Where are London’s real no go areas?

Borough Market in happier times. Image: Getty.

Over the weekend, in the wake of the horrific attack on London Bridge, this happened:

Which is odd, because I've lived inside the M25 pretty much my entire life, and waste much of my spare time on long, pointless walks across town, and I have never been aware of encountering a single no go area. Honestly: sink estates; industrial wastelands, Mayfair... They’re all basically fine, in my experience, and if I’m not scared I can’t for the life of me imagine why the police would be.

I'm not alone in this. Yesterday, my podcast co-host Stephanie - who is great, and who you should all follow on Twitter to make up for the fact I'm about to shamelessly recycle her tweets – tweeted this:

 

Also, this:

 

A lot of people clearly felt strongly about a certain underwhelming restaurant chain.

 

(A footnote: Stephanie, who is the funniest person in London, said it was fine for me to use her tweets providing I called her the funniest person in London*. So.)

Anyway. Yesterday I did that embarrassing thing where I read Steph's tweets, forgot I'd read them, and then fifteen minutes later tweeted something similar as if they were my own idea because I'm basically a terrible person. Here was my effort.

 

(Gratifyingly for Stephanie, you will note that I did not receive the numbers she did.)

My search continued:

 

Here, just for information, is a map of the no go areas of South London:

Click to expand, but don’t say we didn't warn you.

Eventually, I found a couple:

Seriously, the queues at the bar are insane, and if you don't manage to get a drink you're basically just sitting in a multi storey car park. (Note for non-Londoners: this is literally true.)

There's also this:

Which is a vexingly popular tourist attraction in Leicester Square, at which no actual Londoner would ever be seen dead.

Others had their own ideas. South London bitterness was a theme:

So was north London snobbery:

 

For some reason, people really don’t think much of the remarkably anodyne north London suburb of Palmers Green:

Honestly, for a place that literally nobody as ever heard of, it attracted a surprising amount of ire.

A number of people mentioned the West End at Christmas:

The horror! The horror!

 

The very worst London area of all, though, a place you should absolutely never go to if you can possibly avoid it, turned out to be south of the river:

 

Probably because of one particular night spot.

 

Anyway. If you can think of other terrifying no go areas in London, do feel free to tweet me. And also, follow Stephanie – she is, you'll recall, the funniest person in London.

*She also said I wasn't allowed to say that she'd told me to do this.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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A warped mirror: on gentrification and deprivation on London’s Caledonian Road

The London Overground crosses Caledonian Road. Image: Claude Lynch.

Capital cities are, more often than not, a focal point for the stark divide between rich and poor – places where the most economically deprived meet the most economically empowered. In London, these divides can be more than stark: they can be close, even intimate, and there are districts where crossing the street can be like entering a different world. One such street is the Caledonian Road.

Known local as “the Cally”, Caledonian Road runs for about a mile and a half, from Kings Cross to the Nags Head junction in Holloway, and was built in 1826 to provide a new arterial route to the north from the West End. At first, developments on the road were sparse; among the first notable buildings were the Royal Caledonian Asylum, which gave the road its name, and H.M. Prison Pentonville.

For some time, the northern half of the road was seen as far removed from central London, which stymied development. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 19th century residential development really got going. By the time Caledonian Road station opened on the Piccadilly line in 1906, the area was flush with Victorian terraces.

These, though, mainly lay on the eastern side. To the west, the proximity of King’s Cross prompted the development of heavy industry, particularly the clay kilns that were helping to build Victorian London proper. The divide had begun:  the east side of the street, the area known as Barnsbury, was notably quieter and calmer than the west side. Ever since the 19th century, the ‘V’ formed by Caledonian Road and York Way has been known for a high incidence of gang violence and social problems.

As in many parts of London, the end of the Second World War brought a chance to start from scratch. Many of the slums to the west of the Cally had been bombed to smithereens, and those that remained still lacked gas and hot water.

But this was the era of municipal dreams: Islington council cleared the slums and constructed the Bemerton Estate. Instead of reflecting the industrial history of the area, the estate reflected Barnsbury back at itself, treating Caledonian Road as some sort of warped modernist mirror. The square gardens of Barnsbury were reimagined as the spaces between the highrises of Bemerton, and this time, they were actually square.

The estate was immediately popular, its open design prompting a renewed sense of community in the west. But it didn’t last.

Square gardens on one side, not-so-square on the other. Image: Google Maps/CityMetric

As far back as the 1950s, Islington had already become synonymous with gentrification. Forty years later, before moving to Downing Street, Tony Blair’s London residence was Barnsbury’s leafy Richmond Crescent. House prices in the area have gone through the roof and now Barnsbury is mainly home to a the professional elite.


At the same time, though, Caledonian Road’s warped mirror has given Bemerton the exact opposite: in spite of attempts to rejuvenate it, downward spiral of deprivation and antisocial behaviour have blighted the estate for some time The promise of inviting square gardens and communal living has been inhibited by crime and poverty; the gardens lie empty, while those in Barnsbury thrive.

The disparity of wealth across Caledonian Road is regrettable. That’s not just because it speaks to a wider segregation of London’s rich and poor – a phenomenon exemplified last year by the Grenfell Tower fire in Kensington & Chelsea, the richest borough in Britain. It’s also because, in the Bemerton Estate, planners had thought they saw an opportunity to offer more Londoners the idyll of square gardens and leafy streets, often reserved for the richest.

It might be too much to claim the estate as a failure; events such as the Cally Festival aim to bring together both sides of the road, while other council programmes such as Islington Reads help to foster a greater sense of neighbourhood.

Road should never divide us; rather, they should unite those who live on either side. The spirit of Caledonian Road should cross the gap – just like the railway bridge that bears its name.