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All are invited to a garden party at All Saints church next to Peckham Rye Station.

The church, on Blenheim Grove, has recently opened up its front garden, with the help of volunteers and a grant from the Mayor of London.

It will be celebrating the space with a free party for the community in September, with food, music, a bouncy castle, face-painting and stalls.
The event takes place on Sunday September 7 from 12.30pm, and everyone is welcome. Look out for post-event photos in the next issue of The Peckham Peculiar!

James Whitten is the fourth generation of his family to run Whitten Timber on Peckham Hill Street. Now he’s organising a fascinating exhibition about the Grand Surrey Canal, and the part it played in his family’s business

Photo: Lima Charlie

Forget the London Overground. At one time, you could have travelled from Peckham to Rotherhithe by boat – or barge, to be precise – along the Grand Surrey Canal.

Today, the loodels and the locks, the gas boats and gongoozlers – a word meaning ‘people who enjoy watching activity on canals’ – are long gone. But in the 19th and early 20th centuries, South London’s lost waterway was a thriving hub.

The Grand Surrey Canal was built in the early 1800s. It began at Surrey Commercial Docks on the River Thames (now Surrey Quays) before winding three-and-a-half miles through Deptford, Bermondsey and Camberwell.

The Peckham branch of the canal opened in 1826, stretching half a mile from Glengall Wharf to where Peckham Library stands today. A large canal basin at the end allowed barges to turn round.

Surrey Commercial Docks specialised in timber, and dockers known as deal porters lugged huge balks of wood on their shoulders. It was hazardous work, and men wore protective leather headgear and aprons to guard against splinters.

In the 19th century, freight was shipped to London and loaded onto barges, which were pulled along the canal by horses on towpaths. The South Metropolitan Gas Company used the waterway to supply coal to its gasworks on the Old Kent Road.

The canal began to decline after the Second World War, as lorries became the dominant means of transport. Sections were shut off and drained, before it closed for good in the early 1970s.

A newspaper report in May 1971, which is posted in full on the London Canals website (londoncanals.uk), lamented the loss of the canal, contrasting it with its sister waterway, the Grand Union in North London.

“The Grand Union Canal is now rich and famous,” it begins. “It flows in a stately fashion from West London through Maida Vale, the Zoo, and Regent’s Park to Islington and points east.

“Pleasure boats cruise on it, planners lovingly manicure its banks, and the very mention of its name puts a smile on the face of the toughest estate agent. For though it may now be a commercial nonsense, the Grand Union is a pure, unadulterated amenity.

“Not so, the poor, ugly Surrey Canal. It had the misfortune to run south of the river. Starting at Rotherhithe, it winds sadly through Deptford and Bermondsey to Walworth, with an arm stretching down to Peckham.

“Its waters are polluted and filled with rubbish and hunks of wood. Its banks are closed to the public and lined with disused factories and unkept grass. To many local people it is just three miles of stinking water, which has to be dredged every time a child goes missing.

“So, without further ado, the Surrey Canal’s owners – the Port of London Authority (PLA) – and Southwark Borough Council have decided to drain it and fill it in. Their only concession is to promise to save the carp with which the canal is well-stocked.

“Admittedly, some months ago, Southwark Council had the imagination to see that something could possibly be made of this stretch of water in the future. They warned the PLA that they were against any action which would be ‘premature and prejudicial’ to overall planning.

“Now, however, they have changed their minds. Councillor Charles Halford argues that it would have been expensive to provide access to the canal and to clean the water. And with such a long stretch there would have been obvious dangers to children.

“Just let them try that sort of statement on the residents of Maida Vale or Primrose Hill. Lay a finger on the Grand Union and letters signed by lords sprout from the columns of The Times. Suggest any redevelopment of Little Venice and fashionable owner-occupiers besiege the local town hall.

“Down south of the river, however, they apparently order matters differently. Two public authorities have quietly decided between them to scrub off the map one of South London’s most precious potential assets.”

James Whitten is too young to remember the Grand Surrey Canal, but it played an integral role in his family’s history. The 32-year-old’s great-grandfather, William Henry Whitten, started trading timber in Peckham in 1919.

William lived on Sumner Road and began selling redundant ammunition boxes from the First World War as firewood, first from barrows and later from shops. He soon expanded to sell soft woods, which arrived in barges on the Grand Surrey Canal.

His son, who was also called William Henry – or WH – took over in the 1930s. He registered the business as a limited company and began trading from a warehouse at Canal Head, where Peckham Pulse is located now.

