The Montpelier of England

The Grove, which is one of the principal ornaments of the neighbourhood, is a delightfully embowered walk, nearly half a mile in length, having a gradual ascent from Peckham Road. The view from the summit is extensive, rural and picturesque… The air around here is genial and invigorating: Dr Lettsom, the celebrated physician and botanist, used to designate this place and its immediate neighbourhood as the Montpelier of England.

Pigot’s New Commercial Directory for 1823–1824

I found this description of Camberwell Grove in Gillian Tindall’s The House by the Thames, which is a fascinating history of Bankside and Southwark. I thought it rather timely with the recent kerfuffle about the opening of the railway bridge.

The celebrated physician and botanist’s name lives on in the area in the gated gardens and a housing estate.

The book goes on to say:

By the later part of the nineteenth century the whole district was built up, an embodiment of the phrase ‘urban sprawl’, becoming more crowded and insalubrious as rows of smaller houses were squeezed in between the existing streets.

So it’s not just post-war planning which has done for the area.

I went to the Museum of London at the weekend, and they have a pretty extensive array of local history books. Only one on Southwark, however, and that one featured no mention of Camberwell. Since Wordsworth shut down, where are we to find books on local history?

Author: Peter

Long-time resident of Camberwell, author of this blog since July 2004.

76 thoughts on “The Montpelier of England”

  1. So is Montpelier correctly spelt with one ‘l’ in this case?

    I thought the new pub in Bellenden had spelt the name wrong but it seems you spell it the same way…

  2. I believe it only has a double‑l in France; the other Montpeliers worldwide have just the one.

    I used to live in Montpelier in Bristol, which also had a pub called the Montpelier. I’ve never been to the Montpelier pub in Camberwell.

  3. Interesting, but surely to call something the Montpelier of England one is comapring it to Montpellier in France?

    I suppose it just an English spelling of a French word a bit like Brittany instead of Bretagne (sp?).

    The Montpelier is in Peckham nr Bellenden. Nr Petitou ‑Choumert Grove perhaps? It’s pretty good. Not overly busy but pleasant. They do that weird waitress service for drinks like in the Dark Horse but that’s fine once you acclimatise.

    Apparenlty the food is good..

  4. I’ve seen books of local history on sale in local libraries in the past. The one most closely focussed on Camberwell, The Story of Camberwell, is by Mary Boast, who is a former Southwark librarian. It is published by Southwark Council — or was, I don’t know if it’s still in print. Wordsworth used to have a good selection of local history books.

  5. Went to Caravaggio for lunch today. It’s really nice (a bit too nice for Camberwell possibly). They’ve a reasonably large dinning area at the back which looks great (nice beamed ceiling). I’m going to try and go back for dinner one night to see what the ‘proper’ menu is like. Really pleased to have a decent italian restaurant / cafe on Church Street.

  6. I welcome these new businesses to SoGreen Camberwell.

    They will prosper, as there’s plenty of money to spend here, and absolutely no shortage, neither of moneyed upwardly-mobile residents nor of made-money individuals.

    It’s just that too much of it is being spent outside the area. More quality-minded and niche businesses like these, combined with more local pedestrianisation and cycling facilities, could help this to change.

  7. Peter — The Minet Library in Myatt’s Field is a good place to find books on local history which is Lambeth and also Newington Library on Walworth Road houses a selection of books on Southwark too…I think you can make an appointment to look through their archive too…

  8. I am torn Buk. I see the need for distinction as there are no problems in South Camerwell that compare to those in the North but I don’t like the names chosen.

    SoGreen is a needless NY reference and NEW is misleading because these areas aren’t new.

    Furthermore, the inclusion of the Green in South Camberwell is unecessary as it’s got it’s own problems that are distinct from the rest of the SoGreen area.

    That said until anyone comes up with a better idea then I am happy to stick with these..

  9. I bet most people know of the old, oxidised Bulgarian Vauxhall Belmont in Bushey Hill Road. It belongs to a charming Bulgarian family who were all decked out for a wedding the other day. The car is right-hand drive — it’s good to know that a British assembly plant built this booted Astra in exchange for Bulgarian dinars before the plant was shipped to Daeoo in Korea.

    However, has anyone seen the Hungarian, lhd Lada 2105 in parallel Talfourd Road? What a beauty, orange with white sports kit.

    At the bottom of Talfourd by the Fire Station there is a section of plank-levelled concrete pavement over which someone cycled whilst the concrete was still wet — the tyres are thin, pre-mountain-bike, must be 1970s.

    By contrast, at the bottom of Bushey Hill there is a large, bushy tree behind a brick wall covered in red berries and bristling with whistling robins.

    Thus it is that our area never ceases to surprise with its lesson-bearing dichotomies.

