The Camberwell Society

Society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell

Meet two adorable Camberwellians


Paola Totaro got to know them while walking her dog

Camberwell’s parks and gardens are always teeming with dogs walking with their devoted human servants, but there are currently two who are unforgettable. They regularly stop traffic and melt the heart of even the most diehard anti-canine resident.

Meet Daphne, a tiny, exuberant Havanese terrier pup who barely survived her birth but hung on tenaciously through weeks of hand-rearing, and Maurice, an ancient Lakeland terrier who has lost the use of his back legs but not his cheery spirit or his passion for expensive foods.

Both dogs exude a lust for life that is infectious and inspiring.

Audrey Pickard, Maurice’s ‘mum’ only moved to Camberwell in November last year but is now well-known in the area because, in her own words, she’s “become one of those strange ladies who push their dog around in a pram”.

“I never thought I’d be doing this and at first, it was quite embarrassing, but even though Maurice can’t walk, once he’s in the park he still loves dragging himself around in the sunshine sniffing like all dogs do. It was the only way to get him from A to B. He just loves his food, isn’t in any pain and while he’s still loving life, I can’t think about it ending. I’ve talked to the vet and when the time comes he will go at home surrounded by what he knows and loves.”

I first met Audrey when Maurice could still walk on his front legs while his back legs were held up in a sling. His sheer tenacity as he shuffled up the street moved me to stop and chat and find out a little more about him.

“When I decided to move from Sheffield, my sons both told me to look in south London and I am so pleased I did because I love Camberwell. People in Sheffield said to me ‘oh it won’t be the same down there…’. Well it isn’t, it’s friendlier. Everyone stops and says hello and I’ve met so many people, probably thanks most to Maurice.”

Like Audrey, Dan Czwartos, a professional musician, is rarely able to walk ten steps in the park without someone smiling and bending down to pat Honey (also affectionately known as Daphne), now six months old. She’ a high-energy ball of silky, honey-coloured fur. Dan and his stage manager partner, Wyn, already have a dog, a feisty black Schnauzer named George. Dan had long wanted a second dog but Wyn wasn’t quite as enthusiastic. However, when a local breeder of Crufts best of breed Havanese was due a new litter (and Wyn was in New York working), fate played her hand.

“Honey was selected at birth,” Dan says, “to become either a show dog or for potential careful breeding. Her dad has previously produced excellent puppies with charming temperament and a less common red/brown colouring. However, a difficult birth led her to become severely unwell, needing hefty antibiotics that caused hair loss on her back. After weeks of hand-rearing every three hours with a dropper, Honey was thankfully able to return to the rest of her litter and get on with being a puppy. Without the loving care and medical expertise of her breeder, she wouldn’t have survived.

“Honey’s breeder is brilliant and well-known for her champion dogs. Although Honey survived, she couldn’t predict what her early health trauma might bring later in life. So she decided she could not, ethically, breed or show with her, and therefore couldn’t keep her. But she did want to find a loving home and as I knew her from the park and, well, Wyn was away, how could I resist?”

Those early weeks spent so close to a human have made Honey particularly sociable and her tiny stature, soft fur and intelligent eyes ensure that she often has an adoring circle of people around her, particularly puppy lovers and children. Dan says George, who had his nose out of joint for some weeks when she first arrived, is now protective and often hovers around her like a big brother. The two play together, often tug of war with sticks and provide endless hours of amusement at home – and for the other dog walkers in St Giles’ cemetery.

“She’s a survivor, a joy really. Wyn will still occasionally ask what possessed me to get a second dog but of course, he loves her too. She never, ever stops but honestly, I haven’t had a second thought.”

Let your hair down at Christmas theatre


Christmas is fast approaching and local theatres are preparing for the season of goodwill with some great entertainment. Jade van Zuydam takes a look at what’s on offer

When December winds have you clutching your scarf, your nose runs and your hands numb, you know that Winter has arrived. But there is an underlying joviality that comes with this harsh season: dim-lit pubs, board games, frosty walks and spotting the lone robin in the park. There is mulled wine, cheerful songs and the giving of gifts. Most of all, it is the time of year for music and the Arts.

