Tag Archives: Alfred Salter

Solarium Court – A Southwark Blue Plaque Candidate

Solarium Court, formerly part of the pioneering Bermondsey Health Centre, has been nominated for a Southwark blue plaque to recognise its contribution to local history particularly in relation to tuberculosis.  The ground-breaking work done there owes much to the vision of Ada and Alfred Salter.

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Alfred Salter was born in Greenwich in 1873 and had trained as a doctor at Guys.  He had become involved in the Bermondsey Settlement in 1898 and met Ada there – she was from Raunds in Northamptonshire.  Soon after they set up a general practice in Jamaica Road and moved to Bermondsey.  They had a daughter Joyce, who died in 1910 from Scarlet Fever.

Both Alfred and Ada were Christian Socialists and pacifists, Ada became the first woman councillor in London in 1910.  She became mayor in 1922 when the Labour Party took control of Bermondsey Council and many of the Salter’s ideas on public health were able to be put into practice with the Labour majority.  Alfred became MP for Bermondsey West the same year, while defeated in 1924, he returned to Westminster 1929 – staying as a MP until 1945.

IMG_0914Statues of the Salters on Bermondsey Wall – restored in November 2014

One of the focuses of the public health work undertaken by Bermondsey Borough Council was in relation to tuberculosis.  In the year Labour came to power there were 413 new cases and 206 deaths.  One of the early methods they used was to reserve six places at a pioneering Sun Clinic in the Swiss Alps; of Bermondsey’s first six patients, five went on to make a full recovery.

The council sought to replicate the Swiss methods in Bermondsey and set up Britain’s the first municipal Light Treatment Centre in Grange Road in 1926 – new cases fell by 29% to 294 and deaths reduced by 15% by 1927.

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There is a fascinating video (a still from which is above) on the Light Treatment Centre, which is part of a wider one on some of the ground-breaking work of Bermondsey Borough Council – the section on the Light Treatment Centre is at around 3:37.

The service moved to a much bigger health centre which was completed in 1936, although slightly smaller than originally intended as the Ministry of Health and LCC refused to fund such a larger scheme.  In addition to the solarium, the services there included infant welfare and ante-natal clinics, rooms for radiotherapy and a foot clinic.  Part of the building remains a health centre although the rear and upper floors were converted into a housing association shared ownership scheme around 1990 – Solarium Court.

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Southwark Heritage Association are currently holding a ballot to select a new blue plaque recipient for the borough, last year’s was awarded to F A Albyn and Son, funeral directors for 200 years.  All the 2015 nominees are worthy recipients (there is more on all the others in Southwark News (p21)) – but please vote here for Solarium Court (with its links the Salters and the pioneering health undertaken by Bermondsey Council.)  Voting ends on 15 September 2015.

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Finding Out More

There is more on the centre on the excellent Municipal Dreams blog, along with the Council’s work on health education around the same period in a different piece on the same blog.

The YouTube video above is part of a trio of fascinating films from the Southwark Archives on the pre-NHS public health and housing work done by Bermondsey Council, Parts 1 and 2 are below and are well worth watching.

Statues, Skeletons, Salters and an Empty Seat

Since my serious accident in January my running has been, initially non-existent and now a little hit and miss as my soft tissues attempt to remember what they used to do before a Fiat Punto re-arranged my life.
My first run back was far too optimistic and ended with being almost confined to bed with back pain.  A lot of physio and some gradual building up from just over a kilometre to around 5k now had gone well, but my left calf wasn’t convinced by my first fairly gentle ‘speed’ (3 x 400 metres @ 7:15) session on Blackheath during the week and tightened up.  I guess I need to be a bit more patient in building up my speed.
I have been continuing to revisit some of my running routes along the Thames by a slower form of pedestrianism – walking.  A couple of weekends ago it was downstream from Woolwich – starting at the Arsenal by Peter Burke’s ‘Assembly‘.  Each of the figures is three out of the possible four assembled mould sections of a body cast ‘allowing the viewer visual entry and an opportunity to perceive it from the outside in, as if casting ones own body’.
 Further on there were a series of rusting steel carcasses in the sand and mud of low tide along with almost forgotten wooden skeletons rising out of the water.


Today’s walk was a partial repeat of a run that I posted about over a year ago, albeit in the opposite direction.  We started close the the the now piped outfall of Earl’s Sluice, part of the water comes from the River Peck and its springs high up on One Tree Hill.  It used to the boundary of Kent and Surrey, as well as the boundary between St Paul, Deptford, and St Mary, Rotherhithe, as the (slightly moved) stone indicates.


St Mary’s Churchyard in Rotherhithe, once had to have a watch house to prevent body snatchers, and adjacent to there was a Free School, endowed in the early 17th century.

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On Bermondsey Wall though, was a sight that gave me enormous pleasure – the return of Alfred Salter.  His bronze statue had been stolen, presumably by scrap metal thieves a few years ago – last time I passed in early 2014 there was just a space on a bench, but since November there has been a recast statue of Alfred, the restored statues of his daughter Joyce and his cat returned.  Importantly, there was an addition, Ada Salter, her work was important in its own right and there is a real dearth of statues of women in London – Ada was the 15th.


Before heading back for the bus home, we wandered a little further upstream to, perhaps, my favourite view of the Thames, looking towards Tower Bridge and the City with the houseboats of Shad Thames in the foreground.

Yesterday was the end of my team’s football season – after a terrible start, it turned into one of our best ever.  It is emotional business being a football fan and this season I have shared the emotional roller-coaster with the woman who sat to my left.  We both come from northern towns and have adopted the red and blue stripes of Crystal Palace and we have also shared our life threatening health battles since January, mine an accident, her’s an aggressive cancer. Sadly, seat 163 was empty yesterday, Rita had passed away on 17 May.

Rita McGuinness 1958 - 2015 RIP

Rita McGuinness 1958 – 2015 RIP

A Missing ‘Friend’

Last Saturday’s post described my run eastwards along the Thames, it was a really enjoyable, great to be alive, run. Well it was, apart from one point on Bermondsey Wall where a much loved friend was missing.

A statue of Alfred Salter used to be seated on a metal bench, waving at a statue of his daughter and gazing upstream towards Tower Bridge. It was my favourite piece of sculpture along the Thames, as much for what it represented as for its considerable artistic merit.

As I approached, I knew it had gone, I knew it had been stolen a couple of winters ago – presumably for its limited scrap value, but it still didn’t prepare me for the sadness I felt on seeing a small, slightly rusty, mark on the bench where the statue of the great man should have been sitting. I took a photo of what remains but can’t bring myself to post it, I’d rather remember how it used to be …

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(From the Salter Statues Campaign Website)
Alfred Salter and his wife Ada were two of the heroes of early municipal socialism, the Salter Statues Campaign website sums up their legacy

“Alfred (and) Ada were legendary figures even in their own life-times, and their work for the community was internationally acclaimed. The doctor brought free, state-of-the-art medical facilities into the slums of Bermondsey. He created an ‘NHS before the NHS’. Ada helped thousands with her social clubs, especially for young working women, and later through her ‘Beautification Committee’ she covered the slums with gardens, trees, flowers, children’s playgrounds and open spaces for music and sports. Together they cleared away hovels and built model housing in accordance with garden-city ideals.”

There is a fundraising effort to replace the statue, which is still around £13K short of the £50K target, Southwark Council will match fund the money raised.

This will pay for the replacement of the statue of Alfred along with CCTV to protect it; but one good thing will come out of the theft – there will also be a statue of Ada. It will add to the tiny number of statues of women in London – there are just 14 in public open spaces

There is an on line fundraising page if you want to donate.