The Secret History of Deptford High Street

Starting at 9pm tonight on BBC2, a new series called the Secret History of Our Streets examines the way that some of London's high streets have changed since the 19th century. The series kicks off with a look at Deptford High Street. The makers say:

In 1886 Charles Booth embarked on an ambitious plan to visit every one of London's streets to record the social conditions of residents. His project took him 17 years.

In Booth's time, Deptford High Street was 'the Oxford Street of South London'. Today, marooned amid 70s housing blocks, it is one of the poorest shopping streets in London. 

Featuring compelling accounts from residents, including one family which has been trading on the high street for 250 years, the film tells the story of transformation and endurance as the people themselves tell the history of their own past and the street they lived in.

Thanks to Monkeyboy for the reminder.


The programme just aired. Anyone with even a passing interest in the place where we live should watch it. Beautifully filmed and excellently researched, with some fantastic interviewees, it was a fascinating and in many ways depressing story.

Its thesis was that the "slum" clearance by local government that displaced communities was wrong-headed (planners were guided by modernist ideas which portrayed cities as machines) and hobbled the pubs and shops which once served the people who lived there.

Undoubtedly, the filmmakers' argument is right. But in their desire to make their point, they were guilty of the same mistake the planners once made - ignoring the signs of vitality right under their nose in the rush to declare the area a failure. The film told a story of decline, which it seemed to suggest was total and irreversible. No hint was given of the exciting qualities that endure: communities may have been displaced but in the Crossfields estate and elsewhere, community spirit remains; the high street may be poor, but it is still busy and plays home to a great market; most of the pubs may have gone, but it still plays home to a fantastic theatre, library, galleries, cafes and restaurants, while the pubs that remain are excellent.

London life ebbs and flows, as the series illustrated so beautifully. Deptford has suffered, but it is still a wonderful place, which will one day repair the damage done to it. The destruction of beautiful streets and successful neighbourhoods was depressing, but also a reminder that Deptford was once great, and will be again.


kolp said...

Wow I'm watching this, we are repeating the same things in the centre of Lewisham.

Anonymous said...

This is actually really depressing.

kolp said...

It really is, and it makes me appreciate Broc Soc, if it was down to Lewisham council, the conservation area would be blocks & block of flats.

Anonymous said...

This programme brought me to tears.
I am so sorry. People wonder why I am a libertarian - this is why. And it seems no lessons have been learned. The working-classes are just social reform fodder to be pushed from pillar to post to suit middle-class Labour politicians and social engineers. No wonder the working-classes have become so disconnected from society.

Anonymous said...

Poor communities are subject to decisions they have little say in from all sides. Handing over swaths of land to the private sector is no more "liberating" than social housing. Tories and labour all cleared "slums" and decided what was best for the uneducated masses. It

SouthLondoner said...

what made me really sad, was that they didn't show the lounge, or the albany, or laban just down the road or any of the cool and interesting cafes (like the railway carriage and big red). They showed the "dirty deptford" that people so love to see. how "working class people" aren't as nice as they used to be, and it was a shocking representation of black people in deptford.

Kevin Milburn said...

hought it was excellent on the historical stuff but rotten re. presenting a balanced picture of contemporary Deptford. Its stance reminded me of those films which try to depict Detroit as some kind of neo-ruin and steadfastly refuse to acknowledge any grounds for hope/optimism. Hence tonight, there was no mention of the new station or library, no reference to successes such as Deptford X or the Deptford Project or to the fact that some pubs in the vicinity such as the Royal Albert seem to be doing rather well or that new businesses are opening up there, such as Cafe 465, which I popped into today and was very impressed by. All of this was ignored because it didn't fit in with the simplistic narrative.

Anonymous said...

Interesting programme but too complex a story to be able to do it justice. Deptford would look nicer if they hadn't done comprehensive re-development but the working class communities would still be spread to the winds as they are in places in London that weren't knocked down.

Brockley Nick said...

@Kevin, South Londoner - totally agree. Have updated the article.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Kevin. The heavy drinking or crazed evangelical was also a really poor representation of Deptford's black community.

Historical stuff was great though.


Pete Stean said...

It's not all doom and gloom in Deptford - there are other long-standing and successful businesses on Deptford High St - Manze's for one.

In a vain effort to counter the very one-sided view of the programme I just reposted by blogpost from last February on Twitter - which looked at the amazing collection of public art in Deptford and its arts scene in general.

