SE28: Beautiful thing?

SE28 is Thamesmead – a postcode quite unlike any other in London. This postcode was carved out of SE2 and SE18 after Thamesmead began to be developed in the late 1960s. SE28 is unique. No one well known comes from here, so far as I can discover. There are certainly no blue plaques. There has never been a passenger railway station here: nor a purpose built theatre or a cinema. So that makes for a bit of a challenge, as these are all the things I usually cover..

I am breaking my rule about the starting point and suggesting that you get a 229 or 244 bus into Thamesmead from Abbey Wood station and getting off at Newacres Library stop.

Stop 1: Area round Southmere lake

This is the part of Thamesmead which was built first. It seems that initially at least all the housing had to be built above ground level, this being a marshy area. So what we have here are some system built “Barrier Blocks” blocks sitting above garaging which would not look out of place in the inner city. This sprawling concrete housing estate was made infamous by the film adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and also featured in the gay coming of age play (and movie) “Beautiful Thing”.

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This area is being redeveloped at the moment, so is a little hard to explore.

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Some of the building have been or are being refurbished and others are being replaced. It seems that this area will be called Southmere Village.

From the bus stop, go down the side road rather than the main road and you will see the main road is on a viaduct which has been filled in. Much of this is now something called “The Link” which is a youth and community centre inserted into nine arches under the road.

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There is even a little pocket park.

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Go under the road and you will find the library which is in temporary accommodation. Curously this is called “Thamesmead Library” not “Newacres Library” as one would have expected from the bus stop.

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The replacement does look impressive – see here for the new design https://www.dezeen.com/2017/11/13/bisset-adams-southmere-village-library-cross-laminated-timber-thamesmead-estate-london/

And just behind the Library is Southmere lake which featured in Clockwork Orange.

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There were lots of birds (ducks, geese and swans) here, including these two rather lovely ones. No idea what they are.

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Being by the water here was calming and not unpleasant, yet it is not the most pretty waterside I have been to. It was just not welcoming with no seats or trees or greenery. Maybe when the redevelopment is finished it will look somewhat more attractive.

Now head away from the lake and you will find a path marked as part of the Green Chain. Go up the steps and you find yourself on a ridge but with a roundabout above you.

Stop 2: The Ridgeway

There is a path running along the top of the ridge.

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And it is called “The Ridgeway”

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This conceals a huge sewer (The Southern Outfall Sewer) which runs across Thamesmead and takes sewage to Crossness Pumping station which is nearby (but in SE2)

Cross over this and you then find you are then crossing over a dual carriageway. This is Eastern Way and it slices right through Thamesmead.

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We cross it on a footbridge.

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Follow the main road straight ahead – this is the continuation of Harrow Manorway and is called Carlyle Road. After the next roundabout where Bentham Road crosses, you will see a little waterway – a feature of Thamesmead supposed to make it look more attractive. Well it does sort of help but somehow you feel it could have been so much nicer. Follow the little waterway to the left.

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You will come to some shops and just behind them you will find where Applegarth Road meets Titmuss Avenue.

Stop 3: some cannons

Now here is a surprise in the middle of the road are four cannons.

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I saw a date on one of them – 1782

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This is a reminder that much of this land was used by the Royal Arsenal which made stored and tested weaponry on the marshes here.

Follow Titmuss Avenue round and you will come to the Baptist church

Stop 4: Titmuss Avenue Baptist Church

Now this is a curious structure. It is a church with a house attached – or maybe it is a house with a church attached. This dates from the mid 1970s and architectural guru Pevsner describes it as providing “a minor landmark”.

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At this point it might be worth commenting on the street names.

They are a few named after people who have been concerned about social policy. Richard Titmuss was for example a social policy academic. Although self taught, he was involved in establishing Social Policy as an academic discipline and became the London School of Economics’ first professor of Social Administration  Jeremy Bentham was an English philosopher, jurist, and social reformer, who was an early proponent of utilitarianism – a theory that states that the best action is the one that maximises utility.  Bentham described utility as the sum of all pleasure that results from an action, minus the suffering of anyone involved in the action. And we are about to come to Tawney Road. R H Tawney (1880 – 1962) was an English economic historian, social critic, ethical socialist, and a proponent of adult education.

