Old Kent Road

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

Hidden London: Old Kent Road, Peckham, by Chris Whippet

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 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

 

* The picture of the Old Kent Road at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Chris Whippet, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.