diamond geezer

 Thursday, April 29, 2010

The River Neckinger (part 2)
Elephant & Castle

Elephant & CastleIt's hard to imagine Elephant and Castle as a rural riverside backwater. But 250 years ago, then known as Newington Butts, this was a quiet lane on the edge of St George's Fields forded by a small stream. The Neckinger flowed in from the west through the 'Fishmongers Almshouses' - soon to be demolished to make way for Spurgeon's Tabernacle (now a firmly evangelical hotspot) [photo]. It crossed a small village green, long since buried between E&C's two mega-roundabouts. And then it passed east between a row of cottages, now the site of the much derided pinky-red shopping centre. The transformation here is dramatic. The only flow now is of people, bustling around the double-decker mall in search of nothing very expensive [photo]. Here the less-than-affluent folk of Walworth come to buy stuff no rejuvenated hub would ever sell, be that substandard market millinery or a polystyrene tub of goat stew. Outside the front entrance a turreted elephant stands guard, positioned almost directly on the line of the old stream. And high above rises the nearly-complete Strata tower, its trademark turbines relatively well concealed from the streets below [photo].

Next along the Neckinger valley comes the Heygate Estate. If you thought the shopping centre was grim, this similarly-dated architectural project beats all. A series of residential "barrier blocks" surround the site, each ridiculously long and crammed with stacked-box accommodation [photo]. The various parts of the site are linked by elevated walkways, while ground level is reserved for the parking of cars. No wonder Southwark Council took a long deep look at their creation and decided the the only way forward was to demolish all 25 acres. Tenants started being moved out two years ago, and the Heygate now resembles a ghost estate inhabited by a last few lonely souls [photo gallery]. Every abandoned window is being blow-torched shut, and every quarter-mile balcony sealed off at either end [photo]. And yet there's still full access to the walkways and stairwells, not just for the remaining 5% of residents but for any urban adventurer who fancies poking around abandoned concrete purgatory [photo]. But hurry, if you think you're brave enough, because it won't be too long before proper demolition begins and this inhuman jungle is reborn as aspirational Heygate Boulevard.

The River Neckinger (part 3)

Bermondsey SquareThe Neckinger followed the line of the New Kent Road before passing just to the north of the Bricklayers Arms gyratory and passing into Bermondsey. It ran immediately behind Tower Bridge Road, in an area once the preserve of large scale industry. Hartley's built their jam factory on the former riverbank in Rothsay Street, employing more than 2000 locals to squish sugary fruit into glass jars. It'll not surprise you to hear that their plant is now a gated residential development called The Jam Factory, retaining the Hartley name only in white bricks across one wall and down a chimney [photo]. Another pocket of ultra-modernity can be found just downstream at Bermondsey Square. Look one way and it's a bijou plaza with its own hotel, micro-cinema and pavement cafe [photo]. Look another and it's a glittering bikeshed surrounded by mysterious multi-coloured icosahedrons [photo]. But look south and one defiant corner of Georgian terrace remains... and that's still the side of the Square where anyone with taste would prefer to live.

At St Mary Magdalen church [photo], the Neckinger turned right. Despite being more than 300 years old this isn't Bermondsey's oldest place of worship, not by a long chalk. Nearby stood Bermondsey Abbey, a Cluniac priory dating back to the Norman invasion, and at one time second in importance only to Westminster across the Thames. Bermondsey Square marks the site of the monks' inner courtyard, while the main church building straddled modern Abbey Street to the east [photo]. The top end of the nave is marked by a commemorative plaque on the wall of a block of council flats overlooking Tower Bridge Road [photo]. Much of Bermondsey Abbey survived Henry VIII's dissolution, only to have its stone plundered for the construction of other local buildings over succeeding centuries. Today no trace remains, bar parts of a gatehouse along the western end of Grange Walk (lovely street, Grange Walk). As for the Neckinger, the stream was reputedly navigable all the way from the Abbey down to the Thames. Nearly there, only half a mile to go.

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