I'm dreading the next few episodes...

Sue said...

Thanks for the tag, Nick, but Crossfields is not what it was, and it's a full time job to keep a check on the rotten work and decisions made by the mandarins in Catford and Holbeach Road (Lewisham Homes). More than one activist has come to a premature end, wearing themselves out fighting the laziness of those paid to do the work that others do for them for free (because they actually live here). Programme definitely skimmed some issues, but their message is about social engineering and that hasn't changed.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the programme was really focused on depford today. It could have touched on some of the good bits but wasn't really any poorer for not doing so. I think it's well worth a look and I think you an go to the open university to share your own stories so there's an opportunity to get the current situation shared in full.

kolp said...

The impression I got from the film about the past and from what I see now, is that Deptford is still being treated as something of a 'planners plaything' with little regard for the people that live there.

Yes money has been spent; station, lounge etc, but are the people that live there really being considered? New people will arrive with the arrival of the new flats developments. How will the new and existing residents rub along?

I mean look at the UBR party thread and "Furious'" remarks that the "black community" need to realise that the area has changed and that their behaviour will not be tolerated. Astonishing stuff!

Also despite the money being spent on new stuff, there's threats to the parts of old Deptford that escaped previous imposed change.

Look at the Thames borehole issue ->

It's the imposition of change (by well meaning planners) that is the problem not change itself.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that the Council didn't get round to demolishing Deptford High Street!

I agree that there are positives that it ignored but that would have required a two episode programme.

James W

Sue said...

Hear, hear, Kolp. I'm always hearing "well we wasn't consulted", and I think "well you wasn't listening and wasn't bloody interested", and neither was I a few years ago, and for good reason. When you go into local planning it's a nightmare, and often 'consultations' are a whitewash, so it's no wonder only the hardiest, more educated (or mad) follow things up and try to fight against what they know is wrong. Lewisham pick their battles, they went for Creekside as a Conservation Area (apparently to stop Workspace turning Faircharm into all luxury flats and further development of Creekside Village) but Workspace will still get their luxury flats by the Creek. They're supporting DDODH but didn't stop the experimental boreholes in Crossfields or the green. Hard to find anyone on Crossfields who gives a shit though! They're too busy having a life and trying to earn enough money to pay for it.

shipwright's palace said...

"Interesting programme but too complex a story to be able to do it justice."
Just a few points about what was otherwise a fair tale to tell.
Wholesale clearance of individual dwellings for London County Council blocks began in Deptford as early as the 1890's around Watergate Street, Hughes Field, Deptford Green "For the Erection of Dwellings for the Working Classes" A second wave occurred in the 1930's such as Crossfield's Estate and again immediately post-war in Tanner's Hill.
The 1950's-70's clearance was a third wave.
The High Street (Butt Lane) was originally a residential street, largely developed during the eighteenth century, not Victorian as described. In order to sustain it's narrative the documentary had to avoid multi-generational Deptford families who have gone from rags to riches and the new High Street commercial inhabitants who are the new wealthy of Deptford.

Sue said...

Sorry Shipwrights, but it did a pretty good multi-generational thing with Bent Tin Shop man whose family seemed to have gone from rags to riches.

And the new high street commercial inhabitants are far from the new wealthy unless you mean Deptford Deli? The owners of property on the high street (rather than businesses renting), are the new wealthy but many of them are just sitting on it (I mean whole blocks not individual flat owners) and not maintaining it. Of course, one of the wealthiest people on the high street (rags seller supreme, Christine) lives in a mansion in Essex. Obviously the more sustaining businesses live elsewhere (somewhere better), as do 90% of the market traders.

But thanks for putting it into perspective, history and wave-wise!

Sue said...

PS Rags to riches and back to rags...what really was the cause of Bent Tin Man's decline? Who puts UKIP posters in his shop window along with photos of everyone who comes in his shop? Also, "my dad was so drunk he couldn't cut the turkey" and "my dad could drink 18 bottles of Guinness and was never drunk"...
Ohhhh, the cutting room floor...

Anonymous said...

Sue wasn't he tricked out of his house, that was the point?

Anonymous said...

I think some people miss the point its the secret history not the well known landmarks and cultural centres of Deptford.

Brockley Nick said...

@Anon - it told the story of Deptford's past and its present - but the version of the present that it portrayed was very one-sided, in order to support its narrative. That's bad history.