  10. Seeing as you’re on the subject of vehicles, Dagmar, I’ve only just seen your PS to a post near the end of the previous thread in praise my Bedford camper van. I fairly blushed with pride.

    Thanks again for those who put me onto Evolution Autos. They tweaked a series of long-standing mechanical gripes and the van drives like a dream again. It still sounds like a tractor, mind.

  11. Alan, agreed that Camberwell Green has a lot of issues that don’t relate to South Camberwell. I see it as North/East/South and West Camberwell.

  12. Bukowski

    My take is that Denmark Road and Myatts Fields belong to West Camberwell, taking Camberwell Road as our northern compass.


    The New Forest, Camberwell New Road, Oxford’s New College (founded 1379) and King’s College Hospital’s own New Building (opened in 1965) all have varying degrees of vintage.

    I also feel that NEW conveys the virgin territory aspect of this area as valiant residents fight on a very real “front” for a minimal quality of life, in circumstances too dire for any elected politician in the area to recognise in full. This contrasts usefully, as agreed, with the genteel area surrounding the Phoenix and Canning.

  13. I worry about these splits anyway.

    Whilst I understand that Reg is trying to single out the problem areas in order to have those problems addressed I think it is more likely that you will enable those in other areas to wash their hands of Camberwell.

    They will instead embrace Denmark Hill, East Dulwich, Camberwell Grove, Bellenden, or wherever else their nearest desirable area may be..

  14. What does it matter? No one is doing anything or listening to idle chatter here. No one that will do anything.

    Luckily, I’m chuffed about the new Italian and art store. Not because of but in spite of any community group Camberwell is showing some signs of improving. The lesson appears to be sit back and wait. All this other idle chatter is nothing more than academic. By the way, I don’t have a car and we don’t want one. But all this talk about evil cars sounds a bit loopy and won’t go anywhere. How ’bout stopping the guys who piss on our door?

  15. Whisper it — this is not a community group. It is a hub for idle chatter.

    Anyway on with the quest. What can we say on here in the vain hope that it might make a difference?

    People have relocated on the back of idle chatter so keep it positive..

    Great Italian restaurant! Another one. We’ve got it all round here. Shame there are so many private cars though..

  16. Actually JohnnyM, many different people and organisations are doing things in SE5, but the results are incremental. Incidentally, that is also the main challenge in addressing climate change. The fact that our Thatcher’s children brains are conditioned to crave immediate results and abrupt improvements, like the profits sometimes made on How to be a Property Developer.

    So most of you will simply be conditioned to reject incremental improvements. Not necessarily your fault, but part of the psyche of the age in which we live.

    As for “evil cars” — I’ve dealt with this elsewhere. Never said it. One way to stop the pissers is to introduce a shame culture. Encourage people to take pictures and leggit; they can’t attack you with trousers round t’ankles.

    Alan, I agree with you — idle chatter can topple governments and make kings.

    my main aim with the division is to prevent people saying, as several have done on this blog, that there are no serious problems in Camberwell, when they are obviously referring specifically to SoGreen Camberwell.

    I think the Green belongs more to the South, as it is fundamentally a place made safe by sheer numbers of people. It does not face the challenges of the far more desolate, serious crime-ridden and strategically neglected areas in NEW Camberwell.

  17. On an up note a house on our street sold for an amount that we could match and it shocked me! Wow! We may get out of here quicker than I thought! We were planning to DIY some but it seems developers want them as is so they can, as is the case with the house that just sold, turn them into studio flat/bedsits.

    Thinking of selling up, holding tight, renting cheap then buying again next summer in a place we actually can enjoy. Alan, what’s the verdict?

  18. i’m pleased about the art store, but there was something similar on camberwell new road until fairly recently which closed down. although i suspect no one really noticed it was there.

  19. Some of my friends are looking to rent a 4 bedroom house/ flat in ‘the nice bit’ of Camberwell, i.e Camberwell Grove / near Denmark Hill station. Don’t suppose anyone knows of anything? Just thought it worth a try.

    Looking forward to trying out Caravaggio — what do they do?

  20. By all means move somewhere you prefer but banking on a short term dip in house prices is a risky gamble.

    If it pays off though you’ll be quids in.

    If it doesn’t then next summer you won’t be able to afford your old house.

    Takes big balls…In retrospect you’ll be a genius or a fool.

  21. As for the outlook, my own opinion is that whatever happens nationally, Camberwell is solid gold…

    Sterling denominated at that.

  22. Another brilliant thing about the Camberwell area — the Peckham Multiplex has surely the cheapest cinema prices in London — i went there to see Elizabeth yesterday for the grand price of £1.50 (it being 241 Orange Wednesday) and althoguh not Curzon Soho it was a perfectly acceptable experience for the price.

