Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
3 June 2017
The former North Peckham Civic Centre, on the corner of the Old Kent Road and Peckham Park Road, opened in 1966 and housed a library and public rooms. Exhibitions and concerts were held here, not forgetting the annual pantomime. The architecture is unremarkable and box-like, very much of its time. What sets the building apart is a wonderful ceramic mural, created by Adam Kossowski entitled 'The History of the Old Kent Road' that tells of the momentous historic journeys that have taken place over the centuries along the road since there was little there but open fields.
The Old Kent Road was a part of Watling Street, built by the Romans that extended from Dover to London then on to St Albans
It was the route of pilgrims going to Canterbury in the Middle Age and was then known as Kent Street. St. Thomas á Waterings was close by and where Chaucer's pilgrims halted to decide who should tell the first of the Canterbury Tales.
It was the route taken by Henry V into London from Dover upon his return from defeating the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
The final scene depicts the Old Kent Road in the 19th and mid-20th centuries. It is lined with houses and factories and in the distance is a modern housing estate, perhaps the North Peckham Estate, now demolished. Modern forms of transport are portrayed - the railway, an aeroplane, a helicopter and a car. A pearlie king and queen are shown crossing the road on a zebra crossing, still a comparatively recent invention when the mural was created.
North Peckham Library closed when the new library in central Peckham opened in 2000 and the building is currently owned by the Everlasting Arms Ministries Church. The mural is included in the 20th Century Society campaign which seeks to protect public murals.
It was the route taken by Charles II upon his restoration in May 166o. "This day his Majesty Charles II. came to London after a sad and long exile, and calamitous suffering both of the king and Church. This was also his birthday, and with a triumph of about 20,000 horse and foote, brandishing their swords and shouting with inexpressible joy; the wayes strew'd with flowers, the bells ringing, the streets hung with tapestrie, fountaines running with wine: the Maior, Aldermen, and all the Companies in their liveries, chaines of
gold, and banners; lords and nobles clad in cloth of silver, gold, and velvet; the windows and balconies well set with ladies; trumpets, music, and myriads of people flocking even so far as from Rochester, so as they were seven hours in passing into the Citty, even from two in the afternoon till nine at night." (John Evelyn)