Some activities of the Bermondsey Borough Council.

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About this work


This film is a comprehensive cinematic overview of the public and social welfare activities of the London Borough of Bermondsey (now absorbed within Southwark Council). The Borough lies South of the River Thames and at the time the film was made comprised of a largely working class population engaged in working in the dockyards and manufacturing. The film starts with exterior views of the Borough's flagship health centre at Spa Road, followed by the Gardens and Beautification Department. It is explained that this department was responsible 9 years prior to the film being made for planting 7000 trees in the borough - an extraordinarily foresighted campaign to greenify the borough. There are point-of-view shots taken from the front of a vehicle along pleasant empty boulevards, passing the occasional car, cart and pedestrian. Next, the well-tended public gardens are shown in full bloom. In the parks, play areas have been devised and a playground with swings and other equipment is shown teeming with children. A hard-surface area is shown with young men playing cricket. Fairby Grange, the council's estate, is shown where saplings are grown and plants are propagated in greenhouses (it is noted that this reduces the council's costs). The Borough's electricity department is then profiled with exterior and interior views of the machinery and switchboards of the distributing station at Neckinger. There is also a showroom displaying 'modern' electric lighting and other equipment. An intertitle explains that there is a scheme to loan out electric cookers as well as help and support in using the equipment; a female council employee wearing white overalls is seen demonstrating a vacuum cleaner. We then move onto the Baths and Wash - houses under the control of the Baths Committee. The facade of an elegant building, the swimming baths, is then seen and inside a man dives into the pool. Facilities for laundering are available to the public for 2 pence an hour; women are seen folding clothes. Next, the film moves on to explain the Borough's housing problem; back to back tenements are shown with children playing outside. This is illustrated by a panning shot over some of the decrepit and crumbling housing stock. Builders are seen demolishing walls (they are lightly attired with no protective clothing, using their brute strength to push the walls over and large clouds of dust result). The solution to this housing crisis is to build workers' cottages: there is a sweeping pan of houses under construction. The final result is very pleasing; low-rise, airy housing with large windows have been completed. There are point-of-view shots along a typical street with young trees planted along the road. The council achieves its work by having a Works Dept and employing men directly; men are seen in a workshop, two are maintaining a car, others are digging in the road. This department was also responsible for refuse collection (a significant problem only tackled unilaterally in London by the formation of the Greater London Authority in 1963). Over half way into the film, the responsibilities of the health department are outlined; apparently the death rate had been reduced from 21 people per 1000 to 13 in the 30 years prior to the film being made (a 38% drop). This had been achieved by tackling infectious diseases; a bacteriological laboratory is seen with the technician peering down a microscope. The disinfection station is seen where bedding and other bolts of bedding and fabric are steam cleaned for 30 minutes (to kill parasites) . The department is also responsible for food hygiene and safety. An inspector looks at meat and butter (performing a test on the latter). The Maternity and Child Welfare Section of the Borough has 12 centres, holding 84 health sessions per week. Exterior views of the health centre are followed by shots of the waiting room in the clinic full of mothers with their young children. The clinics are well-attended; a female doctor weighs and then performs a health check on a baby. There are also 2 dental clinics and a convalescent home at Hartley in Kent. The latter is for expectant and nursing mothers. There are scenes in the garden of mothers relaxing on deck chairs. The Borough was also a pioneer of artificial sunlight treatment; the solarium was the largest municipal light clinic in the country (it was also a catalyst for neighbouring boroughs to build their own). It is stated that over 25,000 treatments are given per year; there are scenes of children wearing protective shades over their eyes and walking around the light-filled room. Next the outside of the Tuberculosis Dispensary in Grange Road is seen, followed by the foot clinic. A number of booths are set up with nurses attending to the feet of several people simultaneously. Finally, to communicate and teach health to the citizens of Bermondsey, the Health Department organises a number of health promotional activities. It is explained that during the day lectures take place in schools and then, in the evenings, lectures are presented at the back of a van. The lectures comprise of illustrated 'lantern' (photographic) slides and a cinema screening. A shot of the cinemamotor van is seen (a specially customised vehicle designed to project films), then finally a shot of the opening lantern slide of a screening; 'Open Air Demonstration, Bermondsey Borough Council, Public Health Department'. The End.


[London] : [Bermondsey Borough Council], [1931]

Physical description

1 Digibeta (25:26 mins) : sil, black and white; PAL.
2 DVDs (25:26 mins each) : sil., black and white; PAL.

Copyright note

Bermondsey Borough Council 1931


This video was made from material preserved by the BFI National Archive.
Film supplied courtesy of Southwark Local History Library & Archive.
One of about 29 films made by the Public Health Department (about 7 of which no longer exist) which were shown for many decades on a regular basis to the residents of the borough in various municipal settings.

Creator/production credits

Presented by Bermondsey Borough Council's Health Propaganda Department, written and produced by Mr H. W. Bush, photography by Mr C. F. Lumley.



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