Blackheath to Greenwich to Deptford – Sometimes Pubs Just Work (2)
My brother came down South of the River on Saturday for the first time in a while (he used to say he never did – when I bumped in to him in Brixton one night he said that it was honourary North London). He cycled to Blackheath, all the way from Holloway more or less) which took a little longer than he thought, especially the hill at the end (*) and we had some wonderful cider at the Princess of Wales. A license to print money that place, on a sunny summer Saturday.
Then down to Greenwich through the Park in the sunshine, and some noodles and more beer at a Vietnamese restaurant, and walk to Deptford and a final pint at the Dog and Bell:
And my brother says “where can I put my bike” and I say “over there on the bike racks”. We are civilised in Deptford these days. And he says “Is it safe” and I tell him it is. After the obligatory scare stories about Milton Court and the Pepys Estate of course. Not as dangerous as people make out. So we have beer and a fag in the back garden of the very very nice pub and I hear a few loud bangs that, if I knew what shots sounded like, might have been shots. And I walk my brother to Evelyn Street and put him on the right road for Rotherhithe, and wonder why such a traffic jam.
And I walk back towards the High Street and there are police everywhere and sirens and scene-of-the-crime types, and the roads taped off and I asked someone what was happening, and yes, it seems as if someone has been shot. So much for my telling everyone how not-dangerous Deptford is.
For some reason one of the blues-and-twos vans had “Metropolitan Police Marine Policing Unit” written on it. The river cops? Why? For a moment it was like being in the second series of The Wire
So back past the Cranbrook (where someone I have never met before bought me another pint) and to the local where there was some kind of party going on and various people there…
And I really ought to lay off booze for the next few days to give my liver a chance to recover.
Only in South East London could there ever be a fake Morley’s:
(*) Mildly irrelevant Pompous Geology Witter – why South London is steeper than North. London is (as NE Fule No) in a the London Basin, which is formed by tertiary [i.e. after-the-dinosaurs] deposits of sand and gravel and mud (much hrdened into clay) in a syncline,. a bowl-shaped fold in the underlying chalk. The Thames didn’t make the Thames Valley – the river flows through a valley that was made by a great fold in the earth running hundreds of miles east from the centre of southern England into Belgium and even Denmark (though the sea came in and washed most of it away during the Pleistocene…)
There are three steps up from the Thames to the sides of the basin. North of the river they come one after the other . First the river terraces, accumulated gunk on the edge of the flat alluvial basing of the post-glacial Thames. In Central London the river is at the northern edge of its little plain, so it buts onto the terraces – the Strand runs along it. Which why Trafalgar Square slopes, why Villiers Street is steep, why the north side of Waterloo Bridge is higher than the south and why Upper Thames Street is Upper and Lower Thames Street is Lower.
Then a mile or two back, the so-called Northern Heights – a line of hills of clay and sand, including Stamford Hill, Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill, Hampstead, Highgate, Horsenden Hill, Hendon, Harrow and so on (I don’t know why there is such a wave of “H”s in suburban north-west London – it carries on in a big arc round the city to the not-at-all hilly Hillingdon, Hayes, Harlington, Heston, Heathrow and Hounslow.) There can be quite a steep scarp to this in places, you see it best round Archway and Highgate Tube, even though the hills themselves aren’t very high. I suppose its because the muddy clay isn’t very strong and collapsed in places, leaving natural quarry-like sides. (Not that I cam at all sure of that)
Then there is a another big flattish step, even a valley in places, until you get to the dip leading up to the Chilterns outside Greater London which are proper chalk Downs, and the start of the anticline, the other bit of the fold. They aren’t exactly high, not even as high as the South Downs (which are the real Downs of course) but they are proper hills and higher than anything you are likely to find in north London.
South of the river you get the same three steps but they all come at once. The terraces at the southern edge of the Thames floodplain run in a pretty straight line from Camberwell to Greenwich, abut five to ten metres above what used to be the marshes, which is why the old Roman road ran there. Peckham High Street, Queens Road, New Cross Road, and Deptford Broadway still follow the line. You can see it clearly around New Cross, where the roads and paths leading north go steeply down hill – the main roads have been levelled but the side roads and footpaths fall down fast. The original Deep Ford that Deptford is named for is the place that the Ravensbourne flows through these terraces into Deptford Creek.
But unlike north of the river these terraces butt on to the clay hills behind them, so the two steps up become one. And the chalk hills are immediately behind them. So if you go south from central London you rise immediately and almost continually from the Thames to the first of the North Downs. And – also unlike north London – the chalk isn’t very far under the clay. You can pick up chalk off the ground at Woolwich. There were lime pits in Blackheath and Lewisham where chalk was dug out by hand. The railway cuttings at Lewisham exposed chalk at St John’s – if you wanted to stretch a point you could make a rather stingy claim that Hilly Fields Park and St John’s Church were the northernmost gasp of the North Downs.
Two old photos of Deptford Creek, just because I like them: