Jamaica Road

Jamaica Road, Southwark

Except for a one-way section at its far western end, Jamaica Road is a long stretch of dual carriageway snaking across north Bermondsey, parallel with the Thames

Hidden London: looking up at one of Jamaica Road's lamp posts
One of Jamaica Road­’s love­ly lamp posts

The road came into exis­tence in the sec­ond half of the 18th cen­tu­ry, when it was called (Bermond­sey) New Road. Its present iden­ti­ty derives from the trade that was car­ried on with Jamaica at the near­by docks, stock­ing ‘Lon­don’s larder’ with pro­vi­sions.

The Salmon Youth Cen­tre on Old Jamaica Road takes its name from the Rev­erend Harold ‘Pa’ Salmon, who found­ed the Cam­bridge Med­ical Mis­sion Set­tle­ment on Jamaica Road in 1907, when slum hous­ing filled much of the vicin­i­ty and many res­i­dents lived in pover­ty and suf­fered poor health as a con­se­quence. Lat­er called the Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Mis­sion, many of its ear­ly staff were Chris­t­ian under­grad­u­ate vol­un­teers, often med­ical stu­dents.

The Most Holy Roman Catholic Trin­i­ty Church, in the angle of Jamaica Road and Dock­head, was rebuilt in 1960 after its pre­de­ces­sor, which had stood for more than a cen­tu­ry, was destroyed by a V2 rock­et in 1945. The neigh­bour­ing Con­vent of Mer­cy was rebuilt at the same time.

A hand­ful of ter­raced hous­es sur­vive on Jamaica Road from the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry but the major­i­ty of the area was rede­vel­oped with blocks of flats in the 1950s and 60s. The biggest project was the Dick­ens estate, west of George Row. Most of the area’s blocks are five- or sev­en-storeys tall. On the south side of Jamaica Road, the 22-storey Cas­by House, com­plet­ed in 1964, sticks out like a sore thumb.

Hous­ing asso­ci­a­tions have tak­en up where the munic­i­pal author­i­ties left off, build­ing flats and small hous­es, espe­cial­ly south of Jamaica Road.

Designed by Ian Ritchie Archi­tects and built in stain­less steel and con­crete, Bermond­sey Jubilee line sta­tion opened in 1999, a lit­tle to the east of Jamaica Road­’s mid­way point.

Unin­flu­enced by its name, Jamaica Road remained a pre­dom­i­nant­ly white British part of south Lon­don long after dis­tricts like Peck­ham and Brix­ton had become mul­tira­cial com­mu­ni­ties. Nowa­days, the pop­u­la­tion of the main local ward, River­side, is 48 per cent white British – still rel­a­tive­ly high com­pared with the rest of the bor­ough, except Dul­wich. The next most numer­ous eth­nic sub-group is of black African birth or descent.

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Count has six ominous boxes of Transylvanian earth delivered to an address in Jamaica Lane, Bermondsey – by which the author presumably meant Jamaica Road or one of its sidestreets.

Postal districts: SE16 and SE1
Population: 14,390 (Riverside ward, 2011 census)
Station: Jubilee line (Bermondsey, zone 2)