Continuing our series looking at the best to do in each London borough.
This time round, we have a team effort exploring Southwark. Vanessa Woolf takes the northern half of the borough, while Sally Butcher balances things out with some gems from the southern quarters. Their suggestions are, of course, subjective and we encourage comment and debate below. We will add reader suggestions under the appropriate heading as we go along.
Author note: Vanessa is a Peckham-based contemporary storyteller. She tells London tales for a living, and has appeared in many interesting venues including Hatfield House and the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Her ‘Neckinger Nell’ persona narrates the Guardian’s 2011 city guide to Bermondsey and her written stories have appeared in publications such as One Eye Grey and the Evening Standard. She’s lived in Southwark since 1999. You can find out more about her here. Sally, meanwhile is a regular Londonist contributor and a shopkeeper in Peckham.
1. Best Museum or gallery
Cuming Museum, Walworth Road (Vanessa)
The small but perfectly formed Cuming Museum is a world of weirdness on the Walworth road, the Lovett collection being of special interest. Edward Lovett spent every spare moment collecting lucky charms from the backstreets of the East End. He published his findings in the book Magic in Modern London and the Cuming is the best place to see some of his items. While you’re there, check out the amazing workshops and events that would bring a proud blush to the cheek of any world-class mega-museum.
The South London Gallery, Peckham Road (Sally)
This Victorian building in Peckham Road is one of Southwark’s greatest assets. Not only does it house an impressive permanent art collection, it also hosts a range of exciting FREE exhibitions. The newish and rather excellent cafe next to the SLG is an added incentive to visit.
2. Best Local Attraction
Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre (Vanessa)
I’ve always thought that the majestic concrete wilderness of the Aylesbury Estate would provide an amazing venue for live performance. However, I have never managed to sort this out so I suppose I better settle for the empty space in the Elephant and Castle shopping centre. This has played host to a number of art projects over the past year including performances by The Royal Court. Elephant and Castle shopping centre is also of interest to students of retail design because it retains many original ‘70s and ‘80s shops.
Nunhead Cemetery (Sally)
Want to get back to nature? For beauty, serenity, history and atmosphere you can’t beat Nunhead Cemetery, which is probably the most attractive of London’s Big Seven Victorian burial grounds.
3. Best Pub
The Lord Clyde, Borough (Vanessa)
The Lord Clyde is a pub-goer’s pub with great beer and old-fangled vibe. No fancy music or gourmet food for the LC. Order a ham sandwich and a pink slice between two breads is what you will get.
4. Best Church
Haddon Hall Baptist Church, Tower Bridge Road (Vanessa)
Why go to a jumped up medieval cathedral when you can savour the school-gym ambience of friendly Haddon Hall Baptist Church? With extensive provision for children and fantastic biscuits, I’d go to Haddon Hall any day if I believed in God. If you must have your literary history, St George on Borough High Street has a stained glass window depicting Dickens’ Little Dorrit.
5. Best Visitor Attraction
Surrey Docks City Farm (Vanessa)
Surrey Docks City Farm has goats. The pigs are twice as big as a man and have been known to escape. Miss Libby Rose makes burlesque wiggle-skirts in their shed.
6. Best Not-So-Secret ‘Secret’ Southwark
Crossbones Graveyard, Redcross Way. (Vanessa)
This is an unconsecrated burial ground dating back to the 12th Century when the land-owning Bishop of Winchester granted prostitutes in the borough legal permission to practice their trade. Needless to say they were not free to be buried on church ground and their bodies were buried in Crossbones. Centuries went by and the burial ground became a resting place for witches and workhouse brats. It closed in the early 19th Century because it was “Overcharged with the dead”. In the 1870s Lord Brabizon successfully vetoed plans to develop on the site. From the 1990s to the present local poet and shaman John Constable (AKA John Crow) has led a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of this site. And now it is up for sale again. 15,000 people are buried here and I can’t help thinking that they should maybe get the respect in death that they didn’t get in life. The gates have become an impromptu shrine decorated with ribbons and trinkets. Vigils are held at 7pm on the 23rd of each month.
Frank’s Café and Campari Bar, top of the multistorey car park, Moncrieff Street, Peckham (Sally)
Not such a well kept secret any more, as hordes climb to the top in the summer months in search of Campari and sculpture. But even when this Peckham rooftop is not thronging with young trendy things, it is worth a visit as the cityscape views are some of the best in London.
7. Best Fishmonger
Russell, on The Blue market area (Vanessa)
The freshest tastiest fish in Bermondsey. Russell spends all his time fundraising for local causes and organising community events. He’s got a good singing voice too.
8. Best restaurant
Wimpy, Southwark Park Road (Vanessa)
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of places to stuff your face in Southwark- but which of them has thick pink milkshakes, fried egg and Vigo Mortnenson getting gobbed in the face? It has to be Wimpy in The Blue, as seen in Cronenburg’s brilliant movie Eastern Promises. And talking of films, a friend told me she once tried to go to the Greek restaurant that featured in Bridget Jones’ Diary, not realizing it was fictional.
Ganapati, Holly Grove, Peckham (Sally)
This little corner restaurant in the heart of Peckham’s Bellenden regeneration area has to be a contender for the position of London’s best Indian. The Keralan food is practically perfect, the surroundings cosy and the welcome always very warm.
9. Best Cinema
Shortwave, Bermondsey Square (Vanessa)
It’s hard to choose. For class, price and artiness you can’t beat the Shortwave on Bermondsey Square. For impossibly loud volume and an altogether retro 1992 cinema-going experience it has to be Peckham Multiplex.
10. Best Statue
Alfred Salter and daughter, Cherry Gardens, Bermondsey (Vanessa)
The statue of Alfred Salter and his beloved only child Joyce stands in Cherry Gardens by the river. I find it so moving as the Salters’ daughter (described as a “ray of sunshine” by all who met her) died when she was six of scarlet fever, contracted because the Salters lived and worked among the poorest people in London. The bronze cast shows the doctor as an old man, reunited in memory with his little girl again…
By Vanessa Woolf and Sally Butcher. Images by M@.
If you’ve got a good overview of your own borough and would be interested in putting together a similar post, we’d love to hear from you. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.