Thamesmead is an area of south east London and the name of a series of housing estates built in the late 1960’s and early 70’s by the Greater London Council to rehouse people living in slums in south east London.
The name was selected from entries in a competition and the estates were built in phases to on reclaimed marshland, previously known as the Erith Marshes and the Plumstead Marshes. The development was quite unusual for its time, being designed from scratch – a blank canvas.
The earlier phases in Thamesmead South are probably the most recognisably ‘Thamesmead’; a mixture of brutalist towers and modernist town houses, linked by raised platforms and walkways which seem to have been an integral feature of most planned brutalist housing estates, but here served to combat the very real threat of flooding. The homes themselves were also raised, with the ground floor used for storage/ parking and the upper levels for living, accessed through stairwells, raised walkways and ramps. Later phases abandoned these elevated developments in favour of more traditional looking town houses, as improvements were made to flood defences during the development.
Another idea incorporated into the scheme was that of water. Recognising the rising tide of social problems within existing housing estates, the calming influence of water features, lakes and waterways, was hoped to combat this threat, a concept imported from Sweden.
Despite the central theme of the development being that of resolving the issues of previous estates, Thamesmead South appears to have quickly adopted the social issues of previous estates too. A lack of a town centre, social and shopping facilities, transport links and the sectioning of the site with large roads sealed its fate and the filming of Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ may have helped cement its perception in the public consciousness as a sink estate.
The site passed hands several time, from the Greater London Council to a private, not for profit group run by tenants, to Gallions and then Peabody, who are now attempting to redevelop the site. Most of the housing is planned to be demolished and replaced, while some of the towers, considered iconic, are to be repaired and reclad.
Whenever I go there, it seems very quiet and peaceful, especially around Southmere Lake and Binsey Walk. Unsurprising really, as Binsey Walk appears to be almost empty and the buildings next to it in the Tavey Bridge corner have been long demolished to be replaced with large piles of sorted hardcore.
Behind the Southmere Towers, lies the Yarnton Way wall, sectioning off the Wolvercote Road estate and those beyond from the lake, passable only via narrow bridges, ramps and steps.
Further down the road, lies a very new supermarket with a residential development, with some nice perforated, gold cladding, right next to ongoing works for a new Crossrail Station at Abbey Wood.
Around the area, there are signs of previous redevelopment attempts. Part of the Yarnton Way Wall was demolished and the houses reclad, while an art project livened up the housing on Lensbury Way.
While taking the picture of the mural, I ended up chatting to a passing couple who had lived on the estate for 30 years. They seemed quite fed up of the place and were looking forward to being moved out.