What's it all about?
Camberwell sits on a crossroads, literally and metaphorically. Peckham Road crosses the north-south Camberwell Road, which runs down from the urban hub of Elephant and Castle through Camberwell, before heading up the hill towards the suburban stretches of Herne and Forest Hills. The natural springs rich in iron and mineral salts were a great draw for the area up until the latter half of the 19th century. The springs, plus the arrival of the railways are the reason that Camberwell Grove in particular has such a fine row of houses today. Given its history, it’s no surprise that three of London’s great healing institutions – King’s College Hospital, the Maudsley Hospital and the Institute of Psychiatry – were founded nearby. Camberwell’s residents include many working in the health sector, students attending Camberwell College of Arts and a band of others, who are increasingly attracted by the vibrant mix of period grandeur and urban grittiness that the area delivers.
- One-time Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett went to Camberwell College of Arts, and the band’s first photoshoot took place in Ruskin Park.
- Camberwell has its own species of butterfly, The Camberwell Beauty (Nymphalis Antiopa). It was named in 1748 by author Moses Harris.
- Camberwell’s list of famous recent residents is impressive: model Erin O’Connor, musician Florence Welch, arts boss Nicholas Serota and actors Python Terry Jones, Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson.
Architecture and property
Camberwell is known for its Georgian terraces and houses, the best of which can be found on Camberwell Grove, Grove Lane and Addington Square. There’s also a range of Victorian terraces and ex-local authority buildings, although many of these have now been knocked down and replaced with smarter new builds. Oddities include Grade II-listed Pilgrims’ Cloisters on Sedgmoor Place – once almhouses, now an attractive apartment complex. The towers of Havil Street Infirmary and the Salvation Army’s William Booth Memorial Training College are also local landmarks. The latter was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, who created Battersea and Bankside (now Tate Modern) Power Stations.
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Eating: The mix of residents ensures a huge range of options in Camberwell. Try Silk Road on Camberwell Church Street for fabulous but reasonably priced Chinese food from the Xinjiang region. Theo’s Pizzeria on Grove Lane serves sourdough pizzas and also keeps prices low. The Camberwell Arms’ award-winning Sunday lunches require booking a few weeks in advance but are worth the wait.
Drinking: Stormbird is the place for craft beer, and is refreshingly quiet compared with some of the trendier bars nearby. On the corner of the crossroads is The Tiger, a tidied-up boozer, which has DJs until 3.30am on Fridays and Saturdays. For something more old-school, the nominally Irish Hermits Cave is a local institution and offers one or two guest ales alongside Guinness and lager. Across Camberwell Road is The Old Dispensary, specialising in rare American beers with DJ sets through the weekend.
Nightlife: Aside from the DJs in the Tiger and The Old Dispensary, The Joiners Arms has regular live music. For clubs, head to neighbouring Peckham’s Bussey Building for full-on raves or rooftop drinks.
Culture: The South London Gallery has been in Camberwell for more than a century. Since being the original venue for Tracey Emin’s infamous Everyone I have slept with 1963-1995 tent (later destroyed in a warehouse fire in 2004), it’s shown work by Damien Hirst, Gilbert & George, Anthony Gormley and Anish Kapoor. The gallery also has a lovely café and garden. There are cinemas at the nearby East Dulwich Picturehouse and the independent Peckhamplex, where tickets are £4.99 all day every day.
First held back in 1279, Camberwell Fair is held on the Green each August bank holiday. After closing in 1855 for causing ‘immoral and riotous behaviour’, it was restarted in 2015 and now attracts upwards of 7,500 people for a weekend of music, fun, food and drink. Camberwell Arts Festival runs a programme of exhibitions, workshops, performances and fairs each June, alongside a year-round calendar of other events.
- Cowling & Wilcox supplies local art students with all their needs in this warehouse-style store.
- The Pasha Spa & Turkish Hammam Bath offers a range of treatments, from different massages to body masks and scrubs. Round it off with a bite to eat at the glass-enclosed Greenhouse Cafe, boasting views along Camberwell Road.
- The Hill Bakery & Deli on Grove Lane bakes everything on site using a 20-year-old sourdough culture, producing around 25 different breads. We recommend getting there early to bag your favourite. It also stocks a range of deli produce and local beers.
- Seabass Cycles on Camberwell Church Street is a local independent cycle shop.
Apart from Camberwell Green, there’s also Burgess Park to the north, one of the largest parks in South London. Up the hill, Ruskin Park has meadows, wetlands, flower gardens, all-weather pitches and a paddling pool, as well as hosting bat walks, a ‘frost fair’ in December and a summer fete in May. It’s also the new summer home of TLCC Trapeze School.
The £11-million Camberwell Regeneration programme, launched in 2012, will feature a new library, regeneration of the Green, and the improvement of local streets and ‘pocket spaces’ (roads or squares that would benefit from being improved). Denmark Hill train station underwent a refurbishment in 2011-13, with a new ticket office, step-free access and new walkways.
Rail: Denmark Hill is Camberwell’s local station, being a 10-minute walk up the hill. During peak hours, it runs five trains per hour to Blackfriars (12 minutes) and six per hour non-stop to Victoria (13 minutes). There’s also Loughborough Junction to the west, a 15-minute walk.
Tube: There’s no tube service to Camberwell with residents tending to rely on bus and train services. The nearest tube connections are at Oval and Kennington (Northern line Bank branch) and Elephant and Castle (Northern and Bakerloo lines).
Bus: Camberwell has no shortage of buses, with nine services running to Elephant and Castle, three to Vauxhall, five to Peckham, five to East Dulwich and three to Brixton.
Road: Traffic generally flows quite well in the area, although routes north and north-west from here will become congested during rush hour.
Cycle: A cycle lane is marked on the road all the way to Oval. From there it becomes Cycle Superhighway 5 to Victoria, meaning it’s separated from other traffic. Other improvements for cyclists include ‘early release’ traffic lights at the Camberwell Green crossroads.
Getting away: St Pancras International takes 35 minutes via Loughborough Junction, and Gatwick is about one hour by train via Victoria. Heathrow is about an hour and a half away using public transport, Luton will take you about 70 minutes and Stansted 90 minutes.
For state primary education, John Ruskin and Crawford schools are both highly rated. Lyndhurst Primary School, St John the Divine Church of England Primary School, Comber Grove and St George’s Church of England Primary School are also nearby. At secondary level, the co-ed Sacred Heart Catholic School is considered a strong performer and the C of E school ARK All Saints Academy is also popular.
Please see our education resource for more information on schools in this area.
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