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Rye Lane runs half a mile from Peckham High Street at the north, down to the corner of Copeland Road where The Nags Head sits at the south. It features several Georgian and Victorian buildings which have been protected from demolition through the work of the Peckham Society and Peckham Vision. In 2011, Rye Lane became a Conservation Area in recognition of its architectural and historic interest.
Following areas like Notting Hill in the 1980s and, more recently, Hackney, the often undesired gentrification of London has finally seeped South and has made Peckham a highly sought-after location in London.
Anyone familiar with Peckham will know that Rye Lane is where it all happens. Reams of shops selling cheap vegetables from across the globe, an abundance of chicken shops and heaving weekend queues for venues like Canavan’s Pool Club and the Bussey building all help make Rye Lane one of the most diverse areas in London.
Originally called ‘South Street’ and now named after Peckham Rye Park, Rye Lane is a very different place now compared to the early 1700s, when Peckham was just a village of around 600 people on the outskirts of London. The street then would have been one of the main thoroughfares into London, bustling with market stalls, colourful gardens and rows of orchards growing produce for nearby London’s increasingly demanding population.
Back then, Peckham was one of the last stopping points for traders on their way into London, who would have stopped for the night at a local inn – which is perhaps why the area is so well-populated with pubs! Over the years, Rye Lane and the surrounding streets became an area of important industrial activity due to its links into London and access to markets, fields and even docks.
As Peckham became a sought-after area, Rye Lane developed into a major shopping destination (often referred to as the ‘Golden Mile’) which even rivalled the likes of Oxford Street. In 1867, Jones & Higgins opened a store on the corner of Rye Lane and Peckham High Street that went on to become one of south London’s best-known department stores until its closure in the ’80s. The Building and clocktower still serve as a time-capsule, albeit generally unnoticed, into Peckham’s glorious retail heritage.
Other notable shops that made Rye Lane a shopping hotspot included Holdron’s Department Store, which included an outlet of Selfridges, and branches of popular stores such as Lipton’s and Dunn’s. Today, Holdron’s Arcade (as it is now known) is home to several exciting start-ups including; YAM Records; Wavey Garms; One Organic and Nutkin, a vegetarian & vegan cafe specialising in nut-based vegan cheese. There is also talk of re-developing the Holdron Arcade, with plans to link the indoor shopping area to the now-famous Copeland Park square at the rear.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Peckham continued to thrive despite the economic downturn, and shops including C&A, BHS and Sainsbury’s all opened. However, the closure of Holdron’s in 1949 marked the start of the retail decline. A small section of Holdron’s art deco frontage is all that remains.
Although Rye Lane managed to survive the Second World War, perhaps due to its distance from more central targets, other local areas started to become well-linked to central London, leading to more shops closing and some industries relocating. During the 1970s, Peckham became one of the most deprived areas in Europe, gaining a notoriously bad reputation – not helped by its depiction on television and the murder of ten-year-old Damilola Taylor, on the North Peckham Estate in 2000.
However, during the 1990s, the European Union ploughed considerable investment into the area – initially to redevelop the North Peckham Estate, followed by the building of Peckham Library, which sits as a colourful beacon near the top of Rye Lane.
Thankfully, Rye Lane is thriving once again – independent businesses still play a crucial role in the community. What remains to be seen, however, is how this independent business community will fare in the face of investment from London’s big property magnates and the gentrification that inevitably comes with it.
Credit: Sareta Puri, South London Club