The Spectator to great acclaim and collections of his essays were published after his death in book form. For a while he was as well known as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen but is all but forgotten today, this tiny rose garden being one of the few reminders. One of the blocks of flats on the Tabard Gardens Estate is also named after him, as is the estate community hall.