On gloomy nights and chilly days, many Londoners find solace indoors at cinemas, theatres and museums. Although you might be thinking “Brrr, baby it’s cold outside” there’s no need to watch canned Christmas television repeats and dream of holidays in the Bahamas because there are a whole host of local activities on your doorstep, including at some of south-east London's most iconic theatres.

Camberwell and Peckham are hotspots for creativity with an eclectic mix of artists, writers and musicians, who enthusiastically embrace the mighty Christmas spirit. While several venues - the Lighthouse Theatre, Brixton House and Golden Goose Theatre - will host seasonal shows, two local gems, Theatre Peckham and St Giles Church, stand out as particularly lively contributors to the holiday festivities.

Theatre Peckham, which champions underrepresented voices, has put on a Christmas show in the style of a musical pantomime for thirty-five years, and this year’s Yuletide cracker, Rapunzel, (December 5-24) will do just that again.

It is a modern twist that sets the Brothers Grimm fairytale inside a Peckham hair salon and creates a magical tale that explores hair, individuality, and empowerment, and promises singing, dancing, high energy, and a hilarious script.

“Our goal is to choose a traditional Christmas title and then make it relevant to our southeast London area,” says the theatre’s artistic director and chief executive Suzann McLean.

Performed by five professional actors and twenty-four young talents from Theatre Peckham's academy (ages 8-16), the Christmas show is a pivotal moment in the calendar for their budding performers. It provides a unique chance to work with professionals and serves as a pipeline into the industry. Notably, A-list actor and Peckham native John Boyega launched his career here.

Theatre Peckham's essence lies in its deep community connection, particularly captured during the Christmas season when we reflect on love, friendship, and being together. As Suzann puts it, “it’s about enjoying a story that resonates with your own community at your local theatre.”

Don't miss this all-ages experience, written by Geoffrey Aymer, composed by Jordan Xavier, and directed by Suzann McLean. Tickets for the preview on Tuesday, December 5th, are priced at £10, with discounted rates available for Southwark and Peckham residents.

More Christmas magic will take place under the ancient arches of St Giles church. Although still a working church, St Giles is embracing modernity by extending itself as an events and music venue, inviting people to continue appreciating and utilising the beautiful space. This December, it will host a free Advent Carol Service (Sunday, December 17) following the traditional format of nine carols and nine readings. This is the most enchanting of services: as night falls, the entire church will be candlelit. Auburn glows on the stained glass, and the entire hall – incensed and quietly buzzing – radiates, raising hairs and lifting hearts. Afterwards, everyone can gather to enjoy mulled wine and mince pies.

For a less conventional but magically bonkers evening at St Giles, don't miss Camberwell's original Organoke (December 9-10). With karaoke classics performed on an organ with a live band, it’s described by organisers as “the most joyous thing you'll ever see.” Think Christmas jumpers, beers, and a merry crowd embracing and belting out classics like The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York and George Michael’s Last Christmas. The church's high, vaulted ceiling even provides those excellent acoustics. Organoke began in 2016 to preserve the historic organ designed by Charles Wesley and has since spread across the country. Tickets sell out fast, so be sure to book. 70 per cent of all event fees go back into maintaining the church.

All of these festive productions are truly “local events by local people.” They are emblematic of Camberwell and Peckham’s vibrant, community-focused, and creative identity. They promise not only to warm your spirit, but to reaffirm that our treasured neighbourhood is the common thread that unites us all, akin to one great family, gathered around the Christmas table.

Some of the other events include: Brixton House (Cinderella, 21 November to 31 December), Theatre Peckham (Oruru: Carnival of Legends 25 November), Golden Goose Theatre (The Mitfords 1-11 November, Venom 14-18 November) and Longfield Hall (A Choral Christmas 16 December, Pre New Year’s Eve Party 29 December)

Penelope Crabb is innocent

Shekhar Das, one of the judges for the Mary Boast Prize, gives his dissenting opinion about "A History of Enslavement"

Historians are meant to shine a torch into the past. The writer of this essay instead raises the dust so we cannot see. She does so by using the word enslaved for slave and enslaver for slave-owner. The confusion is deliberate.

We need to clear the air. To enslave is to make a person a slave. It is almost always an act of violence. Most of the slaves in America and the West Indies were never enslaved. They were born into slavery.

