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From The Socialist newspaper, 20 June 2012

Secret History of the Streets, Deptford High Street

TV review

Pete Redfarn

A previous BBC TV programme, The Tower, about Deptford in south London, said that the area was full of drunks and criminals and the 'cure' was to move in rich yuppies. This programme, The Secret History of the Streets, was similar, but also cast the old London County Council (which became the GLC in 1965) as the villains.

In Victorian times, Deptford High Street was classified in Booth's famous maps as a prosperous area, known as the Oxford Street of south London. The programme failed to explain the cause of either this prosperity, or of its decline.

Deptford was the Tudor site of the Royal Dockyard. In the 19th century, it became the Royal Navy Victualling Yard and Stores Depot, and the Foreign Cattle Market. All these closed during the 20th century, together with wharves along the Thames. Surrey Docks in Rotherhithe closed in 1969.

In the 1960s the Pepys council estate was built on the dockyard site, while the rest was used by News International from 1980 until it closed in 2000. Local factories also closed, such as United Glass, and Molins cigarette machine factory (now a McDonald's).

This culminated in the closure of Deptford's Jobcentre last year. No jobs (except for betting shops and scrapyards), so no Jobcentre. The main cause of Deptford's poverty is deindustrialisation and unemployment.

The programme, though, blames it all on council 'planners'. It showed some examples of insensitive decisions by middle class bureaucrats to knock down homes in the 1950s and 1960s. But the programme had to admit that some houses in Deptford lacked bathrooms.

I imagine it is difficult to deal with a terrace of houses, some war-damaged and others not, some improved and some not really fit for human habitation. Can you demolish one house and leave its neighbours standing?

Former Labour councillor Nick Taylor pointed out in this programme that 1960s Deptford housing estates such as Milton Court were hard to let. That estate had many tower blocks, some of which have since been demolished. With the lack of local jobs in the 1970s, it is not surprising that families preferred to move to 1920s council estates in Bellingham and Downham, designed in garden city style.

Ironically, local tower blocks, such as Aragon Tower, are popular with the rich. Perhaps this is because they have other homes, and send their kids off to boarding school as soon as possible.

Many local residents were interviewed but hardly any appeared in the programme. Was this because of the anti-working class, anti-Deptford bias of the programme?

One yuppie couple were shown, viewing a house in the small, posh conservation area of Albury Street. The programme said this house was like the homes which were demolished 40-50 years ago. However it admitted that Albury Street houses were 18th century "captains' houses", not working class dwellings.

This programme did not analyse the dire effect of crisis ridden capitalism on Deptford's working class population - and that failure showed.

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In The Socialist 20 June 2012:

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Secret History of the Streets, Deptford High Street


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