Sunday, 28 February 2010

London Loves.....the North/South Divide


On Friday night I found myself stranded in Balham. Ejected from the bowels of the London Underground and keeping at bay thoughts of being savagely raped and murdered, I sent the following text message to a few close allies:

Northern Line fucked. Signal problems at Morden. The driver terminated the train at Balham. I’m now walking the streets surrounded by evil south London cunts.

If I’m never found alive, I reasoned, at least there’ll be textual evidence of my final movements.

I steeled myself for the slog to my destination: Tooting Bec (why, oh merciful God, why? …and what’s a Bec anyway??). I passed several icons of dejection whose symbolic meanings were alien to me: Balham Youth Court, an off licence called The Wine Junction, the budget German supermarket LIDL and a sinister building with a sign saying United Services & Services Rendered. “What are these unholy relics?” I screamed internally.

Finally, I began to encounter familiar signs. Fitness First, Nando’s a Kwik-Fit garage. Thank god. The temporary haven of something vaguely resembling civilisation…

Although you may not have guessed from the sentiments above, I’m actually beginning to quite like south London. Admittedly it’s a patronising fondness tinged with snootiness, but fondness all the same. I suppose my newfound tolerance has arisen from the fact that, over the past few years I’ve spent far more time south of the river than is healthy. It’s a secret liking, full of shame and regret. I can’t admit it to my north London friends. I’d be ostracised and marked out as a traitor.

As with most divides, the key to bridging the gap and getting over your prejudices is simply to bite the bullet (quite literally if you live in Battersea) and give it a try.

There are nice places south of the river. No really, there are. Dulwich, Kennington, Richmond, Greenwich, Camberwell. But for every quaint little Putney, there’s a Peckham, Lewisham, Nunhead or Plumstead Common.

Maybe it’s just a titular thing, but some of these names are enough to send chills down the spine of any north Londoner. They sound weird. They denote a barbaric wasteland perpetually stuck in 1952.

it goes further than simple linguistics. You have to be a Londoner to fully understand the north/south divide. It’s an innate, instinctive sense of right or wrong, heaven or hell. North and south London are just…….different. When I sounded people out about the differences I was told “it feels different”, “they speak funny”, “they're backwards”, and “it’s just not right”.

These comments might appear racist. If south Londoners were a race. But they’re not. They’re just a few million people who lucked out in the postal lottery birthplace stakes.

And, because there’s so little migration and cross breeding, the two sets of population gene pools remain largely isolated from one another. In a few rare cases people do migrate. Out of necessity. Or the threat of divorce. I’m not sure I could ever live down there. I’d be constantly looking over my shoulder for the knife in my back.

It’s not just us, the common folk, who see north London as superior. Nearly every building and area of notable significance or officialdom is situated in the north. Trafalgar Square, Parliament (the SW1 postcode fools nobody), Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Gherkin, the BT Tower and so on and so forth.

Perhaps the real difference is indeed phenomenological. North London is more built up and hilly. Streets seem narrower, more congested, busier. South London is flatter, and greener; it feels more open and sparsely populated. The architecture of both is remarkably different. Both have beautiful Victorian and Georgian buildings but the style varies. The metropolitan inner city in North London extends much further geographically, so even in zone 3 you are definitely still in the city. Whereas, most of the inner south is located very close to the river (and therefore the centre); an argument often used to claim southern superiority. By the time you get to zone 3 south you are in total, undeniable suburbia.

Although we are nominally sworn enemies, whenever two people from each clan get together and talk, they get along like a house on fire. Generally we enjoy the banter. Perhaps we’re not all that different after all? Maybe it’s just psychological. Maybe that big old, bendy river makes it feel different. As an old acquaintance pointed out, east and west London are far more different than north and south. He gave me a list of places that are symbiotic twins or replica versions of each other. Edmonton-Thornton Heath? Both equally grim. Belsize Park-Blackheath? Both equally fabulous.

I’m not sure how to end this blog except by saying these old engrained prejudices need to be challenged. East/west Berlin unified because the people had no choice, black and white in apartheid South Africa got over their differences (slowly). North and South can love one another. Give peace a chance man.


  1. a) When I read this: "There are nice places south of the river. No really, there are. Dulwich, Kennington, Richmond, Greenwich, Camberwell. But for every quaint little Putney, there’s a Peckham, Lewisham, Catford, Nunhead or Plumstead Common.." I LITERALLY twitched, made a face, and felt extremely uneasy. I then read the next sentence, and realised that I am not alone. Indeed, I am merely a product of my birthplace, and can do NUFFINK ABOUT IT.

    b) "Whenever two people from each clan get together and talk, they get along like a house on fire. Generally we enjoy the banter. Perhaps we’re not all that different after all?". Incorrect. The differences are usually (possibly exclusing Brixton and the surrounding areas) palpable.

    c) No need to worry about peace - southerners stay south, northerners stay north, everyone is happy. I'm off to be mean to people I don't know, just because they live somewhere else. Byeee

  2. Classic comment.

    Have you ever been to Kidbrooke, Hels?

    You should go and be mean to people there.

    No seriously, they deserve it.

  3. I've lived South all my little life and don't feel loyal to it at all. I'd pick up and move North tomorrow. Is that wrong?
    But perhaps it's all down to my childhood, when I was too scared/shy to play with the local kids, who had a proper south london accent and knew about naughty stuff (like snogging).

  4. I can honestly say I've never heard of Kidbrooke, but that may be more to do with my lack of general knowledge than anything else. It looks hateful.

    Emily, it's because you realise that you were not made for the south london world, and you belong here up north, where everyone you know lives - and frankly, they know best.

    ps. I knew all about snogging. I read about it in a book once. I could have taught you the world Em, if only you had cared enough to listen.

  5. Hold on Em! You can't just come waltzing northwards and set up home in our manor. There are rigorous screening procedures to be observed. Or there should be anyway. If I was mayor I'd tighten up border control. Passports, innoculations, citizenship tests, the lot.

    In fact it might just be simpler to build a wall around you lot. To keep you in.

    Highgate and Barnsbury may look all very tempting but I'm afraid it's Rotherhithe and Gipsy Hill for you my dear.

    As Helen said: you stick to your own and we'll stick to ours. Ok?

  6. 'shocked and sadden by your email' from Catford and you know who I am...

  7. I'm currently doing research into the best venues for A&R men to see live bands. I have been told on at least 9 occasions, "South London is a no-go. A&R men don't like to go south of the river to see gigs. No Tube". Apart from the Brixton Windmill, there isn't a good venue in South London that i can think of off of the top of my head, and i can think of at least 40 north of the river. Football teams as well. North of the river - Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Fulham, West Ham. South - Crystal Palace, Charlton

    Anyway, I only chose football and music, but with other things, theatre, art, etc, north of the river is a damn sight better than south london. When i was talking to an estate agent recently, who was selling property in Highbury, he said, "soon we'll be on the east london line, only 30 mins away from Crystal palace. Although, that's only of benefit to people in Crystal Palace who want to come to Highbury as opposed to people in Highbury who want to go south. I mean, you don't spend noth london prices to be in commutable distance to south london, do you....", he tailed off.

    On the plus side, i love Richmond and Greenwich. If they were in North London, i'd move there in a flash.


  8. Ok, I'll remove Catford from the list. I was only winding you up. I like Catford. It's nice. Sorry!

    Penitent, in Wood Green.

  9. I'm not editing out Lewisham though. That definitely stays.

  10. Where do you sit with places that are North of the river which have South London postcodes?

  11. Oh yes and South London is bandit country.

  12. Ha, whatever Josh. Southerners are so much friendlier. Anyway if that was the case, I'd up and move somewhere sunny, no problem. North London is alright but there's better place in this world which my passport will happily take me to!!

  13. The reason for getting on like a house on fire is because we're the only ones who "get it". For it's not all Londoners who truly understand the divide, it's only north and south Londoners. West London barely counts as a place, it's just a dreary bland nothingness and East London is too caught up in it's Eastness to realise that half of it belongs to the North (some people describe Tottenham as East London?!?) and the other half to the South... except for Leytonstone.. the East can keep Leytonstone.

  14. Nice to see tribal insticnts still reprazenting.
    I'm a converted norf Londoner now living in Saaf. And I''m loving it! North is so last century.
    I'm not going to write a dissertation explaining myself but it is. In brief, North is like a posh man's east.
    Sad but true.

  15. Lord luv a duck! I'm from NW London and spend half my life traipsing to South London to visit friends. They all piss and moan about norf london but I like both equally. I've never though about the divide but my South London friends seems to proclaim that sarf is best and shoot down North London. 'Cross the thames?? never!' So I hate them because they never visit me in north london. go to hell.

  16. The thing I find funny about is that it's always the north londoners who continually have to bang out how superior they are and north london is, and why south london is a shithole.

    Comes across as a sign of insecurity to us south londoners, really.