Anonymous said...

The LCC & Lewisham Council imposed high rise buildings to improve living standards but the council had extreme difficulty finding local people willing to live in those properties.

So the council didn't relive its housing problems it added to them because they had to move people from outside the borough into the new council properties.

In another part of Lewisham in the 1950's - 60's certain grand houses were declared slums but tennants in the properties wrote to the council with a different opinion, but the council who were the owners won the day.

In recent times the sale of what is now the Z-Tower was questionably along with the refurbishment of the Pepys Estate in the 1990's.

At the Pepys Estate the council ran out of money, residents were angry and Council placed an advert telling what it was at the estate...but failed to mention the properties it was no longer able to refurb.

The former councillor featured in the programme was apparently responsible for the Walter Segal project in Honor Oak.

Anonymous said...

The councillor may well have supported it but it was Colin Ward who initiated the self-build at Walters Way.

Robert said...

I thought the programme was very moving. Having said that, it was clearly a polemic - a very well made and poetic polemic.

But I don't have a problem with that. Are we not allowed to have documentary making based on pre-established convictions? It was not an open-ended investigation, just a nice piece of narrative based around one issue relating to the High Street.

Having said that, I would probably be less sympathetic if I did not also share the views of the programme makers.

Brockley Nick said...

@Robert - I share their views and it's fine to present a polemic but one's argument is strengthened, not weakened, by telling the truth.

Like I say, they committed exactly the same crime as the planners, writing off what was good about the place in order to support their ideological view.

If they'd said - look what's been done to the fabric of this place, it's a travesty, but the human spirit endures, lots of good things remain and some good things are now being done to reverse the damage, then it would have been a much more convincing argument. As it was, it felt a little dishonest, which in turn planted some doubts about the historical picture they painted (if they can play fast and loose with the present, why not the past too)?

One other criticism I'd have was that you were encouraged to see Deptford through the eyes of the disenfranchised older generation. Where were the young people? Why was the only glimpse of Deptford's significant Asian population a shot of one woman being surprised by a crustacean? What polemical message do you think that conveyed?

Anonymous said...

The project was the brain-child of enlightened Lewisham Labour councillors, led by the councillor and architectural writer Nicholas Taylor, author of the influential (1976), and the architect Walter Segal (1907-1985), after whom the street is named.

Robert said...

Nick. I suppose I agree with you. Even if it was 30 seconds worth of footage of positive aspects of the High Street, it might have actually enhanced the argument.

Successful established community - ruined by modernist tendancies of council - reinventing itself and fighting back.

Having said that - the programme's focus was on one historical aspect of development on the High Street, and it dealt with this particular issue rather well.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't one of the points being made that changes were made from on high to improve the area but did the high rise towers improve the situation for residents and traders?

They spoke to people who lived in the area throught the post war changes to the present day.

It's not just Deptford, how many times has Lewisham Town Centre been revamped by the council and not moved forward.

There seems to be an attitude of letting properties becoming old and decayed, the locals get fed up and frustrated. They will nigh on accept anything new as it's better than what they've had to put up with.

Robert said...

Nicholas Taylor used to write for the Architectural Review and wrote a book called "Village in the City (Towards a New Society)" which was released in 1973.

I have just ordered a second-copy on amazon. He is clearly a learned gentleman with strong ideas about architecture. However - that does not mean he was right. Anyway - it will be interesting to read what his views on city planning and housing really were in the 70s.

Anonymous said...

Robert is it the local community reinventing itself or outside forces seeing an opportunity?

Anonymous said...

Re Nicholas Taylor, when the film makers raised the issue of the council officers reports it was like he wanted that information blotted out and kept talking over the film maker.

Sal said...

IMO Deptford is quite a unique place and all it would take is a Notting Hill type film to elevate it.

Sad that the council wrote to the families in Reynold street and lied that the houses were condemned as slum housing when the inspectors report said otherwise.

Amazing mix of characters in the High St, but lots of poverty and dis-jointed communities. However, the High Street was never a cheap place to run a business - the council charged fairly high rates when I worked in the area in the 1980's and then the Surrey Quays shopping centre opened a short distance away. Still, there are now four new hotels a few roads away and two relatively new stations nearby. It's proximity to London will always keep it vibrant.

Robert said...

Anonymous (10.44)

I think that communities in big cities are a combination of local interests and outside forces. They were too in the twenties and fifties. It's difficult for a community to be insular in London - and not particularly productive.

