The flawed Secret Streets of Deptford

A whole month late with this one, but for me, it’s probably been for the best. I’ve finally caught up with the BBC/Open University Secret History of Our Streets documentary on Deptford High Street, which is still in iPlayer.

Like the other documentaries in the series – last week’s one on Reverdy Road in Bermondsey was a fascinating watch – it relies on local characters to tell the vivid stories of social change in the capital’s streets. There’s plenty of those on Deptford High Street.

But the Deptford one whipped up a storm – and in retrospect, it’s easy to see why. It focuses on the planning disasters of the 1960s which saw many of Deptford’s old streets torn down and replaced with housing estates, and in particular the destruction of Reginald Street, at the south end of the high street. Former Lewisham councillor Nicholas Taylor is seen on screen saying the streets were slums, and it’s easy to get the impression he backed their demolition, particularly as one ex-Reginald Road resident is seen criticising an individual for taking the decision.

But the decision was taken long before he entered politics, in the dying days of the old Deptford council and the early days of the current Lewisham Council in the mid-1960s. Even more peculiarly, the programme then claims Deptford has been in terminal decline ever since, showing a street pastor out among the drunks sat at the anchor at the junction of New Cross Road. While Deptford has had, and has its problems, anyone who’s known the area over the past decade will know that’s simply not the case.

For me, I was trying to work out which was stock footage and which was actually footage of Deptford – and while there’s a wealth of fascinating anecdotes and film from the time, it’s easy to see how Mr Taylor feels stitched up – and a bit of local knowledge fills in the rest of the story.

Nicholas Taylor’s son Martin has put together Deptford: Putting The Record Straight to try to get an apology out of the BBC. It’s a fascinating read, even if you haven;t seen the programme. The story’s been ignored by the local press (of course), but the new Lewisham branch of the National Union of Journalists has taken up the issue. Martin Taylor’s speaking at its next meeting, at the Dog and Bell in Deptford on 19 July.

One thing in the programme did stay in my mind, though – the mention of the County of London Plan, the 1943 scheme to completely redevelop much of the capital and carve it up with ring roads, of which the Blackwall Tunnel approaches were among the few to be built, and assigning a purpose for each individual community. While Deptford was certainly badly hurt by the planners, it’s horrible to think what could have happened to the rest of south-east London…

More on the documentary at Deptford Dame, Crosswhatfields and Brockley Central, and here’s more on SE8’s past in Old Deptford History.


  1. They knocked down the houses in Bell Green Sydenham as well, we had outside toilets but nothing much else wrong with the places

  2. Re the London Plan’s proposal for ring roads, I recently started pondering something on a far smaller scale, where the city would be divided into ‘city blocks’. In the centre, these blocks would be surrounded by one-way ring roads (think Manhattan but encompassing far larger areas), whereas further out, only the busy routes leading to/from the centre would be one-way, the ‘cross-routes’ would remain two-way.

    With one-directional traffic, these roads would allow for improved provision of bus and cycle lanes (each road would have one lane set-aside for oncoming buses and cycles) and with much reduced need to cross heavy oncoming traffic when turning right, there would be no need for traffic lights every few hundred metres and resultant stop-start driving and congestion. Where no extra lanes are gained due to the provision of oncoming bus/cycles lanes, the impact will be negated by the freer light-free traffic flow. An extra advantage is that people living on these roads would only see one rush-hour a day.

    A local example would be to turn the A2 into an eastbound-only route and the A200/206 into westbound…

    As I say, it’s at the ‘pondering’ stage at the mo. It’s not a perfect solution….yet.

  3. My great-aunt Liz lived in Holmshaw Road, Bell Green. The house was subsiding, 5 degree slope on the floors. It came down. No surprise, no regret.

  4. I have really enjoyed the series, but too thought the Deptford High Street episode tucked up Nicolas Taylor like a kipper good and proper. The editing in that episode was shocking.

    Re the county of London plan. Our house backs onto a slip road for the A102, and from what I hear from relatives who lived in this area back then, was built without much local consultation. Is this true? – I can’t imagine a road scheme like this ever getting planning today.

  5. I dunno, the Silvertown Link could eventually wreak the same damage.

    I grew up close to the flyover, next to an elderly couple that’d been rehoused when Farmdale Road was bulldozed. I always wondered how they got away with it – but anti-roads protests didn’t get going until the early 70s.

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