Nestled in a small site on Hopton Street, just behind Tate Modern, these twenty historic almhouses were funded by philanthropist Charles Hopton in the mid-eighteenth century and were intended for the ‘poor decayed men’ of Southwark. They were built by Thomas Ellis and William Cooley to the designs of Mr Batterson, the trustee of Charles Hopton's will. Arranged around a well-kept garden with trees, lawn and flowers, they are now dwarfed by Neo Bankside and the Tate Modern extension and appear as an architectural anomaly in the high-rise Bankside of the twenty-first century. Yet the cottages have been continuously occupied since they were built. The one-bedroomed units are available for Southwark residents, male or female and over the age of 60 and 23 residents currently live there. The Hopton’s Almshouses are now owned and managed by the Southwark-based charity, United St Saviour’s. The charity also owns a number commercial properties around the Borough Market area and invests over £850,000 per year for projects that improve lives and build community in north Southwark.
For the last few years, Shamus Dark has collaborated with musicians from the world of rock and jazz to record and perform songs drawn mainly from the ‘American Songbook’, using contemporary arrangements and digital technology. Dark's debut ‘Songs For Suicidal Lovers’ was released on Drum Records, in 2006. This was followed in 2013 by ‘Trouble In Paradise’, recorded in South Africa and Hong Kong, mastered at Abbey Road and released on Bunker Media. Dark, a resident of Hopton’s Almshouse, has performed live at venues in and around London as well as in jazz clubs in Hong Kong and New York. Some of these performances are done with a cinema screen backdrop to make the show a fusion of film noir and music, examples of which can be viewed on YouTube.
Surrounded as it is by mostly tall modern buildings, the Georgian architecture of Hopton's Almshouses and its gardens give the passer by a glimpse of what life might have been like in 18th century Southwark. The dwellings, now brought up to 21st century standards, are home to residents who have either lived or worked in the area for many years and some of their voices are captured for posterity on this recording. There are some who remember the foggy post World War 2 years, when London trams clanked their way along Southwark Street, when steam trains crossed Blackfriars Bridge and of course, the nearby River Thames, when it was a bustling thoroughfare, with tugs, barges and ships plying their trade. And the birdsong that you hear are wrens, blackbirds, robins and great tits, that nest in the gardens and help to create a quiet oasis of peace and calm in an otherwise busy and bustling area of north Southwark.