Looking for South London

The BBC recently repeated its long ting 1970s series The Pallisers, a sort of Victorian-era House of Cards, which is based on the six ‘Parliamentary Novels’ of Anthony Trollope.

I know this because Mrs Raider, as is her way, binge-watched the entire 26 episode series, including during meal times, and started wilfully discussing patriarchy, political probity and concepts of domestic dominion.

‘Silence, woman! I shall hear no more of it,’ I stormed finally, visibly upset, I hoped.

Secretly, I researched Trollope in order to find some dirt on him, which is to say, I looked him up on Brainy Quote (like many today, I find Wikipedia so long-winded and full of paragraphs). Immediately I came across this:

‘I can conceive of no contentment of which toil is not to be the immediate parent.’

Pardon? And this:

Trollope: Toiler

‘There is no human bliss equal to twelve hours of work with only six hours in which to do it.’

For real? And even:

‘As to happiness in this life it is hardly compatible with that diminished respect which ever attends the relinquishing of labour.’

What? That did it. Trollope clearly stood against everything I hold sacred. I grimly forbade Mrs Raider to ever again mention the man’s name.

So it came as some surprise when she brought him up the very next day.

We were sitting in S.i.A, the quirky cafe-bar hidden down a cobbled path off Coldharbour Lane, drinking beer for lunch and wondering where we were. We supposed we were in Loughborough Junction and not Camberwell, but were we in SE5 or SW9?

I related to Mrs Raider our friend Half-life’s oft-repeated stance that there is only one true area south of the river: South London. Any further subdivision is, in his view, overly fussy and smacks of federal control and cuntly interference.

‘I agree,’ she replied, unexpectedly. ‘I’m a South London girl.’

‘It is odd that there is no S postcode, isn’t it?’ I said. ‘After all, there’s an N one.’

‘Well you know who to blame for that, don’t you?’ she said.

‘Is it Sepp Blatter?’ I replied.

‘Anthony Trollope,’ she said, ignoring me.

‘Yeah. OK, love,’ I said, nodding at her beer. ‘Make that your last one.’

The story of S

Can there be anything more annoying than being told something by your other half that a) you didn’t know and b) is utterly fascinating?

Forced to return to the Internet when Mrs Raider visited the Ladies, I read with eye-widening incredulity that Anthony Trollope had indeed worked for the General Post Office. Furthermore, he was given the brief of streamlining the 10 London postal districts that had been introduced in 1856, and which originally included a dedicated South section (see pic below). Following his report, the South district was abolished and its area summarily split between SW and SE. South London had been disappeared, and it was Trollope what done it.

Map of original London postal districts
Map of original London postal districts

Since we were already on the cusp of SE and SW we decided, having nothing better to do, to down our drinks and explore this boundary, this borderline created by the stroke of a postal clerk’s pen, this course through the centre of the lands once known as South London, where east meets west.

We set off to examine, if you will, Trollope’s Passage.

The Hero of Switzerland

Turning right into Coldharbour Lane for a few yards we saw road signs advertising SE24 to the south and SE5 to the north, and then retracing our steps saw little Station Avenue opposite… in SW9. Here be magic! We turned into Loughborough Road looking to head back towards the SW9/SE5 border and northward-ish to the river.

‘I think if we head up Minet Road we’ll be going the right way,’ I said, but Mrs Raider was crossing the road in the opposite direction, heading towards the Hero of Switzerland pub.

‘Where are you going?’ I called.

‘Aren’t we going to go into every pub on the way?’ she asked and I stared at her for a moment, lost in wonder.

‘I don’t care what they say,’ I said. ‘I think you’re smashing.’

In a Minet

Refreshed by cold beer – which had to be taken in the garden due to the regulars watching a melodramatic ’80s soap opera at full volume – we pushed on up Minet and into Knatchbull Road, past the Minet Library that Lambeth is shamefully determined to close and turn into a gym, with a few books left in the showers as a sop to the naysayers. If ever there was something to try the resolve of an optimist it is this: Libraries, filled with dreams and quietude, words and the Internet, invaded by dead-eyed bankers on cross-trainers watching VH1.

