diamond geezer

 Friday, February 15, 2013

BAKERLOO: Dotted line

Yesterday I discussed why the Bakerloo line hasn't been extended south through Southwark. Today I've been to visit the communities who've missed out.

Poor old Camberwell. No Bakerloo line station, no tube station, indeed no station at all. And this is no insignificant location. Camberwell's been an important settlement since the Domesday Book, later home to extensive Georgian estates, now packed with people. They get around courtesy of a better-than-usual bus service, whereas what they'd really like is a station. Annoyingly, they used to have one. Just to the west of the central crossroads is Camberwell Station Road which, as all the clues suggest, used to contain a station. The northern edge of the road runs along the main railway viaduct, whose arches are filled with businesses that do things under the bonnets of cars. One of these used to be the way into Camberwell station, opened on the London, Chatham and Dover Railway in 1862. A most convenient way to travel to Blackfriars and Holborn, at least until wartime operations forced its closure in 1916. And since then there's been no way to catch a train from Camberwell, even though plenty of services speed through mockingly on the tracks above.

Could the station be reopened? Sure it could, if the will were there, and the money. The only real problem is that Loughborough Junction is less than a mile down the road, and that would probably have to close if Camberwell were reopened. There's no room to have two stations so close on this line, apparently, because the priority is not slowing down services to Sutton too much. Apologies to residents of SE5, but stopping to pick you up is on nobody's priority list. In the meantime Camberwell station remains somewhere to get your tyres changed and your panels beaten, and the road is king.

Had the Bakerloo ever come calling, the station would probably have been on Camberwell Green. That sounds like a terrible idea, concreting over a rare patch of grassland at the heart of the community. But Camberwell Green's no sylvan glade, more a cut-through with pigeons, and I dare say a corner could be lost without the world ending. Council cash means the image of this open space is improving, and there's now a Farmers Market to enjoy every Saturday. It's not a big Farmers Market, to be frank, but the fresh produce and bakery goods looked good to me and should draw out discerning consumers who like to shop local. Also present every Saturday are online community SE5 Forum, offering news and advice to take away, including a hard copy of this splendid 90-page guide to Camberwell's delights.

From here I walked north to Burgess Park - the other site hereabouts where a Bakerloo line station isn't going to be built. On my way up Camberwell Road I was stopped outside a parade of shops to be offered 'Enlightenment', in the form of a colour pamphlet promising salvation dispensed from the back of a supermarket trolley. The area is dominated by large housing blocks named after famous poets, as if somehow that might soften their visual impact. But there is one lovely Regency enclave at Addington Square, now surrounded on three sides by park. These are highly desirable terraces, described by Pevsner as pleasantly irregular, gathered around a rectangular lawn already bursting with crocuses.

The Grand Surrey Canal once terminated at a wharf immediately to the north - another transport link the area has carelessly lost. The canal is now a footpath, and the surrounding land has become Burgess Park, the largest green lung round here. Unusually almost all of its 113 acres used to be housing, until this was wiped away post-war and made a recreation space for surrounding development. A limekiln, library and several former canal bridges survive, mixed in with far more modern services like a tennis club and American football pitches. It's not clear precisely where in the park a station might be located, but I'd guess somewhere near the boxing club and the butterfly mosaic, which is fairly central and already quite built up.

Immediately to the north is a dense residential zone, otherwise known as Walworth. To most Londoners Walworth doesn't exist because it doesn't have a station, although like Camberwell it once did, and the two closed on the same day. Previously when I've walked this way I've followed Thurlow Street, through the heart of the Aylesbury Estate, which is the epitome of 60s urban planning. Long residential blocks dominate the cityscape, laid out in parallel rows like a giant defensive structure. The poorest were moved in to give them a better life, but they just became poorer, perhaps because there wasn't a tube station at the bottom of the street. But on this visit I followed Portland Street, which started out just as bleak but then improved hugely.

The houses here are originals, highly characterful terraces of two or three storeys, some with variegated brick, others with Tudorbethan gables. No planner bulldozed these beauties, and they're now highly desirable in just the way that the Aylesbury's adjacent sky-boxes aren't. To add to the contrast, won't you look at Michael Faraday School? Outstanding both educationally and architecturally, its ribbed ring structure looks like an alien spacecraft has landed, in this case to bring hope. Head deeper into Walworth and you'll cross East Street Market, one of London's longest, and still thriving with bargain hunters. There's no brioche and croissants here, nor anything to cross the capital for, but many a blue plastic bag is carried home laden with fruit and veg or clothes and shoes.

As Elephant & Castle approaches the tone of the road changes until finally it ends at a locked gate beneath a concrete walkway. This is the edge of the Heygate Estate, almost as notorious as the Aylesbury, but considerably more dead. Southwark council have long had plans for regeneration, and a few years ago sold off the site to developers for what might have been too low a price. A thousand homes stand empty, their windows sealed with metal, a community dispersed. Until recently it was still possible to traipse the upper walkways and explore a maze of passages, but almost all of the stairways have now been closed off. Only ground level remains accessible, should you fancy a kickabout across an overgrown garden or a dystopian safari with your camera. Eventually something brighter will arise, but only 300 "affordable" rented homes are planned. Those relocated are unlikely to be able to return, with a more mixed crowd moving in as the Elephant heads upmarket. There's a tube station at the end of the road, you see, and that makes all the difference.

» Ten photos of the Heygate: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

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