Though I guess a lot of the positive aspects of Deptford High Street - The Albany, some great niche shops, some interesting cafes and restaurants, arts initiatives, multi-culturalism - have stemmed from the ideas and efforts of people from the area. In time, these might expand further and will help to counteract some of the negative aspects of the High Street.

However, the key is still appropriate housing that is adaptable to change. The new developments planned around the High Street still seem to be based on the modernist hi-rise model - though without the social convictions, and with a bit of colour splashed around to make it more cheery.

Anonymous said...

Remember Nicholas Taylor was employed after the decision was taken to pull nice Deptford down, it's strange, the show reflected him in a good light to start with and then decided to depict him as the villain towards the end. Remember, how a program is edited can control the thoughts of the viewing public (just watch any Simon Cowell creation to see proof of this). I've no doubt Nicholas Taylor was acting from higher instruction and when refering to the slums was repeating what he had read in reports written at the time. He even remarked that the people who did the inspections were not qualified surveyors.

Robert said...

I am reserving judgement on Nicholas Taylor's influence and motivations until I've read his book!

However, he was also Head of Housing at Lewisham at around the same time that the council demolished most of the old terrace housing between Friendly Street and Tanners Hill so that Peabody could build the Vanguard Estate. And if it wasn't for some pretty vehement local campaigning in the eighties, Oscar Street and Lucas Street would have gone the same way.

We held a reminscence event at the Leander Centre recently, and it was also clear from talking to some of the old locals, that the effect of this little bit of "slum" clearance is also a cause for great regret!

Anonymous said...

Just to chip in, there was a real good vibe at the Birds Nest watching this, then the Director and 'AP' did a Q&A via Skype with the pub.

They came across as being exceptionally fond of Deptford, yet the 'AP' said she visited the market on 5 occasions, including a pre-Christmas Wednesdsy that she was told would be busy, and didn't find much going on.

They edited out a section where Nicholas Taylor came across as even more of a villain. The director was aware that they were personalising the forces of modernism in him for the sake of a narrative and he almost went even further in making him appear villainous. But they changed their mind. At the same time, they were keen we knew he was very much an apologist and sympathiser for the clearances.

They had plenty of footage of a man who was 'great for TV', who is actively involved in regeneration projects in Deptford, but they left it out. They said they could have made loads of programmes about Deptford High Street and could only tell some stories. Indeed, they hope to make a documentary about it again.

Finally, there was a concerted effort for the story to be told from a 'people's perspective', without any input from historians.

And the 'AP' said the archives and photographs related to Deptford High Street and the clearance are massive and fascinating, with photographs

Blunderbuss said...

Very interesting and ultimately very sad documentary. Given that it was about the displacement and destruction of a whole community, it would have been simplistic to then say oh there's a couple of nice cafes and a nice dance school building there now, so not all bad. Deptford will never but great again, the destruction is too severe and the new plans for it hardly fill me with joy. It may be a nice place for people to go to from Brockley and the surrounding areas, but who wants to live on the estates round there?

Although probably if it hadn't been ruined it would have turned into a yummy mummy, cupcake shop enclave, so the locals would've have been pushed out anyway. Surprised they didn't end up bulldozing the high street as well and putting in some awful sixties shopping centre.

It was a bit weird how they tried to turn Nicolas Taylor into the villain at the end, considering that he'd already admitted the myriad of problems with the whole thing, but I guess they wanted a bit of contrition from him.

mb said...

The thing that struck me was not so much that there may or may not have been issues that needed addressing to make the properties fit for purpose, it was the paternalism. Chaps in suits patting the locals on the head and telling them what was best for them, we're the experts, you'll thank us for it. It was done TO them not WITH them. Perhaps with good intentions but ill judged in hindsight.

bumbags said...

Very sad programme. And proof that people weren't meant to live like sardines. We are still overcrowding areas- more and more flats and high-density housing. London has been full for quite some time- the new developments at Lewisham are repeating this hideous system of cramming more and more people into a tiny area. The result will be that anyone affluent will move away as soon as they can and create more crap-holes.
Very depressing that we learn nothing from history.

Anonymous said...

Compulsory purchase orders are scary bits of legislation, topped up with some sinister bulldozing tactics if you didn't comply. Snapshot of local life before internet blogging.

Brockley Nick said...

