Street Art, Sunshine and the River: Deptford and Greenwich, a set on Flickr.
Three weeks ago, I posted my first set of photos of my journeys around London on my new Flickr account — a set I took on May 11, cycling around Greenwich and Deptford, down the hill from my home in Brockley, south east London — when I first began to realise that I had a need for exercise, a need to be outdoors whenever the sun shone in this rainiest of years, and a great desire to explore this vast city that has been my home for the last 27 years, even though I have never visited much of it, and have only partial knowledge of its contours, its hidden corners, and even some of its more obvious glories.
Combined, these various motives have progressively unmoored me from being enslaved to my computer, after six years of pretty relentless blogging, and have opened my mind and my body to the sights and the sounds of London, to the sun and showers, the torrential rain, the fast-changing skies like epic dramas, and also to the pleasures of the back roads, away from the tyranny of cars and lorries, where the unexpected can more easily be found, and where much of the city is silent in the daytime, its former industries replaced by apartments, its workers away — in the City or elsewhere — earning the money to pay for the “luxury” apartments in which, in many cases, they do not spend much time.
Repeatedly, I have found myself drawn to the River Thames and its tributaries and canals, most now flanked by towering new apartment blocks or converted wharves — and to classical compositions and perspectives of buildings and sky, clouds and water. Always, though, I find myself in search of unusual sights, glimpses of less obvious worlds in this city of millions of stories, places where the money has run out, or the standardising waves of gentrification cannot reach. Idiosyncratic places, touched by mavericks, or largely abandoned.
This particular set of photos — my ninth set of London photos — was taken between May 18 and June 26, and is a short diversion from my bigger series of photos based on longer journeys. These photos are, essentially, snapshots of cycle rides with my son — after school or at weekends, sometimes wandering without any particular objective, but at other times following fixed routes — down to Greenwich and the Cutty Sark, along the river through Deptford, back along Deptford High Street, and up Tanner’s Hill to Brockley. I also have photos of Brockley that I will publish soon, and of other short journeys around south east London, as well as photos of a long journey I took along the Thames Path, from Greenwich to Thamesmead, and other photos of a rainy tour of the City of London.
Deptford, however, continues to draw me in, and I was both fascinated — and slightly appalled — when the first episode of a BBC documentary series, “The Secret History of Our Streets” told the story of Deptford High Street, focusing on the damage wrought by developers in the 1960s, when much of old Deptford was condemned as slums, razed to the ground and replaced with modern housing estates. Although it was a fascinating programme, it also had a middle class, gentrified focus and extremely unfortunate racist undercurrents.
In response, a website was established, “Deptford: Putting the Record Straight,” which pointed out how Deptford High Street “is packed full of churches, cafes, restaurants, community centres, all doing things to bring communities together and improve lives”. The website East London Lines, set up and run by journalism students and tutors at Goldsmith’s College, in New Cross, also noted that contributors pointed out that “the documentary also failed to mention that the market was saved after a campaign by local residents in 1975 and was even voted ‘the most vibrant and diverse market in London’ by Yellow Pages in 2005.”
Particularly, a resident named Samantha Hunt “attacked the ‘undercurrent’ to the programme’s narrative, ‘which seemed to be saying that once all the hard working white families moved out, the immigrants arrived and the whole place went to the dogs,’” and local councillor Mike Harris agreed, stating, “I found the characterisation of immigration as a negative influence on the area as factually incorrect, and entirely misleading.”
For my part, I’m proud to back up those who have criticised the programme. Deptford undoubtedly suffered as a result of town planning in the 1960s — and it is a sad moment in the BBC programme when a local noted ruefully that Greenwich, in contrast, kept all its old housing stock, which, he said, was identical to the streets in Deptford that were swept away. Nevertheless, judging an area by its gentrified housing stock is as damaging now as it was when Charles Booth, in 1886, began his 17-year survey of London, colour-coding streets according to whether they were rich or poor, an analysis that formed the basis of the BBC’s six-part series.
In fact, while the BBC’s website notes, “In Booth’s time, Deptford High Street was ‘the Oxford Street of South London,’” but “today, marooned amid 70s housing blocks, it is one of the poorest shopping streets in London,” what that description completely fails to acknowledge is that Deptford is an extremely vibrant place in which elements of gentrification sit alongside its melting pot of generally less wealthy inhabitants without driving them out, patronising them or pretending they don’t exist, as has so often been the case, from Booth’s time right up to the present day — a place where the alleged “poverty” of the shops is actually an almost complete absence of corporate blandness and ubiquity, and one in which coffee shops, clothes boutiques, restaurants and galleries sit alongside the butchers, fishmongers and market stalls that have long defined the area.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Ben Graville wrote:
nice shot of drew’s front door or the happy house as we like to call it on the high st
Hey Ben, figured you might know the score. People, check out Ben’s photos if you want more Deptford!
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: