Old Kent Road, Southwark
The property on the Monopoly board that nobody wants, the Old Kent Road runs from east Newington to New Cross Gate
The road closely follows the line of the medieval route to Canterbury and formerly crossed the River Neckinger, which now runs underground. It was at that ford that the pilgrims watered their horses in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
The road developed in an irregular fashion during the 19th century, with housing ranging from the elegant to the jerry-built, and factories that produced textiles and chemicals. From the 1840s the road’s largest employer was the South Metropolitan Gasworks, which was run first by Thomas Livesey and then by his son George. The philanthropic George Livesey introduced a profit-sharing scheme for workers and donated a library on the Old Kent Road; 7,000 people attended his funeral in 1908.
Old Kent Road and Hatcham station stood near the corner of Ilderton Road but it closed temporarily in 1917 and never reopened. The vitality of the road declined in the second half of the 20th century as its industries departed. Several commercial estates still operate but other sites lay derelict for more than a decade until they were taken over by retail warehouses.
The North Peckham civic centre was built at 600-608 Old Kent Road in the mid-1960s. It has been called “by far the finest 20th century building on the Old Kent Road” – although it doesn’t have much competition for that accolade. However, though its architecture may be unremarkable, the exterior is adorned with a marvellous ceramic mural by Adam Kossowski depicting the road’s history. A Polish refugee, Kossowski mostly created murals for Catholic churches and his work has a stained glass look about it. His Old Kent Road mural was grade II listed in April 2017, which – Hidden London hopes – means that it will be preserved even if the building itself (now an evangelical church) is demolished, as has recently been proposed. The slideshow below features selected details from the mural.
The Astoria cinema closed in 1968 and was demolished in 1984 and replaced by a DIY superstore. The Cantium retail park opened in 1992.
Once known for eels, pie and mash, the Old Kent Road is increasingly popular for its clubs and other forms of nightlife. Marcia Road is a noteworthy recent project by Galliard Homes; its four-bedroom town houses replicate properties that stood here before but that had become too dilapidated for renovation.
Albert Chevalier’s Victorian music hall song ‘Wot Cher’ or ‘Knocked ’em in the Old Kent Road’ was performed by Shirley Temple in the 1939 movie The Little Princess.
Postal districts: SE1 and SE15
Website: Vital OKR – ‘a voice for the economy of the Old Kent Road’, but only sporadically updated