  23. The Peckham Multiplex are currently £2.99 for all tickets and anytime of the week. Pretty good, especially if you’re not on Orange to take advantage of Orange Wednesdays.

  24. In the name of fairness, I tried Peckham. It’s a worse dump than Camberwell. Reputations are earned. Wear a flack jacket.

  25. Usually the Multiplex is great, but it can be pretty trying on weekends. We went on Saturday and a group of about 20 kids entered the screen a couple of minutes before it started, and proceeded to make so much commotion we had to leave.

    I’m not a cinema purist who demands silence, and I give a lot of licence to kids as I know they’re pretty boisterous by nature. But 15 minutes of talking, switching seats, going in & out, shining mobiles at each other, etc, was too much.

    We asked the cashiers if they would let us watch another film instead, but the ones we wanted to watch had already started. Instead we got our money back, and went home disappointed. We won’t be going back at peak time again. It’s still a good cinema at a great price, but choose your time and film carefully.

  26. Yes i only go to Peckham to see films i am sure would generally be unappealing to most noisy kids.

    On the other hand it think it is great that the noisy Peckham kids can go to the cinema at Peckham — the £8 that a lot of places charge these days is a lot of money for many people that live round here (including me unless i really really want to see the film)

    At the risk of restarting the same arguement .…

    JohnnyM — i think you are being unfair to Peckham — i spent a very happy 2 years living near Peckham Common.

    Yes it has problems but i think you find in the main they are problems that almost every inner city area in London has — i have friends who live in Wood Green, Clapton, Catford, Battersea, Willesden, Kings Cross, Kilburn, Croyden, Finsbury Park, Vauxhall, Tooting as well as Camberwell and Peckham and many other places in London and to a certain extent we all experience many of the issues and problems we discuss here, they are not unique to Camberwell and Peckham at all.

    I’m not saying we should put up with bad behaviour and social neglect or believe that is what Inner City living is all about but they are definitely not unique to this area by any means.

  27. We went to see a Nicholas Cage film at the Ritzy — a group of Coldharbour rastas came in to the row behind and starting smoking “weed” or whatever the local taxonomy is and put their feet up next to our heads.

    Another time, at the Peckham Multiplex someone was talking on his mobile phone, loudly enough to drown out large sections of dialogue.

    I wonder what would happen in a Camberwell cinema?

  28. Sure they are not unique to Peckham and Camberwell but things are far worse here/there than most other places. It is true. Sorry. It’s not politically correct ot say so but it is true. Ride the 36 or 436 of a weekend. It’s terrifying.

  29. Johnny i think you terror threshold must be a lot lower than mine!! 🙂 I use the 36 and 436 most weekends and used to use it everyday twice a day for my commute to work and i have always been fine!

    for sheer terror i’d recommend the 29 bendy bus from Camden to Wood Green via Tottenham at 4am — there’s fun bus — but then again my friend used it for years to go back to her place in Wood Green alone at all sorts of hours and was fine.

  30. JohnnyM, without meaning to be excessively blunt, you’re talking bollocks.

    Spare us the ‘politically correct’ nonsense. The phrase is more or less meaningless these days and has been appropriated by too many people who use it as a convenient veil for their own prejudices. Saying Camberwell and Peckham are ‘far worse’ than most other parts of London isn’t being un-PC, it’s just being over-simplistic and a touch ignorant.

    This is somewhat off the topic, but reading newspaper coverage in the past few days about the storm over a would-be Tory MP’s evocation of Enoch Powell — especially internet readers’ responses to this — I started thinking too many people in Britain spend their time living in fear and mistrust these days. I don’t wish to sounds naive, and I’m as aware as anyone I might get mugged walking home tonight, but I prefer to enjoy my home area, not live in terror of it.

    I should stress that the reference to Powell is tangential, I’m not accusing anyone of racism, explicitly or implcitly.

  31. Between 3pm and 5pm on a school weekday, the 36436 is indeed rough. It rides, after all, along the flashpoint for teen gang violence between Peckham and Brixton, aka the New Road.

    To be fair, most commuters (which describes the majority here) will not be aware just how bad things can be at these times. I guess there are some parts of Hackney, Poplar and Tower Hamlets which are just as bad.

    I feel sorry for those in the retirement homes locally; they walk cowed, with bent backs, chastened by our human tolerance and understanding of the foibles of youth and the incorrigible behaviour found in pockets of poverty.

    These last are certainly not part of Camberwell’s “voluntary” residential population.

