Views of Deptford

© 2005, Peter Marshall

While I was on holiday around the beginning of last month, I watched the first part of a BBC Two series ‘The Secret History of Our Streets.’ It was an interesting programme, but as I watched it there were some aspects that didn’t quite ring true, as well as a few silly gaffes. Like many TV programmes it concentrated on ‘characters’, and one of those, a local politician, it quite obviously had set out to pillory. But many things, not least the dates when things happened didn’t add up and rather than the villain the programme was determined to make him, he has probably done more to preserve the positive features of the area than anyone else. Without his efforts it would be a very different and a very worse place.

Deptford has seen its ups and downs over the years, and like much of East London near the Thames one of the really big changes in the post war era has been the complete loss of the docks and wharves, once the defining industry of the area. Over the years I’ve photographed much of the area, including new and old housing, the Pepys Estate and Albury Street, and been aware – as the programme makers obviously were not – of some of the planning issues and politics involved both locally and also nationally.

It’s always easy to demonise planners and architects, but back the the sixties when estates like Pepys and Evelyn were being built it was planners and architects who were among the strongest critics of such developments. While the programme very much implied that Nicholas Taylor was responsible for this kind of development, he was actually a leader in the fight against it, and in 1971, after these schemes had been built, stood for the council and after Labour regained power, fought hard and largely successfully for  “a more humane, low density and low-rise approach to inner city housing” which he had argued the case for in his book ‘The Village in the City.’

© 2005, Peter Marshall

© 2005, Peter Marshall

© 2005, Peter Marshall

The programme has aroused some controversy on its blog, although apparently a number of critical comments have been removed, those who know the area and what happened in the 1970s and since have largely been appalled by the treatment of Taylor. One of his sons along with some friends have set up a web site, Deptford: Putting the Record Straight and distributed a leaflet in the neighbourhood about the bias of the programme.

Although the BBC is supposedly a responsible public corporation, there really does seem to be little control over it, and certainly little chance of effective public redress when – as in this case – programme makers really get things so wrong.  Really there should be an extra programme added to the series to correct the errors and give the corrections the same level of publicity as the misrepresentations, but I think that extremely unlikely.  And it’s worrying that the reputation of the BBC is used to promote such shoddily researched material.

The pictures here are a few of those that I’ve taken in Deptford in the past ten years, which has seen a change in the area that the BBC programme hardly noticed, with much tidying up and the growth of a large artistic community. The Laban Dance Centre is a major recent cultural  hub on Deptford Creek, and not far away is one of England’s finest baroque churches. We did get a quick glimpse of  Albury St, (though it was incorrectly described.) Formerly called Union St, it was named after the union of England and Scotland in 1707 and the terrace on the north side dates from around then.

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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

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