The Butterfly Named After A Part Of South London

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 9 months ago
The Butterfly Named After A Part Of South London
Photo: Wikicommons

Like many Londoners, the Camberwell Beauty is an immigrant. Recognisable by its oxblood red wings, studded with violet flecks and fringed with cream, this striking butterfly originates from Scandinavia.

So why the name? The butterfly was first spotted in England on Camberwell's Cool Arbour Lane (now Coldharbour Lane) in 1748. It was then recorded in the 1766 publication The Aurelian as "The Grand Surprize" or "Camberwell Beauty". Other names include the Mourning Cloak, White Petticoat and Willow Beauty.

It's relatively rare to see a Camberwell Beauty in Britain, and especially in London (as they prefer wooded habitats). Sightings are sometimes news-worthy, as in this piece from the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News in 1935:

© Illustrated London News Group

Though you're never guaranteed to see a Camberwell Beauty in Camberwell itself, you will find its image fluttering around the area. There's a pretty mural on the side of the Lynn AC Boxing Club on Wells Way, which has been there since the 1980s.

And when Camberwell Green reopened in 2016, we spotted these playground gates, almost certainly a nod to the winged celebrity:   

The creature has also charmed and influenced writers; there's a 1935 book by Louis Golding called The Camberwell Beauty (the same year the above article was published), and a play of the same name by the Wet Paint Theatre Company. "Unfortunately this is not the work with which they will make their breakthrough," says the reviewer.

Image: Amazon

Last Updated 16 February 2017