I never really considered living in Peckham, the familiar name conjured up images of Del Boy and his three wheeled van selling bottles of ‘Peckham Spring’ mineral water (actually tap water). It was only by chance that a room became available. But, after living here for a few months, I can’t imagine a better London experience.
As a guide to Peckham, Only Fools and Horses couldn’t be further off the mark. A key reason for this is because the sitcom was largely filmed in Brighton, Salisbury, Ipswich, Hull and Bristol. One of the first things that strikes you about Peckham, when compared to appearances in the sitcom, is how culturally diverse the area is; it’s one of the most ethnically diverse districts in London.
This feeds into life in Peckham in every way, from restaurants and bars, to your weekly shop and commute; the result of all this is a sense of community that is a far cry from common perceptions of London. In essence living in Peckham provides a way to escape much of the isolation that is often symptomatic of your first months or years in a megalopolis.
I’m trying to refrain from using the dominant lexicon for speaking about Peckham, so the words ‘up and coming’, ‘gentrified’, ‘charity shop’ and ‘street food’ will be in short supply in this article. In some instances their use is well-founded, but often it’s simply misleading (although I should mention the charity shop chain ‘Traid’, of which the Peckham branch is actually pretty good). Let’s be clear, Peckham isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the new Dalston or Shoreditch.
Peckham has a character all of its own – and more broadly one of the great things about London compared to other European cities is that it’s more like a collection of towns each with their own distinctive culture, atmosphere, cuisine and nightlife. Unlike in Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon or Paris – going ‘al centro’ is kind of missing the point of living in London.
Accommodation and living:
Now don’t expect any revelations here as the Peckham average isn’t that much cheaper than the median for the borough of Southwark: £575 a month compared to the average £598. The upside of this is that significant regeneration has improved public services - a big tranche of EU funding went to the rebuilding of the area, including Peckham library. There’s also a large gym and pool in Peckham Pulse, whose services are completely free to all Southwark residents on weekends (you must register online first, 5 mins tops.) If you’re a guy, you’ll know that going to a new barbers is always a stressful experience, but Station Barbers by Peckham Rye is 12 quid and they are competent and friendly.
If you like the great outdoors there’s Peckham Rye Common, where famous artist William Blake claimed to have seen visions of “a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.” For your weekly shop I would strongly encourage the use of local markets - there’s an organic one by the library at weekends and some fairly non-organic butchers, fishmongers and fresh fruit and veg stalls everywhere at all times. Supporting the local economy in this still-deprived area is obviously worthwhile, although there’s also a Morrison’s, Asda and Sainsbury’s at strategic checkpoints (Rye Lane, Old Kent Road and Queens Road respectively.)
There’s a number of local campaigns you can get involved in if you fancy some extra-curricular activism, simply visit ‘Peckham vision’ on a Saturday, where a planners group meets to go over local government activity.
Although the rent isn’t massively cheap the food is pretty reasonable and different cuisine is one of the classic draws of the place.
I would recommend Persepolis, as both an experience and a way to get your money’s worth. This Iranian shop doubles as a vegetarian restaurant, where an uneven floor and tables packed tightly together mean you’re essentially having dinner with whoever else happens to be in there at the time. The best thing to do on your first time is simply to ask for whatever is being cooked at that moment and the food will keep coming until you’re full. If you still have space left, the Turkish Delight Sundae is worth a go.
For soul food there’s huge choice, with my favourites being Kitchen 54, just next the Queens’s Road, and JB’s. Both pretty fantastic for the price. For a Mediterranean feel, you can head over the Artusi, and there’s good pizza in Peckham Springs. If you’re feeling a little worse for wear after a night out, Munchies on Queens Road has a great breakfast for about four quid (with copious amounts of tea, provided you make conversation).
Another strong suit of Peckham is the nightlife. There’s a strong, yet recent, tradition of 80’s attire and electronic music, with bars and pubs a-plenty. For Peckham Rye you can start off in the Weatherspoon’s at the bottom of the road, it’s called the Kentish Drovers and as you’d expect has by far the cheapest drinks. You can expect to end up at the top of Rye lane for Canavan’s pool club. Canavan’s is a pretty strange place. Basically the rumour goes they applied for a license to sell alcohol and were accidentally granted a 4am club licence by an inept council bureaucrat. It’s 5-7 quid to get in depending on the DJ and is generally a good bet for cheapish drinks and good music. The 10 or-so full-size pool tables used to be free but now aren’t, which is unfortunate but not the end of the world.
Along the way there’s Bar Story (7/10), Peckham Springs (8/10) and Charlie the Unicorn (4/10). If you’re coming from Queen’s Road Peckham station there’s Beer Rebellion (6/10), which has different beers pretty much each day. Then, of course, Bussey Building is worth investigating, this is a huge venue with a strong selection of different themed nights – the most famous being the South London Soul Train. Rye Wax is a small vinyl shop underneath the main Bussey building that doubles as a bar and triples as a club. Franks Café, pretty famous now, is quite pricey but gives you an astonishing one-of-a-kind view of London from the Southern perspective.
There is also a place opposite the Kentish Drovers on the left called Peckham Palais, which I haven’t been in but is a multi-storey ex-department store-turned club putting on semi-regular parties.
Now on to some of the more boring, but nonetheless crucial, practicalities of living in Peckham. The excellent bus routes (453 or 53 from Peckham Park Road will take you pretty much wherever you need to go in central London, the 63 and 363 aren’t bad either) are complimented by enviable Overground connections that take you straight to Shoreditch, Dalston or Clapham. If you need the underground then the Northern Line (also a 24 hour tube at weekends) is just 15 minutes away on a 24 hour bus to elephant and castle. All-in-all it’s pretty well connected.
Some other things that don’t fit too neatly into the categories but should be mentioned:
The huge independent cinema for less than a fiver, Peckham-Plex. It’s a bit of a local name and very popular, you buy a ticket for entry and allegedly can watch as many movies as you like.
There’s also the Peckham Peculiar, a local free and independent newspaper chronicling the life and times of Peckamites. It’s well written and really adds to the local community feel.
Finally there’s Holdron’s Arcade/135a Peckham Rye, with some vinyl shops, bizarre but tempting Peckham-themed goods and a seemingly nice organic café that I’m also yet to visit.