But we had less important things to worry about. On Knatchbull we spotted that while we were currently back in SE5, a road joining it from the west was actually in SW9. Dizzy with excitement, I had Mrs Raider stand in SW9 while I remained in the south east.

‘Do you feel any different?’ I called.

‘Yes,’ she replied, hands on hips.

‘How so?’ I asked, preparing to jot down some notes.

‘I feel slightly more bored than I did when we were at the pub,’ she said.

A scientist’s life, I was learning, can be a lonely one.

The Kennington

In Myatt’s Fields, SE5, we forensically examined the charming Little Cat Cafe for signs of booze but were forced to leave empty-handed and cut back through a corner of SW9 towards Camberwell New Road.

Little Cat Cafe – unlicensed

We passed the new and impressive Akerman Health Centre building that stands on the edge of the Myatt’s Fields Estate (once known by the youth as ‘The Dads’ due to its resemblance to war-torn Baghdad). For a moment I thought I may have to be admitted when a cracked heel made itself known to me, but some Savlon and a plaster with racing cars on it did the trick and I was able to continue.

‘Heart of a lion,’ said Mrs Raider.

‘Thanks, babe,’ I said.

‘Feet of a chicken,’ she muttered.

Journey to the centre of the health

In The Kennington on Camberwell New Road, aided by a pint of Landlord, I continued my research on Trollope and the GPO. It turned out that S wasn’t the only one to suffer in the 19th century postcode scandal. Two years earlier, NE, another of the original ‘compass point’ postal districts, had been done away with and absorbed in its entirety into E!

In this case, fearing the wrath of local residents, the Post Office simply didn’t tell them they were doing it. When eventually they came clean in 1869 there were petitions and protests from people and businesses who felt they would be adversely affected by being lumped in with the East End.

We were reminded of those lovable fools who a century earlier had protested at the introduction of the Gregorian calendar and the requisite overnight jump from Weds, 2nd September to Thurs, 14th September, 1752. Give us our eleven days! they were said to have demanded and we laughed merrily at their expense. Then we remembered we were furious about the loss of our S and decided it was no laughing matter.

‘Let’s start a campaign to reinstate it,’ said Mrs Raider, emboldened by half a Guinness.

But sadly, this cannot be. For, to make non-laughing matters worse, South London’s S was picked up by Sheffield, which just happened to be passing at the right time and couldn’t believe its luck when it saw it lying about, discarded on London’s golden paving. (NE was pinched by Newcastle).

Italo Deli – licensed

Italo Deli

We pressed on up to The Oval cricket ground at Kennington, which balances on the boundary of SE11 and SW8 and had a brief argument about whether it was a carbuncular blight on the area or a thrilling dream theatre of quintessential British sportness. Unable to agree, we left SE11 and turned into Bonnington Square, SW8, where we settled the argument through the use of wine, delicious Coleman coffee and thick-filled Parma ham sandwiches in the late afternoon sun.

Trollope’s Passage, we agreed, was stuffed full of stimulating delights. And we had yet to reach the water.

At Vauxhall, SE1 snakes out a long waterside limb and claims the last bit of SE before you hit the river beside the huge green and white edifice that houses MI6, our secret intelligence service – though don’t tell anybody. Here the amphibious ‘London Ducks’ plunge into the water with their cargo of excitable idiots and we sat on the little beach and smoked a jazz fag as we watched them come and go.


‘Fancy one in the Morpeth Arms for old times’ sake?’ I said

‘Better not,’ said Mrs Raider. ‘I need to be fresh for Silent Witness tomorrow.’

‘You and those bloomin’ box sets,’ I said.

‘Not watching it!’ she said. ‘I’m in it. The agency called this morning. Someone’s got to pay for all this research.’

‘Fair enough,’ I said.

We did go to the Morpeth, though.


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Image credit: Main image from Heating Engineers London, permission sought

  • zero

    There is only South London – and Brixton is its capital.

    • LordDeserter

      Half-life? Is that you?

      • zero

        Nope – but he sounds like a proper mensch…