Changing London

Looking back at a year of discovering southeast London’s historic past

2015-10-24 15.02.55

Borough Market

Search for the ‘East End’ on the internet and you are presented with page after page of interesting content. Bookshops are filled with volumes on this area of London as well, many of which I have read in recent years. And I hope to find other new books – like Dan Cruickshank’s new personal account of the story of Spitalfields – in my Christmas stocking.

But by contrast, if you search for ‘southeast London’, you encounter very few interesting results. Most of the pages that appear are fairly generic, computer-generated ones, such as ‘southeast London weather’ or ‘southeast London property’. There is no strong identity, like the East End, that jumps out.

I think this is a real shame because over the last year I’ve discovered how fascinating southeast London is and believe it deserves more recognition given that there is history quite little around every corner.

This time last year I was preparing to pack up my things and make the move across the Thames to southeast London, so you could say that I am biased. But in all the posts I’ve written about the area, I’ve tried to be (and hopefully succeeded) in being objective.

Here’s my quick look back at my year exploring southeast London……

Adventures in southeast London

Long before I moved south, I spent many years enjoying visits to Borough at the southern end of London Bridge, which was populated in Roman times. Over the last 12 months I’ve made many return trips to check out its great pubs (not least the George – said to be Shakespeare’s Local), relieve its industrial past, discover the story of its hospitals and find out one about one very special building (where Sir Christopher Wren did NOT live)!

Perhaps the main reason why the East End became better known than southeast London was that the latter was isolated by from the City on the north bank of the Thames (for many years London Bridge was the only crossing point). But once additional bridges were built in the 18th century it became far more connected and accessible. It was possible, for the very first time, to commute from what had previously been rural villages and are today suburbs in the metropolis.

And then came the railways, which speeded up travel to the City and Westminster even more. London Bridge station soon became the gateway to nearby places like Deptford, as well as many more places further afield beside. Progress maybe, but during the 19th century numerous slums were created. In the aftermath of the Second World War and all the re-building it brought, many new homes were erected in this parts – some of which have now been demolished.

Southeast London now stands at a crossroads. It is great that the private and public sector are investing in the area, but gentrification is a real worry for some (as I found when I visited Elephant & Castle).

It’s been a great year exploring southeast London and I look forward to continuing my discoveries in this part of the capital next year. But to prove that I haven’t become completely obsessed with the south side of the river (I do genuinely love visiting the East End and elsewhere), next week I’ll look back at some of the other places I’ve visited this year.

And finally for now, here are some other southeast London posts from this year that you may be interested in reading:

https://pastinthepresent.net/2016/11/24/london-bridge-all-changes/

https://pastinthepresent.net/2016/04/07/south-east-londons-rural-village-visiting-edward-alleyns-dulwich/

https://pastinthepresent.net/2016/05/02/divided-by-the-railway-and-how-inequality-in-deptford-has-stuck/

https://pastinthepresent.net/2016/07/21/visiting-modernity-in-croydon-on-tour-in-a-crap-town-with-the-national-trust/

https://pastinthepresent.net/2016/07/07/from-royal-dockyard-to-crossrails-arrival-regenerating-woolwich/

https://pastinthepresent.net/2016/08/11/can-thamesmead-finally-silence-the-critics-journeying-to-a-modern-housing-development/

https://pastinthepresent.net/2016/07/28/bringing-walworths-east-street-market-to-life-with-echoes-of-the-past/

2016-10-15-10-54-46

In the shadow of the Shard

2016-04-09 14.21.14

Thamesmead

2016-04-10 11.21.51

Woolwich

2016-04-30 10.09.55

Deptford

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