London riots reach Peckham

It was perhaps unsurprising that Like Tottenham and Hackney on previous successive nights, the riots that have broken out in various areas of London (nationwide as I write) reached Peckham. Rumours had emanated from a number of sources, some shops closed early and police sirens wailed from late afternoon into the evening. I noticed a crowd of mostly but not exclusively young people at Peckham square their gazes and kino eyes of their camera phones pointing towards Rye Lane. A thin police line in full riot gear formed a barrier from just beyond number 3 Rye Lane, the old Jones and Higgins store clock tower on one side and to the pawn brokers on the other side of the road. On Peckham road in the direction leading towards Camberwell stood a small number of hooded youth. Younger boys rode through in what I can only describe as “ride by rioting” which involved randomly throwing objects whilst riding away at speed. Where the police stood their ground, the rioters dispersed, but went on to choose a new target. The lack of police numbers meant this game of cat and mouse went on for a number of hours. The controversial “kettling” police tactic would not have been effective due to lack of police numbers and the fluidity of the rioters. Some rioters had managed to break in and loot the clothing store Blue Inc located underneath the clock tower of the old Jones and Higgins store that police had earlier formed a line just beyond. Some rioters attempted to set fire to the store a few times, but luckily others extinguished it. Having seen the sad sight of the massive fire that destroyed the House of Reeves store in Croydon, I dread to think what would have happened if they had succeeded. The clock tower, albeit underused is an important building in the history Peckham.

Clothing store Blue Inc located under the historic clock tower is looted

Further down rye lane rioters looted Iceland and Clarkes factory outlet store. By the time the police had caught up some others had broken the glass of the Santander bank. It was easy for the rioters to evade the police, regroup and attack a new target, darting and diving down roads leading off Rye lane.

Clarkes  store after looters had left
Clarkes was one of stores broken into









Amongst the youths a middle aged woman urged people to regroup at Peckham police station, as she still had no answers about the death of her son after ten years. The attempted gathering at Peckham police station whether at her behest or not was met by lanes of police cars and a procession of armoured vehicles.

Armoured police cars by peckham police station
Armoured police vehicles by peckham police station

Whilst this was going on, further down Rye Lane a shop had been set on fire, helicopters paused overhead and once the fire had been extinguished the cat and mouse games continued well into the night with youths throwing fireworks at the police.

A store is ablaze along rye lane
A store is ablaze along rye lane







This was a tragic but surreal experience, amongst the small number of rioters and looters I noticed tourists amongst the spectators joking about the ammount of people that stopped to take pictures of a damaged “ATM”. In one barber shop it was business as usual, the metal grilling down but a gentleman getting a short back and sides. Wheelie bins were set alight and placed on Peckham Hill street by the library, cars and buses drove on to the pavement to avoid hitting the bins. Excited youths, a lot of them not rioting nor looting narrowly avoided being ran over by motorists too frightened to slow down or stop at red lights due to the youths running towards any “action” and running away once the police charged.

Wheelie bins were set alight and placed on Peckham Hill street by the library
Wheelie bins were set alight and placed on Peckham Hill street by the library

As night fell the Giselle boutique was broken into, a fracas developed as some girls ordered fellow rioters to return what had been taken before preventing anyone else getting in. Unfortunately this didn’t last as later in the evening the shop was again looted this time according to press reports with no restraint shown.

Crowds gather at Peckham square
Crowds gather at Peckham square
Later police are in charge at Peckham square
Later police are in charge at Peckham square, but this fluctuated during the riot
the poilce line before the looting of Blue Inc on Rye Lane
The poilce line before the looting of Blue Inc on Rye Lane
Rear of police line just outside Peckham Police station
The window of Primak is smashed as spectators gather
The window of Primak is smashed as spectators gather
Police stance at HSBC
“Cat and mouse” another Police stance on Rye Lane this time at at HSBC



























In the last couple of day,a project initiated by Chicken Shed theatre has become the go to “something positive, feelgood story” tv news programmes ardor. The idea is to leave a message reaffirming Peckhamites love of Peckham.

Messages for Peckham
Messages for Peckham
we love peckham

Peckham Fire

So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower; and there got up upon one of the high places, . . .and there I did see the houses at the end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side . . . of the bridge.

Samuel Pepys’ Diary Entry, September 2 1666. Describing the great fire of London.

