Earlier today I came across an article I wrote for www.intoLondon.com several years ago ( just after I’d moved into a new flat in South East London). I’d lived in flatshares in London for around 4 years by this point – for the first 3 I was north of the Thames and happily prejudiced against anything south of the river. For the 3rd year I lived in a lovely flat on the not-so-lovely Stockwell Road. Every night (or so it seemed) I would have the convenience of having my walk home from the tube station lit for me by a kind police helicopter – one morning I woke up to discover that every single shop window in the area had been smashed. Not a great introduction to south London.
A year or so later, deciding that we wanted our own place, I ended up moving into a flat with my girlfriend purely because we knew someone who had a vacant rental property at exactly the point we needed one. The flat was in Forest Hill and, 6 years later, I’m still living there (albeit in a different flat a few streets away).
Re-reading the article took me back to the time when my perceptions of south London changed for the better and now I don’t think I’d want to live north of the river again, unless I had a whopping budget and could pick from a handful of places. My girlfriend, now my wife, was born and brought up in north London but is now most definitely a south of the river girl.
Here’s the article:
Everybody knows about the great British North-South divide, it’s like the American one but in reverse. In the US the northerners consider themselves the sophisticated city dwellers and think of southerners as the poor country cousins. Over here it’s the other way round. We all know the divide exists in age-old attitudes and opinions but where on a map would you find it? Ask on either side of the Pennines and you’ll probably be told it starts somewhere south of the midlands, ask in London and the answer will be ‘just north of Watford’, ask a Scot and it’s all south to them. When it comes to the London North-South divide, however, finding the point of separation is easy, it’s one of the most famous rivers in the world.
Ask most Londoners (and by this I mean people who live and work in London as well as the born-and -bred variety) and most will express a preference for north or south of the Thames as a place to live. Both have their benefits and drawbacks as well as their supporters and detractors. It tends to be the case that London conforms more to the US style of North-South divide than the British one with the north looking rather down its nose at the south, I’ve often been told by people that they’d never consider living south of the river. There are many reasons for this but by far the greatest when it comes to choosing a place to live is transport.
The perception is that north London is far better off in terms of transport. There are 33 tube stops south of the river only 5 of which have access to more than one line. In contrast north London has over 35 which serve 2 or more lines and enough in total that I got bored of counting. The upside of this is that in south London you often get more for your money property-wise (whether renting or looking to buy) as most people in London want to live near a tube line rather than a train station. Tubes are more frequent, tend to run later and can carry you around the centre of town far better than trains, but in terms of getting into town in the first place (presuming you can’t afford to live in zone 1, correct me if I’m wrong), trains do the job just fine. For a start they don’t stop as many times per mile as tubes do plus, as an added bonus, you get to see daylight and – sometimes – the windows even open. This might seem like a small benefit but, until you’ve travelled any distance on the Piccadilly line in high summer with your face in a stranger’s armpit, you won’t know what a difference it can make to your general state of well-being. The redevelopment of the Docklands area in the ’80s also helped bringing the DLR links and eventually the Jubilee Line extension out into south-east London.
Another popular myth is that south London is a more dangerous and somewhat less savoury place to live than north London. People point to the high- and not so high-rise blocks of council flats, which march down from Bermondsey towards New Cross and out to Peckham as examples of this and Brixton still finds it hard to escape the taint of its troubled past. Slowly but surely, however, south London is being transformed as money moves in and starts looking for somewhere to eat out. Many areas south of the river are still affordable places to buy whereas their northern counterparts at a similar distance from the centre of London are way out of most price ranges. As a result bars and restaurants are springing up in areas where beforehand there wasn’t much on offer and tired and forgotten areas are getting a new lease of life and much needed income. In addition to this, there are some lovely hidden gems in south London, which are well worth a visit even if you live north of the river. The better-known examples range from Borough Market, which has been around for nearly 250 years, to Tate Modern and the London Eye. Less well-known are the wonderful Horniman Museum and park in Forest Hill and the collection of 30 life-size dinosaur statues in Crystal Palace Park which, seen from the train on a misty autumn morning, must be one of the oddest sights in London.
I think you may have gathered by now that I’m not exactly impartial when it comes to the question of the north-south divide – I live in south-east London and I love it. The point of all this, however, is not to persuade you to live south of the river but just to consider it because I have no doubt that somebody, at some point, will tell you not to.