You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2013.
I didn’t even know that it was Love your Local Market fortnight when I visited Lewisham Market last week. The main drawback to visiting Lewisham is that it is pedestrian unfriendly. Well at least until you get to the market itself. If arriving by public transport, at the station, the first thing you see is a huge traffic island. To motivate you to continue your journey there is a large painted turquoise wall sign with the words shop, enjoy, shopping on the far side of the island. It also has pastel yellow and pink flowers reminiscent of film credits from a 1960s Doris Day film. Once past the roundabout you come across the largest police station in Europe. I have heard jokes that it’s so big it can be seen from space. It is on the site of a former Army & Navy department store.
Lewisham Clock Tower is at the eastern end of the market. It was erected to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897. The exact date when the market started isn’t clear but it does date back to 1903. There are very few remnants left of the old market or town just the Clock Tower and the Co-Operative building which is now a gym. The town centre was devastated by a flying bomb in 1944. The present Lewisham Shopping Centre was built in 1977. Here and there are odd pieces of “Parisian Style” street furniture which just adds to the cacophony of the place. Despite this the market itself is vibrant.
No matter when you visit, and it is open Monday to Saturday, it is busy. I have been there on Monday and been astounded at the number of people shopping. There are a range of stalls selling fruit and vegetables, fish, clothes and hardware. Close by is Genaro’s Delicatessen which is one of Time Out London’s best food shops. A friend of mine, originally from Sardinia, berated me for buying supermarket own brand pasta. A practice I have since stopped. She only buys her pasta from Genaro’s. The two Turkish restaurants are also good.
Markets can be more than simply a place to shop they are an opportunity to see a slice of everyday life and culture. The Love your Local Market fortnight is nearly over but I have decided that it would be good to visit other markets along the Thames.
Have we anything to learn from the Americans about the future of our High Streets? Having just returned from a road trip along the east coast and the Appalachians I think we can learn from their mistakes. The development of the strip mall, a group of buildings housing several retail stores with a shared parking lot, have led to the decline of the downtown areas. They form a “sprawl” along the highways leading to a town. Bill Bryson described this vividly in his book the Lost Continent back in 1988. Now the strip malls themselves are in decline. I saw lots of vacant lots with the box like buildings beginning to decay. Just outside Asheville I came across a complete empty mall. This isn’t an isolated example and bloggers like dumpystripmalls are recording closures.
I’ve always thought that the strip malls are terribly inconvenient. You have to shlep from mall to mall confronting the traffic, it’s inefficient in both time and fuel and they are not attractive places. I’m pleased to learn I’m not alone in this. In this article about land use they conclude that the future of retail in the States belongs to town centres and main streets. Some of the towns I saw that were beginning to see the renaissance of their downtown areas were so vibrant and interesting. Culpeper and Ashville were two of the best places I visited. There were some common threads to their development. Some shop space was being used for art and community projects. There was a good range of shops many providing aritisan goods and crafts. Most had a micro-brewery making some really interesting craft beers. In Ashville there were seven!
We may not have the same sprawl as in the States but we do have our own version. In Charlton there is a sprawl along Bugsby Way and there are plans to expand it. The strategic objective in the Charlton Masterplan is to“Stitch together the retail and residential neighbourhoods” which sounds like a lot of meaningless fluff. Sainsburys are re-locating to the Woolwich Road and there is a new Marks & Spencer store planned. On top of this just down the road in Woolwich is the Tesco monolith overshadowing General Gordon Square. It seems to me that there is a policy conflict – a desire to maintain our historic town centres and have shopping centres or our version of the strip mall. In a time of economic decline and austerity is this feasible?
Latest retail figures for the UK show that we may well be following the example of the U.S. High Street footfall is up 3.4%, the strongest performance since December 2011, whilst shopping centre visitors fell 3%. One of the reasons cited is that shoppers have been put off by the unattractiveness of the out of town centres prinicipally caused by closures such as Comet. Just like the States the proximity of an evening scene for drinks and food helps footfall. I for one hope that this trend continues. However, rather than building on the experience of other places we seem set on a course to open more out of town centres and the danger is that Woolwich, Eltham High Street, Charlton Village and Blackheath Standard could be affected.
Walking around the gardens of Eltham Palace it’s hard to believe that the High Street is only five minutes away. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in the middle of rural Kent. Entrance to the Palace by foot is via Tilt Yard Approach or by Court Road. Now both of these roads have some interesting brick walls. Yes, I do think brick walls can be interesting. They date back to the 16th Century and have that texture that only comes with age. In fact the wall between number 34 and 36 Court Yard is listed and is on English Heritage’s at risk register. You will also notice the Tiltyard gate which would have been the entrance to the jousting area of the palace.
The original palace dates back to Edward ll 1305. Later the young Henry Vlll grew up here. Much of the old palace is now a ruin except for the Great Hall with its stunning hammer beam ceiling. In the 1930s the ruin was bought by the wealthy Courtauld family who built the Art Deco house. The two very different types of architecture 20th Century and Medieval do work in harmony.
A tour of the interior will take you back to pre-war decadence. For me it is not so much the luxurious gold bathroom, stunning entrance but the home movies of Ginny and Stephen that make you realise how fabulously wealthy they were. The house has been used in several films, advertisements and videos so is very recognisable.
After the Second World War the house became the headquarters of the Army Education Corp up until 1992. It must have fallen into disrepair at some point as this old photograph of the Tiltyard gate reveals. I have also spoken to a neighbour who worked at the palace some years ago. She told me that one of the best fireplaces were taken from the palace and were bought by the Greyhound public house which is now the Yak and Yeti restaurant in the High Street. It is a 15th Century stone fireplace with a Tudor arch and carved spandrels.
Even though I have walked in south east London a lot I am always still rather surprised at the about of open space and woodlands there are. It makes me feel good. I recently set off from Oxleas Meadows following the Green Chain route to Lesnes Abbey. The signage is good and easy to follow. However, the access through Woodlands Farm is now locked and you need to follow the diversion signs. This will take you to East Wickham Open space. The signage in the Bexley parts of this walk is not as clear as they could be. I find the information boards at East Wickham confusing mainly because they don’t have the “you are here” arrow.
The route takes you close to Plumstead Cemetery and I took the opportunity to look around. This cemetery was built because the churchyard of the Woolwich Parish Church of St Mary Magdelen became full. The Victorian fashion for the gothic is reflected in the headstones and statues. Military links to Woolwich are evident and there are two recipients of the Victoria Cross buried here. Alfred Smith VC (1861-1932) who was just 24 when he was awarded the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry. His medal is on display at the Royal Artillery Museum – Firepower. Thomas Flawn (1857-1925) was 21 when he was awarded the VC.
The route then takes you through Bostall Woods. Many of the oak trees were planted by the navy. The oak would have been used in the nearby Royal Dockyards at Woolwich and Deptford. Now, many of the oaks are dead many still standing but some fallen. The area has become overgrown in parts by holly.
My final destination was Lesnes Abbey which overlooks the river at Thamesmead. The monks were the first to reclaim this marsh land and the abbey dates back to 1178. It was one of the first monasteries to close 1524. Henry Vlll ordered all monasteries to be dissolved and sold their land and buildings to his wealthy supporters. Lesnes Abbey was pulled down and was quarried for its stone and building materials.