Coldharbour Lane

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Coldharbour Lane seen from Acre Lane.

Coldharbour Lane is a road in south London that leads south-westwards from Camberwell to Brixton. The road is over 1 mile (1.6 km) long with a mixture of residential, business and retail buildings - the stretch of Coldharbour Lane near Brixton Market contains shops, bars and restaurants. Between the junctions of Coldharbour Lane and Denmark Hill in Camberwell SE5 and Coldharbour Lane and Denmark Road lies part of the boundary between Lambeth and Southwark boroughs. The other end of Coldharbour Lane meets Acre Lane in central Brixton to form the A2217.

The Loughborough Junction area, surrounding the railway station, marks the approximate centre point of Coldharbour Lane and the change in postcode from SE5 to SW9.


Coldharbour Lane was formerly known as Camberwell Lane.

Former British Prime Minister John Major lived in a flat in Coldharbour Lane when a child in the mid-1950s.[1]

The lane close by Brixton Market became very derelict by the mid-1960s, when many drug houses flourished dealing mainly in cannabis.

In 1981 the Brixton riots occurred in roads near Coldharbour Lane and some windows were broken on the street itself.[2] With the support of community leaders and shop owners, there are plans to set up a mini-police station on Coldharbour Lane in the former premises of a drug dealer.[3][needs update]

Origins of the name[edit]

A possible derivation of the name is Cool Arbour Lane, dating from the time Camberwell was in the country. This is cited in 'The Streets' by Anthony Quinn (2012) as the place the Camberwell beauty was first sighted.

A "cold harbour" was an uninhabited shelter for travellers, often along a well-known route, somewhat similar to a modern bothy. Unlike an inn, there were no staff, food or drink to be had. There would be a roof, door and possibly a simple hearth, although it was the traveller's responsibility to gather fuel. They were generally little more than open-faced barns or animal shelters.[4]

J. C. Hahn, in Notes and Queries Series 3, 7, 253–254 (1 April 1865) and later in Series 3, 8, 71–72 (22 July 1865) wrote an article entitled "Remarks on the Origin of 'Cold Harbour'".[5]

In this, the author remarks upon relatively early equivalent place names in Germany and traces back the origins of Coldharbour/Cold Harbour to the Old High German Kalte Herberge. There is a village in Germany and another in Austria called Kaltherberg. This etymology was accepted by the authors of the dictionary Merriam-Webster. Our author concludes that "our Cold Harbour was a name given to any cold abode, cold retreat, brought over to England by our Saxon ancestors—Cold Harbour = Cold Station, Cold House, Cold Lodge." And thus has a wider meaning than that attributed by the supporters of a basic type of lodgings.

"Coldharbour" also survives as the name of a village in Surrey, and Bristol has both a "Coldharbour Road" and a "Cold Harbour Lane".

Coldharbour Lane also gives its name to Coldharbour ward in Brixton although approximately one third of Coldharbour Lane is located in Herne Hill ward.


In a 2003 London Evening Standard journalist David Cohen described Coldharbour Lane as the most dangerous street in the most dangerous borough in London. The headline asked whether the street is 'the most dangerous in Britain'. [6]

In 1997, the street was the scene of several shootings. Devon Dawson, a 29-year-old Jamaican in the UK with a six month visa, was shot dead with a sub-machine gun outside the Green Man pub on Coldharbour Lane in April 1997.[7]On 3 June 1997 Anthony Baker was shot in the head during a raid at the Control Tower takeaway in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, where he worked. The shooting happened just a few hundred yards from Lambeth Town Hall where, at the same time, Chief Inspector Alan O'Gorman was telling a packed meeting that gun crime in the area was becoming out of control. [8]

Three graffiti artists died when they were hit by a train at Loughborough Junction station on Coldharbour Lane in June 2018. The three men's deaths sparked controversy after a former Transport for London (TfL) board member Brian Cooke described the dead men as "common scum who cost the railway millions and keep fares high".[9]

2014 Council Election[edit]


Coldharbour (3)
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Labour Rachel Heywood * 2,232 57.8
Labour Matt Parr * 2,037
Labour Donatus Anyanwu * 2,014
Green Solomon Smith 742 19.2
Green Thomas Wood 680
Green Rashid Nix 638
Conservative Yvonne Stewart-Williams 398 6.0
Liberal Democrats Rachel Lester 225 5.8
Conservative Carl Belgrove 224
Conservative Edward Watkins 221
UKIP Johan Ward 127 3.3
Liberal Democrats Michael Morfey 126
Liberal Democrats Simon Waddington 126
Independent David Warner 100 2.6
Independent Boniface Awogta 76 2.0
Total votes
Labour hold Swing
Labour hold Swing
Labour hold Swing

- Rachel Heywood was elected as a Labour Councillor. Heywood resigned the party whip in April 2016 and now sits as an Independent councillor.[10][11][12]

Pubs and bars[edit]

There are several pubs and bars on Coldharbour Lane: the Prince of Wales in Brixton [13] which has been on the same site since 1800;[14] the Prince Albert[15] which has occasional live music and quiz nights;[16] the Dogstar,[17] a "three-floor DJ bar";[18] Living;[19] Club 414[20], The Sun[21], The Junction jazz club[22] and the Plough. The Green Man,[23] the Angel,[24] the Enterprise and the Hero (alatterly the Junction) all ceased trading between 2000 and 2007 .

