Camberwell is a district of south London, England, and forms part of the London Borough of Southwark. It is a built-up inner city district located 2.7 miles (4.3 km) southeast of Charing Cross. To the west it has a boundary with the London Borough of Lambeth.
Camberwell appears in Domesday Book as Cambrewelle. The name may derive from the Old English Cumberwell or Comberwell, meaning 'Well of the Britons', referring to remaining Celtic inhabitants of an area dominated by Anglo-Saxons. An alternative theory suggests the name may mean 'Cripple Well', and that the settlement developed as a hamlet where people from the City of London were expelled when they had life-threatening diseases like leprosy, for treatment by the church and the clean, healing waters from the wells. Springs and wells are known to have existed on the southern slope of Denmark Hill, especially around Grove Park.
It was already a substantial settlement with a church when mentioned in the Domesday Book, and was the parish church for a large area including Dulwich and Peckham. It was held by Haimo the Sheriff (of Kent). Its domesday assets were: 6 hides and 1 virgate; 1 church, 8 ploughs, 63 acres (250,000 m2) of meadow, woodland worth 60 hogs. It rendered £14. Up to the mid-nineteenth century, Camberwell was visited by Londoners for its rural tranquillity and the reputed healing properties of its mineral springs. Like much of inner South London, Camberwell was transformed by the arrival of the railways in the 1860s.
Early music halls in Camberwell were in the back hall of public houses. One, the "Father Redcap" (1853) still stands by Camberwell Green, but internally, much altered. In 1896, the Dan Leno company opened the "Oriental Palace of Varieties", on Denmark Hill. This successful venture was soon replaced with a new theatre, designed by Ernest A.E. Woodrow and with a capacity of 1,553, in 1899, named the "Camberwell Palace". This was further expanded by architect Lewen Sharp in 1908. By 1912, the theatre was showing films as a part of the variety programme and became an ABC cinema in September 1932 – known simply as "The Palace Cinema". It reopened as a variety theatre in 1943, but closed on 28 April 1956 and was demolished.
The 1957 film, The Smallest Show on Earth, which tells the tale of a struggling family-run suburban cinema, is thought to have been based on the Palace. Nearby, marked by Orpheus Street, was the "Metropole Theatre and Opera House", presenting transfers of West End shows. This was demolished to build an Odeon cinema in 1939. The cinema seated 2,470, and has since been demolished. A second ABC cinema, known originally as the Regal Cinema and later as the ABC Camberwell, opened in 1940. With only one screen but 2,470 seats, the cinema was one of the largest suburban cinemas in London and continued to operate until 1973, after which it was used as a bingo hall until February 2010. The building retains its Art Deco style and is Grade II listed.
Camberwell St Giles formed an ancient, and later civil, parish in the Brixton hundred of Surrey. The parish covered 4,570 acres (18.5 km2) in 1831 and was divided into the liberty of Peckham to the east, the hamlet of Dulwich to the southwest, as well as Camberwell proper. The width of the parish tapered in the south to form a point at what is now known as the Crystal Palace area. In 1801 the population was 7,059 and by 1851 this had risen to 54,667. In 1829 it was included in the Metropolitan Police District and in 1855 it was included in the area of responsibility of the Metropolitan Board of Works, with Camberwell Vestry nominating one member to the board. In 1889 the board was replaced by the London County Council and Camberwell was removed from Surrey, to form part of the County of London. In 1900 the area of the Camberwell parish became the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell. In 1965 the metropolitan borough was abolished and its former area became the southern part of the London Borough of Southwark in Greater London.
Camberwell today is a mixture of relatively well preserved Georgian and 20th-century housing, including a number of tower blocks. Camberwell Grove, Grove Lane and Addington Square have some of London's most elegant and well-preserved Georgian houses. The crossroads at the centre of Camberwell is the site of Camberwell Green, a very small area of common land which was once a traditional village green on which was held an annual fair of ancient origin which rivalled that of Greenwich. An extensive range of bus routes have stops at Camberwell Green. The Camberwell Beauty is a butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa) which is rarely found in the UK - it is so named because two examples were first identified on Coldharbour Lane, Camberwell in 1748. A large mosaic of the Camberwell Beauty used to adorn the Samuel Jones paper factory on Southampton Way. The paper factory has since been demolished but the mosaic was removed and re-installed on the side of Lynn Boxing Club on Wells Way.
The Salvation Army's William Booth Memorial Training College, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, was completed in 1932: it towers over South London from Denmark Hill. It has a similar monumental impressiveness to Gilbert Scott's other local buildings, Battersea Power Station and the Tate Modern, although its simplicity is partly the result of repeated budget cuts during its construction: much more detail, including carved Gothic stonework surrounding the windows, was originally planned. Camberwell is home to one of London's largest teaching hospitals, King's College Hospital with associated medical school the Guy’s King’s and St Thomas’ (GKT) School of Medicine. The Maudsley Hospital, an internationally significant psychiatric hospital, is located in Camberwell along with the Institute of Psychiatry.