From the baptismal register of our parish church between 1794 and 1806, the writer has identified five people in Camberwell who were black. And she has identified 34 families of Camberwell who received compensation for the loss of their slaves in West Indian estates. She calls them enslavers. The connection between the first group and the second is not obvious, but I think it is implied that people of the second kind enslaved people of the first.

This is history distorted for a cause. To understand why the charge of enslavement against the 34 families is baseless we need to see it in the context of Africa. In his history of slavery in that continent, Paul Lovejoy estimates that between the seventh and the nineteenth century, 11.7 million slaves were exported from Africa across the Atlantic, mostly men; and ‘as many more’ to the Islamic countries to the north and east, mostly women and children. Thus, about 30 million were exported. This number is but a small part of the total number of slaves. Most of the slaves remained in Africa.

Almost all these people were enslaved in Africa by Africans. This does not mean that Africans enslaved their own. They enslaved their enemies, as the Greek enslaved the barbarian. The slaves were used as labour in plantations, in salt mines, in gold mines, as household servants; they were used as soldiers and porters; as sacrificial victims; for sex.

Slavery is wicked. It is also multi-facetted and its facets are not equally wicked. To place Penelope Crabb, a widow of Camberwell who owned a share in an estate in Jamaica, in the same circle of hell as the soldier on the banks of the Niger, who sold his captive girl to a merchant destined for the slave market in Fez, and his captive boy to the merchant destined for the slave factory in the Gambia, is an error.

Moreover, the nature of a crime does not depend on whether it is committed by a European, an African or an Arab. The British must not hog all the guilt for all aspects of slavery – the transportation of slaves over long distances, the trade, the profits, the separation of mother and child, the sexual violence – but share it with their African and Arab counterparts.

But there is one facet of slavery in which the British did much worse than the others: the integration of slaves when freed into the society of their owners. After Emancipation, Britain had an obligation to absorb her freed slaves into British society. They were like children she had adopted, and as every mother knows, her first duty is to make them feel as if they are her own. But the men who ruled Britain saw them through the lenses of race. They told them they were African, not British. And when they came to Britain four generations later, they were spurned.

There is another aspect in the history of African slavery about which the historians labouring to unearth its legacy are silent: Britain’s role in the ending of slavery in Africa. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the British navy patrolled the coast of Africa to stop others from importing slaves. Although it rescued thousands and liberated them in the British colony of Sierra Leone, the blockade was ineffective. And after slave exports from West Africa finally ceased, indigenous slavery continued to swell. Slaves comprised more than half the population in many of the territories Britain took over in West Africa. It took decades to abolish slavery, but abolish it, she did.

This bit of history is especially important for us in Camberwell as most of our immigrants are from Africa, not the West Indies. To inflict on them the history of the other just because they are black is worse than carelessness.

In the shadow of this vast history, the campaign by historians that has so shaken our universities, museums and palaces, of which this prize-winning essay is a part, seems to me insular, self-obsessed and quixotic.

Camberwell and the History of Enslavement

Our congratulations to Marion Wallace for winning the 2023 Mary Boast Prize for her research into our connections to slavery

In February 1756, an advertisement appeared in the London Evening Post. It offered a reward of five guineas for the capture and return of “a Negroe Slave call’d James Williams, otherwise Lithgow, a likely Fellow, about five Feet six Inches high, twenty-one years of age… If he will return to Camberwell he shall be well received, and forgiven.” We do not know whether Lithgow was caught, or what happened to him (though we might have doubts about the promise of forgiveness); but the mention of Camberwell strongly suggests that both he and his enslaver were or had been living here.

From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, Britain enslaved millions of Africans, forcibly transporting them to the Americas, and compelling them into hard labour on plantations. The legacy of the slave trade and enslavement is now under discussion in many quarters, amid growing realisation of the ways in which the system extended its tentacles into all levels of society in Britain, with Britain’s economy in general, and individuals and families in particular, benefiting massively in the short and long term.

This article explores this question on a local level: in what ways can enslavement be directly traced to the parish of Camberwell (which then encompassed Camberwell, Peckham, Dulwich and Herne Hill) in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? How can we understand the local impacts of this atrocious system?

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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