Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Cloak and dagger, regeneration and gentrification?

Beryl Bainbridge, who died on 2nd July, apparently used to wander the streets of Camden late at night lugging a bone-handled carving knife under her cloak. The author's obituary writers say she carried the weapon to deter muggers. 

Perhaps Bainbridge, who passed away this month, was influenced by the isolated old man who concealed a dagger under his grotty coat as he trapsed through London's bustling Victorian streets in Edgar Allan Poe's psychologically chilling tale, The Man of the Crowd. 

Another formidable London streetwalker, Harold P. Clunn, carried a pen and notebook during the 25 walks he undertook before and after World War II to chart the capital's changing cityscape. In an early 1960s edition of his famous book, The Face of London, Clunn anticipated optimistic plans to transform Elephant and Castle into the 'Piccadilly Circus of south London'. 

"The new Elephant Circus...is designed to become one of London's greatest centres," wrote Clunn, explaining more than six thousand homes bombed beyond repair during World War II air raids would be demolished. "Three housing estates to accommodate seven thousand families are to be built in this quarter," said Clunn.

Fifty years later, the Elephant and Castle never became a prestigious London quarter. Far from it, in fact, Londoners never really liked the smelly subways and traffic grunging around its two huge roundabouts (see above photo). In 2010, a great swathe of those 'new' estates are themselves to be demolished.

One of those great grey hopes is the Heygate Estate, a massive concrete warren (above). Incredibly, despite most of Heygate's 1100 homes being boarded up for demolition, a few residents still cling on inside their homes. 

Local politicians say the Heygate's demolition means the Elephant will be regenerated. Many local people argue demolition means gentrification. They ask who will benefit from the Elephant's transformation? Some say they're being mugged by property developers and politicians.

So, I'll be padding around the Elephant to gauge local feeling about  these mammoth* changes...a cloak and camera walkabout. As usual, I'll keep you posted.

Paul Coleman, London, July 2010 

* 'Mammoth' changes to the Elephant (!) Pun intended!

Photos:Paul Coleman  (Click on images to enlarge).

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