  17. For someone who has lived in south london for 10 years and is not from london. There is a huge difference between north and south from what I see.

    Granted there are the bad on each side, but the streets are overcrowded with them on the south.

    I've started to think, oh no, summer is here daylight when I am walking home from the train. Now I'm going to have to put up with people shouting insults, fighting in the streets, staring you down and then some each night (young and old).

  18. Hmmmm, sounds like Deptford. Delightful.

  19. if you ask me south should claim wood green totenham south chesthunt ad lower edmonton there all shit holes

  20. bollockstononsmocking26 September 2010 at 00:06

    i was born in enfield an raised in barnet and waltham cross i am a proud north londoner but i am also a arsenal supporter so south london gave me the football team i love and will always love it makes me gringe thinking about who i would have supported if arsenal did not move up to north most of my family are scum spurs supporters and west ham so to south london i will always be thank full

    shame its a shit hole full of pikes and spivs

  21. Well, if Nando's, Fitness First and Kwik-Fit are your idea of a temporary haven then it's no wonder you hate South London. Those places are probably the worst you can find (hailing from Brixton) in our neck of the woods. I simply love South London... I spent six months in Manor House and was enough for a lifetime! only time I've been mugged in my 14 years in London. Not pretty. I do love places like Hamsptead heath though. If you need to divide London in chunks I'd suggest maybe West London is the worst of London, defo not South -loving the thriving community, I simply love my life here, 12 years and have never looked back, still enjoying myself every day. Stop being so miserable, have a good one. ;-)

  22. but hold on, isn't Tottenham Hale in North London? I mean... Holloway Road? Seven Sisters? Wood Green? Enfield... I could go on. Not pretty!!!

  23. hmmm.... North London and South London are pretty much exactly the same. Those who live in south london and know nothing of north london say the exact same stuff about it. It's strange that people live in one of the biggest cities on the planet, packed with a miriad of cultures and communities, yet spend very little time outside of their own heads. One last thing: I live in Tooting Bec... it's lovely... nice parks and green spaces, lovely friendly people everywhere (plus a few idiots)... if you're scared of that... don't go to Peckham... you'll have a heart attack.

  24. Wow, interesting. I lived most of my life in N.London and could not understand why I was so miserable. It was only when I met my beautiful S.London wife and started spending lots of time down South that my work life, friends, social life and everything in fact improved beyond recognition. There is no comparison, I choose the sexy South everytime. Everybody in N.London look so miserable and depressed, while as soon as you cross the river most people look so happy and on the ball. Basicaly N.London is an overly commercialised conveyor belt of people thinking they are something they are not, while in S.London you will meet true Londoners who do not judge you if you are not wearing the lastest fashion. Saying that I can't stand the black style of uniform N.London people insist on wearing. I cringe as the tube heads North over the river. Give me South anyday. The is even proper weather down there, if it is Sunny it will properly be sunny and if it is Winter you will actually see snow, unlike the year round grey drizzle I always see in N.London. Don't let me even get started on the water quality difference, I will need a whole nuther page!

  25. I'm from North of the river and i think it's childish as a 39 year old to bring up the North/South divide.

    Mind you, there is a divide, whenever i cross a bridge or a tunnel, i get the feeling as i'm miles from home.

    North has some great places and so does Saff, North has some rough parts and so does Saff.

    Last important point, can we please keep North London tidy, Saff siders, please take Arse-anal back. North London is ours, f off back to Woolwich, North London is ours COYS

  26. Wow, what about Bromley, and Sutton, Purley in south london eh? Most people may think Croydon a shit hole but ever thought of how it's got the best bus links and the tram, the overground!
    Most North londoners brag about the same old areas. How about the extreme north? Wembley, hackney? The streets are crowded and small, too much smog, feels like an industrial wasteland. After a visit to central 'north' london- I am always glad to return to the greenery and surreal of the south where- one does not get judged/shunned for how they are dressed.
    As for the lack of tube stations- spare me- we south londoners get on our every day lives with buses all right. Guess who moans when the tube goes haywire and they have to take buses?

  27. I agree with the above anon plus there are no long hours spent in a long traffic queues on the motorway here in the Souf. And the writer makes it sound like the south is so bad, as if there are no equivalent or perhaps even worse areas up in the north. Biased ravings of a dreamer.

  28. Nice to see tribal insticnts still reprazenting.
    I'm a converted norf Londoner now living in Saaf. And I''m loving it! North is so last century.
    I'm not going to write a dissertation explaining myself but it is. In brief, North is like a posh man's east.
    cheap skinny jeans