I moved to Lewisham a few years back and stayed for just over two years. The most obvious benefit of living there is the cost. Given the ridiculous rate at which rental prices in London have escalated over the last few years, to find somewhere affordable in zone 2 is really quite a fit, and Lewisham very much fits the bill. Not only this, but the reasonable cost of things extends to most of the local services, so when it comes to getting a haircut, doing some dry cleaning or picking up a takeaway, you'll find it compares very favorably to other London boroughs.
The next key benefit is the transport links. With a DLR service that takes you straight to Bank via Canary Wharf, or on to Stratford, and an over ground route that gets you to London Bridge or Waterloo in less than 20 minutes, you can get to most places without too much trouble.
Key feature number three is the green space. Although Lewisham itself isn't necessary renowned for any great parks, a 10 minute stroll takes you to Blackheath, where you have all the green space you could want - not least because it backs onto the even bigger Greenwich park!
On the negative, Lewisham is not the most attractive of places. Dull grey streets populated with litter from all of the various fast food chains doesn't make the most scenic back drop. In addition, the shops could certainly do with some more variety. Lee High road is a particularly good example, where ninety percent of the stores are either late night hair dressers or takeaways. Pub-wise, you'll struggle to find anywhere very nice without venturing to Greenwich or New Cross, with the Dirty South typical of the local fare.
I had a really good op brewing. I was going to write about south-east London in general, because I think it’s the coolest place in the world, and we get far too much flak. Some of this bitching is justified - yes, the accent is horrendous (“saaaaarf east London innit?”) - but a lot of it is prejudice. You might be surprised to learn that a few million people venture south of Waterloo on a daily basis, even live there, without being stabbed, shot etc. Anyway, I emailed Monica with my wonderful suggestion, and I now have a whole load of new neighbourhoods to write about (Peckham, New Cross etc), but no general category. I’m quite disappointed, because I was going to do a really long thing broken down by postcode (all 28 of them) and I’m rather fond of postcodes (it’s a mutant trainspotter gene, I think). You have a lot to thank Monica for, really. So…I’ve decided to write about Lewisham instead. Lewisham is a borough, and also a town. Aha, she said, seeing a loophole. I’m going to review the borough. And I’ve just thought of a way to sneak in my geekery (oh happy day). Here is a list of (and mini-guide to) the areas within the borough of Lewisham and, you’ve guessed it, their postcodes. * Blackheath (SE3) Blackheath is lovely. (Hardly anybody gets murdered in Blackheath.) The centre has a really villagey feel to it, with a lot of independent retailers and cute little cafes. Its most famous asset is the heath itself, and I would like to take this opportunity to put an end to the urban myth which says that Blackheath is so named because the bodies of the plague victims are buried there. The name is quite simply derived from the colour of the soil on the heath, which is unusually dark. Or that’s what the local council would have you know, anyway. Property prices are among the highest in the region because there are loads of huge, attractive Geo
rgian terraces, but you get what you pay for. If it was a supermarket, it’d be Waitrose. And Deptford would be Kwik Save, but more on that later. * Brockley (SE4) Brockley has a lot of comic potential, not as a place but as a name. We’re moving there in about two weeks, and I’ve already heard all the broccoli jokes my brain can handle. The area itself is mostly residential, with a lot of Victorian terraces; the Lewisham website (www.lewisham.gov.uk), in case anyone is interested, says it has “an atmosphere of faded elegance”, which is a far better description than I could have come up with. There aren’t many interesting features to note except the Brockley Jack pub, which has a fringe theatre inside, and Hilly Fields, which is a large dog-walking and kite-flying common. (I’m sure you can do other stuff there too, it just seems most suited to those two things.) There’s a row of essential shops around Brockley Cross (including The Cross Launderette which never ceases to amuse me), but they’re a bit scary. * Catford (SE6) Catford’s most recognisable landmark, and this is quite telling, is a giant plastic cat mounted above the shopping centre. This looks slightly unsettling on a sunny day, and positively menacing in the rain. If you can overcome your fear of this beast however, Catford isn’t too bad. It’s like a mini-Lewisham, with a ‘proper’ town centre (ie. recognisable high street stores) and a theatre. (Well I say theatre, but it’s more of a playhouse – the kind of place where the Chuckle Brothers might perform their Christmas special.) There’s also a three-screen cinema which is quite cheap (less than a fiver anyway), a reasonable library and a gorgeous Turkish bakery near the station. But the best thing about Catford is the greyhound track. If you can lay your hands on a copy of the Lewisham and Catford News Shopper (the local f
