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How planners ripped the heart out of Deptford Market

John Price, Deptford High Street

If you missed The Secret History of Our Streets: Deptford (BBC2), then catch up here to see how well-meaning planners with more ideology than sense ripped the heart out of a community.

The programme is one in a series that looks at how London streets have evolved through the people who have lived there.

John Price comes from a long line of Deptford market stall holders, going back some 250 years and he still runs a shop on the street. He talked about the community that lived and worked around the market, making a handsome living from stalls situated just yards from their homes and drinking in the many pubs (most now closed or turned into betting shops).

Then came the 1960s and a generation of planners soaked in modernism and the ideas of the Bauhaus (coincidentally the subject of an exhibition running  at the Barbican right now).  Footage from the time shows  planners talking about a new London that would rise from the post-war ruins and run like a machine. It would have areas dedicated to different kinds of activity and people. For these zealots the only way forward was to destroy large swathes of the city and replace the hugger-mugger Victorian terraces with “machines for living”.

The problem was to find places to start and working class areas of London, where the terraces were unmodernised, and had no indoor toilets or bathrooms, seemed to be the obvious place.  Deptford fit the bill and soon planners were patrolling streets of owner-occupied houses, issuing notices that the houses were: ‘Unfit for human habitation’.

No doubt many of them were in bad shape.  Former chair of Lewisham Planning authority, Nicholas Taylor, insists that most were in a dilapidated state but, he was not happy about the wholesale clearance and, once he was appointed, did his best to slow things down.

It was too late for John Price.  His auntie refused the compulsory purchase order and stayed on as houses were demolished to the left and the right. As Price grimly remembers, those who were left  found that their houses soon became unfit, as vermin moved into the ruins, water pipes were cut off and the their value plunged.  In the end they were forced to accept re-housing in  newly-built tower blocks.

Footage from the time reminds us that bricks and mortar do not make a home, as women cut off from  familiar streets and neighbours, talk about how lonely they are and how much they miss their families and friends.

Perhaps more shocking is the modern footage of a young professional couple, being shown around a house in one of the few Victorian streets that survived the cull, by an estate agent.  The house (now worth £750,000) is described in glowing terms as they are shown its many original features. As Price points out, houses just like those in Deptford, can be found all over London. Nobody tried to tear down the terraces in Chelsea.

Nicholas Taylor is a little unfairly cast as the ‘baddy’ in this parable about unthinking, unfeeling bureaucracy.  But there are many other villains who probably have a lot more to answer for. Visit the Barbican  if you can, and see how a group of gifted, creative, dynamic people can come up with wonderful ideas – and then assume that they have the right to turn them into rules that other people should follow.

Check out producer, Joseph Bullman’s blog for more on this wonderful series,

 

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2 Responses to How planners ripped the heart out of Deptford Market

  1. Tony Johnson

    June 13, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Wonderful programme and 100% accurate.

    I lived in a similar strong Community in Walworth which was destroyed by The Aylesbury/Heygate Estates. Our families had endless friends and relatives nearby so help was always at hand and it was heartbreaking to see the former residents split up and isolated in The New Towns and Home Counties.

    The older ones gradually passed on thru’ the ensuing decades and the younger generations chose to move as “their” London and its distinct Culture , virtually, disappearred and was replaced by Cultures that many could not relate to.

    Now most of us DO live happily in Kent/Surrey/Essex recreating a more contemporary and sophisticated 2012 version of what our descendents had….by 30 years later I STILL go back to alworth every week for the vibe/stimulation and to get the adrenalin flowing :)

  2. Martin Taylor

    June 22, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Hi

    I am the son of Nicholas Taylor and was horrified by the way viewers of the prog seem to have got the impression he was responsible for demolitions and an advocate of them when he in fact campaigned against them. They also seem to have got a misleading impression of the history of Deptford and of Deptford as it is today. I have put together a booklet on all of this to ‘put the record straight’. If anyone is interested it is on deptfordptrs.com. Cheers Martin

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