WH expanded the business to a second location at Footbridge Wharf on the main Grand Surrey Canal. There was a bridge over the canal that still stands in Burgess Park, which is referred to nowadays as the Bridge to Nowhere.

WH’s son Robert – James’s father – joined the business aged 16. After the closure of the canal in the 1970s, he opened a timber shop on Peckham Hill Street. Then in 2002, Whitten’s moved to a new warehouse in Eagle Wharf, where it is based today.

Robert is still the major shareholder in the business, which is run by his two sons John and James. It sells a huge variety of woods, and customers range from builders, DIYers and architects to well-known artists and sculptors.

“We do lots of deliveries up to Hoxton,” says James, who is an artist himself. “We used to do all the frames for Tony Scullion. Cathy de Monchaux was another customer, and we’ve supplied wood to Antony Gormley.”

James’s exhibition, entitled Something Very Extraordinary, is on at Peckham Platform throughout August. It is named after Robert’s book on the history of Whitten’s, which is available to buy at the gallery.

Rare photos of the canal, sourced from the Museum of London, Southwark History library and the Whitten family’s personal collection, are on display. There’s also an aerial film of the canal route and a special wooden sculpture made by James.

Whitten’s is one of several long-established businesses that are still operating in Peckham, he says. “You’ve got Wilson’s cycles and Manze’s on Peckham High Street, Abbey Rose Buildbase and Soper’s the fishmongers in Nunhead as well.”

James, who is dad to a nine-year-old son and three-year-old triplets, is proud that Whitten’s has stood the test of time. “It’s no mean feat to get to nearly 100 years in business,” he says. “We’ll be continuing on for as long as we can.”

Something Very Extraordinary is at Peckham Platform, 89 Peckham High Street, until August 31. Info: 020 7358 9645, www.peckhamplatform.com


Children from Peckham have created a new work of public art.

The fabulous piece, which measures ten feet by seven feet, was made in Queen’s Road this week by Kids Company, the South London charity that helps vulnerable children.

The spectacular work shows a cityscape representing Peckham. It is adorned with children’s hand-prints and includes a series of self-portraits of Peckham’s next generation.

Kids Company’s Suzie Curran said: “Six local artists and a team of Kids Company’s children spent the whole day yesterday creating this super masterpiece, and it will be displayed in the middle of Peckham so everyone can enjoy it.”

The art will be displayed on Queen’s Road during September, on the exterior wall of Gareth James Property’s new office. The estate agent (previously known as GJM Property) sponsored the project as part of an £8,000 donation to Kids Company.

Gareth Mozley, managing director of Gareth James Property, said: “This art is superb and reflects the colour and vibrancy of this exciting area. It was a great day working with the children and the team from Kids Company to create the art.

“Kids Company provides hope for thousands of children across Peckham and South London. We are delighted to sponsor this very special and important charity and to be part of Kids Company’s Safe Summer Appeal.”


Camila Batmanghelidjh, found of Kids Company (pictured above), added: “Art is at the heart of Kids Company’s model of care. We are very grateful to Gareth James Property for giving our kids the wonderful opportunity to demonstrate their talents and share their beautiful work for all of Peckham to enjoy.”

After September the art work is expected to move to a permanent home, either at Queens Road Peckham station or a local art gallery. 

Former Peckham resident Stuart Walker shares his memories of Peckham Lido:

I was interested to see that plans are being considered to reinstate the Peckham Lido, the borough’s only open air swimming pool.

I was born and bred in Peckham and learned to swim in the Lido. Our home was 500 metres or so from the Lido.

I went with Dad and my two brothers at 6:00 each summer morning to swim before setting off home for breakfast and work or school. Entrance was free at that time before the gates closed to get the pool ready for paying customers.

I suppose I should put the site into perspective. The Lido was situated at the southern end of what was known locally as The Triangle, a green area which also boasted a shallow pool for paddling or model boating (see Google View).

The Triangle stretches from Nunhead Lane in the south to the southern end of Rye Lane at Scylla Road. It is actually part of the larger Peckham Rye Common, which I imagine has saved it from development over the years.

The Triangle was a popular spot for locals wanting to picnic who did not want to travel the longer distance to Peckham Rye Park. There was sufficient shade from the trees (which the Common lacked) to make it a pleasant place to visit and relax, even on the hottest summer days. Ice cream vendors would vie for custom along both sides of Peckham Rye, the more pushy of whom would drive onto the grass to sell their wares until moved on by the police!