North is pretty, Green is vile

I’ve changed my route to work in the morning, now cutting across Burgess Park and down Portland Street. I’d never realised how nice it is down there; behind the Aylesbury Estate there is a mass of social housing built, if I’m not mistaken, at the beginning of last century, and all beautifully cared for. Also lots of little parks and gardens. It’s a really pleasant street to cycle down, much better than the Walworth Road route I’m used to.

In stark contrast, however, is the bottom of Denmark Hill and around the Green. On the bus back from Brixton last weekend* I noticed that the whole area’s getting scruffier; a few more of those open-fronted yam shops and a few more stalls selling cheap tat starting to spring up, plus the ugly metal grill on the front of the former Kennedy’s and the empty units scattered about. Really, it’s dying on its arse. It’s quite sad to see. Every month sees a decline in variety and (perhaps) quality; anyone who thinks high street chains are going to open here is likely to be disappointed. It’s becoming fragmented. I’m sure this is a subject that deserves more analysis, so please feel free.

But all is not lost! Away from the centre we still have lots of social diversity, and pretty soon we have Camberwell Arts Festival 2008. You should have received some lovely leaflets and guides through your door recently which explain all the events, but if not you can visit the Camberwell Arts website and decide for yourself what you’d like to attend. It all kicks off on the 14th June, which is next Saturday, and goes on until the following Sunday. I will most likely not be attending anything which could loosely be described as performance art, as it makes me grind my teeth.

On an admin note: first, I’ve just updated the software that powers the site, so if anything behaves weirdly please let me know. Second, I haven’t had the time to keep the site updated as frequently as I’d like, owing to work and some potentially interesting developments therein. If anyone would like to help me out for a little while (or even permanently) by writing here, you’d be very welcome. No salary is involved, but you will have the opportunity to take a load of personal abuse from tossers who think they know all about you, despite having never met you. Sound attractive?

* I went to the Ritzy to watch Indiana Jones; it was… um…

Author: Peter

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

273 thoughts on “North is pretty, Green is vile”

  1. It will be a very sad day when the good folk at Cruson and Sophocles decide to call it a day…

    Some of the other stores around Camberwell could certainly take a few tips regarding aesthetic and presentation from these old stagers…

  2. Camberwell is at its best early on a Sunday morning. You can see that it’s actually quite nice, with loads of variety to suit all our many groups of people. It’s at its worst when all those groups are out in force and it can become a very exhausting visit, which only escalates the rudeness factor. It’s just chaos and horrible.

    As I’ve said before, I think working with what we’ve got and some simple solutions could make a huge difference, though it’s not all doom and gloom as it is right now. We certainly don’t hurt for choice or consumers.

  3. Newroad, you’re right about Sunday morning. What could it be that makes it seem so quiet and peaceful then?

    Here’s another instance of us agreeing — “we don’t hurt for consumers”. Serious buying power resides hereabouts. The main choice being made, however, is regular shopping trips to East Dulwich to spend money there, the local facilities being found wanting.

  4. Bad architecture and ill-conceived rudimentary town planning are the reasons why Camberwell is what it is

    The fact that it’s best bits work at all are nothing to do with local authority

    Butterfly Walk has been nothing but a huge negative for Camberwell ever since it was built — One of the hundreds of Thatcher-era white elephants that were built up and down the country by dodgy spiv entrepreneurs who blagged the money but had no concept of anything else

    Also allowing apartments to be built in the middle of Wren Road facing the car park was a big mistake (no offence to any residents of those flats, it’s not your fault)

    It is possible to get it right though as the early 80’s Selbourne Village development proves (My bet is it was conceived much earlier) — My only criticism being that Selbourne Road should have been kept as a residents only through road to Denmark Hill, that bit has always looked shit — Horrible little stumps of former streets are the tell tell sign of classic bad town planning

    Butterfly Walk should of been an open plan plaza with retail units on the periphery and market stalls in the middle — think of all those lovely fruit and veg stalls that it would of provided

    But the opportunity has passed and now…it will never happen

    I also see that a complete vulgarian has decided to strip out the grade II listed contents of the old Kennedy’s sausage store and installed a lowest common denominator cheap red aluminium shutter on the front together with a cheap softwood door from Wickes (or somewhere) painted black.

