Each of the small villages that make up London has its own distinct character; hidden green spaces, independent shops, weekend farmers markets… The le cool Neighbourhood Guides is all you need to explore the far corners of our favourite city.
This week, Emilie Lemons is off to Deptford.
Deptford is a typical London neighbourhood, only in the fact that it is not at all typical: a mish-mashed population of real Eastenders, wind rushed Afro-Caribbeans and art-school-types. It’s the kind of ‘vibrant community’ housing developers dream of – where hipster vegan cafes sit alongside West Indian supermarkets and pie n’ mash shops. Home to the first Royal Navy Dockyard and famous for being the spot where Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe reportedly got ‘shanked’, the area went into financial decline when the docks started to close in the 1960’s. The presence of Goldsmiths College, the nearby University of Greenwich, Bellerby’s College and Trinity Laban have brought, however, the creative influx which usually precedes redevelopment. Deptford Creek is identified as an ‘Opportunity Area’ in the London Plan and planning permission has already been granted for a number of significant residential developments on the river. Coupled with the recent arrival of the gold-fronted Deptford Lounge, a buzzing library and community space, the next fifteen years is sure to see Deptford transformed to Brixton-esque levels. For now, however, it has just about dodged total gentrification and for every chalkboard promising gluten-free bread there are still six satisfyingly greasy takeaways.
No matter what day of the week or time of day you hit Deptford, its cafes are bustling with people – students catching up with one-another, lone rangers on laptops or creatives making plans. Lunch in Deptford is a cheap and cheerful affair, with a whole host of cafes offering soups, sandwiches and free wifi. The décor in these eateries is firmly ‘student living room’ with walls plastered with event posters, petitions and knick-knacks. The Waiting Room, just over the road from Deptford Station has a book and video exchange, which you can peruse over coffee and amazing chocolate brownies, while a couple of doors down Deli X is a veritable show-room of grannies’ sofas and armchairs. If you’re vegan, Deptford might just be your idea of heaven, with every other café boasting vegan or raw food, herbal teas, organic fair, yoga and reggae. One such café, and Deptford’s newest offering, is The Greenhouse, situated around the corner from the High Street, on New Cross Road. While munching on your avocado on toast you can admire a beautiful Deptford mural by Joshua Drewe.
London Velo is bucking the trend a little, with a firmly hipsterish vibe. A bike shop slash café, it has clean light décor in whites, blonde woods and pale pink and is home to Maurice, a very sweet Staffordshire Bull Terrier who sat beneath my table while I indulged in a surprisingly tasty detox smoothie. But whilst London Velo is a good spot to catch up on your emails in peace and, presumably, to get your fixie fixed, it is decidedly quieter than the other spots on the High Street. Any area guide for Deptford would be remiss if it failed to mention the market – a thriving and pragmatic affair that services the local community with fruit and veg, bric-a-brac, clothes and delicious Jamaican patties on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
DRINK For better or worse, Deptford has yet to develop a corridor of bars to crawl along. It does, however, have a few ‘proper’ pubs and a couple of slightly swankier establishments that may signal a change in the future. The Royal Albert on New Cross Road is a firm and established favourite, serving up ‘that’ Sunday roast you’ve been searching for. They pride themselves on their real ales, original Victorian décor and ‘unfussy pub food’. The pub forms part of Antic London – the growing group of London pubs that also includes Brixton’s Dogstar, the East Dulwich Tavern and The Sun in Camberwell. The group also recently introduced Job Centre to Deptford’s High Street. Housed in (surprise, surprise) an old job centre, this bar does what Antic do best – provide a relaxed and down-to-earth environment that tries, not completely without resistance, to feel like a native part of the local scenery.
