London is considered one of, if not the best cities in the World. The nightlife can cater for all interests and desires, the galleries and museums are an ever changing kaleidoscope of wonders, and the history and architecture stretches back many hundreds of years.
Despite this there is still something that all Londoners agree on. Our fair city fails miserably when it comes to affordable housing. Landlords can charge what they want for rent (if you can’t afford it someone else can) and unscrupulous developers can refuse to build the required amount of affordable flats they promised by saying “It wont be worth our while building anything if we have to include them”. This forces the council to back down (with a little extra cash in their pocket) and agree to the developers demands, reasoning that anything is better than nothing.
All of this forces Londoners to become more inventive with where they want to live. The options seem to be –
- Live somewhere gentrified – pay extortionate rent for a manky shoe box
- Live somewhere on the road to gentrification – Cheaper rent that will most likely rocket when the landlord notices the abundance of bearded men
- Live somewhere nobody has heard of – cheap rent but area not the most inspiring.
One place that I believe falls into the 3rd category is Abbey Wood, in the South East of London.
It’s doubtful that many people would have heard of Abbey Wood a few years ago, tucked away as it is in South East London. North London has long been the beacon of creativity and excitement, ever since Shoreditch and Hackney were transformed from run down, no-go areas, to the Urban Chic playgrounds of the much maligned ‘Hipsters’. Not many people bothered with South London, but that has slowly started to change as people are squeezed out of the North and decide they might get better and cheaper accommodation southwards, which is why we now see places like Peckham, Deptford and Woolwich transform into places you might actually want to visit.
But the major reason Abbey Wood will soon start to materialise in the minds of Londoners is Crossrail. This giant burrowing robo-mole, and saviour of certain left behind parts of London, will be laying one of it’s golden stations in Abbey Wood in 2018, which will suddenly make the area a category 2 place to live.
Seeing the name Abbey Wood on the Crossrail map, right at the end, I decided to look into this intriguing area, and found it to be an interesting place, with a lot of potential. Here are some of the reasons why.
Lesnes Abbey is undoubtably the key attraction of the area. Its ruined foundations are set in a green field next to the sprawling woods, not far from the train station. Built in 1178 the Abbey was founded by Richard De Luci, Chief Justicar of England, and legend has it he built the abbey in penance for his involvement in the notorious murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Although in ruins, you can still get a feel for the mighty building that once stood there, and can walk through the ancient corridors and up to the altar, always being watched by windswept crows with malevolent eyes… lovely stuff!
This is a mulberry tree which legend has it was planted by none other than King James I, in an attempt to encourage silk moth caterpillars to thrive. Unfortunately this is the wrong type of mulberry tree, and no silk was ever produced.
I was surprised at the size of Lesnes Abbey Wood when I first saw it on Google maps. Being a fan of London’s green and wild areas, I thought a woodland of that size would have been known to me, but I had never heard of it before.
This large ancient woodland contains many hidden secrets, including a fossil and chalk pit, a late prehistoric burial mound, heathland and strange wooden carvings in the trees. The wood is so immense that although I have walked through it numerous times, I am still to discover the fossil and chalk pit, although I have actively tried to seek them out. Either the forest cloaks them from my gaze, or I am useless at following directions. I favour the former, but fear the latter.
Stepping into the forest the sounds of the modern world are dampened by the tall, dark trees, and it is easy to feel transported back through the mists of time when monks from the abbey would have paced along these paths, their thoughts on holy conundrums and ecumenical matters.
Thamesmead Housing Estate
The infamous Thamesmead estate is now viewed by some as a nightmarish concrete folly, an experiment in community housing gone wrong. It may not be on the must see list of the area but it is worth a look due to its brutalist 1960s architecture, which inspired Stanley Kubrick to use it in his film A Clockwork Orange, as a vision of the future gone slightly wrong.