    The Kennedy’s in Herne Hill next to the Train Station is now a fishmonger and guess what? — The whole thing has been kept intact and looks absolutely fantastic and is a real asset to the community

    I feel really negative

  5. Actually the architecure is far superior to surrounding areas, a true ‘village’. Most is just a bit rundown or covered up. Look at East Dulwich and Kennington. Both are quite simple by comparison. And both are on busy steets too. Yet they both have nicer shops and such. It’s down to the population and as I’ve said, we should embrace it and I prefer it. We cater for all sorts and do it pretty well. The only things I can’t get in Camberwell are clothes and furniture. Neither of which I would shop for in smaller shops anyway.

  6. Waitrose head of property is going to run a few things past his researchers who will come back to him within a fortnight with the demogs and then he’ll get back to me and we’ll discuss further.

    I am not holding my breath. BUT, it’s not been turned down out of hand. And Waitrose has a new policy of expanding into less obvious areas. Face it, if one opened here, we’d have people coming from Dulwich and Brixton any way. So why not here?

    Quite frankly, I think Waitrose is next to heaven. And John Lewis is on the other side.

  7. Newroad @ 105

    I was not referring to the old architecture (Georgian,Victorian,Edwardian) — merely pointing out that the majority of it from the 60’s onwards in conjunction with bad town planning is very poor — Butterfly Walk being the classic example…

    Waitrose isn’t that much more expensive for a basic shop than Somerfield…(ie:the difference is negligable)

    Not a lot of people know that…but they should 🙂

  8. Mark, I would appreciate a Waitrose so that I can buy calves’ liver, food of the gods, that cannot be found within a 2 mile radius of the Green.

    Also there is no fresh fish here (I don’t trust what is sold at the market on the Green, because something often stinks around that place). But fortunately we are an ethnic-minority-rich area high in low-income groups, which means that according to Government statistics we are likely to dine principally on burgers, ‘shakes n’ frahd chick’n, so that’s alright then and let’s keep planning on that basis.

  9. Regeneguru — I’m probably going to regret engaging with you directly, but here goes-
    Your “Thatcher Government” link article in posting 76 does not persuade me to blame those around me for voting for the band of small-minded tw*ts that comprised the Government from 1979 to 1997. Why? Firstly, because even in 1983, Labour’s worst showing during that period, Labour won 51.6% of the votes cast in Camberwell & Peckham (the other 48.4% were shared between the Tories (24.2%), the SDP(21.8%) and the NF (2.5%). The second reason is, even those that voted Tory did not all, by voting that way, sanction the continuation of 3 million unemployed and many of the other vicious policies that the Tories were responsible for. You implore voters not to be “tribal” (which is just a bit patronising) but simultaneously exhibit very tribal behaviour in your attitude towards motorists, to cite just one example (but there are many).
    I, for one, will be dancing on the old cow’s grave when she eventually pops her clogs. And there are a few others out there who will be joining me. We are not a tribe, as such, but a loose association of bloggers with a common grudge. Get over it!

  10. Regeneru comments (108) that there is no fresh fish in Camberwell. That is not true: the Chinese supermarket on Denmark Hill opposite the Butterfly does a very good selection of very fresh fish.

  11. In fairness Julian, I said I didn’t trust that fish because of the stink (whenever I have approached the vicinity).

    Mushtimushta, you raise too many points for me to deal with at once. Let’s debate this over at the Forum, which it is quick to join:

    I have friends who are motorists.

  12. Fish which is truly fresh shouldn’t smell fishy — the stronger the smell the greater the level of decomposition…

    Which is why I mentioned the fishmonger in the parade of shops next to Herne Hill Station that has taken over the old Kennedy’s shop that was there

    If only they had done the same with the Camberwell one — but we are at the mercy of people who don’t know how to feed themselves so they rely on fast food establishments

    It has nothing to do with low income but everything to do with lack of basic culinary skills education and buying in to whatever bone the free market decides to chuck at us…

    for eg: I hate Subway — anyone with a single solitary braincell in their head should really know that a sandwich shop isn’t supposed to smell anything like that place — but still they go on walking through the door like the good, assimilated, brainwashed proles that they are and parting with their £2–3 for a “fresh” sandwich made out of dough that has probably been frozen for a year and the cheapest,most heavily processed foodstuffs that even the most undiscerning 24 hour food store proprietor would baulk at if they were asked to stock it in their chiller cabinet…

  13. The GX Gallery facelift looks really good, nice re-pointing. At 105, I am afraid I have to disagree regarding Selbourne Village. I feel it to be a misplaced suburban underdevelopment of a site, which, with its many cul-de-sacs and narrow alleys, feels intimidating and unsafe. The use of red brick is totally out of place and oppressive and the design and cheap build quality of the houses is terrible. However I totally agree with you regarding the apartments in the middle of Wren Road and that car park would have been better as a square for a market.

