Rotherhithe has a long history as a port, with many shipyards from Elizabethan times until the early 20th century and with working docks until the 1970s. In the 1980s the area along the river was redeveloped as upmarket housing, through a mix of warehouse conversions and new-build developments.
The docks were closed and largely filled in during the 1980s, and have now been developed with modern housing and commercial facilities, but Rotherhithe retains much of its character and its maritime heritage.
The largest surviving dock on the south bank is Greenland Dock, the focal point for the southern part of the district, while there are many preserved wharves along the riverside at the north end of Rotherhithe. St Mary's Church is at the centre of the old Rotherhithe village, which contains various historic buildings including the Brunel Engine House.
Rotherhithe is a residential district in the south east London Borough of Southwark. Historically, It is located on a peninsula on the south bank of the Thames, facing Wapping, Canary Wharf and the Isle Of Dogs on the north bank, and is a part of the Docklands area. It borders Bermondsey to the west and Deptford to the south east.
Following the development of the Jubilee Line in 1999 the rest of Rotherhithe rapidly developed into a residential and commuter area, with a large shopping centre, cinema, bingo, bowling and restaurants in the leisure park as well as many new residential developments emerging around the freshwater dock and transport hub.
The Severn Islands Leisure Centre occupies the site of the old Rotherhithe Town Hall. It was razed to the ground by repeated bomb hits and near misses during the Second World War.
When the roundabout facing the Rotherhithe Tunnel was redeveloped in the early 1980s, several 19th century buildings were demolished including a school and a nunnery. A public house, the "Europa", described in an early 20th-century history of the area as one its oldest, was also demolished. Max Bygraves frequently played piano there at weekends.
The Daily Mail and Evening Standard newspapers were printed at Harmsworth Quays in Rotherhithe from 1989 to 2012. The site is now the "Printworks" events venue.
In July 1620, the Mayflower sailed from Rotherhithe for Southampton on the south coast of England, to begin loading food and supplies for the voyage to New England. At that time, the English Separatists who later became known as the "Pilgrims fathers", were mostly still living in the city of Leiden, in the Netherlands. The ship's captain, Christopher Jones, died shortly after his return in 1621 and he is buried in an unmarked grave at St Mary's Church. The Mayflower sailed from near a public house called the Shippe in Rotherhithe Street, which was substantially rebuilt in the 18th century, called the Spread Eagle and Crown, and is now named the Mayflower. The building itself, despite external and interior appearances, dates from the 1950s.
Like the rest of the London Docks, the Surrey Commercial Docks were targeted by the Luftwaffe. On 7 September 1940, on the first day of the London Blitz, the deal yards of Surrey Docks were set ablaze. The raid ignited over a million tonnes of timber in Quebec Yard, causing the most intense single fire ever seen in Britain.
The bombing of the old Rotherhithe Town Hall during the Second World War gives an indication of how heavy the bombing in Rotherhithe was. The first damage to the building occurred when Luftwaffe bombs landed nearby in April 1941, and there was more bomb damage in February and June 1944. Later the same month (June 1944) the Town Hall was very severely damaged by a direct hit by a V1 doodlebug In November 1944 it was further damaged by near misses, and it was finally destroyed by one of the last V1s to land on London during the Second World War.
Rotherhithe is joined to the north bank of the Thames by three tunnels. The Thames foot tunnel to Wapping was the first underwater tunnel in the world. Built by the Brunel's and originally intended to carry cross-river freight, it became a pedestrian tunnel, due to the money running out to build the necessary ramps for vehicle traffic. It was used as a railway tunnel from 1869, and is now part of the London Overground network, which on 27 April 2010 started running trains on the route of the former East London Line. The later Rotherhithe Tunnel (opened 1908) carries a two-lane road to Limehouse. The Jubilee line extension (opened 1999) has a railway tunnel to Canary Wharf in the Isle Of Dogs.
Parts of Rotherhithe Street were at one time or another called Jamaica Street, Lavender Street, Low Queen Street, Queen Street, Redriff Wall, Redriff, Rotherhithe Wall, Shipwright Street and Trinity Street.
As much of Rotherhithe was occupied by the now-defunct Surrey Commercial Docks, the district is sometimes referred to as "Surrey Docks" or (since the late 1980s) "Surrey Quays", though the latter name tends to be used more for the southern half of the peninsula. An eastern part, which became an island when the docks were in use and the locks open, is called "Downtown".
Canada Water unveiled a 5.5 million-square foot development project. This huge project looks set to include five ‘landmark buildings’ towering up to 50 storeys in height, plus another two towers of at least 21 storeys and numerous others measuring between six and fifteen storeys.
The £2bn project, which covers the former Harmsworth Quays printworks, the Surrey Quays Shopping Centre and the Mast Leisure Centre, will include the construction of 3,500 homes, a new high street, a town centre, a cultural and entertainment hub, a new leisure centre and a potential new university campus. The entire project is expected to take fifteen years to complete.
- High Street – A pedestrianised boulevard has been planned form Canada Water station to Surrey Quays station. The ‘open-air retail street’ will include national and independent shops along with restaurants and cafes.
- Park – A new 3.5 acre park has been planned for the area currently occupied by Hollywood Bowl. It is being touted as the ‘heart of the residential neighbourhood.’ The consultation artwork includes numerous trees and water features.
- Town Centre – This outdoor area will include ‘external dining and play’ facilities, and will be adjacent to the new culture hub, which will house shows, workshops and entertainment events.
- Homes – The project is proposing the construction of around 3,500 homes spread across the site, an unspecified amount of which will be affordable. British Land have promised “London and local-first sales” and an option for Southwark Council social rented homes.
- Leisure Centre – Southwark Council is proposing to create a new leisure centre at the western edge of Surrey Quays Shopping Centre car park. The chosen site for the facility, which would replace the Seven Islands Leisure Centre, has been criticised as it currently houses a ‘green haven’.