Mentions in culture[edit]

With a nod to The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St., Brixton-based band Alabama 3 named their debut album Exile on Coldharbour Lane after the road. Although "Woke Up This Morning" on this album mentions Coldharbour Lane, the mention is omitted from the "Chosen One Mix", used as the theme song for The Sopranos.

"Coldharbour Lane" — with the hook "So long / I've done my time / Coldharbour Lane / Goodbye" — is a single from The Quireboys's 2001 This Is Rock'n'Roll release.

Markus Schulz named his own recording label "Coldharbour Recordings" in honour of the time when he lived in a flat in Coldharbour Lane.

The area features in the 2008 novel by Stella Duffy The Room Of Lost Things, set in a dry cleaners on Coldharbour Lane.[25]

Oladipo Agboluaje set a play referencing the street in 2007 "The Christ of Coldharbour Lane", about the sudden reappearance of Jesus Christ in Brixton. [26]

Parts of Honeytrap, a 2015 film directed by Rebecca Johnson and starring Jessica Sula, were filmed on the street. [27]

The Camberwell beauty[edit]

Camberwell beauty butterfly

The rare migrant butterfly, the Camberwell beauty (Nymphalis antiopa) was so named after the discovery of two specimens in Coldharbour Lane in 1748.[28][29] The butterflies had probably arrived as stowaways on ships delivering timber from Scandinavia to the Surrey Docks two miles to the north.[30]


  1. ^ John Major - Biography
  2. ^ "Brixton Riots, 10-12th April 1981", an eye-witness accounts of the Brixton disorders in and around the Frontline, Atlantic Road, Railton Road, Coldharbour Lane and Brixton Road, Brixton, Lambeth, London.
  3. ^ "Ghetto fabulous". The Guardian. London. 24 April 2005. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  4. ^ "Coldharbour". The Phrase Finder.
  5. ^ J. C. Hahn, Two articles on the origin of the name Coldharbour.
  6. ^ Evening Standard, 30/01/2003 Page: 16 Nearly 15,000 stabbings, robberies, muggings and even murders ... most linked to 300 yards where £1m of crack cocaine is dealt each month. Is this the most dangerous street in Britain? INVESTIGATION: The Standard spends 24 hours in the London borough where the police fight their biggest battle against crime By: DAVID COHEN
  7. ^ Evening Standard, 27/05/1997 Dealing out death on the streets People used to fight with fists or knives, now they go for a gun' By: JUSTIN DAVENPORT
  8. ^ Evening Standard, 07/07/1997 Edition: A Page: 20 FORMER GANGSTER JOINS FIGHT TO END BRIXTON GUN WARSBy: MARC WADSWORTH
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Prince of Wales, Brixton, London, SW9 8HH - pub details #
  14. ^ Prince of Wales hotel, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton. Historical Brixton - old and new photos of Brixton, Lambeth, London, SW9 and SW2
  15. ^ The Prince Albert, 418 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton SW9 8LF
  16. ^ Prince Albert, 418 Coldharbour Lane, London - London Public Houses & Inns - All in London
  17. ^ Dogstar, Brixton, London, SW9 8LQ - pub details #
  18. ^ Dogstar, 389 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton SW9 8LQ
  19. ^ Living | 443 Coldharbour Lane | London | SW9 8LN[dead link]
  20. ^ Club 414 | 414 Coldharbour Lane | London | SW9 8LF[dead link]
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ The Green Man | 225 Coldharbour Lane | London | SW9 8RR
  24. ^ The Angel | 354 Coldharbour Lane | London | SW9 8QH
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ Asher, Jim. The Atlas of Butterflies of Britain and Ireland, Oxford University Press.
  29. ^ Thomas, Jeremy, and Richard Lewington. The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland, Dorling Kindersley.
  30. ^ Emmet, A. M. and Heath, J. (1989). The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland, Harley Books, Colchester.

Coordinates: 51°27′57″N 0°06′09″W / 51.4659°N 0.1024°W / 51.4659; -0.1024