London Norf & Sarf



Is London still a city of two halves? Divided traversely by the Thames, its two sides are still fundamentally different. Historically, it’s easy to see why. The South was easily flooded marshland, so was filled with factories and cheap workers’ homes. The North had hills and therefore attracted the rich, who love a vista. The South soil was clay-based, so no tubes were built there and trams were installed. Naturally, the South had more pubs. The Thames kept the two halves separate.

The accents of Londoners from either half were different, too, and their homes looked different; shorter and more squat in the south, taller and of deeper red brick in the north. But it gets complicated in the late Victorian era, because the South developed grander areas – Brixton and Clapham had large semi-detached residences, but WWII caused housing shortages and created subdivided homes, which meant the larger properties got poorer.

And then it got really complicated. Because the north holds both the east and the west, not the south, and as the core empties out and refills, Londoners move east and south but not west, which is now as expensive as the north except for the parts which are Asian, and the east is expensive in parts for its urban cool except for the Asian bits. Got that?

In other words, you’re still either a north or south person.

I hail from South London, but came to North London at 18. North, which appears to have all the advantages, is generally prettier, but London’s astonishing restaurant boom of recent years has stranded the north with hardly any good dining spots. Amenities are fewer, too, but they do have the vastness of Hampstead Heath, which unlike, say, New York’s Central Park is not overlooked by any buildings unless you count the Eye of Sauron at London Bridge.

But looking to the future, the south has more potential. Ignoring the ongoing pig’s ear of the Elephant & Castle (which is – incredibly – worse now than ever), it has Bermondsey, Borough, Bankside and plenty of other wealthy enclaves.

The ongoing tragedy for either side is that the areas that really need improving remain in a deplorable cycle of poverty, pulled back and forth by market forces. In particular the Old Kent Road has many fine buildings ruined by the short-lease shops beneath them (see above).

All arguments for north or south appreciated!

7 comments on “London Norf & Sarf”

  1. Dave says:

    Originating from Charlton, I consider myself a south east Londoner …and pleased to be so.

    Greenwich Park is wonderful and has the best view in London, Blackheath a lovely vista, Charlton Park has a beautiful house and some lovely hidden gardens, lots of very good restaurants in Blackheath and Greenwich, the best museum in the world in the National Maritime Museum, Royal history at the Queens House and Charlton House, Captain Cook in his sojourn at the Royal Naval College, the Royal Observatory, historic Shooters Hill and its highwaymen (Julius Caeser having travelled that way too), Wat Tyler on Blackheath, the Artillery barracks, and so much more …its packed full of history.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    I cannot get London straight – chiefly because the Thames isn’t. Could I do it the other way – if the area has dark red brick, views, no place to eat and few amenities it is a northern area, and vice versa?

  3. Roger says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention the prospect of Nine Elms, “a new residential, cultural & business quarter”, as the boosters put it, which is being improved with extreme prejudice.

  4. Jo W says:

    This Bermondsey born girl says- South, always South of the great divide!! and still living on the right side. 😉

  5. Helen Martin says:

    I’m reminded of a cousin of my father in law’s (is that ” ‘s” redundant?) who visited from Newfoundland and was toured around the Vancouver area. Ever after when she wrote to the West Coast she addressed it to Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, B.C. Just because you can’t see a boundary doesn’t mean there isn’t one and one that carries all sorts of freight.

  6. Alan Morgan says:

    Not correct, south London used to have just as many tube lines.

    But they got nicked.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    My husband wants to know how you could nick a tube line. He underestimates the ingenuity of the residents of South London.

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