Just around the corner, in the railway arches directly beneath Deptford train station, Buster Mantis opened just four months ago and might just be the jewel in Deptford’s crown. The bar and event space offers a hopeful glimpse at the possibilities for positive regeneration in its neighbouring archesm which are currently under development as part of Deptford Market Yard– a ‘collection of independent shops, restaurants and new market space’, which promises much but is yet to be occupied. Like many Deptford locals, Buster Mantis’ owner Gordon McGowan is Jamaican and south-east London born and bred, having grown up a couple of miles down the road in Catford. Finding that the deposit he had saved to buy a house in the area wouldn’t really stretch to much, McGowan decided instead to invest in a bar, and Buster Mantis was born. He took up two arches and fitted them out himself, using salvaged scaffolding boards and local craftsmen to create a very slick black and wood interior, which belies its DIY beginnings. The bar has a suitably glamorous cocktail list, including my current tipple of choice, a Negroni, as well as a classic Jamaican Rum Punch. Out of faithfulness to my Jamaican mother-in-law’s cooking, I avoided the typically Jamaican dishes on the menu – chicken, rice and peas; ackee and saltfish and curry. Instead I opted for a burger. I hadn’t expected much but was treated to a perfectly cooked, spicy and juicy pork number, which has left me ready to go back and sample the rest of the menu. Opportunities to return to Buster Mantis are plentiful, with a variety of happenings taking place almost every night of the week in the second arch, which serves as a creative space. McGowan has cleverly offered this space for free to anyone who wants to put on an event and, so far, they have already had an array of offerings including a film screening, an exhibition of geometric drawings and the first edition of a regular event, BBZ, which celebrates queer/ non-binary women of colour. On the evening I rock up, much to my delight, a local jazz band is frantically drum-soloing away. All of this is achieved without too much pretention; I notice, happily, that there appear to be as many local faces in the bar as new ones. Hopefully this represents a blueprint for how Deptford might regenerate itself while retaining its heart: “I haven’t done myself any favours really” McGowan jokes “the bar is only driving up house prices in the area!”
Aside from Deptford’s thriving market, mentioned above, Deptford’s High Street is a mixture of West Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese and African supermarkets that serve the local community. If you want to pick up beautiful and cheap West African wax print fabrics, a number of shops along the High Street stock a huge range and many also provide bespoke tailoring services.
Anchor Barbers, also on the High Street, believe that a haircut should be ‘an experience’ and offer ‘retro-inspired’ haircuts (think beards and side-parted pompadours) with blues music playing in the background of their lovely vintage-styled shop painted in gentleman’s green.
Off the beaten track on Tanners Hill, Wellbeloved butchers is a family business that has been in Deptford since 1829. The walls of the shop, which is run by the latest generation of the family, William Wellbeloved and his son Liam, are filled with photographs of the butchers through the ages. The shop was originally on the High Street and, since the 1970’s, in a Grade II Listed 18th Century row of shops around the corner. Make sure you grab one of their delicious meat pies, which you can watch them make through the shop window.
The creative population in Deptford ensure a lively scene of gigs, performances and get-togethers for all tastes. The Albany is a theatre and creative space which has been part of Deptford’s history for more than 100 years. In its mission to promote community and champion cultural diversity through the arts it delivers a distinct and varied programme of theatre, music, performance poetry and comedy, alongside community activities. When I strolled in on a Tuesday lunchtime, a group of more than 50 OAPs were busy taking part in an arts and crafts workshop, held in its café space weekly.
For a slightly grungier vibe, head over to Vinyl, a record shop-come-café-come-gallery-come-gig space on Tanners Hill. The shop itself has a slightly jumble-sale ambiance – this is one for the hunter-gatherers among you. The tiny basement room where live music is showcased promises an intimate, sweaty sort of evening where you might just discover your new favourite band. A little further down the road, towards New Cross, the Amersham Arms is solid performance venue / pub with a busy programme of live music, DJs, open mic nights, art, film and comedy with many first-time performers gracing the stage, along with more recognisable characters who put on the odd ‘secret gig’. According to the venue’s website, it is a ‘credible scouting post’. Trendily-dressed art school students outnumber Native Deptfordians here, but all are welcome and you are bound to see something new.