@bb - I really don't think that's the lesson to be drawn at all.

Those houses that demolished were probably very tightly packed, with people living on top of one another.

Remember, the planners thought they were doing the right thing by giving them all their own kitchens and bathrooms.

London is not "full" it's still relatively low density compared to fantastic cities like Paris, Barcelona and New York. It has huge tracts of land that still lie unused.

Brockley is getting more high density and as a result, there are more pubs and cafes opening, to give those people somewhere to go.

mb said...

well yes BB, but some families living in one room with poor sanitation was hardly idylic. It could have been done better, they could have refurbished more, built more on bomb sites rather than pull down and move people, ensured that there were facilties that people wanted etc, etc. Interesting that central government sees no fundamental issue with poor families uprooting and moving to other areas or out of london if they cant faind anything where they live now. Reducing housing to a simple spreadsheet rather than seeing housing as a collection of homes and comunities.

Density is not an issue in itself, density done on the cheap is.

mb said...


Robert said...

To be fair. One of the main points of modernist planning was to design buildings that gave people more public space. The original georgian/victorian housing was more dense in this respect.

But modernism also rejected the street - and it was the street that gave Deptford its community focus and wealth.

It turned out that people didn't really have much use for public space - but streets were incredibly important to them.

Modernists imagined communities of people stopping and chatting in clean underpasses, and landscaped gardens. But it was in markets, outside shops, and on front doorsteps that people socialised.

Brockley Nick said...

Exactly Robert - and let's not forget the other great sin of modernism - giving so much priority to the car.

mb said...

As an aside, I visited a "slum" in Mumbai with a charity. The shacks had running water a couple of hours a day and sporadic electricity. There was actually quiet good employment copmpared to the the rest of india and more kids tha average went to school. The sanitation was appaling (hang your arse over the river basically) but despite the local authorities building modern flats, most locals wanted to stay because it was theres! they built it, they had roots. They are lobying for decent sanitations and facilities where they have lived for generations. Of course the educated municiple authorites just cannot get their heads around that and are trying to forcibly relocate people. They could do with looking at the experience of London.

Anonymous said...

New York, Barcalona and Paris are much smaller in terms of area than London, and also designed very differently. The middle classes don't want to live in apartment blocks they want houses, and if they do end up living in them they are badly designed shoeboxes. So then you end up with the poorest people shoved into them with all the inherent problems that causes, why do you think they're knocking down these estates and replacing them with houses or small low rise as in north Peckham.

shipwright's palace said...

making modernism the monster
(if they can play fast and loose with the present, why not the past too)?
Fast and loose is exactly what was achieved by the decision to jump from Booth's street maps to the 1950's and 1960's clearances entirely ignoring the earlier phases of clearance which began even before the London County Council clearances. These earlier clearances were for the industrialisation of Deptford c.1830's along the Thames and around the Creek. See
Also, the expansion of Deptford Church Street for a road tunnel under the Thames was proposed as early as 1860. Fast and loose with the past was exactly how the narrative was played.

Tamsin said...

Um, Booth's street maps were 1890s, weren't they? So earlier clearance activity irrelevant.

Deptford Shopper said...

It was excellent, and heartbreaking.

John Price (aka Big John) was (is) incredible.

Al Murray said...

What new pubs and bars are opening with the new high density?

Since I've lived here we've lost four local pubs and gained none. The Gantry already was something, and Brown's is occasionally open in the evenings. The only genuinely new thing is the Orchard and that's more of a restaurant. The MOT centre plan has no provision for bars and restaurants last time I heard.

I know you work in PR Nick, but that's a little too much positive spin on fairly dire local options.

OutragedofSE4 said...

There's a weird tone to many of these posts: "Yes - but look what we've got now! - so 'vibrant', so 'happening'". How can you fail to not see the point of this documentary?! The film tells of the emotional and real cost to the communities who were living there. The interviewer's voice wasn't polished - he sounded working class to me. Surely he's telling the story of people who were powerless and who were betrayed by the council? The Council's motives stink - and from my experience, the planning system still favours those who know how to play it. Did anyone else shout out in rage at the footage of the viewing of the seaman's house in Albury Street? A snip at 750K!! They remind me of the streets of similar 17th century houses in Shoreditch, adjacent to Brick Lane; stunning workmanship, beautiful detail, now the property of the mega rich. One man's 'slum' in 1967 is another's bijou city home in 2012. Bah!!