  14. NickW @ 114


    I think Sir Alan Dale will have something to say regarding your comments on Selbourne Village…

    I do agree they should of been private residential through roads rather than cul-de-sacs — Like I said the Selbourne Road stump next to the Indiaah & Pizza Hut looks completely wrong and slightly intimidating

    Just what is the British obsession with cul-de-sacs? I’ve never got it…

  15. @89 — subsidence and heave. LARGE trees being cut down can cause heave, ground rising — the opposite of subsidence — due to a change in the ground’s water content. Previously the tree’s root system would have removed water from the ground through transpiration and, the tree suddenly having being gone, the ground can literally swell up as a result of the extra retained moisture. Conversely large trees planted not far from building foundations can cause subsidence for exactly the other reason, the ground shrinks gradually as they absorb moisture — so causing foundations to collapse. Then there are the potential problems,separate from heave or subsidence, with root systems physically invading foundations and drains. Sounds like none of these were problems in your neighbours’ case?

    @103 Bagel King; well let’s hope not but it has to be likely. Was that prediction an irony, a guess or an informed nod?

    @105 the charms of Butterfly Walk; pretty much totally agree. It has always been a scandal that it was built as it is and exactly where it is. It is a shocking mess. There is hope though. But hope resides in small places and a number of serendipitous possibilities happening in the near future.

    Camberwell is on a crossroads right now. Much good can happen but there is not a lot of time before the roads close for another couple of generations.

    @109 I agree about the stink of the fuish shop but am fairly sure it’s the run off on the pavement that stinks rather than the fish counters or fish themselves.

    @113 Subway is difficult to stomach at any level.

    @114 GX is a pretty fantastic beacon for Camberwell and should be supported as much and whenever possible. They have great vision for an architectural landmark on the top of the building.

    Alan Dale might have something to say about that.

  16. I’ve brought various noodles and other asian dry goods form the fish shop in Denmark Hill and those have been very good — although i admit i am slightly dubious about the fish as well. that is more to do with the fact it is sitting on open counters on a very traffic heavy street — i tend not to like my fish with a light coating of exhaust fumes!

    Re: the smell i see that the shop also sells Durian fruits which maybe responsible for some of it — Durian absolutely stink!

  17. @116 There’s a sign up on the shop next to the key-cutting shop that says something like, “Bagel King Coming Soon!” I doubt it’s a joke.

  18. Greggs although far from great are still the best if you want a cheap sandwich/snack or something to satisfy a sweet tooth…

    To be fair there isn’t a lot of competition — but they are better than all the Americanised chains — if the Bagel shop was to be a replica of the one on Brick Lane then that would be a very good thing indeed…but it won’t so best not to get excited

  19. I realised that what really stresses me out about Camberwell, what I’ve come to really HATE in the past two years, is the incessant, neverending sirens that go on all the time.
    Yesterday on a walk from the crossroads to the park I was passed by about 8 vehicles with sirens on.
    You’d think that was normal near a hospital, but most of them were police cars.
    And it wasn’t unusual. Often walking from the crossroads towards the art college / town hall I’ll be passed by several vehicles, not all together, all with sirens BLARING out. Usually it’s the police, doubtless doing a really important and wonderful job.
    Of course, who’d begrudge a siren to speed up an emergency response. But can all these coppers really be doing it out of necessity? You have to wonder.
    Especially when lying in bed late at night and you hear one going off. And this morning there was one at 6.20am. Sorry — there’s no way that road is so busy a siren is warranted at that time.
    Anyway, let’s not get distracted on whether cop cars need sirens. Of course they do.
    It’s just the constant, bloody endless wail of them all the time. Many of my guests who also live in London have commented on it.
    Tired of it, really.

  20. Thanks for the answer about Bagel King Norman, we can look forward to the King’s New Clothes.

    @120 I’d forgotten but before I had children I used to go to the bagel shop in Brick Lane early in the morning — errr late at night — 3am-ish quite often. Took loads of friends there. Somehow always even enjoyed their strangely rubbish milkty instant coffee as well. Standing outside in the freezing mid winter lips and tongue burning on the polystyrene cups eating bagels thick with salt beef and hot mustard.


