Checking out the proposed Peckham Coal Line, Open House London

by | Sep 22, 2015

One weekend every year, London’s normally private spaces open up to satisfy the delighted public’s nosey urges. That weekend is Open House London. Being an architecture lover, and self-professed noseyer, this is a weekend that I should be jumping all over. Examples of  buildings and spaces that open up for the public include bunkers, eco homes, Crossrail works, and even 10 Downing Street. Even spaces already open to the public (for example Peckham Library) run scheduled tours to specifically discuss the architecture and design planning. One of these years I need to get organised and make a list of all the brutalist buildings on the programme and create a little schedule for myself. See how many I can fit into 2 days. But it’s always advertised so early, and by the time the participating spaces are open for booking (you have to book a slot for many) I’ve been at Open House London advert saturation, so I’ve stopped paying any attention to their communications, still thinking I’ve got weeks to go. Inevitably I miss the boat for guaranteed entry to the places I want to go.

This year though, I had a fallback. I went on the guided walk along the proposed Peckham Coal Line route, a mere 15 minutes from my flat, which was on the hour every hour. No pre-booking, and you could do the walk on your own with the map if you missed the group heading off.

The Peckham Coal Line is a grassroots initiative conceived by Peckham residents. It proposes that the old, disused coal sidings at Rye Lane be transformed and extended to create a safer, quicker, greener walking route between Peckham Rye and Queens Road Peckham stations. You can see the plans on the dedicated Peckham Coal Line website. It would be split into three thirds; urban, open, nature. The urban section would run between the industrial warehouse area, the open section would have unobstructed, enviable views across London to match those of Frank’s Cafe, and the nature section drops down to ground level to run through a nature reserve. (Nope, I didn’t know we had one in Peckham either!) Volunteers running the project held a talk prior to the guided walks at the CLF Art Cafe in the Bussey Building. By the sounds of it, the two speakers have been involved in this project from the start. Super passionate and enthusiastic.

An idea that started life as a Facebook page captured the imaginations of local people, and it is local people who are driving the project forward. It’s a brilliant example of genuine co-design.

Following the talk, we went straight on a tour of the proposed route. At ground level, mind – the proposed route is currently inaccessible. We all walked north up Rye Lane, then swung a right down a side alley alongside one of the two existing tracks, where Ali Baba‘s juice stand is located. Looking up to the right, we could see part of the old sign for Rickett Cockerell Coal sidings. I love a good ghost sign from days gone by! The proposed route would start here, with some sort of ramp taking you from street level up to track level.

Rickett Cockerell coal sidings sign

The old Rickett Cockerell coal sidings sign! They owned the coal drop from the 1860s, and became defunct in the 1950s.

Continuing round to the yard behind Mighty Pound on Rye Lane, where there is some bright street art by Amara Por Dios, our guides Derek and Anna Rose talked about how the old coal drop (of which most is hidden behind corrugated steel sheets forming a vast hoarding across the space we were in) is nestled in between the two elevated rail tracks. They spoke of how Rickett Cockerell owned the coal drop and sidings in the 1860s, which then went out of use when the industry subsided in the 1950s. The old coal drop space is currently owned by Network Rail and is occupied by a scaffolding company. It was possible to peek through a gap in the makeshift door, to get an idea of the size of it. It’s pretty big! You can spot silver birch trees up where the sidings are too. These (and more) would be prominent feature on the route, as one of the natural growing trees in the area.

pink street art peckham

In the Peckham Coal Line’s literature on the day, they called this the Peckham Pink Princess. The artist is Amara Por Dios


Silver birch

Bad shot with the sun! But to the right you can just about see the silver birch up on the sidings.

We’d finished the urban third, and were on our way to the start of the open section. As I mentioned, the proposed coal line route itself is inaccessible from the ground, so the tour took a winding route behind the multi-storey car park (home to Frank’s Cafe), and quite literally went round the houses, rejoining the side of the elevated tracks where possible. More awesome street art can be found on the walls opposite the multi-storey, and I tried to get a peek of the scaffolding yard again through another gap along the way.

neon street art

Wandering round the side of the multi-storey car park we stumble across more street art.

Jungle arches

The railway arches and plant growth around them remind me of a lost jungle city

Pig street art

Street art in the ‘jungle’, near the multi-stprey car park.

Sneaky peek

That’s Derek on the left. You can just about see where I was trying to get a peek into the scaffolding yard; just above the wall where the street art finishes.

Derek stopped us outside a small residential close where high railway arches from one of the tracks could be seen behind the houses. The track beyond that, further into the distance, would feed the end of the coal sidings onto new infrastructure (a bridge of some kind) under the arches of the first track. This middle section of the route would open up the surrounding area, creating opportunities for the arches to be put to use by local business.

Peckham Coal Line

The Peckham Coal Line would be taken through one of these arches heading north-east, with the arches becoming space for business.

The next stop was visually un-noteworthy to the casual passer-by. I mentioned at the top of this post that you needed an imagination for this walk. But that was the nice thing – everyone attending had a vested interest in this initiative because it would be a great asset to our community. Safer route, job creation, green space, sustainable, what’s not to like? Everyone was more than happy to visualise the concept while Derek and Anna Rose brought it to life for us. Anyhoo. An unarresting overgrown patch of land behind some blue railings, again owned by Network Rail, is proposed to bring walkers of the Peckham Coal Line down to ground level, completing the open section and beginning the nature third.

Peckham Coal Line

You can see the blue fencing behind our group. This is where the coal line would drop down to ground level.

This final chunk of the route begins in Kirkwood Nature Reserve. I hadn’t heard of it before, and I’m not surprised why! It’s tiny and is completely tucked out of the way. It’s owned by Southwark Council and was created on a plot of land that was once earmarked for development as part of a south London version of the Westway flyover motorway, for which plans were never realised. Phew! Flats running parallel to Kirkwood Nature Reserve were designed with this ‘Eastway’ in mind – with few small windows at the rear to block out noisy traffic. Our guides referred to these as ‘the barrier’ for this reason. Luckily, this forward planning in noise reduction, although built as such, is now redundant due to the non-existence of the motorway!

Barrier flats

The ‘barrier’ flats

Kirkwood Nature Reserve

Entering Kirkwood Nature Reserve

Kirkwood Nature Reserve

Tree tunnel at Kirkwood Nature Reserve. The coal line would run through here as the ‘nature’ third.

The nature reserve is somewhat of a metaphorical phoenix that rose from the ashes – in this case, the unused land. Like the coal line project, it was residents who reclaimed lost land to create the reserve. It’s peaceful, surprisingly dense regarding the number of trees considering its size, and even has a little footbridge and a small pond.

Apple trees

Apple trees in the nature reserve

Peckham Coal Line and Kirkwood Nature Reserve

Our guides Anna-Rose and Derek, talking to us about how the coal line would join up to Kirkwood Nature Reserve.

Kirkwood Nature Reserve

The bridge and pond at Kirkwood Nature Reserve

The Peckham Coal Line would run at ground level making full use of the reserve, and continue alongside the elevated tracks until it reaches Queens Road Peckham station, where the route would finish. The entire walk would fill a gap in a south London green ring walk. Wander from Queens Road Peckham station northbound, and you would join up with a walking route already in existence that takes you to Canary Wharf.

Peckham Coal Line

Here is where the Peckham Coal Line would spit you out – at the approach to Queens Road Peckham station

£66,000 is currently needed in funding to pay for a feasibility study among other things, that need to be carried out to work out; the cost of such a project, how the infrastructure would work, the design and layout of the route etc. I’ve pledged a wee bit! Even Boris Johnson has pledged £10k from his Mayor of London High Street Fund! The project is on the crowdfunding site Spacehive. Fancy pledging a bit of dosh to help realise the plans!? I’m not associated with the Peckham Coal Line in any way, just a massive fan of the idea. Though I did tick a box once to say I’d be happy to volunteer! At the time of writing, there’s 40 days left to go and the target is just under half way. I’ve got everything crossed that the funding is found for this initial stage.

Update 3rd Oct: Sustrans have pledged £7,000 too! There’s now 29 days left, and 41% of funding left to go.