Brockley Nick said...

@outraged sure, that was the point of the film and I think pretty much everyone agrees with the point being made.

But here you say:

"The film tells of the emotional and real cost to the communities who were living there."

How can one tell what the "real cost" is, if the effect of the transformation is distorted?

Should the people who live in Deptford today be delighted that their home is portrayed as a pit of despair in order for a documentary maker to make his point?

And as viwers, should we just accept that any distortion is justified, in order to tell a good story?

No, I like my documentaries to be nuanced and to strive for balance, as well as controversy.

That's fair enough, surely?

Brockley Nick said...

@Al - fair comment, it's still relatively slim pickings.

But in the last 5-7 years, Brockley's options have got broader as more people have moved in to the area.

Here is a (not definitive) list of new stuff that's arrived since BC began:

Brockley's Rock
Broca Food Market
The Orchard
Brockley Market
London Print Shop
The Hilly Fields Cafe
Gently Elephant
Pop-up restaurants aplenty

Not new but busier / better:

The Gantry (added a bar, longer opening hours)

The Talbot (not new, but a lot of investment to make it appealing to more than just a hard core)

Mo Pho (replaced Long Time, which kept changing its mind about what it was)

Mb said...

I expect that "proper locals" who manged to buy there houses in deptford are more than happy that they are worth a few quid. How long do you have to live in an area before you can legitimately justify the cost when you sell and should you be compelled to sell cheaper to another "local" we're all potential victims and beneficiaries of house price rises. I wonder how many of the old geezers on the documentary are sitting on a tidy asset? Not that they have to explain or justify it to anyone.

OutragedofSE4 said...

So John Price's pain in watching his childhood projected onto the flank of a building is not evidence enough of the 'real price' eh Nick? 'Transformation' is not free - it is often built on the foundations, literally in this case, of other people's lives - and this is not ancient history - it is in living memory. The 'transformation' of the Albury St seaman's house makes my point eloquently I think (would love to know who benefits from the equity in that property). Wanting 'balance' is just another way of not wanting to think too much about what has been lost in the name of 'progress' - shurley?

Brockley Nick said...

No I don't agree. NOT wanting balance is "is just another way of not wanting to think too much."

Show his pain, by all means.

But don't lie about Deptford today.

Trust the viewers to make up their own minds, without willfully misrepresenting the facts in the name of "polemic".

Otherwise, why even bother at any pretense of historical accuracy? Why not just film people crying against a backdrop of mushroom clouds as a former planning official dances on the graves of orphaned children?

I suspect you wouldn't be so happy to grant the filmmaker artistic licence if they were trying to tell a story about all the happy people who moved in to brand new flats with lovely kitchens and showed nothing but art galleries and cafes?

shipwright's palace said...

A number of the houses in Albury Street were without roofs and even the external walls of the houses were falling down c.1988. A developer, with assistance from English Heritage, renovated/restored a number of properties. I think the developer went bankrupt and the houses were sold for around £200k. Later, Goldsmith's University that owned some of the properties in Albury Street auctioned their houses for around 55k. The first wave of property price increase in the mid nineties meant that some long term tenant/owners were able to sell at a good price. The house shown on the documentary was purchased first for around the 200k mark then sold for £425k before a next sale presumably somewhere around the £750k mark. A kind of re-distribution of wealth?
@ Tamsin "Um, Booth's street maps were 1890s, weren't they? So earlier clearance activity irrelevant."
in response to my previous comment, of course the earlier clearances are relevant to a more accurate account as the clearances for the industrialisation of Deptford, along the Thames, for the Foreign Cattle Market extension into Orchard Place, around the Creek, the coming of the railway (which turned the former residential Butt Lane into a commercial centre in the first place) were precisely what assisted in the creation of the wealth of the area.
The demolitions shown in the documentary were the third wave 1.1890's 2.1930's 3.1950's of LCC clearances.

NC said...

Disagree with you Nick.

Irrespective of how Deptford may be making a comeback or has roots of vibrancy returning, the documentaries message is the core story of Deptford post WWII. The people were uprooted from their communities and relocated elsewhere to fit in with the prevaling but, with hindsight, woefully misguided stategies of 60's town planners. And Deptford wasn't the only place (north side of the blackwall tunnel for example).

