South East London At Night: Tunnels, the River and the Surrey Canal, a set on Flickr.
As part of my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike — and specifically as the last part of five photo sets recording various autumnal journeys around my home in Brockley, in south east London — the photos collected here record a journey I made on the evening of November 12, 2012, for around two hours, from 9 to 11 pm. This is the 65th photo set in my project, and see here, here, here and here for the previous four sets.
Beginning at my home in Brockley, I cycled down the hill through Lewisham and the edge of Deptford to Greenwich, and then down to the River Thames at Cutty Sark Gardens, along the Deptford shoreline, past Deptford Green, and on to the derelict site of Convoys Wharf, where there are horrible plans to build a £1 billion mini-city for the rich. I then travelled inland to Evelyn Street, the main road that runs to Surrey Quays.
I had been researching the Grand Surrey Canal (1809-1971), which used to run through Deptford to Russia Dock in Rotherhithe, and, at the other end, through New Cross and on to Camberwell (with a separate arm running off to Peckham). None of it is left, sadly, as it was all infilled by the 1970s at the latest, but three sections of it are clearly commemorated in Lewisham and Southwark — in Surrey Canal Road, which marks its passage through the northern part of New Cross (in Lewisham), and, in Southwark, as the arrow-straight main path through Burgess Park, and as a lovely landscaped path, under many original bridges, to the centre of Peckham, by the library.
On this night-time exploration of its traces in and around Deptford, I undertook some guerrilla-style activity to gain access to a small road called Canal Approach in the industrial area between Surrey Canal Road and the Pepys Estate, which is only really interrupted by Evelyn Street, and which once marked the edge of the canal.
From there I found other traces of the canal’s history in and around the Pepys Estate, built in the 1960s on part of Henry VIII’s original Royal Dockyard, and then made my way home via Surrey Canal Road, and then via Mercury Way, which used to be the northern end of the short-lived Croydon Canal, at the point at which it met the Surrey Canal, Cold Blow Lane, which was also connected to the canal, and up to Brockley, where parts of Shardeloes Road used to be the Croydon Canal.
One day I will trace more of the Croydon Canal’s remains, but since I took these photos I have returned again to Deptford to seek out further aspects of the Grand Surrey Canal, which fascinates me. Those photos will have to wait for a while, however, because, after these last five sets of photos from autumn in south east London I am now going to delve into my alarmingly large archive of other photos, taken from July onwards, and return to the end of summer, and other parts of this mesmerising metropolis.
I hope you’ll stay with me for these journeys, and please, if there are any particular areas of London that you would like to see me photograph, let me know. I love to have your feedback, and who knows, I may already have been there and have some photos ready to publish!
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, Ann Alexander wrote:
Great photos as usual. Andy’s photos always make me feel like I could jump on the next train to London and join him on his travels.
Thank you very much for the incredibly supportive words, Ann. And feel free to jump on a train anytime …
On Facebook, when I posted the photo, “The sports cage on the route of the Surrey Canal,” I wrote:
So here’s my favourite photo from my recent set in south east London at night, looking for the route of the lost Grand Surrey Canal, and finding it here on the Pepys Estate in Deptford, where this sports cage is, and where the linear grass area is behind it, which runs between the two blocks of flats. Amazing – and rather sad – to think that, back in 1970, there was a canal here!
Kevin M Benderman wrote:
Progress ruins everything. I can see the concrete slowly creeping.
Dhyanne Green wrote:
At least it is there for kids and whomever to enjoy. Not enough of these spaces put side – anywhere in the world – real estate deemed tooooooooooo valuable. More of these areas would help cut down on juvenile crime – kids could go and get rid of their destructive energies by beating the crap out of each other – in basketball, soccer/football, cricket or any other sport they choose. Thanks Andy – love these photos.
Fiona Branson wrote:
it looks better than it used to do when it was ‘closed’ in the 90’s, with the tarmac all duffed up, and a kind of brick wall over garages that blocked it from view. you can see evidence of the canal route right up to evelyn street.
Thanks for the comments, my friends.
Kevin, I certainly agree about what is so often described as “progress.” The relentless desire for novelty, the way it is pandered to and encouraged by advertisers, and by those seeking to rip us off more than they are doing already, is always “progress” these days, it seems, and the destruction of anything old, to be replaced with things that are shiny and new. And more expensive. We are infantilized by those selling us “progress,” while they sink ever deeper into previously undreamt of depths of cynicism and exploitation. It’s a wonder there’s anything left of life to enjoy.
Dhyanne and Fiona, your comments seem to be related, both dealing with people’s immediate environment, and the need for the provision of places to play, to compete, to let off steam. There has certainly been a lot of effort put into the Pepys Estate – apart from the sell-off of one of the three council towers, Aragon Towers, to a private developer – and everyone involved in that should be congratulated.
I do worry, however, about the plans for “luxury” developments all around – at Convoys Wharf in particular, but also around the former canal (as featured in some of these photos) and also around Millwall football ground, off Surrey Canal Road. I don’t think that the sudden imposition of wealthy, indifferent neighbours on areas where most people are in jobs that don’t pay above the average, or are being hit by the unemployment crisis that the Tories are doing so much to make permanent, is ever a good idea, as the huge gulf between the rich and the poor creates unhealthy societies, and huge wealth next door to serious poverty is both disgraceful and insulting. I’ll be monitoring tis very closely, and hoping that the speculative housing boom soon comes unstuck, as we need real work and affordable homes, not this property scam, with its outrageous mortgages and rents.
Fiona Branson wrote:
well i used to live there. have they fixed the issue that the internal stairways in the tower flats have no commercially available stair-gates that actually fit the four internal sets of stairs? whilst they still let the flats to people with children under-five? the cockroaches? the damp/mould problems caused by the cladding/upvc windows in the two blocks Lewisham retain? no. but they’ve taken down some walkways – and built on the allotments.
I defer to your analysis, Fiona, as you clearly know so much about the problems on the estate. I felt that Lewisham had made some efforts at improvements, but I may be wrong. My fear remains, however, that people without much money will be persuaded to accept the destruction of their homes in exchange for new builds that will mostly be available only on a part-buy, part-rent basis that costs a fortune, and (a) will never lead to them owning anything, and (b) may well fall apart within a few decades.
Fiona Branson wrote:
‘substance before external improvements’ should be the mantra for public housing – it (just about) remains our nation’s public housing stock, therefore should be benchmark of good eco friendly standards – which are then enforceable within the private realm, as the principles of positive sustainable development. xxf
Fiona Branson wrote:
pfi=grandma, bathwater, down the pawn (porn?) shop. baby gone there long ago. social services took it.
Very nicely put, Fiona. Unfortunately, things are so dire now that those in social housing aren’t regarded as people who live in homes, just units from which they can be removed if they are regarded as having too many rooms – if their children move out, for example.
Social tenants are also regarded as part of the mass of people treated as inconvenient spongers by the government because, even though they – we – live in houses that have been paid for many times over, we get to be told that our housing is “subsidised” and that we should be paying 80 percent of market rents, which is the new, Orwellian, Kafkaesque definition of “affordable.” This would have happened to all social tenants when the Tories got in, if they could have got away with it, but they were obviously told – by lawyers? by economists? – that they couldn’t just double or triple everyone’s rents overnight. Instead, they made sure that there is no longer any such thing as genuinely affordable social housing for anyone who took up a new tenancy after they set up their Frankenstein’s Monster government with the LIb Dems, by implementing the 80 percent of market rent requirement. Such a disgrace, but far too few people care.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: