An Entire London Borough In A Five-Minute Read: Lewisham

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 21 months ago

Last Updated 13 September 2022

An Entire London Borough In A Five-Minute Read: Lewisham

Borough: Lewisham. Founded: 1965. Etymology: "Dwelling of Leof or Leofsa". Population: 306,000. Logo: Crown that says "give us a shiny hug".

The huge catford cat on his perch at the shopping centre
Lewisham is Borough of Culture in 2022, although you needn't wait till then to enjoy it

Who would you cast as the mascot of Lewisham?

The humungous Catford Cat, maybe, eternally toying with the Catford's Centre's 'O' like a ball of yarn. Or the overstuffed walrus at the Horniman Museum, who's noshed one-too-many £2.49 chicken deals from Morley's?

Hmm. Perhaps you can't sum up this larger-than-life borough in one oversized animal; there's too much going on — and that's before it's even metamorphosised into London's Borough of Culture 2022.

A man in a wonderfully loud short and shirt combo walks his dogs through a bric a brac stall
Deptford's market has everything. Everything. (Everything.)

Lewisham's got Deptford, steeped in a historical brine spiced with Jolly Rogers and one of screwiest statues deemed worthy of bronze. Deptford's high street and markets knock Camden's high street and markets for six, too; where else could you snap up Concorde postcards and vintage baked beans?

Down the road in New Cross, you can feed your soul with a degree in Anthropology from Goldsmiths, or simply fill your belly with rice and peas from Cummin Up. New Cross is also where to pay your respects to the fascism-fighting legends of the Battle of Lewisham — while in the borough's eponymous town itself, the Migration Museum sits proudly in the middle of a shopping centre, ushering you in, to learn how London's immigrants made it great. (For another tasty reminder, scoff mortadella ciabattas across the road at Antonio Delicatessen afterwards.)

Two slabs of the berlin wall graffitied with figures by stik and Thierry Noir
Image courtesy Migration Museum.

Some pockets of Lewisham have been slower to come out of their shells than others, but they're now on their way; even the previously beige Hither Green — where pubs were vetoed by a teetotal Edwardian developer — have been zhuzhed up with taprooms and a florist where you can slurp hot chocolate among the dahlias.

The interior of You Don't Buy Me Flowers - full of colourful flowers and cards
You Don't Buy Me Flowers, where you can also slurp hot chocs

In fact, the borough of Lewisham has got this round: drink fireside pints of the black stuff served by bow-tied barpeople at the Blythe Hill Tavern; sip a coke on the sidelines at the 1950s time capsule that is Rivoli Ballroom, while others do all the difficult jiving; or pull over at Blackheath's reincarnated tea hut for a strong brew. (While you're there, try and fail to locate the secret caves.)

Not a bad place to swim, is it. Image: Beckenham Place Park

If Blackheath's too heathy for you, go get lost in the bosky woodlands of Beckenham Place Park, followed by a dip in its lake. Telegraph Hill is south-east London's answer to Primrose Hill (and was the spot from where London was informed that Wellington had bested Napoleon at Waterloo). Otherwise, pause to reflect at the stone circle in Hilly Fields, which manages to be both 400 million years old (the granite boulders themselves), and a youthful 21 (they were placed here during the last millennium).

A library in a red phone box
London's smallest library is in Brockley

This only scrapes Lewisham's surface, so when you want to do some swotting up of your own (or leaf through its own excellent local newspaper), try Lee's Manor House Community Library (which feels more like a posh country club) or London's smallest library (which feels more like a phone box, because it is). And if you decide you want to move here, fit out your new place with furniture from a junk shop in an abandoned railway station.

As for the Catford Cat; though developers have threatened to put pull it down in recent years, the monstrous moggy continues to use its nine lives, and even has its own Twitter account.