Rye Lane, Peckham

Peckham Library

Mention that you live in Peckham and most strangers gleefully enquire whether you drive a three wheeled van or live next door to 'Trigger'. Countering that the Only Fools and Horses film crews set up their cameras in Bristol rather than south east London doesn't seem to deter them. The on-screen world of ‘Del Boy’ bears little resemblance with reality and the only ‘trotters’ to be found are in the butcher’s shops. Rye Lane slices through the heart of Peckham and a saunter along its pavements reveals a slice of zone two London as yet untouched by the homogenising touch of modern retail. The street and surrounding side roads are a distinctly chain store free zone. Local entrepreneurship is in the ascendancy and most of those doing the selling are immigrants from an array of nationalities. There is no better place in London to buy international phone cards and avoid trendy wine bars. The effect of this melting pot is chaotic, exhilarating, scruffy, noisy, smelly and colourful in equal measure. Buses and cars battle with pedestrians for superiority and a raw energy crackles in the air.

Book-ending Rye Lane is the large green space of the common to the south and the Will Alsop’s iconic Peckham Library building to the north. The latter is an emblem for the ongoing regeneration of the area and this bold vision of modernity is soon to be joined by Peckham Pier, another Alsop building, this one a gallery space supported by the Camberwell and Chelsea art colleges. Peckham has long been an artistic refuge and a detour to the increasingly gentrified Bellenden Road reveals cast iron bollards designed by local famous person Anthony Gormley. Newcastle may have an Angel but Peckham can boast slowly rusting street furniture of a slightly phallic nature.

The tree lined Rye common is where an eight year old William Blake saw a vision of angels in a tree and is also the reputed site of Bodicea’s great battle against the Romans. The space is a picnicker’s paradise and the Clock House pub is a short stroll for a pint. Outside the library the lights illuminating the canopy in the square change colour in accordance to air temperature. When standing under its protection look across the street towards the ‘Crackerjack’ discount store where, beyond the shop front, you will see a rather crooked, elderly structure. It is a remnant of when Peckham was a village on the edge of the metropolis and is one of the oldest timber framed buildings still standing in London.

But Peckham is changing, a new tram link is on the cards to connect the area with Kings Cross (Peckham to Paris in two and a half hours!) and the whiff of focaccia is already wafting in with new professional arrivals looking for property bargains. Probably best to head south double quick before the Starbucks start to appear. Try making the visit on a Sunday morning when the excellent farmers’ market is in full swing outside the library.

How to get there

Peckham Rye station is situated slap bang in the in the middle of Rye Lane. There are regular services from Victoria and London Bridge Stations. Turn left out of the station for the library, do a right for the common. Google map.



I grew up around that area in the 60s/70s and find it a bit sad that Peckham's fortunes seemd to plummet while nearby East Dulwich was comprehensively yupped. But,as you suggest, Peckham may be hard-up but its mood can still be upbeat. In that way, it reminds me of Brixton a couple of decades back.

I love the library and, if you're up that way, maybe you should consider lunch in Manze's pie and mash shop or the Criterion Cafe opposite the bus depot? Both recommended.

Artist Tom Phillips also has a studio in Bellenden Road - Salman Rushdie was supposed to have hung out there playing ping pong at the height of the fatwa.

In 'Ballad Of Peckham Rye' Muriel Spark suggests that Boadecia topped herself on the Rye, approximately in the area of the bowling green - apocryphal, I suspect!

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