IF we may substitute the Tower for Willowbrook bridge and pudding-lane for Sumner road, but retain the way the fire leaped across buildings and spread quickly, The fire of 26th of November 2009 will live long in the memories of the people of North Peckham as the Great fire has done in all Londoners. Thankfully no losses of life or serious injuries are thought to have occurred in Peckham. Initial investigations seem to suggest some gas cylinders had caught fire on a building site, the demolished former Camberwell college of arts building on Sumner road, the resulting explosions spreading fire to neighbouring residential buildings. I was awoken by a call from some friends, and made my way to the scene. Scatterings of people lined the canal path and under Willowbrook bridge, men and women in dressing gowns and slippers, hoodies young and old, women in colourful African cloths, some others camped outside the Glengall tavern clinging to the wooden benches bolted on the pavement outside the pub on the junction of bird in bush road. They all stood in shock, necks craning towards the inferno that would tease the firefights by subsiding then flaring up again for a series of curtain calls and last hurrahs. It seemed some residents of Peckham hill street had opened up their homes to some of the more vulnerable evacuees on this very cold early morning. Some others, children, elderly people stood watching and waiting even the usually lively pit bulls and their boys stood in quite contemplation. I mingled whilst seeking my friends, “I swear brav I thought I was dreaming” some young men shared stories. “it spread so quickly” others confirmed each others experience of it. Many talked of a lady running, desperately waking her neighbours screaming fire. All huddled together against a common danger they had all escaped from, I wondered, was this, the “blitz spirit” writ large, whipped out every time Londoners face hardship. If so quite appropriate in this circumstance as the last devastation of this type in this area of Peckham was when a V1 flying bomb “doodlebug” fell on Willowbrook road in 1944.
The great fire of London forced a rethink on how the city was to be rebuilt with particular attention to layout, with the most famous plans being Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s built and of course still standing and John Evelyn’s proposals of boulevards and grand squares, eventually rejected as the city nor the King could afford the compensation the property and business owners would require for not having their structure rebuilt. I hope it’s not too churlish to suggest a rethink about how Sumner road is further developed comes about because of this tragic incident. The two estates that adorn Sumner road have already seen a share of the regeneration budgets of the 1990s. This is quite a depressing revelation, that smacks of missed opportunities. The design quality of the buildings put up in that period is quite shockingly bad, I didn’t see the plans or conceptual images the completed building would have been like on the site that caught fire but I can guess, something in the region of honey coloured bricked PVC’d windowed shoe boxes. Lets hope something positive and forward thinking and of benefit to the community is done eventually to the near by boarded up and abandoned Sumner work shop which itself has been vulnerable to spontaneous combustion in the past. We need a St Paul’s for this part of Peckham, not necessarily a church but something of quality that residents of this section of Peckham can be proud of and can promote this still forgotten side of Peckham.

And Design

D-FOR-DESIGNIn the midst of show after show of art and warehouse after warehouse succumbing to the charms of fine artists in Peckham, design remains noticeable by its absence. It seems design has taken up its usual place, playing second fiddle to art as it does in “Art and Design”. Where is the design? Where was the “Peckham pavilion” at the Milan furniture fair? Where is the Peckham branch of new designers? How many off-shots of London fashion week shows in the Bussey building? A curious state of affairs since arguably the catalyst for the current Peckham creative explosion was not a sculpture on the roof of the multi-story car park nor a painitng in a warehouse, but a piece of iconic design. I am of course referring to Peckham Library the most photographed and written about building in Peckham if not this side of the river. At its best design can captivate and stimulate as well as fulfill that common design student self delusion when asked why they wish to become a designer “to solve problems”; as opposed to becoming rich and famous which is probably closer to the truth of the matter. This was what was on Neville Brody’s mind in a recent interview.

Brody suggests over the past twenty-five years design has been in hibernation under a “great freeze” and that the graduates that have emerged are a “comfort and prestige generation.”

There’s no social contextualising at all going on. It’s about income and exposure.

The ongoing economic crisis has ended this compliancy, for the better according to Brody:

Well, the collapse of the economy does two things: it says that you’re not guaranteed that [income and exposure] anymore; and suddenly there’s a window of opportunity – I think the deep freeze has thawed.

This of course is not totally the fault of design students, the design industries are obsessed with constantly proving their economic value to business and the economy at large, as opposed to challenging the status quo and “solving” any problems. One shouldn’t really blame them I suppose, as the first thing to be cut during economic hardships is usually the design budget, which produces a fearful and eager to please design industry. With the cost of loans for further education and the government’s simplistic equation of university education = high wages, it’s no wonder the “comfort and prestige” mentality has persisted.

