Real London: Photos of New Cross, Bermondsey and the Old Kent Road

10.8.12

The Land Rover and the JaguarThe Montague ArmsHouses in Kender Street, New CrossOvergrown development site, New CrossLooking at The Grove building site, New CrossThe ruins of Monson School
A tangle of scaffoldingTunnel on Cold Blow Lane, New CrossCND mural, New CrossDemolition site, New CrossThe old Southern Railway StablesThe lonely doorway
The gas works on the Old Kent RoadThe children's playgroundThe derelict warehouseThe faces of the Old Kent RoadThe towers of the Tustin EstateBreakers yards off the Old Kent Road
Breakers yard on White Post Street

Real London: New Cross, Bermondsey and the Old Kent Road, a set on Flickr.

“Real London” is a short-hand, of course, for a London that is not the shiny one of glass and steel built and sold by property developers, and bought by those in the top few percent of earners — as well as by foreign investors. It is a world of workers, some of whom live in their own houses, having secured mortgages before the boom that began in the late 1990s, and often well before that, when it was still affordable for working people to take out mortgages and be able to repay them. Others live in social housing, built by local councils and run either by the councils or by housing associations, or, less frequently, owned or owned and managed by co-ops, and others have to cope with the increasingly greedy, unregulated private rental market . And amongst them, of course, are the unemployed — part of the current total of two and a half million unemployed people in the UK as a whole. According to the London Skills and Employment Observatory, 1.38 million people are currently either unemployed or “economically inactive” in London, and the unemployment rate is 8.9 percent.

These workers and homeowners were, perhaps, on salaries between the median and the average — currently £14,000 and £26,000, as I discussed in my article, The Housing Crisis and the Gulf Between the Rich and the Poor: Half of UK Workers Earn Less Than £14,000 A Year — but whereas in the past it would have been possible for a household on average or below average wages to buy a house, now it is completely impossible.

As I explained in a recent article, Unaffordable London: The Great Housing Rip-Off Continues, on a multiplier of three times earnings, which was how the housing market functioned before the Blair and Brown boom years, a couple buying a house in London for the average price — £388,000 — need a combined income of nearly £130,000, or something slightly less plus a whopping great deposit.

Not only is this changing the face of London, as the well-off and/or parentally subsidised gentrify areas that were previously solidly working class, in many cases pricing out the children of those workers able to buy their houses in the affordable past, but after a lull followed the bankers’ and governments’ self-inflicted global economic crash in 2008, the speculative housing market is more rampant than ever before, even though we are in a double-dip recession — the first time that a recession has left the rich unscathed, which ought to indicate how rigged the housing market — and the general economic picture — really is.

Almost everywhere I have travelled in my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike, which i began three months ago, I have seen, along with the tendrils of gentrification reaching out into new neighbourhoods, glass and steel blocks continuing to rear up along shorelines, by rivers, in already established areas, but developments — large and small — are also penetrating previously unfashionable areas. It is hard to see how this bubble can continue, especially as these developments are aimed at those whose household income is over £70,000 a year. Anything less than that, and property developers think that would-be buyers are not a safe bet, even though only a relatively small percentage of Londoners have a household income that large.

In this set of photos, which I mostly took on two trips about a month ago, I continued exploring the main roads and side streets of New Cross, Bermondsey and Peckham — mostly on or around the Old Kent Road, that great artery connecting Kent to central London — where the recession is much more apparent, but also where real life continues, away from the hyperbole of the developers and the money markets.

I hope you share my interest in how real life continues under the extreme economic difficulties facing most people in Tory-led Britain, dragged into a double-dip recession, with no light at the end of the tunnel, through the government’s suicidal obsession with austerity, when what is needed is economic stimulus, and I also hope you share my interest in liminal and marginal places, and — I confess — my fascination with derelict and forgotten buildings.

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.

10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Esteban Chavez wrote:

    this is great, an i will share

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Esteban. Good to hear from you!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Sharing this, Andy.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. Just watching “London – The Modern Babylon” on BBC2 right now, Julien Temple’s 2-hour documentary about London, which is excellent – what I’d hope to make if someone gave me the keys to the archives! http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00smkqn

  5. damo68 says...

    andy whole areas are vannishing in london under steel and glass just look at east london i lived in hackney for 15 years 91 2006 and have seen it transformed completely from poor working class areas to gentrified middleclass chinsey farmers market £3.50 for a tea cake organic nightmare [wot is it about the damm middle class and chinsey bunting[its either these complete naffs or the hideouse steel and glass apartment blocks all with a tesco metro undernieth for all the revolting corperate drones young profetionals..PUUUKE london is disapering now under the twin onslaught of both these social meneces ..someone ..help,lol,lol

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Damo. As I cycle around, I’m repeatedly assaulted by the changing face of London — these new developments everywhere — almost literally everywhere — and the fact that this is the first recession that doesn’t appear to be hitting the rich. In other words, it’s not an actual recession, but a managed one, in which the investors are protected, because their money is either exploiting workers abroad, or capitalising on an overpriced housing market sustained by the Bank of England and the government through an obsession with keeping interest rates low, which, in turn leads to almost anyone with money to save investing it in the only area they can see that seems to offer a good return — yes, housing! A horrible vicious circle, exploiting the most basic of needs — shelter. Until this changes, we’re a people without a moral compass.

  7. damo68 says...

    this has got to end,acton park at night is full of tents and during the day the poor homeless sleep on the grass the thing is with being at the mercy of private landlords is your allways on the run allways haveing to move..being rootless you get used to it after a while one flat is prity much like another you feel no emotional attachment to it whatsoever ..but the thing is andy its getting more and more competetive ,competeing for shit flats overpriced of course i will never be able to have a morgage its just not gonna happen,lol

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Three very important points in your comments, Damo: firstly, that people are living in tents in Acton Park – never heard that on the news; secondly, that there’s a competitive world of people living in terrible flats, in an unregulated market in which a new generation of slum landlords are operating; and thirdly, that this creates no emotional attachment, as you say, which is not a healthy situation in the long run. Thanks for the comments. I look forward to writing more about these issues on my return.

  9. damo68 says...

    andy you wont here about the tents in acton park,those are the homeless who have been cleased from hammersmith and fulham whitch is a flagshit torie land..its ironic i grow up in fulham and as a child in the 70s it was a very working class area it started to become ..INFECTED BY TORIE TYPES around 79-80 its a dead place now empty trophiy houses,lol

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Damo. I’d like to do some research into the situation in Acton when I get back. Hammersmith & Fulham’s behaviour doesn;t surprise me. I remember the days of social cleansing in other Tory boroughs under Thatcher – Westminster and Wandsworth. “Trophy houses” is so accurate. I’ve actually seen estate agents advertising flats as “trophy flats” and another — “top floor totty.”

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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