A few streets to the south of Bermondsey tube station used to be a large biscuit factory estate, the Peek Freans factory, but it’s about to be redeveloped.

The factory first opened on the site in 1873 and swiftly expanded into a “biscuit town” with a large cluster of buildings, and progressive for the time, staff amenities. It was the site of many biscuit innovations – the Bourbon, the Garibaldi, and the first chocolate digestive. However, the company was broken up in 1982, the factory closed in 1989 and had been largely untouched after that with bits rented out, but nothing significant done.

The site has now been bought by Grosvenor Group, which is owned by the Duke of Westminster to redevelop into a housing and business estate. A master plan for the area will see a cluster of modern blocks of flats erected, but they are retaining the central factory building for conversion into work and office spaces.

They’re also taking the opportunity to open up the area somewhat as it’s rich in dead ends and the railway to the south of the site is impenetrable. So a new road layout will be created and a couple of the railway arches opened up to make the area much more permeable for both new residents in the north and existing residents to the south.

At the moment, they are in the clearance and preparation stage, and as part of Open House London, opened up the main factory building for people to have a look inside, and as it turned out, to also go on the roof.

The main warehouse, which was built around 1970 is a huge low rise slab of a building, dominated externally by the 3-story high solid brick wall with small windows at the top, inside it’s a very different and vast open space dominated by concrete and columns.

When converting an old industrial building, any plans you start with are often subject to radical change if unexpected problems are discovered with the building, so in one corner they are digging down around one of the supporting columns to understand how well they have been built and the state of their foundations as that will be critical to know for the later building works.

Assuming all is well, the general intention is to fill in much of the space with a couple of floors, as it already has at one end of the building, and turn the building into workspaces and offices. As the building is quite wide, lightwells need to be punched through the roof to bring light into the middle of the floors, and at one end they anticipate retaining the floor to ceiling space for an impressive reception foyer.

One of the huge advantages of repurposing a building like this is that it’s such a solidly built structure, so it’s naturally cool in summer and warm in winter, which is more comfortable to work in, and requiring less heating/air conditioning means its both cheaper and more environmentally friendly to run.

Large open spaces that buildings like this can offer are increasingly desirable by companies, and in the post-pandemic world, by their staff, so it can be expected that a lot of future tenants will be moving out of older unsuitable buildings into the new offices. That’s why office buildings are still being built, to offer not necessarily more space, but much better space. The older soon to be empty office buildings will themselves in turn be redeveloped.

Putting workspace in the middle of residential developments also means that there are local jobs so less time/money spent travelling, but also that the area isn’t an empty void during the working day as some suburbs can become when everyone has left to work elsewhere. In addition to the main building, there will be ground floor workspaces under the residential flats. That’s mainly because the area is a flood plain, and if it were to flood, while still devastating, it’s often less of an emotional loss than had people’s homes had flooded.

But back to the old warehouse building, and one of the proposed ideas is to open up the roof as a public square that anyone can visit. Suggestions are that it’ll have food and drink offerings along with public seating areas. While this might sound idealistic, once you get up there, it becomes really obvious why this will work.

And that’s because the roof delivers something totally unexpected for such a low-rise industrial building – quite amazing views across much of central London.

One corner with great views across the railway will, for trainspotters not be a delight to watch, as the triangle of land beside it is for one of the future blocks of flats. Most of the other flats are behind the building though, so the views across to the City and Canary Wharf will be largely unimpeded.

Something to look forward to.

The exit from the building site showed up one of the problems of refurbishing an industrial area, that there are unexpected, and at times costly discoveries, such as a brick arch tunnel running under the road, which now needs to be inspected and if necessary repaired so it can be used for something, or filled in to make it safe.

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8 comments
  1. Kit Green says:

    When commuting into Charing Cross there would often be a whiff of custard creams or chocolate. Much nicer than the stink of crisp flavourings at the Blackwall Tunnel!

    • Mitch Mitchell says:

      I remeber the digital click on the building. Would know if my train into London Bridge was on time or running late. Mixed with the aroma of what always smelt like Coffe.

  2. Steven Richards says:

    This building is only a part of the wider site owned by Workspace Group (The Biscuit Factory) where a number of other buildings have been converted and refurbished as workspace, cafe etc.
    The Grosvenor element is just a part of the site and incorporates adjoining properties such as a school and residential units that were not part of the Peek Freans complex

  3. Fergus Carr says:

    Lovely to see such a lovely article. I’m sure my ancestors who built it would be happy to know it will have another new and productive life after the biscuits.

  4. Chz says:

    It was a bit of a disappointment when I moved here to find Peek Freans no longer existed in its homeland. The brand is still popular and well-known in Canada.

  5. Luke says:

    More housing locals can’t afford thanks

    • ianVisits says:

      Can you clarify why you think the locally affordable buildings in the development aren’t affordable.

  6. freddie says:

    I’ve gathered several of my photos of Peek Freans, many of the current state of the buildings in this folder (link): https://flic.kr/s/aHsmVBrevg

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