Then you find this.

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Lytton Strachey was an English writer and critic who was a founding member of the Bloomsbury Group and author of Eminent Victorians. But he was not so far as I am aware what you might call a social reformer. So why did he get in here – and with his two names rather than just his surname. How curious.

But then I had a closer look and found that there is also an Attlee Close, Austen Close, Byron Close and Disraeli Close, so it seems less coherent than at first I thought it was, as it includes writers and politicians.

If you head through the estate crossing Tawney Road and passing through one of the “Barrier Blocks” you will get to Central Way opposite Linton Mead Primary School.

Just as an aside, if you want to find the Thames, you can go down the street Linton Mead and it will eventually get you to the riverside. But it is a long way out of our way, so I am not going there.

Instead walk along Central Way and so you will get to this strange place called “Thamesmead Town Centre”

Stop 5: Thamesmead Town Centre

This is a very un-English town centre – it is much more like what you see in the US with large boxes containing shops set back off the road with lots of car parking in front

The big store is Morrison but there is also Aldi, Next, Pets at Home, Poundland and Wilkos, plus other shops and two drive through “restaurants” – McDonalds and KFC.

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We are quite close to the river here but curiously this has been designed so you cannot see the river nor easily get to it. There is a lake and a big earth bank between here and the Thames.

There is a small pedestrianised precinct off the car parking. It is called Joyce Dawson Way. Go down here. (By the way I have no idea who Joyce Dawson is or was – a quick Google search throws up no obvious candidates!)

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Stop 6: Joyce Dawson Way and the Clocktower

The pedestrianised area clusters round a waterway with a clocktower on the other side. The Clocktower was originally in Deptford Dockyard and relocated here along with some more cannons.

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There are a plaque at the base which give some of the history.

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This I now realise is the only thing I have seen which predates the 1960s!

Now keep walking through the pedestrianised area and at the end you will see our next stop ahead.

Stop 7: Thamesmere Leisure Centre and Library

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A pleasant enough building but nothing special. Strange to find another library, but then I suppose it is because this one is run by Greenwich and the other one by Bexley. If this estate was in a single borough, I guess there would just be the one library.

Now the final place to visit is a bit far to walk so take a 244 bus from stop A in the town centre (which is just by the Leisure Centre). Go just a couple of stops to Belmarsh Prison – the stops are quite far apart.

Stop 8: Belmarsh Prison and Woolwich Crown Court

Belmarsh Prison was built on part of the East site of the former Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, and became operational in April 1991. Belmarsh is adjacent and adjoined to Woolwich Crown Court, as such the prison is used in high-profile cases, particularly those concerning national security. In 2010, the Isis Young Offenders Institution was opened within the perimeter wall of Belmarsh Prison.

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The prison is on the left.

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And the courts are on the right.

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Apparently the two are connected by a tunnel, so that prisoners on remand can be taken to court without having to go in a van, so there is less chance of them escaping.

In fact there is a third prison here – Thameside. this is privately run Men’s prison run by Serco which opened in 2012. It is a bit of a misnomer, as the prison is not actually by the side of the Thames.

There is a bus turn round outside.

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From here there is an excursion you could do into Thamesmead West and the riverside.

Cross over the main road and go down the side road next to the Princess Alice pub. This is Battery Road. Then take a left into Merbury Road and follow this down to the end where you be at the back of a crescent of buildings which faces on to the Thames.

Nearby there is also a rather intriguing park with a mound and a circular walk called Gallions Park but again this is a bit out of the way.

So that brings us to the end of our SE28 wander – much less satisfying than anywhere else I have been to. There really is not much going for Thamesmead. I do feel it could have been so much nicer. It is a place which started with great optimism but never quite lived up to the initial hope.

Now for onward travel, you can get a 244 bus either to Plumstead or Abbey Wood stations – the latter is marginally further but you will meander your way back through Thamesmead.

 

 

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