Saturday, 16 May 2015

London Disappeared (2)... China Walk

China Walk is adjacent to Lambeth Walk, but by London standards it is a relatively new development, with work having begun in the late 1920s. It is just across the Kennington Road from the Imperial War Museum.

I actually have personal memories of China Walk going back to the late 1960s. An old school friend of my father lived there, and we visited on a weekend now and then. I remember playing outside football with the local lads, in exactly the place where I took this photo yesterday. In those days, people actually socialised with their neighbours, and would sit outside chatting endlessly. I remember the shouts of "Oi, keep that bloody ball away from my windows or I'll 'ave yer..!"  But I especially remember the corner shop where the lady who ran it made delicious ice lollies from fresh orange juice - the shop is gone, it is now the 'Latinos Help Centre'.

The China Walk Estate is a style of architecture that is very common in South London, especially the in the boroughs that lay on the south bank of the Thames, Lambeth and Southwark especially. In the latter case, much of what was 'Jacob's Island', as immortalised by Charles Dickens in 'Oliver' looks pretty much like this. (Its true - Jacob's Island really did exist. In fact, my daughter's first primary school was on George Row, the easternmost border of Jacob's Island - Now she studies law in the Netherlands).

Yesterday I passed through China Walk and took time to reflect, and to take a few photos. Its not the same now.

To be frank, I only saw a handful of people that I could identify as being indigenous Londoners. They were all very old, and looked stressed and in ill health. Interestingly, I think that all but one that I saw were using walking sticks.

Demographics change, its a fact, and that is not always a negative thing. Much of the old community has done well, and moved on. They simply left the old days behind.

Karel Reisz's classic documentary 'We Are The Lambeth Boys' (1958) was largely filmed in this neighbourhood, and a little to the south heading down to the Oval cricket ground. The follow-up 'We Were The Lambeth Boys' (1985) is of more interest to those who want to see the story of the changes in the community put into a fuller perspective. It also includes most of the more interesting and entertaining content of Reisz's original.

London Disappeared..... Lambeth Walk

The sign is most poignant. The Lambeth Walk is an iconic symbol of London culture - albeit one totally unknown and unappreciated by the majority of Londoners today.

The fact that the Lambeth Walk pub, which has guarded the entry to the Walk since 1951 is now closed and up for sale really reflects what has happened to the Walk itself. There are a lot of empty properties and hardly any economic activities whatsoever.

Over recent years I have passed through a number of times, and it always strikes me how few people there are on the street. For those unfamiliar with the geography, from parts of the Walk you can actually see the Houses of Parliament across the Thames. Its that central, albeit on the South of the river, an area that has always been neglected.

The street market that flourished since the 1860s is long gone. The shopping precinct that was built in the 1960s to service the local community was largely boarded up and derelict by the mid - 90s.

The old Pelham Mission Hall, pictured right, looks like its seen better days, but at least it is still standing. I doubt that it will ever be used again for its original purpose, but I understand that Morley college has a sculpture studio on the premises.

It was always a poor working class area, but it had a thriving and colourful community.

Now it has nothing.

And of course, I couldn't resist adding the video.....