    Gives me an idea…

  21. @122

    Mmmmm Salt Beef and Mustard — that Ol’ Jewish classic

    Golders Green and Stamford Hill is a bit far for your average Camberwellian to travel to and Gaby’s in Soho is a pale shadow of it’s former incarnation…

  22. By the way, well done Tesco on revised plans for Old Kent Road. Bigger supermarket, lots of space for small independents, affordable homes, investment in cycling lanes and (not mentioned in this article but very impressive) improvements to Burgess Park via its new Community Trust — and quite significant ones, too!

    Every Little Helps:,news,10922,440,00.htm

  23. I think the Bagel shop will be a branch of the 24 hour one on Walworth road rather than a branch of the Brick Lane Beigal Bake surely?

    I’ve never been to the Walworth Road one as my hunger for bagels in the small hours of the morning is not enought to tempt me off the nightbus onto the Walworth Road! However if the bagels are nice i can see this as a positive addition — it would be nice to have somewhere that offers late night snacks that are not chips, kebabs or fried chicken — as i’m not keen on any of those.

  24. Going by the sign, the bagel shop seems to be some kind of joint venture between the Eroma internet cafe and Bagel King, both on the Walworth Road.
    Mind you, signs can be misleading. I see from the clapper board outside The Fusion on Church Street that they are offering a £450 lunch! Either they missed a decimal point or Heston Blumenthal has taken over the kitchen.

  25. Police sirens at Christmas = Camberwell Christmas carols! Heard it said many times by people not from the area

  26. I’ve never understood why bagel places, in particular, have to be 24 hours. I’m as partial as anyone to a bagel at 3am after a few drinks but it seems a bit masochistic by the owners.

    On a completely different topic, I don’t suppose anyone can recommend a good specialist auto electrician in the locality? Evolution Autos off Fielding St — a great recommendation from this site — are keeping the mechanics of my elderly Bedford van ticking over very nicely, but the electrics (think an East German telephone exchange circa 1952 but without the inherent reliability) need an expert, and one with some patience.

  27. @116 — we bought both of these facts to the attention of the insurance company Mark, but to no avail. Like a sentencing judge, they were unmovable: the tree must die!

    Asked the council about a TPO but apparently a tree must be of benefit to the public to have a TPO slapped on and that means visible — so in a front garden or on a public road or other public space.

  28. The increasing use of sirens in the past few years is all part of the terrorisation of Britain. Keep everyone on edge. Look here’s a bizzy being busy! Let’s get more CCTV in!

  29. Mark — some interesting tree facts — thanks.

    Richie — one powerful public benefit argument is the maintenance of biodiversity, as trees are host to numerous predators of moths, ants, ‘roaches and rodents — of more than passing interest to the average Londoner as their circle of predations greatly exceeds the property on which the tree is situate.

    Another is preservation of garden and green space, with trees strengthening soil, preventing it eroding, and preventing it being paved. Great for the flash floods from upstream which are in store for Londoners in the next decade or so.

    Others are air quality, disruption of strong winds that buffet buildings, absorption of sunlight and heat capable of damaging brickwork and causing problems for neighbouring properties, regulation of humidity, absorption of noxious gases from neighbours’ DIY, entrepeurial experiments and amateur mechanical repairs.

    Let’s face it, they’d get around that too — planners just hate trees and it’s not rational. Three mature cypresses newly hacked down on the New Road with no requirement to replant, is proof enough of that.

  30. Early days for our Boris but he does keep me amused. His Trafalgar art bit yesterday was vintage.

    ‘Planners hate trees’. ?! Still Regeneguru, you have to find merit with the Tesco plans. Not sure if they include trees but good news elsewhere.

  31. Newroad — hardly news about the planners, who mostly view trees as an unnecessary complication in an otherwise perfectly ordered and predictable world.

    Tescos thing sounds good, but reads like a press release. Need a lot more information before forming a judgement.

    I look forward to the tennis courts for employees, if they can spare a few car parking spaces.

  32. I’ll be very interested to see what kind of independent trader can prosper next door to a gigantic Tesco. Also: that’s some disgusting architecture.

