Old Kent Road
The Old Kent Road is a road in Southwark, South East London, England, and forms part of Watling Street, the Roman road which ran from Dover to Holyhead. The street is famous as the equal cheapest property on the London Monopoly board and is the only one in South London. It is mistakenly regarded as forming the boundary between Walworth, and Peckham to the south and Bermondsey to the north although the ancient parish and vestry boundaries of these as part of Camberwell do not in fact coincide with it, the Bermondsey boundary running along Rolls Road further north.
The route is one of the oldest trackways in England and was first metalled by the Romans as the road from Dover to Londinium. The Saxons later called this Watling Street. Chaucer's pilgrims travelled along this route from London and Southwark on their way to Canterbury.
At the junction with the presently named Shornecliff Road (previously Thomas Street) was the bridge crossing of St Thomas-a-Watering over the River Neckinger, which marked a boundary in the Archbishop of Canterbury's authority of the nearby manors in Southwark and Walworth. The landmark pub nearby, the 'Thomas a Becket', derives its name from this connection. It was a place of execution for criminals whose bodies were left in gibbets at this spot, the principal route from the southeast to the City of London. The burning to death or hanging, drawing and quartering of religious dissenters, both Catholic and Protestant, also occurred here. In 1540 a priest 'Sir' (i.e. 'father') Godson was executed here for denying Henry VIII's supremacy. The Welsh Protestant martyr John Penry was also executed here in 1593 and a small side street nearby, named after him, commemorates this. The Catholics John Jones in 1598 and John Rigby in 1600 met their end here.
The same point was regarded as the limit of the City of London's authority from 1550, there being a boundary stone set into the wall of the old fire station indicating this.
Following from the sale of local monastic properties in the Reformation period the Crown let out many long-leases which were acquired by local people. Most prominently was those held by the Rolls family along the route from Bricklayers Arms to New Cross Road. With the urban expansion of the metropolis these holdings were in turn let out on building licences or shorter leases to others by the Rolls family at considerable profit to them, notably the desirable residencial development in the 1750s in the area of what is now Surrey Square and the Paragon which were designed by their Surveyor Michael Searles (a road near this is named after him). Their family tomb is in the St Mary Magdalen Bermondsey churchyard. By the third quarter of the Nineteenth Century they had accumulated so much wealth that they acquired a home at The Hendre (another local street name to show their connection) and a castle at Llangattock-Vibon-Avel in Wales and then through politics in Monmouth as MPs and High Sheriffs for that county, acquired a Peerage of the same name. Locally. they started to support the local communities by letting or granting for free some of their lands for social purposes:- the Library at Wells Way Burgess Park now a youth club, the Peabody Estate (Dover Flats) and the St Saviour's Grammar School for Girls site being the most obvious. This is why the road parallel to the main route is named 'Rolls Road'. The last real local remnant of their involvement is the large detached 'White House' between the Peabody Estate buildings, of the 1750s which was their home, then Searle's and then the management office of their trust estates. These were vacated in 1990 and the building has seen use as a Pentecostalist Church centre since then. The last of the male Llangatocks was the Hon Charles Stewart Rolls who was the pioneer motorist and aviator who formed the partnership with Henry Royce.
The London City Fire Brigade had its 'Thomas Street' fire station placed at the corner site. This was subsumed into the London Fire Brigade from its formation and in 1905 the LCC erected the present building. This was in turn replaced by the modern station on the corner of nearby Coopers Road, which in turn was demolished for a comprehensive redevelopment in 2014.
The development of the coal gas utility services was undertaken at the Metropolitan Gas Works, the gasometers remain, principally by the Livesy family. Their local benefactions are Christchurch Church of England and the Livesey Museum for Children, both opposite the gas works.
