Sunday, 16 August 2015

“unquenchable vitality has pulsed through it for ninety years” ........ walking down Rye Lane in the summer of 1963 or how others saw us

Now I can’t quite make my mind up about this description of Rye Lane in the summer of 1963.

It comes from Nairn’s London which was written by Ian Nairn and published in 1966.  The notes on the back of the book describe it as “an intensely subjective search for the really good things in London ......some of its entries are already disappearing go and see the rest quickly.”*

The book has sat in our house for over thirty years since I bought it in a second hand book shop attracted by the bus on the front cover.

That said I know mother would have loved Mr Nairn’s descriptions of the London she knew and would have welcomed the fact that he strayed off the tourist beat and was as happy writing about Deptford, Peckham or Eltham as he was Westminster.

And for a lad born in Lambeth who grew up on Lausanne Road and later moved to Eltham I have to say I have enjoyed re reading it this summer.

So here is Mr Nair on Rye Lane,

“Now the east End has been gutted buy bombs and the wrong ort of rebuilding ......But Rye Lane must always be one of the best.  

It is an old road, hence narrow and with a few bends in it and unquenchable vitality has pulsed through it for ninety years.  It is not only the Victorian detail that is full of life, but the jazz modern and the daygl’d window displays.  Everything fits except timidity, and a Rye Lane shop front of 1933 matches a Rye Lane shop front of 1963 better than either resemble their prototypes.

In the same way the display on a coster’s barrow, a supermarket and a jeweller’s shop are part of the same family.  It is not a dying family; in fact with luck it is a forecast, not a relic.  A shoe shop advertisers ‘If it’s new, we’ve got it.’  

And I was once in the Hope public house when a stallholder ordered a vodka and tonic, because it was the fashion.  

His mates stood around and chanted the Volga Boat Song, because all fashions are a bit of a giggle.  

That’s the sort of place it is; and if this mixture is the Londoner’s reaction to the high-and low brow pressures we are offered as a standard of living, then we’re going to be alright.”

So there you have it, .......... one view of Peckham in 1963

Picture; cover of Nair’s London, Ian Nairn 1966

*Nair’s London, Ian Nairn 1966, Page 198

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