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 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 nowa­days 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.

The pro­posed Bak­er­loo line exten­sion to Lewisham – with two new sta­tions on the Old Kent Road – would almost cer­tain­ly increase the area’s desir­abil­i­ty and of course its prop­er­ty prices.

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

 

* 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. The slideshow images of the history of the Old Kent Road mural are adapted from photographs at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. The pearly family detail is by Paul Simpson and the other images are all by Richard Brooks. Any subsequent reuse of the images is freely permitted under the terms of the respective licences.