Above: A ‘then and now’ view in Old Kent Road from similar view points.
“A Moment in Time”
The wonderful sepia photograph was taken in Old Kent Road, looking towards London. It is obvious that there was not much traffic about because the photographer with his camera, almost certainly mounted on a tripod, was actually standing in the roadway with his back to on-coming traffic. The man on the left, in the bowler hat, is standing at the junction with Asylum Road and the young boy in the cap is also quite relaxed about standing in the middle of that side road.
There are not many clues in the photograph as to the date but it is likely to have been taken in the 1910s or 1920s, judging from the style of the clothes of the two characters just mentioned. Another clue is the caption in the picture. It was neatly written by hand in black ink on the negative so that, when printed as a photograph, the title would appear in white. It reads ‘OLD KENT RD, SE’. This is also a clue to the date because the ‘SE’ means ‘South East’ and the ‘SE’ code was only used by itself until about 1920, after which time areas were coded ‘SE 5’ for Camberwell and ‘SE 15′ for this part of the Old Kent Road – which covered Peckham and Nunhead.
Keeping to the same side of Old Kent Road, we see two huge glass lamps hanging outside of a pub which is the Kentish Drovers. It stands at the junction of Commercial Way with Old Kent Road. Outside the pub, beside the pavement is mounted a sturdy post bearing a pub sign ‘The Kentish Drovers’ at the top and ‘Truman’s Noted Ales & Stout’ on the other sign below it.
The pub today is out of action, having been unused for some years and it is now being used as a Thai Restaurant. That sturdy post still stands in the same position on the pavement but it does not carry any pub signs today. It is impossible to see the post in the modern view because, due to the camera angle, there are too many metal posts in front of it – now supporting the traffic lights at the junction with Asylum Road.
Further up Old Kent Road from the pub, the road curves round to the right. Due to the bombing in the Second World War, all the shops on the left hand side of the road are no more and the far corner of Commercial Way is now an open space covered in grass. The strange blue building in the modern view is in fact a primary school.
In the distance we can see the tall tower of Christ Church. The tower remains unchanged but, presumably also due to bomb damage, the pointed part at the top is now missing.
On the right hand side of the modern view we can see that the buildings remain to this day. The building on the far right is Victorian. The sepia view shows three large blinds drawn over the pavement and the shop carries the word ‘Hatters’ between the first floor windows and those on the second floor.
The four shorter buildings beside it are all Georgian and are also still there today. The one beside the Victorian shop carries the word ‘Printers’ along its frontage in the sepia view.
Beyond those four buildings we see another building in the sepia view which looks rather like a pub. It was the Turk’s Head pub which sadly is there no more.
Finally we take a look at the tram. Its front sign-board reads ‘Forest Hill via Brockley’. The tram is numbered ‘191’ but that was only like a serial number for the tram chassis. There is no route number shown at the front. This tram was typical of those to be seen on all the tram routes in London. The tram is travelling towards New Cross, before going on to Brockley and eventually Forest Hill. Trams ran until 1952 when the routes were replaced by buses and the tram-lines were gradually taken up and removed. The 172 bus now follows a similar route.
To the right of the tram is a small two-wheeled milk-cart. We can even see the large milk-churn on the cart. It is a drawn by a single horse who waits patiently which the milkman delivers the milk to one of the shops.
The man in the bowler hat, by the way, is more than likely waiting for a tram going up the road (towards Elephant and Castle). He would hardly have stood so close to a man taking a photograph if he was just a by-stander. He is standing beside a beautiful lamp-post which is also being used as a tram stop. The small metal plate reads ‘Cars STOP here if required’. It is what we now call a ‘request stop’.
An old horse-drawn cart is to be seen just past Commercial Way, on the left. Immediately to the right of the tram is an old ‘knife-board’ bus which was motorised. Its nick-name was due to passengers sitting back to back on the top deck – like the mounts that hold knives in a cutlery box.
Due to careful cropping of the modern-day view, taken in 2015, the general scene of the buildings in the two pictures aligns quite well. However, being such a busy road, I was only too aware that my picture should be taken from the pavement, for fear of landing up in hospital if I stepped into the roadway. If you think there is not much traffic on Old Kent Road in the modern view that is only because I waited for the traffic lights to turn red before taking the picture. You will notice that although the shops seem to align in both views, the church tower is not quite in the same position in the two views. This, as I have already mentioned, is because the Edwardian photographer stood with his tripod and camera off the pavement and actually in the roadway. If you look at the line of the kerb in the sepia view you can see this for yourself. Had I risked certain death, I could have got the perfect shot to match his view!
It is about 90 years since the sepia view was taken. It is a wonderful ‘moment in time’. It really seems to put the observer right into the picture. This view has, as you will have noticed, shows plenty going on in the Old Kent Road.
For subscription members there is a ‘poster’ pdf showing the image in much greater detail, with all the points of interest explained along the top and bottom of the page. It will be sent out by email.