Perhaps a few design squats are in order, especially for fresh young things. Lettice Drake and Paloma Gormley are holding the end up for architecture with the campari structure to go along side the Bold tendencies exhibition, but where are the other design disciplines? Instead of trying to persuade H&M to replace the woolies as a recent facebook campaign unsuccessfully did, what about some young fashion designers taking over the whole space and unleashing their collections on the Peckham public? What would a great typographic solution have been like to the “I love Peckham” banners as opposed to artists Madeline Herbert and Leah Germann’s work? How much further would a talented product designer have taken the notion of street furniture, bollards and lampposts?

As Peckham library has proved, a great piece of design can have a huge influence on an area, it’s unfortunate Peckham has fallen out of love with those who can produce design. With an area associated with a number of “problems” they should be quite a lot for keen designers to “solve”.

I shall conculde with a few more choice words from old Nev:

The idea that the work we were doing could help change society, could help society for the better, and what we were doing wasn’t really about developing careers or ways to make money.

For twenty-five years graphic design has been purely commercial, and finally we’ve reached a place of amazing possibilities again. The elite systems that Regan and Thatcher put into place, which were the banking system and the major success of wall street and the city of London, those belief systems have collapsed in many ways, politics is different now the world is different now.

Art huh, yeah what is it good for?

NO-BALL-GAMES-PECKHAMI believe it was Edwin Starr who so eloquently sang “Art huh, yeah what is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Good God, what is it good for! Absolutely nothing! Say it again, y’all! Err……Sorry that’s War not Art, simple mistake both have the letters A and R in them… moving on swiftly. It would appear, Peckham now pronounced (PEE –CAM) is now the official up and coming, already arrived, trendy, urban art hotspot! This level of artistic excitement has not been witnessed since William Blake consumed those funny mushrooms on Peckham Rye and was visited by the Prophet Ezekiel. This is similar to what happens to me. The exception is I grow a Jheri curl and quote from Ezekiel 25:17 whilst contemplating the difference in cheese quality from burgers from around the world. I really must avoid meat items from some of those dodgy butchers on rye lane, great vengeance and furious anger indeed. Anyway all manner of trendster outlets and publications have hailed Peckham as a cornucopia of artistic pleasures. If media reports are to be believed, Peckham is a gluttonous mass of artists being constantly stuffed to bursting point by the loving but abusive feeder/enablers of Camberwell college of arts and Goldsmiths college graduates. The “wafer-thin mint” that may cause Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life- The Autumn years” like consequence to Peckham’s inflated form being provided by London college of communications and Central saint Martins graduates.

A lot of this has to do with the spectacular response to the Hannah Barry gallery’s Peckham Pavilion at this years Venice biennale. However they’re not the only show in town. Area 10 on the site of the former Witten Timber yard, has been around since 2002. Auto Italia southeast at the former fiat showroom and garage on glengall road just off the old kent road has recently arrived. Not to mention the Anthony Gomley bollards, the Sassoon Gallery under peckham rye station arches. The artists in the Bussey building, The chronic love foundation In fact big shout out to all the others setting up and preparing to take their places in the pantheon at a latter date, word is born, Underdog art Company and Nolias gallery on old kent road…. word is born! Right, quite enough of that then. It must be boom time for warehouse proprietors.

I’ve observed a tri-partite approach, to how artists operate in Peckham. We have what I would term as the new age/anarchist/squat which I will call “squart” the more traditional art school to warehouse to international fame and fortune artist, which I will call “celebart” and “Pubart” public art which involves the artist having close links with the council, community involvement and collaboration such as the “I love Peckham festival” Of course crossovers can and do occur across the groups. Hannah Barry was part of the Lyndhurst way squat before embarking on her own gallery on Copeland road. Celebart seems to be engaging the formal art world, whilst Squart seems to be attempting an alternative lifestyle. All these are of course crude methods of classification, that would probably lead to those being classified insisting they and their work is unclassifiable. It seems Southwark council are more accommodating of celebart and Pubart then they are of Squart. It’s no surprise as celebart is more media friendly can reinvent and rebrand an area, something Southwark has been trying to achieve with Peckham for some time. In a similar vein pubart is seen as a form of “social regeneration” that accompanies the “honey coloured” bricks and “affordable units” Springing up everywhere.