ree paper), you can cut out a token for free midweek admission, and it’s totally worth it. We didn’t place any bets when we went because we didn’t know how and were afraid to ask, but it’s tremendous fun just watching. See if you can borrow a sheepskin coat, to be accepted by the locals. And they sell beer and pies too. * Deptford (SE8) Deptford has a reputation for being a bit rough round the edges. And, um, ah, well…it is. It probably isn’t somewhere you’ll want to visit. Having said that, it does have character, and fantastic photo opportunities if you’re brave enough to carry something as valuable as a camera around. There is a lively market on Saturdays selling fresh produce and ripped off designer gear, also St Paul’s Church (which I’ve never got around to visiting, but has been highly recommended to me). There are three other pluses: its proximity to New Cross means it has a thriving artistic community (see SE14); Gary Oldman grew up in Deptford and his amazing film Nil By Mouth was shot here; and if you keep walking long enough you’ll probably end up in Greenwich. * Forest Hill (SE23) I lived here very briefly when I was studying at Camberwell College of Arts, and my resounding memory is of the insane family I lodged with rather than the area. But I do remember it having a perfectly good town centre (supermarkets, banks, the obligatory Wetherspoons), and also the Horniman Museum (another comedy name). Apparently every kid who ever grew up in London was taken here on school trips – it has an aquarium, and exhibitions in the seemingly random categories of toys and games, natural history, and musical instruments. Go figure. But entry is absolutely free, which is always a bonus. * Grove Park (SE12) Grove Park is a residential suburb. Even the aforementioned borough website can find nothing to say about it, so I’m damned if I’
;m going to try. Seriously, there’s nothing there but a chemist and a couple of pubs. You’re practically in Kent though, so at least you can take advantage of Bromley nearby, which has a huge centre and is only a 70p bus ride away. * Hither Green (SE13) Until 100 years ago, Hither Green was entirely rural. Archibald Cameron (whoever he was – I’ve shamelessly nicked this fact from the Lewisham website because I thought it was quite interesting) built 300 houses on farmland between 1897 and 1913, which by all accounts are now *the* tourist attraction in Hither Green. Yep, it’s another residential suburb, but it’s a lot prettier and quieter than most (don’t forget that in London silence is a rare and precious commodity). There are a lot of tree-lined avenues with four or five storey houses, but that’s about all. It’s a great ‘gateway’ place to try when you first move to the city because it’s only about a 10-15 minute walk from central Lewisham, but prices are really cheap because of the lack of immediate shops and amenities. * Lewisham (SE13) I’m going to come back to Lewisham proper, because there’s quite a lot to say about it. And in truth I know this category is really meant for Lewisham the town and not Lewisham the borough, and I don’t want my op locking for being irrelevant to the title. * Lee (SE12) Lee is considered another good ‘first step’ area when moving to London because, again, it is cheap. It has a slightly bigger centre than Hither Green, with a Sainsbury’s and some reasonable pubs; also the two silliest shops I have ever seen (unless you are a wide-footed accordion player) – Wide Shoes (honestly) and an accordion repairer. I guess the shops aren’t silly within their own right, but putting them in a village location like Lee is, where the other outlets are newsagents and Chinese tak
e-aways. * New Cross (SE14) New Cross gets a bit of a bad press, I think. Last year someone brandished an axe in Sainsbury’s, but apart from that I haven’t read about an awful lot of scary stuff happening. I think New Cross’ image problem has more to do with poverty than crime; the main area looks run down and it puts people off. (There is also a disproportionate number of fried chicken ‘restaurants’ per person, and I don’t know why that should lower the tone of the place, but it does.) Once you move away from the seedy centre though (there are cafes which will sell you hash over the counter, which could be seen either as a plus or a minus), there are some really pretty old houses being sold dirt cheap (well, for London). There are a lot of students living there (which probably doesn’t do it any favours either), either from Goldsmiths University (one of the best places for arts degrees in the country – Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas are alumni) or the Laban Dance Centre (one of the top higher-ed level dance schools). Telegraph Hill Park is lovely, with excellent panoramic views of central London. It’s also one of the only places in south-east London to have a tube. * Sydenham (SE26) I’m ashamed to say this, but the only place I have been in Sydenham is the Sainsbury’s Savacentre (I’ve noticed that Sainsbury’s has cropped up a lot – I’m not working for them or a member of the Jamie Oliver Fan Club, I promise). It’s really big and sells not just groceries but electrical goods, clothes and toys, and has a restaurant and post office inside. I was impressed, but then I think I’m quite easily won over. Sydenham Wells Park and St Bartholomew’s Church are both supposed to be worth visiting, but I daren’t extol their virtues in case you go all the way out there and they’re crap. Right…back to Lewisham itself.