On 3 July 2009 a major fire swept through Lakanal House, a twelve-storey tower block. Six people were killed and at least 20 people were injured.
Camberwell has several art galleries including Camberwell College of Arts, the South London Gallery and numerous smaller commercial art spaces. The annual Camberwell Arts Festival is well supported. The Blue Elephant Theatre on Bethwin Road is the only theatre venue in Camberwell.
A group now known as the YBAs, the Young British Artists, began in Camberwell - in the Millard building of Goldsmith's College on Cormont Road. A former convent and secretarial school, the Millard was the home of Goldsmiths Fine Art and Textiles department until 1988, it has been converted to flats and is now known as St Gabriel's Manor.
The core of the later-to-be YBAs, graduated from the Goldsmiths BA Fine Art degree course in the classes of 1987–90. Liam Gillick, Fiona Rae, Steve Park and Sarah Lucas, were graduates in the class of 1987. Ian Davenport, Michael Landy, Gary Hume, Anya Gallaccio, Henry Bond and Angela Bulloch, were graduates in the class of 1988; Damien Hirst, Angus Fairhurst, Mat Collishaw, Simon Patterson, and Abigail Lane, were graduates from the class of 1989; whilst Gillian Wearing, and Sam Taylor-Wood, were graduates from the class of 1990. During the years 1987–90, the teaching staff on the Goldsmiths BA Fine Art included Jon Thompson, Richard Wentworth, Michael Craig-Martin, Ian Jeffrey, Helen Chadwick, Mark Wallinger, Judith Cowan and Glen Baxter. Collishaw has a studio in a pub in Camberwell. as does the sculptor Anish Kapoor.
In his memoir Lucky Kunst, Gregor Muir, writes: "Not yet housed in the university building at New Cross to which it eventually moved in the late 1980s, Goldsmiths was a stone's throw away in Myatts Field on the other side of Camberwell Green. In contrast to Camberwell's Friday night bacchanal, Goldsmith's held its disco on a Tuesday evening with dinner ladies serving drinks, including tea, from a service hatch. This indicated to me that Goldsmiths was deeply uncool." The building was also the hospital where Vera Brittain served as a nurse and described in her memoir Testament of Youth.
Thomas Hood, humorist and author of The Song of the Shirt, lived in Camberwell from 1840 for two years; initially at 8, South Place, (now 181, Camberwell New Road). He later moved to 2, Union Row (now 266, High Street). He wrote to friends praising the clean air. In late 1841, he moved to St John's Wood. The Victorian art critic and watercolourist John Ruskin lived at 163 Denmark Hill from 1847, but moved out in 1872 as the railways spoiled his view. Ruskin designed part of a stained-glass window in St Giles' Church, Camberwell. Ruskin Park is named after him, and there is also a John Ruskin Street.
Other famous writers who have lived in the area include the poet Robert Browning, who was born in Camberwell, and lived there until he was 28, and Muriel Spark, the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Ballad of Peckham Rye. The novelist Mary Jane Staples, who grew up in Walworth, wrote a book called The King of Camberwell, the third instalment of her Adams family saga about Cockney life. Comedienne Jenny Eclair is a long term resident of Camberwell. The area features in her 2001 novel "Camberwell Beauty", named after a species of butterfly. Playwright Martin McDonagh and his brother, writer/director John Michael McDonagh, live in Camberwell.
Other residents include former editor of The Guardian Peter Preston and The Guardian columnist Zoe Williams. Florence Welch of the rock band Florence + the Machine also lives in the area as do actresses Lorraine Chase and Jenny Agutter. Syd Barrett, one of the founders of Pink Floyd, studied at Camberwell College of Arts from 1964.
The avant-garde band Camberwell Now named themselves after the area. Basement Jaxx recorded three songs about Camberwell: "Camberwell Skies", "Camberskank" and "I live in Camberwell" which are on the The Singles: Special Edition album (2005). Camberwell is referred to in the film Withnail and I — "Camberwell carrot" is the name of the enormous spliff rolled using 12 rolling papers, by Danny the dealer. His explanation for the name is, "I invented it in Camberwell and it looks like a carrot".
Camberwell is connected to central London by Camberwell Road in the north and Camberwell New Road in the west. It is very well served by bus routes: its location means that it is easy to travel into central London with journey times of 20 to 30 minutes, though often much longer in the rush hour.
Camberwell had been served by three railway stations until the First World War, Camberwell Gate, Camberwell New Road and Denmark Hill. Like many less well used stations in inner London, Camberwell Gate and Camberwell New Road were closed in 1916 'temporarily' because of war shortages and were never reopened.
- Ian Iqbal Rashid, filmmaker and writer
- John Bostock, professional footballer
- Edward Burnett Tylor, anthropologist
- Florence Welch, musician
- Jack Whicher, detective
- Jeremy Bowen, BBC war correspondent
- Sir Henry Bessemer, inventor
- Southwark London Borough Council - Community guide for Camberwell
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