As a guy in the background shouted during one of the memory lane scenes, 'tell them the truth, tell them how they f*cked it all up'. It is a sad history of awful decision making, the community became victim of a sh*t decisions made at arms length by people who didn't have a clue about what it was like on the ground. All changed now, of course :-)

That Deptford is now making a small, belated comeback is neither here nor there- you can get to London Bridge in 6 minutes and buy victorians 3 beds for £350k, the only suprise is that it took and is still taking so long.

NAT said...

Having just watched it, I can only say that it turns me up.

Yes that is the real Price that we saw. Not sure what the pictures of customers he's put on his windows has to do with anything.

Anonymous said...

Will be interesting to see the Camberwell Grove one, where the historic houses were saved but, as in Deptford, the inter-war/post-war working class communities are no longer there, the same story everywhere in London.

The planners dreams may have gone wrong but the decline of skilled, unionized, working class jobs in inner London, and 'local' professional jobs outside central London, reduction in family sizes and changes in family structure, and increased mobility/ suburbanisation are what underlie the changes in communities. I tuned in late but what I saw had little or no coverage of the local economy other than the high street itself.

Anonymous said...

No ones mentioned the impending disaster that is the Convoys Wharf development.

bikepest said...

Frankly I'm always amazed that Deptford High Street survives as well as it does. No doubt the clearances made it more difficult to make a living here for some people, but just as important would be the growth of supermarkets and of car use. The flexibility of the market, and the ingenuity of the traders, seem to be what has sustained it. If you take away the market you're left with pound shops and bookies - pretty much like every old-fashioned High Street in the land.

The thesis that the house clearances led to the decline of the High Street therefore doesn't really hold water. That doesn't make them any less painful to those that endured the process, and that was really the most interesting and touching point of the programme.

Brockley Nick said...

@NC "That Deptford is now making a small, belated comeback is neither here nor there"

If it's neither here nor there, then no need to lie about it. "Our lies reveal a greater truth is the kind of argument peddled by the Mail or Fox News - just because you like the story people are telling, doesn't mean you should overlook their lies.

Anonymous said...

No mention of the dire housing shortage that existed at the time of the clearances. The wartime bomb damage created a housing crisis. There were families living in squalor. System built high density residential housing blocks were seen as a solution to this pressing problem. I guess this meant clearing some streets where the surviving housing was still viable.

This programme seemed to suggest that the before these modernist planners came along with their bright ideas the housing situation was one of Deptford folk living happily in streets untouched by the Blitz.

How typical was that?

It also suggested that those who were rehoused were desperately unhappy and isolated on souless new estates far out of town.

I wonder if those that were rehoused in Brockley felt that way. There seem to be plenty of council houses hereabouts built on the old bomb sites between surviving stock.

It suggests that all post war planning was a disaster visited upon working class communities.

Maybe for this street, but was this this generally true?

I guess such bigger questions were out of the scope of this 'peoples history', but I came away feeling very short changed by this documentary.

Meg said...

Nick can you stop accusing the documentary of lying! If anything it was guilty of a couple of omissions of Laban etc but equally it could have said they're going to dig a huge hole in the ground for a sewer.

It was about the social history of the High Street and the roads leading off it. You could pick many deprived parts of the country and find a lottery funded museum or whatever (often white elephants). But it doesn't take away from the central truth of the matter.

Your slightly rabid calling of the documentary makers liars is silly just because it doesn't make the film that you would make. A 5 hour documentary could probably be made about Deptford, mentioning everything, but it would be quickly become pretty dull. I know you do PR, but stop trying to see every mention of the local area in terms of it.

Brockley Nick said...

@Meg - In the comments section, I have used the term "lies" both for rhetorical effect and because it's a shorter way of making the point about narrative bias and omissions. But hey, you seem very keen to forgive the programme makers their rhetorical tricks and shortcuts, so please cut me the same slack. I think my actual article featured some pretty mild rebukes - praise for the programme and its argument, regret that they told such a slanted story.

My wife was a documentary maker and I fully understand the constraints they faced. But I don't understand why you are so keen to ignore the obvious faults in the programme.

I don't live in Deptford and I don't personally care whether they say nice things or nasty things about it. I am just pointing out that the analysis is flawed because the evidence was biased.

Again, I have no idea why that should be a controversial point.

Do you agree that historians should strive for balance and accuracy? If so, then we have nothing to argue about.

Brockley Nick said...

The anon above you also makes some excellent points.

Anonymous said...

