Tangled yarns from London's passers-through

007 : Richard Kovitch on Sumner Street, North Southwark
Born in 1977 in London.. Richard Kovitch currently works as a producer, writer and director. Why London? The world in one place. He digs the following London bits: Never a dull moment, the history, the sense of humour, the anonymity and the styles. He is, however, a bit miffed by making the rent, rush hour, Oxford Street, council tax and hoodies. For more info on Richard Kovitch you should send an email or visit Myspace.

image: Angelocesare

“In amongst the railway arches and Victorian masonry, the dead spaces remain intact.”

London is defined as much by its dead spaces as its chaos. Every borough has them, but they are particularly acute just south of the River, at the tip of SE1[1], amongst the buildings and flats between Great Suffolk Street and the main thoroughfare of Borough High Street. Time slows when you move through this territory - you can hear the echo of your footsteps, the beat of your heart. 

I have history here. This is where I first lived when I moved to London almost a decade ago. I rented an ex-local authority flat just behind the Tate Modern. I couldn’t believe that on my first attempt at living in London I was a stone’s throw from the river. The flat was a good size too, marred only by the lack of a local shop and the sound of the neighbours beating the shit out of each other. 

I finally returned to these old haunts last year. I had stayed away for five or six years - maybe longer. It felt like a lifetime and I was scared the past might still mark the present, that the deterioration of old relationships which had moved me on would still linger in the air. It was late on a Saturday evening and I was alone. The streetlights hovered in the dark like UFOs, the tarmac glistening below like an oil slick. 

I was struck by how unpopulated the area remained. Regeneration had certainly been attempted - there were a couple of new builds around Lant Street, but British governments have long struggled to facilitate inner city living, despite vast areas of Brown Belt land.[2] Towards London Bridge and further East regeneration has finally found some sort of rhythm, but not here. Only the rattle of trains breaks the silence. There is still little traffic and very few faces. In amongst the railway arches and Victorian masonry, the dead spaces remain intact.

I stood and waited outside the flat I used to call home. It was close to midnight and the lights were on. There were new residents now. I wondered who they were, whether they were happy. A light drizzle fell. I waited and watched. A figure came to the window, silhouetted against the orange glow of the apartment. I couldn’t make out a face, but memories flooded back. But they were different this time. They no longer harboured anguish or pain. Those emotions belonged to someone else now. I felt only calm, like I was watching an old film, far removed from my own experiences. 

Moving on, back towards the River, I felt like an exorcism had taken place. That night I barely slept, finding new patterns in the darkness. I was making plans again. It was time to move back to the only place in London where I could hear my heart beat. The dead spaces were bringing me back to life, and I was ready to embrace them.

referenced works

  1. London’s postcodes follow a mysterious logic all their own. SE1 would seem a simple and quite elegant indicator of direction and distance, being the closest postal district to the centre of town in the south-eastern section of London. However, due to the fact that after SE1, SE’s 2, 3 and so on are dictated by where their main delivery offices appear in an alphabetical list, SE2, far from being right next door as one might expect, is in fact ten miles to the east of SE1, with no fewer than six intervening postal districts. This simple misconception explains how I came to live in Tulse Hill, SW2, a part of the world on which I would not dream of casting aspersions.
  2. The term ‘Brown Belt land’ refers to land which has already been built on, but which is available for regeneration or redevelopment. An Environment Agency report estimates that there are currently around 66,000 hectares (255 square miles) of Brown Belt (or ‘brownfield’) land available for redevelopment. However, due to the cheaper cost of developing on fresh land, the ‘Brown Belt’ is often overlooked, explaining why Wimpey homes continue to pop up on stretches of unspoilt British countryside like beautiful flowers of brick and glory.

location information

  • Name: Sumner Street
  • Address: Sumner Street, London SE1
  • Time of story: Late NIght
  • Latitude: 51.50674581976233
  • Longitude: -0.09793281555175781
  • Map: Google Maps



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