Saturday, 13 May 2017

Of Waterloo sunsets, Peckham Rye and the Pleasuance at Well Hall

Now it is just one of those things that you miss where you grew up.

Coming home, 2013
It is such an obvious statement but is none the less true.

I left south east London in 1969 for Manchester unsure what was ahead of me but convinced that I would be back, but like most plans it never happened.

Manchester is where I ended up, got married bought a house and brought up four kids.

In my twenties I can’t say I missed London and I guess it wasn’t until quite recently, long after I qualified for a concessionary bus pass and reached an age to be rewarded with the winter fuel payment that I began to think of home.

Well Hall, 2011
And home really only begins when the ferry docks or the  train pulls across the river into Waterloo and then I know I am back.

Another 20 or so minutes later and after the train has taken that curve I have arrived home in Eltham.

But then because we moved around, the train could quite easily have taken me to Queens Road or New Cross and because for a long time our Elizabeth lived in Plumstead and Woolwich there was that other set of railway stations.

My kids always know which special song to play for me and ever since I first heard Waterloo Sunset it has been my tune, with a special meaning given that Kay and I would meet every Friday night under that clock.

Ten years earlier Waterloo Station would be one of the destinations along with London Bridge which would be the start of an adventure.

Woolwich, 2015
For with 2/6d pocket money and aged just ten there were lots of places you could go for a modest return fare and still have change for a variety of sweets.

Sometimes you struck gold and on other occasions you ended up in a dreary back street beside a canal with grim tall buildings all around you.

But that didn’t matter because the fun was in the expectation of where you might go and once there roaming across the city in search of anything that looked interesting.

And there were the bombsites which were still pretty much in evidence all around us.  Most of the time there wasn’t much to discover, but once we found a gas mask still in its box with the green paint and black rubber looking brand new.

Woolwich, circa 1940s
And then there was the old bombed church of St Mary’s which was a place where with a shared candle  a group of you could wander through the crypt anticipating all sorts of horrors and finding only a damp and smelly mattress.

Some adventures turned out not so well, like the time me, Jimmy O’Donnel and John Cox having walked from Lausanne Road to Greenwich, took the wrong turning by the entrance to the foot tunnel and instead of standing on the sand in front of the Naval College we turned left walked amongst the barges and sank up to our ankles in oily Thames mud.

To this day I remain ashamed that I blamed the other two when mother interrogated me on arriving home.

Worse than the interrogation was the bath that followed which seemed to take hours and involved much scrubbing to remove the dried mud from me and even longer to make my shoes half decent.

Today those trips are less perilous but no less fun and often involve a brief visit to an old haunt like the Pleasaunce at Well Hall which is only a few minute’s walk from our old house.

Cambden Churc, 1904
Of course I am well aware that the places of my youth have changed and as in the case of Woolwich pretty dramatically but I don’t subscribe to that throw away judgement that places I knew are “now rubbish”, they are just different and no doubt there would be those catapulted into the 21st century from 1900 who would mourn the passing of the “smoke hole” at Woolwich and wish there were two lanes of traffic forcing their way down Powis Street.

I suppose for those of us who leave it is always a bit odd to be confronted with the disappearance of all our childhood memories.

That said I never tire of Waterloo Sunset or arriving south over the river.

Location; south of the river

Pictures from the collection of Andrew Simpson, Scott MacDonald and Elizabeth and Collin Fitzpatrick and Steve Bardrick, Camden Church Peckham Road, circa 1904, Albert Flint Photographer and Publisher, 68 Church Street, Camberwell in the series Camberwell, marked by Tuck and Sons, and reproduced courtesy of Tuck DB,


  1. A real good read Andrew and pretty much spot on, we all change with age and some are pessimistic in moving on, but its always there that memory or reminder that we were once young that music was better you could sing along and didn't need more than a pint of shandy and a portion of chips to make the world a better place,
    We may now have more but it seems less, It was our time and nothing can replace it or take it away Peckham Rye bus garage no's 36-37 filled with banter loaded passengers pointed towards north and each destination altering its own characters to suit
    Dulwich, Brixton, Clapton juncton,Battersy rise, Walthamstow, Barns, Richmond Isleworth, Hounslow 2 hours each way full to the brim of London's suburbs
    transfer to New Cross garage and drive the number 1 southbound to the outpost of Bromley in Kent,, or northbound via Catford, Lewisham clarington house Deptford,the notorious Pepe's estate, Surrey docks Southwark park Bermondsy, Bricklayers Arms, Old Kent road Elephant, St Giles to the sound of Waterloo sunset over Waterloo bridge, the shame is our children and grand children will only ever hear our versions, not live them.
    I could go on

  2. I never lived in Peckham. Our family business remains there. I worked there a lot of my working life. I grew up with memorable Peckham-ites, who I remember and love to this day. I have many happy memories.