Southwark Rooftops

The rooftops of houses behind Waterloo East rail station, Southwark London.
The rooftops of houses behind Waterloo East rail station, Southwark London.

What did I tell ya? There’s the whole world at your feet. And who gets to see it but the birds, the stars and the chimney sweeps.

‘Bert’ (as played by Dick Van Dyke), Mary Poppins, 1964.

These Southwark Terraces are perhaps not as salubrious as 17 Cherry Tree Lane, but their rooftops are a perfect example of the secret world of London that Bert loves, the one above the rooftops.

A favourite part of my journey into London each morning, is that portion between London Bridge and Waterloo East station. Nowhere is the labyrinthian qualities of the city demonstrated better than in that mile long stretch of rail. The train snakes in between the buildings, above the workshops and Borough Market, and you get to look out onto a little piece of that chimney sweep world that is inaccessible from street level. It would be perfect for Parkour.

Its also a journey which perfectly illustrates how London is a human, organic city (this is something I’ve alluded to before):

I am entertained the thought of one set of people building something; then some other people extending it in a different archtectural style; and yet some more people knocking half the walls to reuse the space for something else. These mutated forms are what humanity has created as a collective, over centuries.

This is of course impossible in Second Life, which has no ruin value.  Via MK, I read that buildings in Second Life are being abandoned but do not decay, or worse, are being deleted wholesale without a trace.  A fundamental problem with the virtual world is that it doesn’t age like normal cities.  And what sort of city doesn’t have a history?

2 Replies to “Southwark Rooftops”

  1. Your view of London, the organic city, reminds me of Jonathan Raban’s Soft City: a place where people can ‘make the city up as they go along’, according to their habits and where their friends live. (Does that sound like Second Life too, I wouldn’t know).

    Raban revisited his view of London as a soft city in an essay for the FT a few months ago and feared it had become a harder place and ‘much less humanly plastic’ in the last 30 years, “My London was far seedier than it is now, an immense honeycomb of relatively inexpensive flats and bedsits, mostly contained by the perimeter of the Circle Line.” I think he would like your journey to work too!

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