Where’s best: South London or North London?
It amuses me when meeting new people and sussing out which side of the tracks (or should that be River Thames?) they live on. Mention that you are from Sarf London, and you’ll either be greeted with sympathy or if you’re lucky a knowing smile followed by a chat about the pros and cons, and swapping details of the best local hangouts and restaurants.
South London has always been the butt of jokes, but most of us here don’t care. We accept that it might not be fashionable in the eyes of the Hampstead or Notting Hill set. I know a few people who have rarely gone south in their entire lives. `It’s a wasteland with little to do!’ or `what is in south London apart from Croydon’s IKEA?’
Actually, it’s not such a clear-cut issue.
We have many `desirable’ areas like Clapham, Dulwich, Wimbledon, Richmond, and there are leafy parts, believe it or not, even in Croydon. And the less opulent areas still benefit from having that little extra space with fewer humans to bump into compared to the hustle and bustle of life north of the river.
South Londoners will admit that compared to our cousins `in town’ there is less to do and see. We don’t have the volume of cool and hip venues. But at least we have space. There are fewer tourists getting in the way and more parks and commons (Wimbledon, Streatham, Tooting and Greenwich to name but a few) to enjoy on the rare occasion the sun shines. It is less densely populated and visually greener. And there’s no airport, such as Heathrow or City, with its extra traffic. Our roads suffered less from the 1960s rush for fast inner city motorways and huge flyovers: compare our quainter South Circular to the monolithic North Circular dominating the sky line.
A few facts
Despite south London’s reputation, it is worth noting that according to latest figures six of the most deprived boroughs in the country (Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Islington, Waltham Forest, Barking and Dagenham) are north of the river. In fact the first appearance anywhere south is at number 29 in the rankings with Greenwich. And contrary to popular opinion, Croydon is quite well off and way down the rankings. Even within the more shabby areas, parts of south London are becoming gentrified with house prices and rents rising fast. Twenty years ago, if someone had told me Balham would have a Waitrose and effectively be Clapham South South, I’d have called them a naive optimist.
I recently had someone tell me “who wants to live on a train line when you can have the tube?” Yes, the London Underground is fantastic and regular. But apart from a few tube lines, most of us travel on overland trains. We can look out the window and see life and trees, instead of looking at a dark brick wall for the majority of the journey. And for pockets of south west London we have a taste of what cities like Amsterdam have with a new tram network whizzing people between Wimbledon, Croydon and parts of Bromley and Sutton. A vast improvement on any bus service.
Crossing the great divide
I have to declare an interest here. I’ve always lived south of the River Thames, except for a year or so when I lived in King’s Cross whilst working at ITN. So I’m a Sarf London boy through and through. North London does have many advantages. The West End is right on your doorstep, most of London’s landmarks are there and so are the visitors and workers, diplomats and armed police on permanent patrol.
But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing and getting away from it all, back to the less frantic and frenetic south, has its advantages.
What’s your view? Am I missing out or looking through rose-tinted glasses? It would be great to get your feedback, whether your `manor’ is north or south. Leave a reply below and let me know your thoughts.