This has been very good for Peckham in terms of positive media coverage, and good for celebart as those involved are seen as being on the vanguard of contemporary British art and embracing an “edgy”, “dodgy” area. Not so good for Squart as exemplified by Spike Surplus arts and community centre which was closed down in February as the council wish to sell the land to developers. Also not so good for pubart in difficult economic climates and impending spending cuts which will no doubt decimate arts budgets. This arrangement, as alluded to earlier is also good for developers who will in turn “develop” more properties in cool PEE-CAM, with only lip service paid to a couple of “affordable” units and “key worker” units and the rest being sold for extortionist prices the moment the market picks up once more. This is an interesting conundrum in terms of “legacy”. That’s right I’m getting all Olympics on your ass. Will the unintended legacy of celebart be gentrification? That is difficult to say at this stage. My particular take on legacy is following on from the recent Alan Milburn report regaurding social mobility or lack of it in Britain. Now I’ve not met ALL the artist plying their trade in Peckham but I’m willing to wager, barely one of them has been brought up in the area. If they have, they will likely to have been residents of the Bellenden regeneration area, as opposed to North Peckham or Friary estates for example. I’m not suggesting only artist from a particular area should be working in that area. I’m merely concerned about how to bring into existence the next generation to make the art world stand up and take notice can also be from North Peckham, friary and Aylesbury estates. The social mobility report concentrates on certain professions such as medicine, law, Journalism and the civil service. I’m willing to wager a similar story in terms of the number of independently schooled persons in the creative industries and in particular fine art. I’m not suggesting every artist living in Peckham should be made to participate in patronising “art” projects with “disadvantaged kids”. I am not suggesting ALL arts projects involvong “disadvantaged kids” are patronsing, or that such kids should not be engaged in art. I’m suggesting quite the opposite. How do you get the next generation of Peckhamites to be the producers as opposed to being the canvas ready to bear the marks of broad brushstrokes wielded by others.

Nobody is denying the hard work and sacrifice some of the artists have had to endure, for example the 78 Lyndhurst Way squat apparently at times lacked basic amenities such as water, electricity and was rat infested. This in a way is the romantic view of the life of an artist, the penniless vagrant with the exception being non of the present day crop expect to die in poverty and obscurity and have their work discovered by a later generation. Being on minimal benefits and living an extended “student lifestyle” has become a certain rites of passage. The current arguments about unpaid internships apply here also, Coming from a less connected less wealthy background, the need for income impends itself earlier. Also a world of difference exists in perception between someone from a working class and or minority background being on benefit to someone from a more affluent background. Ultimately creativity requires time and space; it is a tremendous risk for persons not from a particular background to enter this field. The invention and sacrifices these young artists have shown is admirable, but ultimately depends on incorporation into the mainstream, I have no doubt young people form less affluent and minority background can show the same level of inventiveness and sacrifice, the eventual access to the mainstream is where it all falls down.

I’ll leave you with some interesting quotes from artist and film maker Steve McQueen, the official artist for the British pavilion at this year’s Venice biennale, made before his 1999 turner prize win:

He has said in the past that he has had a better response in the US than he has at home.

”Maybe because black artists are more noticeable over there and gain a broader acceptance,” he said in one interview.

Also on receiving the Carl Foreman bafta for his mainstream film directorial debut Hunger:

I just wanna say to my mum, you were right one has to work twice as hard”


peckham-playhouseIt’s been a while since the launch of my alternative future Peckham manifesto/semi-literate rumblings depending on ones perspective, but I have returned with my first “outlandish” idea regarding the future development of Peckham. Drum rolls please! Bated breath and all that: PECKHAM PLAYHOUSE! Yes I believe the various problems in Peckham will be vanquished in one go by the implementing of bourgeois activities such as going to the theatre. Alright not vanquished, probably won’t make a huge difference to social ills come to think of it and theatre is NOT purely a bourgeois pursuit but still I bring THEATRE TO PECKHAM!. I am aware and applaud the work of theatre Peckham located behind the Town Hall and soon to be relocated to the now sadly closed Livesey Museum on the old kent road. This new theatre would be to complement, the mainly youth focused Theatre Peckham. My proposal is to turn Number 3 Rye Lane, the old Jones and Higgins store (the clock tower) into a theatre/concert venue and obligatory café/bar that accompanies such venues. Jones and Higgins established the branch in 1867 and the store closed in 1980. The current building was rebuilt after being damaged in the second world. Since then it’s been a succession of rubbish night clubs, cloths shops and phone card booths. For the music concert venue think of a mini Brixton academy. This to me would be an appropriate use for an iconic building in Peckham. It’s important to introduce viable night time entertainment, thus preventing rye lane becoming a ghost town after dark. This would provide the usual “economic benefits”, jobs and perhaps the rejuvenation of rye lane at night, the more people out at night the safer people will feel (note I said feel, not that they’ll be any more or less safe, which of course is dependent on a number of other factors) I am aware plans for a “Cultural quarter” have been rumbling from some time now :

The cultural quarter
The huge space at Area 10, also known locally as the old Whitten Timber yard, will be redeveloped as an events and entertainment complex, thus completing the transformation of the town square into our cultural quarter.