  33. Uh, I’m confused. What does a Tesco expanding on the Old Kent Road have to do with people who live in Camberwell? No one’s actually going to go down there to do their shopping, are they? Not unless you’re going to drive down, in which case you’ll get bad juju from Regeneguru.

    The development of Myatt’s Fields is of much more relevance. It’s going to have a pond and a cafe and everything! And they’re going to renovate the third tennis court! Nice!


    Leake St seems to bare a permanent legacy of Cans. Get down there and have a look.

    It’s right next to Avis so you can return your Mondeo then stroll through Leake St to get the 176 back to Camberwell.

    I am very excited about Camberwell but then I just had two pints of Shrimpers and some Joloff rice.

    Flip side — I saw a tramp begging at one of the windows on the Grove. He asked me for some change but I just shook my rice at him.

    Interesting to hear that people fear the nooks and crannies of Selborne. Terrifying cul-de-sacs?! The only thing frightening about living in a cuntysack is the crushing normality. But perhaps you lot are just as normal as me. Maybe even more normal. Doubt it. I am very normal. Last week I sat next to my doppelganger on the train. Happens a lot. Avoid Denmark Hill Station. It’s full of us. Normal normals.

    That said I’m always the only cracker in 4T4. Perhaps that’s why I went there in the first place. Craving originality in this city full of clones. On the London Bridge train I am a WASP drone. In 4T4LSACuisine I am a Whafrican. Pathetic.

    Try 4T4 though yam haters. How can this town be so full of yamophobes? You took a wrong turn somewhere. Retrace your steps or convert. I can’t be Camberwell’s only yamaphrodite.

  35. Sorry Norman you are right. Burgess Park is not technically Camberwell. But some of us remember when it was.

    The Tesco plan includes money to improve Burgess Park via their Community Trust. Sorry to step outside Camberwell and well done for Myatts Fields.

  36. @142 Err… A large part of Burgess Park is in SE5 — not Tesco though — and it is fairly local. The people who live in Grosvenor Park consider themselves to be in Camberwell.

    @141 Yamalicious Alanalicious Daleicious you are a man without fear. I was brought up on yams yet somehow the thought still freaks me out. I must repent.

  37. Tell it to Norman. He doesn’t want to hear about things that will improve Burgess Park. Myatts Fields is Camberwell’s only park to him.

    Of course the Camberwell Community Council serves neither.

  38. That’s probably cos Myatts Fields is in Lambeth and i think Camberwell Community Council is run by Southwark.

    Myatts Fields is a lovely park but Burgess Park urgently needs some love and attention! Perhaps we could get together and bid for some of the money that Boris has promised for Park improvements to make Burgess Park less rubbish.

    BTW Camberwell also has Ruskin Park which is a very fine park.

  39. @Peter — the traders used to do nicely where that supermarket now stands, until the mid-century, all stripey canopies and blooming wares spilling out onto pavements, with proud apron-clad independent shopkeepers.

    Then came the Luftwaffe, Tesco, and the second great age of the national parks — car parks on this occasion … a planning system which carefully stacked the odds in favour of the new obesogene bulk-buyers and throwers-away, and passed applications to convert shops to residential as easily as wind.

    Why improve the green parks, though? Nature, innit. But it’s a shame that mature trees are being chopped down wholesale along our roads. These are what links up the green park biotopes and help preserve what little urban biodiversity we have left, as the industrial farmland we call the countryside prepares for an invasion of suicide genetics by Monsanto.

  40. I like Burgess Park. I used to jog round it before my knee went (shrapnel, don’t ask). I can’t think how you could improve it, though, unless you opened a pub and a Mexican restaurant slap-bang-wallop in the middle of it.

  41. I think Burgess Park is pretty good already. Could do with improving the entrances so bikes can get in but joyriders can’t, but it’s got good facilities and lots of open space.

  42. I agree. It would benefit from removal of the old road beds from when it was a neighbourhood and with better lighting. Night time can be scary, yet it is the logical route for many walking home. Shame the cafe shut down but maybe one will replace it. And the old pub is becoming a youth centre, which is good news. The closing of the children’s play area was bad but a community group has secured a grant to replace it. I think smaller, neighbourhood associations like the one doing the grant bit are the way forward. They focus on achievable improvements. And the Community Trust for the Park, which will administer the Tesco funds, are working too. Shame no one could get that going here despite a lot of talk.

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