You're all missing the greater point which was the heart was ripped out of a close working class community which had been built up for several hundred years. All in the name of town planning and a few people thinking they knew what was better for their inferiors.

Brockley Nick said...

I don't think anyone is missing that point. I think there is universal agreement that that was a travesty.

Anonymous said...

Crosswhatfields blog has an excellent analysis of this sad episode, with contemporary comments.

Mb said...

A view from someone who lives there, knows some of the people and loves it.

Anonymous said...

I thought that Deptford Dame and Crosswhatfields both wrote very interesting and informative posts about this.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Deptford Dame post was an interesting critique.

The book sounds worth a read.

These TV things are all 'human interest' and tend to be a bit lightweight compromising the the big picture and ignoring important details.

Very difficult to mix personal history with a national history withough being misleading, I think.

NAT said...

I found the documentary more substantive, I've got to say, than any of the criticisms its recieved here or on other sites.

TM said...

For those like me who missed it and want to view it on a big telly rather than a small computer screen via i-player, it is to be repeated next Tuesday at 11.20pm on BBC 2.

condominium philippines said...

Hello, your post was excellent. It is worth reading and I find it valuable and one of the best post Ive ever discovered. I am glad that I cam across to your blog. Big thanks.

Charles A

Martin Taylor said...

Hi I know I am a bit late on this but I didn't want to comment until I could say something properly. I am a son of Nicholas Taylor who it seems viewers of the programme thought was a supporter of demolitions and tower blocks when in fact the polar opposite is true. Viewers also seem to have been given a false impression of Deptfords history and Deptford today. To put the record on all of this straight I have written a booklet I have put on as the best way of clearing my dads name. Please have a look, you might be surprised. Cheers. Martin

Anonymous said...

very interesting

Dave Crowley said...

I only watched the programme this week. Deprtfordptrs site well worth a visit

TM said...

Just read Deptford PTRS. Common sense really I just can't understand what the programme makers were trying to achieve.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, where are the makers of this series coming from?

Comparing the Deptford with the Camberwell programme and now Caledonia Road, the theme of social class runs through it.

It seems to celebrate some golden age of strong working class communities and takes a sympathetic view of their struggle against the way the authorities who seemed intent on railroading ill-conceived development schemes.

In Camberwell they look at how the middleclasses successfully challenged these schemes and preserved Camberwell Grove.

In Caledonia road, they seem to take to task a property developer, I guess this is precursor to a treatment of Notting Hill and the famous exploitation of Rachman renting.

This seems to be housing a social battleground between class interests with a bit of selective history thrown in to support their case.

It is nothing more than a rather slickly produced Agit Prop dressed up as history.

Money grabbing opportunists and authoritarian planners exploiting the poor.

If only the history of London were as single dimensional as that.

Nonetheless, the yarns from the characters involved in the programme are very engaging.

The pre-war history is also very interesting with Booths poverty maps.

Their treatment of postwar history is not good, concentrating on conflicts and misrepresenting the war damage and scale of the housing crisis that governments were trying to address.

The lack of any perspective on the present leaves the audience feeling very short changed and the locals rather annoyed at the portrayal of their area.

This series is a bit of curates egg: good in parts, but some bits are quite off.

It would be nice to have a programme about the changing fortunes of different parts of London without all the baggage.

Brockley would be a rich source of material.

Anonymous said...

Yes Brockley would be a rich source, they could look at how the council wanted to pull down most of the conservation area and were fought-off by the middle classes for a start. And show how bomb damaged houses were replaced with ugly council blocks. And the prefabs on Hilly Fields, the Dring and Fage factory at Brockley Cross, and the tea warehouse, the old station now a junk shop, and the tollgate at the top of Loampit Hill. Endless possibilities.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the "Deptford - putting the record straight" site is well worth a visit and emphatically corrects the misleading tendencies of the BBC programme.

The voluntary depopulation of inner SE london is something I can attest to. My parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents all grew up and lived in Brockley/New Cross. but my parents moved out in the 1950s to Bromley where I grew up.

I know where all my ancestors lived, even if the houses in some cases have been replaced by LCC inspired social housing. Now I've been happily resident in Brockley for 25+ years.

Anonymous said...

Also the site of the carpark for lewisham college (formerly South East London College SELTEC) where the saturday market now takes place for a few hours - remember reading somewhere that the houses there were demolished after 'compulsory purchase orders'

Brockley Central Label Cloud