May 1st, 2004



I've started preliminary work on the 63 bus piece. This isn't how the piece will look at all, but it does give me the chance to mouth off about Peckham. Unfortunately for you there is more of this to come! This entry fairly much covers some of the lesser known esoteric elements of the area...

One of the lesser known turf wars of the Peckham area was between two rival pub quiz factions that each claimed the legacy of Only Fools and Horses as their own. It's a curious tale and one worth recording for posterity. Peckham's actual link to the series other than its constant mention is in reality fairly tenuous for most of the exterior shots for the series were filmed elsewhere in London and England. All attempts at establishing an Only Fools and Horses heritage industry have therefore faced a challenge in that the actual Peckham wasn't good enough for the programme makers. It just didn't look enough like their idea of Peckham. Not that this affront bothered either of the two groups much. The programme was top of the ratings and Peckham was on the map.

A prominent visual gag in the series was the Trotters' ownership of a Robin Reliant van and subsequently one of these groups, supposedly called The Bellends, bought one of these second hand and did it up as close to the TV original as they could. They had a fairly successful summer of local fetes, charity openings and the like. Not long after, the other group decided they wanted some of the action as well, so they also invested in a second hand Reliant.

At first I thought there was just the one of them. I was in the Heaton Arms listening to a man who claimed to have once been Oliver Reed's personal chef (So what did he like to eat? Mixed grills mostly) and avoiding the man who boasted of being Harriet Harman's professional stalker. The pub had suffered a pretty disastrous refit by some Camberwell Art College types not long before, but it hadn't shifted the clientele. I was about five pints in and it was all getting very Derek Raymond.

So what's the story with the Nag's Head? I said, indicating the pub opposite. Used to be alright, he said, but then it became a Fools and Horses theme pub. Trigger came on opening night. Is that their Reliant outside? No, that's some bunch of tossers who live up the road. I used to play for Bill Haley. I headed home.

But not far up the road, I spotted another Reliant, almost a carbon copy, but with a lighter tone to the paint. There can't be two now, surely. Except there were. Two weeks later, I walked back from Nunhead across the common and smelled burning plastic. There, by the scout hut, was a delicately flaming Reliant and there, trotting along the path towards East Dulwich, were two hooded figures. I didn't think much about this until I spotted a second burned out Reliant the next week over by the Rye Hotel with different plates. I never did read anything about it in the papers.

What is overlooked about the Peckham Rye area is its innate spirituality. This spiritual aspect of the Rye has been long known, but a concerted campaign of disinformation has obscured many of the facts. Only Fools and Horses itself has played a prominent role in obscuring these elements, for what purpose it is not as yet entirely clear. Let's start with the Peckham Lido.

Peckham Lido's only noted celebrity appearance is in the 1969 film adaptation of Joe Orton's Educating Mr Sloane. It's not a great film, despite Beryl Reid, but it does give you some insight into how the Lido looked in its heyday. It's a cheerful looking place and there is every reason why it should be. The site of the Lido nevertheless obscures the site of Peckham's greatest historical event, namely William Blake's sighting of angels, or rather angelic forces, sometime in the late 1760's.

The positioning of the Lido was a deliberate choice of the post-war planners. The building programme enabled them to overhaul, without undue attention, an extensive series of underground tunnels that had been burrowed and dug over the last two centuries around the area of Blake's initial vision. The area had of course been the object of extensive scientific investigation under the aegis of the Peckham Experiment from the 1920s onwards. At the same time as local residents were enjoying the many benefits offered there, they were also being thoroughly tested for any indication of exposure to these angelic forces.

The subterranean channel of energies had first been successfully capped and diverted in the mid-19th century during the construction of the local sewerage system. Mostly it was sent along underground piping towards Nunhead cemetery. There it was used for some years in a number of rather unimpressive spa treatments. The problem with angelic energies is that no one seems to have much idea as to what you should do with them exactly. With the end of the Victorian era, concern was mostly directed at ensuring that the energies didn't spill back into the local community and that contamination was avoided. It was only with the construction of the Lido that a permanent solution was reached, for the channel is now directly accessible from service tunnels located beneath the electrical contractors opposite, known as Gretton Ward, only a few minutes walk from a nearby Rosicrucian temple. As it happens.

Nevertheless, some leakage is apparent. Not just in the profusion of local charismatic churches, but in some of the shops as well: Helin Food, Volkan Fish and Chips, Karizma Dry Cleaners, Sphinx Kebab. That's not mentioning names such as Solomon's Passage, Scylla Road or the secretive Diakonos Theatre. The stop by Gretton Ward is still marked on the London Transport map as Kings on the Rye. Currently this site is a new development of flats, formerly it was a fairly notorious nightspot of sticky carpets and no-trainers door policy. The name is an allusion to the local myth, unsubstantiated by any written source I could ever find, that beneath Peckham Rye the ancient kings of England await their future resurrection. This Arthurian conflation does rather fudge the issue, but Peckham Rye has sucked in a number of other myths over the years. It's one of the many sites that claim Boadicea's final stand, not to mention being on Springheel Jack's late night rounds or possibly Brockley Jack's, depending on who you listen to. The suggestion that the etymology of Peckham comes from Puck's Home is about risible as it comes. The whole surrounding area is a scrambled mess of various hermetic traditions and imagined histories.

Further up from the common proper is Peckham Rye Park, built upon the former site of Homestall Farm and dating from the early Edwardian period. A curious addition was the formal gift of a Japanese teahouse by the Tokyo city authorities around the time of the hugely successful 1910 Great Britain-Japan Exhibition. It's not much of a teahouse, it's more of a shelter really. Some bright spark in the local authority had it painted with bitumen in the 1930's and it was taken down following the outbreak of the World War II and languished in a storage shed for a number of years after for fear of patriotic acts of vandalism and still awaits restoration. Which for the Japanese would just mean building a fresh one from scratch.

What is frequently overlooked is that this teahouse was itself visited by the then Crown Prince Hirohito in 1921 during his state visit. Hirohito had already effectively replaced his sickly and ineffectual father, the Taisho emperor, and upon the latter's death in 1926, Hirohito was finally (ahem) "united" with the Sun Goddess Amaterasu in the Daijosai ceremony and ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne. Hirohito's earlier visit to Peckham masked his actual intent. The unimpressive tea shelter is in fact precisely modelled on one of a series of temporary structures contained in the inner sanctum of the Ise shrine complex. Furthermore, the wood used in its construction is obtained from a specific forest that provides timber for the Ise shrine complex alone. Japanese expansion into East Asia during this period had presented Shinto priests with a challenge, for the very national and exclusive character of State Shinto at that time seemed at odds with adopting the indigenous (foreign) kami into the shrines being established in Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria and elsewhere. If these places were to truly be considered Japanese then an accomodation would have to be reached. Frequently, local gods were taken from small villages in Japan and exported to the Asian mainland. The distraught villagers would be fobbed off with one larger central shrine rather than the multitude of small ones spread around the area. The resulting surplus was taken abroad for use in occupied territories or else installed in these new super-shrines where attendance and behaviour could be closely monitored and deviant religious practice stamped out. No kami was ever placed within the supposed tea shelter, it was far too dangerous to leave one there without a priest in attendance, but it was the intention that one might be placed there in the future. The Ise model of the shelter indicates that Imperial aspirations for the Peckham shrine were of the very highest order. There is no comparable structure elsewhere outside of Japan. As it turned out, Western suspicions of Japanese intent were ultimately confirmed by the Mukden Incident of 1931 and the shelter vanished from view not long after.