Area focus: Deptford

Deptford, London

Photography: Adrian Briscoe

Home to contemporary dance centre Laban, Deptford is a magnet for South London’s artistic community. ARCH, a gallery under the railway arches on Resolution Way, and Bearspace on Deptford High Street exhibit work by hot new, and often local, artists, while nearby on Creekside is communal designer-makers’ studio Cockpit Arts Deptford.

What sets Deptford apart from its arty northern counterparts Soho and Shoreditch, however, is its strong South London identity, complete with rough edges. A vibrant market on Deptford High Street sells everything from food to furniture every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The street is also home to unusual finds such as Cod Father’s, a fishmonger where you can buy live eels and baby sharks, and AJ Goddard, a traditional pie-and-mash shop with a tiled interior that’s been run by the same family since 1890. Founded in 2010, meanwhile, the funky Union Cycle Works creates beautiful bespoke bicycles and runs events, training and outreach programmes in the local community.

Deptford was a vital hub of London’s dockyards from the mid-16th until the mid-19th century, and clues to the area’s past can be found around every corner. At St Nicholas’ church on Deptford Green, a pair of carved skulls and crossbones adorn the gateposts, which some believe to have been the inspiration for the infamous Jolly Roger pirates’ standard.

In contrast to these historical gems, other parts of the area are continuing to undergo a new development. The Deptford Project – an old railway carriage converted into a colourful café and arts space in 2008 – has expanded to include a bistro, silent cinema screenings and a weekly ‘creative industries market’.

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