First great thing about Lewisham: you can actually get to it. Easily. South-east London is notoriously badly connected transport-wise, but Lewisham has a regular overground train service (to Victoria, Charing Cross, Waterloo East, London Bridge and Cannon Street), the Docklands Light Railway and several bus routes which run into central London. Even at night. Hurrah! Second great thing about Lewisham: it has personality. And I don’t mean that in the sense that it's used about people (“yeah yeah, she has a nice personality” – translating as “she’s ugly as a box of frogs”) or certain other places (cough – Deptford) when what you really mean is that it’s terrifying as all hell. It really is a vibrant and exciting place to be. Third great thing about Lewisham: Italian Vogue compared it to Montmartre in Paris. This is dubious wisdom, but it’s a nice compliment so I’m going to let it stand. Fourth great thing about Lewisham: it has real, useful shops. You can buy pretty much whatever you need from Lewisham – clothes, books, toys, plants, trainers, music, haberdash. It has a good indoor shopping centre and outdoor market, as well as larger stores like MFI and Allied Carpets (this may or may not excite you – I’ve just been taking all these places in because we’re moving soon). Fifth great thing about Lewisham: it’s cheap to live (again, I’m going by London standards. In the general scheme of things you’d be better off moving to Newcastle, where I’ve heard you can buy whole housing estates for fifty quid). There are lots of estate agents (steer clear of Acorn though, who are the most unprofessional firm you are ever likely to come across) with properties to rent from about £600 pcm and to buy from about £110,000. This also means that most houses are in a low Council Tax band, so you have extra money to spend on
sweets. Sixth great thing about Lewisham: plenty of places to eat, drink and go out. There is a plethora of pubs, bars and cafes, including (somewhat surprisingly for south-east London) a gay pub called the Roebuck. I have never sampled its delights, but have been reliably informed that on Thursdays there is a drag queen DJ called Dave Rossi and he has his own posse. It rhymes, see? Seventh great thing about Lewisham: it has a clock tower. Okay, so that’s not *so* great, but if I didn’t mention it someone is sure to write in the commentary asking why I’ve missed it out, and have I ever really been to Lewisham at all, etc etc. Eighth great thing about Lewisham: it’s in south-east London. That’s what this is really about. The areas, when I was writing about them individually, don’t sound like much. And no, I probably wouldn’t recommend that you visit most of them. But put them all together and they have a vibe unlike any other part of the capital. We’re the underdog down here. (Tell a North Londoner you live in Lewisham and they’ll just laugh at you.) But I think we’ve been downtrodden too long. Long live markets and jellied eels (hmm) and yeah, okay, being slightly intimidated when you chance upon a new street. We were talking about places to live the other day and I suggested Lewisham, and my flatmate said that I had middle-class yearnings for grit and I’d grow out of them. He may well be right, but I don’t care. It rocks down here.