Peckham, Southwark

A steadily recovering but still deprived district situated east of Camberwell

Peckham Pulse healthy living centre

Peck­ham appears in Domes­day Book as Pecheham, mean­ing a ‘home­stead by a hill’ – prob­a­bly a ref­er­ence to what is now called Tele­graph Hill. At the time it was an insignif­i­cant place of 240 acres. Hen­ry I gave it to his son Robert, Earl of Glouces­ter, and it served as a roy­al hunt­ing ground. King John favoured Peck­ham with the grant of an annu­al fair which sur­vived into the 19th cen­tu­ry. It remained a rur­al area until the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion, grow­ing crops for the Lon­don mar­ket.

The Grand Sur­rey Canal linked Peck­ham to the Sur­rey Docks (now Sur­rey Quays) in 1826 and Thomas Tilling’s horse-drawn bus­es oper­at­ed from 1851, help­ing open up the area to Lon­don­ers mov­ing out of the city. New estates like Peck­ham Park, also known as Peck­ham New Town, were built from the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry onwards and north Peck­ham became a desir­able mid­dle-class sub­urb. Its respectabil­i­ty was con­firmed by the open­ing of the Jones and Hig­gins depart­ment store on Rye Lane.

Manze's shopfront
M. Manze, 105 High Street

How­ev­er with the Old Kent Road acquir­ing indus­try such as a gas­works, and south Peck­ham being devel­oped with the low­er mid­dle class in mind, its upmar­ket rep­u­ta­tion was always vul­ner­a­ble. It flour­ished just as ably as a work­ing-class sub­urb, with jobs pro­vid­ed by employ­ers like Samuel Jones, which made the But­ter­fly brand of gummed papers. Peck­ham suf­fered in the Blitz and after the war bomb­sites in the north were merged into the new Burgess Park.

By the time of 10-year-old Damilo­la Taylor’s death on a North Peck­ham estate in 2000, the area had become a byword for inner city crime and decline. Change was already in hand, how­ev­er, with the Peck­ham Partnership’s regen­er­a­tion of its grimmest estates and the open­ing of Will Alsop’s land­mark library in 2000 on Peck­ham Square, cre­at­ed by the infill­ing of the Grand Sur­rey Canal.

Oth­er addi­tions in the Peck­ham Square area include the Peck­ham Plat­form arts cen­tre and Peck­ham Pulse healthy liv­ing cen­tre (shown in the pho­to­graph at the top). Improve­ments in the Bel­len­den renew­al area have includ­ed street fur­ni­ture by sculp­tor Antho­ny Gorm­ley and painter Tom Phillips.

Despite the con­tin­u­ing advances, Peck­ham can be a frag­ile envi­ron­ment in dif­fi­cult times and seri­ous riot­ing erupt­ed here in August 2011. A com­mu­ni­ty-led ‘love Peck­ham’ cam­paign has since helped empha­sise the pos­i­tive.

Peck­ham is the only ward in Lon­don in which half the res­i­dents are black or black British. Most of these are of African birth or descent, account­ing for 32 per cent of the total pop­u­la­tion in 2011 – a slight decline on 2001.

One of the most famous addresses in British television comedy was Peckham’s fictional Nelson Mandela House, the home of the Trotter family in Only Fools and Horses. The neighbourhood also featured in Channel 4’s ‘ethnic sitcom’ Desmond’s, which ran from 1989 to 1995.

Postal districts: SE15 and SE5
Population: 71,552 (Livesey, Nunhead, Peckham, Peckham Rye and the Lane wards, 2011 census)
Further reading: John D Beasley, Peckham and Nunhead Through Time, Amberley, 2009
Websites: Peckham Vison, Peckham Space, The Peckham Society
Facebook: I love Peckham