The Camberwell Society

Society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell



Pavements are for pedestrians

Martin Huckerby calls for obstacle free streets

While Camberwell's shopping streets get busier, businesses are also increasingly occupying the pavements with goods, tables and placards – which can create an obstacle course for pedestrians.

Recent years have raised the numbers of people on the streets in central Camberwell – new developments bring in more residents, the pandemic meant more working from home, while multi-occupation remains high and larger families among the newer arrivals add to the numbers.

The local shops and services benefit, but the narrower streets around the Green area have become increasingly crowded. Each new trader opening up now appears to think it's their right to erect an extension to their shop or cafe front. Any new food shop or takeaway turns itself into a mini cafe with an outside table, or two.

The benefits of the recent, expensive reconfiguring of the pavements, bus stops etc, can be lost when the space created is filled with new barriers to passage.Thus the re-arrangement of bus stops at the start of Denmark Hill allowed more room for waiting passengers, but the crowds around bus stop Q gain little advantage if the pharmacy there puts out two advertising boards – people can have to squeeze past.

The encroachments grow, as traders, understandably trying to attract customers, have realised how much they can get away with - even if they don't put out tables or piles of goods, they install pavement advertising signs. Some now even put out three boards, or use two in a line, doubling the space blocked.

People may like the open-air market vibe, but little thought is given to parents with pushchairs or prams (or just several children to manage), or the needs of the elderly, let alone those with disabilities or on mobility scooters, trying to get through crowds.

Many enjoy the 'continental' approach of cafes and bars with outside tables, but these should surely be confined to stretches with wide pavements. These make sense on a wider parade like the one running up to Love Walk, but on the narrower stretch before that, a cafe, with a table outside, can block half the pavement with its menu boards.

The south side pavement of Camberwell New Road, near the busy bus stop, was already cluttered with official street furniture. Then a new little cafe there started putting out small tables, joined by a neighbouring shop – all adding to crowding along there. One cafe across the road even had a barbeque on the street, though now it just seems to use a large signboard.

A new shop opened nearby, at the corner on Denmark Hill – and straightaway started piling goods on the pavement, blocking a third of the walkway.

Further up Denmark Hill, near the Daneville Road junction, another household goods shop sometimes blocks half the pavement.

Pushing back against this trend could be hard – businesses might argue they've been allowed to put out produce and impedimenta for years without much obvious regulation.

But could Southwark Council circularise businesses on Camberwell's central streets, reminding them of the problems they may cause, and urging them to desist?

Such issues are found elsewhere too, in places like Walworth Road and Peckham.

If persuasion proved ineffective, could Southwark implement the licensing for such activity, or set a limit to the proportion of pavement any business can treat as its private space?

The council last year adopted an equal pavements pledge, aiming to ensure full access for all, and especially disabled people. An initial emphasis was on the repair of uneven pavements, but the general need to remove obstacles was recognised. Hopefully that can translate into action to restrain over-enthusiastic businesses.

I appreciate a more serious issue is the growing hazard on pavements due to cyclists and users of e-scooters and other powered machines, riding there illegally, often pretty fast.

This is not just a local issue, and clearly requires concerted action by government, and police enforcement.

Ruskin: Does he belong to Camberwell or Herne Hill?

Jon Newman and Laurence Marsh claim John Ruskin for Herne Hill

Rosemary Hill's piece in the last issue of the Quarterly summarising local history writing about Camberwell kindly referenced our recently published book, Sunset Over Herne Hill, John Ruskin and South London. However, in doing so Ms Hill also perpetuated a long-standing error in suggesting that Ruskin was an inhabitant of Camberwell.

Ruskin and his parents lived in two houses in Herne Hill between 1823 and 1872. The house of his childhood and young manhood, no 28 Herne Hill, which he continued to use as his London pied a terre after moving to the Lake District in the 1870s, has always been in the parish and borough of Lambeth.

The confusion arises because the second family home, originally no 163 Denmark Hill, to which the family moved in 1843 and which stood on what is now Blanchedown in the Denmark Hill Estate, is indeed now in the borough of Southwark. However, it only became so after boundary changes in 1900 when the triangle of land between Denmark Hill and to the west and south of Champion Hill - and within which Ruskin's house and grounds stood - was transferred from Lambeth parish into the new Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell and the borough boundary was tidied along the line of Denmark Hill and Herne Hill. This change took place a year before Ruskin's death and over a quarter of a century after he had left South London.

For all his time there, and despite the undoubted significance of Camberwell in his life, John Ruskin was a Lambeth ratepayer and an inhabitant of Herne Hill, not of Camberwell.

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The Camberwell Society was formed in 1970 and is the recognised amenity society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell.

The Society’s objectives, as defined by our constitution, are: to stimulate public interest in Camberwell, to promote high standards of planning and architecture in Camberwell, and to secure the preservation, protection, development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in Camberwell.

We are a charity and raise money for local charities. In the past we have raised money for Southside Rehabilitation Association, St Giles Trust, Cambridge House, the CamberwellCommunity Choir, the HollingtonYouth Centre and the Camberwell Arts Festival