  32. Reg — you assume i have a 9–5 job 🙂

    Often i will use the same buses as the school kids and concede they can be horrible

  33. Johnny M, wear a flak jacket in Peckham — very urban chic — not a flack jacket. You’re thinking of Roberta Flack, Killing Me Softly, which not a song to do with killing — well, if you’re Shakespeare writing sonnets it is.

    we live south
    we can take the flak

    its not all right
    its not all blak

    its not all great
    its not all grey

    we can always go away
    any way

    I am enjoying the reprints of Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech about the Tiber in Rome. “We must be mad,” he says and there is usually a picture of him, this crazed-looking fellow with staring eyes. I think I remember hearing him on “In the Psychiatrist’s Chair” on the radio. He began snivelling, it was uncomfortable. Maybe these were the rivers he dreaded.

    If the Brunswick Bedford camper

  34. van can regenerate, why can’t we. It is indeed a fine sight — the home-made drinks cabinet inside looks brilliant.

    Also, Shakespeare was great, he lived a lot in Southwark, and he was from the West Midlands like poor old Enoch. Also Robert Dudley, Elizabeth’s lover, lucky mother.

  35. Ha ha. My mate challenged me to post and see how long it took for the right-on champagne socialists to attack.

    I read Southwark ranks now as the most violent in London according the the latest crime stats. Wonder how much Peckham and Camberwell contribute to that? And of course, we blame ourselves, not the criminals.

  36. @ 25 Mrs Lucas. Camberwell New Road art supplies and stationery store was City Office Audio, went bust earlier this year.

    What they did was good and wide ranging, I had an account there for a decade, but perhaps not specialist enough as an artist supplies and maybe too out of the way for many people to even know about it.

    A shrug and ‘Internet shopping’ was the owner’s answer when I asked ‘what happened?’ before they closed finally.

    I went to Harriet Harman’s celebration of 25 years as Camberwell and Peckham MP last night. Had a few scoops of House of Commons Chardonnay. And the chance to tell several local councillors what I feel / think isn’t happening the area they preside over. Their attitude generally is ‘Camberwell’s doing fine’. There are some on this blog who I think might agree with this. I don’t. I am currently outraged by what has not been happening in Camberwell, for decades.

    I now plan to nag Harriet directly about it, and Tessa Jowell, instead of just saying it.

  37. If by troll you mean people with views opposite of yours then I reckon you don’t like them. Pretty clear on that. I’ve not said anything just to get a rise. I’ve said what I think. I think you’ll find a lot more people in Camberwell feel the same way but they aren’t reflected or welcomed here.

  38. By troll, I mean people who start their posts with a challenge.

    Anyone’s views are welcomed here; doesn’t mean I’ll nod my head and agree with them.

    I just find yours particularly strange; you’re scared to walk the streets or take a bus, without reason as far as I can tell. Have you been a victim of crime here? Other readers have, and they seem far less nervous than you do.

    If you just want to talk about what a shithole Camberwell is, and how the people who live in it are all scum, why don’t you go ahead and start your own blog? I promise I would read it.

  39. Popped into the New Art shop on Orpheus Street yesterday.. very good. Should serve the art students well – and they gave me a free set of brushes with my purchase.

    I just hope it stays open.. the big stationers on Camberwell New Road didn’t manage to.

  40. @46 — Eyechild. Yes, but the stationers was in NEW Camberwell, and had a bus lane outside it which was the biggest generator of revenue for motorists’ fines on the entire red route network, pro rated by length. It had a rat run (Medlar Street) turn off directly after it, carrying off potential customers in its wake. And it was opposite a massive bus garage. Short of actually coming down and bolting the shop door shut, it’s hard to see what more TfL could have done to shut them down.

    Orpheus Street is in SoGreen Camberwell, where there is some free short stay parking, which at least gives it a head start.

  41. I think it’s all down to personal experience and I think Camberwell has a public perception that is far far worse than the reality.

    My boyfriend and I rented in Crystal Palace for about 2 and a half years before buying in Camberwell. We lived on Crystal Palace Park Road, which is a really lovely wide suburban street next to the park. Within 2 months of moving in we had been burgled twice. About 200 metres away from our house we were robbed by a group of kids who knocked me over and kicked me in the face and punched my 6 foot something boyfriend. We also witnessed and intervened to stop two kids who were trying to mug some poor polish student on a very desirable and leafy street around the corner from our flat. On our last night there we went for a thai at south east, a restaurant on the triangle (CP is great for restaurants) and saw someone staggering out of what was then the Puzzle pub, who had been stabbed in the back (literally) and was then hauled into an ambulance. Oh, and my boyfriends bikes got nicked twice.

    I think my point is that although clearly we were very unlucky while we lived in CP (and I know plenty of people who do live there unharmed) in our experience those wide empty suburban leafy streets were actually a lot more dangerous than the scruffy but more busy streets of Camberwell.

    You’ll be pleased to know that we’ve not experienced any crime since we moved to Camberwell in June 2006.

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