Sunday, May 11, 2008

South London Villages?

A new Ladywell Village Improvement Group has been set up, with of course its own embryonic blog (thanks to Green Ladywell and Andrew for the link). Well good luck to them but I have to ask is Ladywell really a village? Is anywhere in London?

Obviously it's true that London is made up of many former villages, sucked into the metropolis as it expanded. And within the greater London area there are certainly some genuine villages - for instance in the rural parts of The London Borough of Bromley that aren't really London at all. It may also be true that even within London proper there are some small areas that retain a village feel - though they are not really small, discrete communities geographically distinct from surrounding areas.

I must admit I am a little suspicious of attempts to rebrand urban areas as villages. London is a city above all else, and sometimes the use of the term village is an attempt, usually by more affluent residents, to deny the fact and declare some implicit 'Passport to Pimlilco'-style independence from urban realities.

There are some cases where the use is semi-fraudulent - for instance rebranding part of Peckham as 'Bellenden Village' when there never was such a village in the pre-urban period. That's just a transparent attempt to deny the stigma of an SE15 postcode. Others, such as Blackheath and Dulwich, perhaps have more of a case, though it can certainly be overstated. Once I was in a shop in Dulwich 'Village' and somebody said to the owner 'there's a lot of outsiders in the village today'! I wanted to remind them that they lived on the South Circular five minutes from both Brixton and Peckham but I refrained.

What about Ladywell? Once upon a time there was a Ladywell village proper but it's long gone - I see it as an area round the corner from Lewisham High Street, not exactly ducks on the village green territory (though Ladywell Fields is a very pleasant park). A quick google search does show that most references to Ladywell Village are on estate agents' websites, usually an indicator of wishful thinking rather than geographical accuracy. Still there was apparently a Ladywell Village Society in the 1980s which does at least suggest that some people have been calling it that for more than 20 years. Over to you Ladywellers.


Anonymous said...

You're right of course, calling it a village is a bit of an estate agent thing, but it seemed to work better as an acronym, in a way that Ladywell Action Group/Ladywell Improvement Group or even Save Ladywell Action Group simply didn't ;)

Andrew Brown said...

I don't know whether it's just estate agents. I know that The Inspector makes the argument that we see ourselves as living at well below the borough level; and the way that people have responded to the "Love Brockley/New Cross/Deptford" marketing (even when their tongues are in cheek) tends to back that up.

Transpontine said...

I'm not seeking to pick on Ladywell particularly (Sue is right that LVIG is probably a better acronym than SLAG), just querying the village concept. I agee with Andrew that people do have a sense of place that doesn't fit in with borough boundaries, preferring the notion of a smaller area 'where everybody knows your name' (or at least some people do). There's a particular pastoral/ruralist notion tied in with the word 'village' though which seems at odds with London - to where many people have fled to get away from the small-minded conservatism of many real life villages and small towns. I also want to get away from the Royston Vazey notion of village exclusivity ('local shops for local people') where people feel some kind of ownership over their own little bit of London to the extent where they feel able to make other people unwelcome (see my Dulwich Village experience). Perhaps we need some new words for these small London areas - forward to the Brockley commune?

Unknown said...

I completely agree with this.
I think the slightly smug 'Farmer's Markets' that offer stupidly overpriced bread & cheese are catering to these fantasist types.

It won't be very long until you'll see 'Deptford Village'. Have you seen the new luxury duplex that's being built on the Thames front, on Watergate Street (Marlowe must be doing extra turns in his grave) God help the Dog & Bell. It'll soon be a 'village' pub. maybe.

Culla said...

Gentrification prefers places imagined as villages rather than as areas of a metropolis, which is what they are. London's big trick was always to develop areas with a semi-rural feel, in contrast to other cities that developed around the time, such as Paris, Edinburgh and later Manchester, New York, etc, so that developers always feel they can away with these deceptive terms

Transpontine said...

Ian/Culla, I think you're right that the rebranding of city areas as villages is linked to gentrification. There is though something in the notion of neighbourhoods, blocks, communities or whatever as human sized areas for political/social interaction - don't know if anybody else has checked out Murray Bookchin's ideas of Libertarian Municipalism, you don't have to accept the anarchist premise underlying them, there's some interesting reflections on urban space and politics.

Anonymous said...

I remember when I moved to Catford in 1975 it was called Ladywell Village then - I remember thinking 'why Lady Well and why a village?'

Transpontine said...

Sounds like Ladywell Village is a name with some vintage then spincat. As for the well, well that's another post.

Anonymous said...

I did research the well a bit, but not the 'village'. It doesn't bother me in he way that other places calling themselves villages bother me, simply because I've known it as Ladywell Village for so long - for all I know though, this could have originated with some estate agent in 1973.

Anonymous said...

We in the East Dulwich Liberation Front will not stop until we have removed Foxtons

We are East Dulwich, not Dulwich Village, or Parts of Peckham renamed Dulwich

we are East Dulwich

EDLF - Power to the People

Ps note that Foxtons is clsong early these days, one good spin of in the continuing collapse in Capitalism