Although the name appears as simply "Old Kent Road" on maps, it is usually referred to by Londoners as "the Old Kent Road". The Old Kent Road runs from the Bricklayers' Arms roundabout, where it meets the New Kent Road, Tower Bridge Road, and Great Dover Street, to New Cross Road, which begins a little to the east of the mainline railway bridge which is often mistaken as the point of the junction, and the change in street-name is coincident with the border with Lewisham borough. Before the county of London was created this would have been the boundary between Surrey and Kent, hence the change in name. It is regarded as forming the boundary between Walworth, and Peckham to the south and Bermondsey to the north although the ancient parish and vestry boundaries of these do not in fact coincide with it, the Bermondsey boundary running along Rolls Road.
Apart from piecemeal residential schemes very little change along this route was made until the late 1960s with the London County Council plan of 'Lungs for Londoners' led to the creation of new open spaces and public parks by demolition of heavily urbanised areas; the eastern entrance to one of these, Burgess Park, is also located here at the junction with Albany Road.
General population decline has led to almost all of the pubs being converted to other uses since the mid 80s: from west to east, 'The World Turned Upside Down' (flats), 'The Frog and Nightgown' (planning agreed for apartments and retail), 'The Dun Cow' (GP Surgery), 'The Green Man' (Restaurant), the 'Duke of Kent' (Mosque); the 'Henry Cooper' (derelict), the 'Drovers Arms' (flats) and the 'Canterbury Arms' (derelict). This leaves just the 'Lord Nelson' and 'Thomas a Becket' still trading along the entire length of route.
Since 1985 the planning regime has encouraged large retailers and retail parks to be developed over older properties which were classic examples of ribbon development whereby residential properties front gardens and/or ground floor areas took advantage of footfall and were converted to shop units. As of 2015 there are now many high street multiples and hyper markets joining these smaller units along its route including Asda, Argos, Halfords, Tesco, DFS, Pets at Home, Currys/ PCWorld, B&Q, Toys R Us, Aldi, Lidl and others.
- After suffering an attack of amnesia, the main character of George Orwell's A Clergyman's Daughter, Dorothy Hare, finds herself alone on Old Kent Road.
- In A Little Princess Shirley Temple sings a song titled "Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road" of which the chorus gives a good idea of the sort of language that was used in the area. The song was a popular Musical Hall hit from the 1890s written in 1891 by Albert Chevalier who was the lyricist and original performer ; the music was written by his brother Charles Ingle.
"Wot cher!" all the neighbours cried
"'Oo yer gonna meet, BillKnocked 'em in the Old Kent Road!
'Ave yer bought the street, Bill"?
Laugh? — I fort I should've died
- The street is juxtaposed against Park Lane as a potential place of reference in Nick Hornby's book, High Fidelity.
- The street is mentioned multiple times in the Madness song "Calling Cards", a song about running an illegitimate business "in a sorting office in the Old Kent Road."
- The street is featured in the chorus of the Levellers' song "Cardboard Box City", which criticises the slow action on helping the homeless in London.
- In 1985, the BBC's Arena strand included a documentary about the Old Kent Road. It is available to watch on YouTube.
- Lyrically mentioned in the Girls Aloud song "Long Hot Summer", in the line "running down that Old Kent Road", and the Bananarama song "Middle of Nowhere", both written by production outfit Xenomania.
- Old Kent Road also occurs lyrically as the last of 12 placenames associated with London in an overdubbed choral series on the Lily Allen song "LDN": "Angel, Dalston, Stockwell, Clapton, Soho, Ladbroke Grove. Camden, Brixton, Putney, Tottenham, Chiswick, Old Kent Road.".
- "Old Kent Road" is the title of a song by London-based indie pop group Pipas.
- Old Kent Road is the name of an Australia hardcore punk band.
- The Two Ronnies sing of a pub as being "finest in the Old Kent Road" in a musical sketch.
- Mentioned in Boy George's song "She was never he"
- A. D. Mills (11 March 2010). A Dictionary of London Place-Names. Oxford University Press. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-19-956678-5.