Area 10
Area 10

If I recall correctly huge plans were drawn up with the obligatory Will Alsop muli-coloured blob images which lost out to Baylight properties’ Hudson Featherstone designed mundane scheme which in turn appears to have been dumped because of the costs of such a large scale scheme.


Hudson Architects’ scheme, which includes bars, cafes and a large venue incorporating performance and workshop spaces, is under consideration by the council, as is another scheme for Peckham Square by the London Bubble Theatre.



Above the Baylight scheme the “preferred developer” for the stalled project.

Above the Alsop designed Urban Catalyst scheme, I suspect it may have resembled something like the Chips scheme in Manchester or a mini Palestra on Blackfriars road in London.

Perhaps I’m wrong and this will go ahead, but I rather suspect it’s been scaled down to the Alsop/Camberwell college of Arts “Peckham Space” and “high lavatory” idea which itself was supposed to have been built by 2005/6 but is due November 2009:

The £340,000 arts project, announced this week, is located directly outside the library and will include a central wall around which art installations and performances can take place, a cafe, bookshop and a tower containing a public lavatory, which offers views of Peckham’s skyline.



I wonder what happened to this design?

In November 2009 Peckham Space will open a new state-of-the-art contemporary art space on Peckham Square, London SE15.

The scheme had to solve some complex issues regarding land ownership, underground services and budget constraints


What, you mean no Alsop Lavatory?

I look forward to when this opens, but we still won’t have a dedicated theatre. My advice to Southwark is, stop your obsession with Peckham square and start using Peckham’s neglected buildings for some of these schemes. If the Clock tower is not available for such a scheme (can’t think why that would be the case) I have two, yes two other possible sites:

Site One

The Civic centre, the long standing library that closed down when Peckham library opened. A Wonderful building, opened in 1966 (Perhaps overshadowed by that world cup malarkey) with the distinctive Adam Kossoski “History of the old Kent road” ceramic tile frieze, depicting scenes from Roman times right up to the 1960s. It is currently used as a church by The Everlasting Arms Ministries. The emphasis of a main theatre would actually be reviving some of it’s former uses as it served as a venue for numerous events since it’s inception.



Site Two

St Mary’s Church near Queens road Peckham, a stunning 1960s building by the architectural practice Potter and Hare. Still a functioning church but has problems with a leaking roof ( it’s a church after all) and under floor heating that’s apparently beyond church funds from the weekly collection to repair, hence why the Church wish to knock it down and start over. I think the parishioners should get a new church – on another site! Thus allowing restoration and reuse, They must be some kind of restoration schemes available for such a project surely?



So who’s with me A THEATRE FOR PECKHAM! I’ve even picked out the French Cafe Chairs that can go in the café/bar area!

cafe chairs


peck-revHaving missed the boat on the official, and I’m sure wholly democratic and meticulously observed Southwark council public consultation on the future of Peckham, which no doubt gave short shrift to “developers” with a panache for bland “honey coloured brick” architecture and a Lilliputian sense of scale, I have dear friends, companions! Decided to publish my own master future Peckham plan! How am I qualified to comment upon and implement such a project I hear you cry? Well I’ve not spoken to the locals nor do I indent to, with the exception of the scantily clad young ladies in the summer months. I am local and do speak to myself but I’m sure that conjures up all manner of inappropriate connotations not relevant to the topic at hand. I do not intend to advocate for an “ethnic Disneyland” by constantly mentioning how “diverse” Peckham is. Nor do I intend this to be base camp for “it weren’t like that back in the day”, we’re the majority not minority “protest voting” BNP persons (did I mention I’m ethnically diverse?) This is not, finally “ain’t it cool! Peckham is the new Hoxton blah blah or Bellenden road the only “middle class” road in Peckham fun club. This is my two bobs worth of quite probably useless web infomercial on an Alternative Future Peckham, which may go viral if those symptoms of pig flu I’ve been displaying recently progress in a meaningful fashion. To paraphrase Henry’s cat, I know everything about nothing, and not too much about that.