8. Reginald Road, Deptford
In 2012 the BBC first aired the documentary The Secret History of our Streets. Accompanied by a book, the series examined the changes in some of London’s high streets since the 19th century. The documentary primarily focused on Charles Booth’s ambitious plan to visit and record the social conditions of every one of London’s streets, a project which took him 17 years to complete.
Charles Booth’s map built a comprehensive snapshot of life in London, including Deptford High Street and the surrounding area. He painstakingly colour-coded every city street according to the degree of inhabitants’ wealth: black for ‘vicious, semi-criminal’, dark blue for ‘chronic want’, light blue for ‘poor’, purple for ‘mixed comfortable and poor’, pink for ‘fairly comfortable’, red for ‘well to do’, and yellow for ‘wealthy’. The BBC documentary featured accounts from residents who tell the story of the transformation of the area and life in these streets.
In particular, the documentary presents the history of Reginald Road, which was then referred to as ‘the Oxford Street of South London’. The story, narrated by several members of one family and an ex-councillor, explores the decision of councils to demolish homes – so-called ‘slum clearance’ – for the construction of new housing estates. It traces these decisions back to the County of London Plan of 1943 and the Greater London Plan a year later, which imagined a modern and orderly city.
By the 1960s, most properties on Reginald Road were no longer overcrowded and were owned by local families. Surveys carried out by the council’s health inspectors revealed Reginald Road was in good condition. One stated:
“Maintenance is fair to good […] There is no doubt in my mind that the whole street could be dealt with by other action than clearance if the Borough Council wanted to.”
The council didn’t listen to the inspectors and in November 1964 the properties on Reginald Road were condemned, classed as unfit for human habitation. Owners were offered £1,600 as part of compulsory planning order and by the late 1960s homes were slowly being demolished. As houses were knocked down the area became uninhabitable; those who chose to stay found their water and power cut off, eventually forcing them out. By 1971, all the houses that had once stood on Reginald Road had been torn down to make way for new flats. A participant in the documentary remembers how communities and families were lost, moved out of Deptford and ‘scattered across southeast London’.
The Secret History of our Streets received criticism for the way it portrayed Deptford and councillor Nick Taylor. However, it also made clear how redevelopment decisions by city planners impact the communities that live there. In the context of gentrification in London, can echoes be heard today?
Bullman, J., Hegarty, N. and Hill, B. (2013). The Secret History of Our Streets. London: BBC Books.
Bullman, J. (2012). BBC – BBC TV blog: The Secret History of Our Streets. BBC.co.uk. Retrieved 10 June 2022, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/2012/06/secret-history-of-our-streets.shtml.
Bullman, J. (2012). BBC Two – The Secret History of Our Streets, Series 1, Deptford High Street. [online] BBC. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01jt9bv.