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Monday
Jun242019

Memories of Camberwell (and Chiswick)

Thanks to Boris Johnson’s neighbours Camberwell is suddenly in the spotlight.

I know the area because I lived there for five years from 1987 when I bought a house in Camberwell Grove with a friend.

Peter had previously lived up the road in Kennington and in four years had made £40,000 on a two-bedroom flat overlooking the Oval cricket ground.

He still couldn’t afford the four-storey Camberwell town house he wanted to buy so he suggested I make up the difference, which gave me a 25 per cent share of the house.

I was 28 and this was my first step on the property ladder. The house was in need of a little care and attention but it was far beyond what I could have hoped to buy on my own.

Two years earlier I had considered buying a one-bedroom flat in Chiswick for £48,000. Now, here I was, part-owner of four-bedroom Georgian townhouse valued at £150,000 for which we paid £175,000!

Camberwell Grove, as its name suggests, was a tree-lined avenue and one of the nicest roads in the area. As we discovered, this made it a target for burglars.

On one occasion I arrived home late at night - Peter was away on business - to find the house surrounded by policemen.

They had been tipped off that intruders had broken in and I wasn’t allowed in until they were sure no-one was in the house.

I think we lost a television and a VHS recorder but it could have been worse.

Another time I arrived home, I heard someone moving around upstairs and called up, assuming it was Peter.

Seconds later a man rushed down the stairs, pushed past me and ran out on to the street. I don’t know how long he had been there but nothing appeared to have been stolen.

Later, however, I lost my prized Fiesta XR2 to another thief. One minute it was sitting outside our front door. A few days later, when I returned from a short break, it had disappeared, never to be seen again.

It’s replacement, another XR2 (albeit a different model), very nearly went the same way. Fortunately, having broken in to it by smashing the rear window, the would-be thieves couldn’t get the car started - a recurring problem with that vehicle that ultimately worked to my advantage.

They did however take the spare wheel. I hope they got a good price for it.

Despite that, I was happy in Camberwell. The area wasn’t great but the size and character of the house made up for it. It even had a roof terrace although when the sun came out it was usually too hot to spend much time up there.

Unfortunately, soon after we bought it - at the height of the housing boom - the market collapsed and when I moved out, after getting married in 1992, the house was worth less than we (over)paid for it and instead of making money on my share I had to buy myself out.

Oh well.

Update: I was in Chiswick only last weekend and passed the road, just off the High Street, where I nearly bought that flat in 1985.

One-bedroom apartments in that same road are currently on the market for £500,000, which is far more than my current four-bedroom house in Cambridgeshire is worth!

I also walked past the Barley Mow Centre, formerly the Barley Mow Workspace, where I worked as a freelance journalist/researcher from 1986 to 1990.

It was a great place to work because it brought together in one building an incredibly eclectic group of people, some working for themselves, others running small businesses.

One of the latter was a catering company that ran the canteen where we could meet and chat over lunch.

I loved working there although the ‘commute’ from Camberwell to Chiswick became a bit of a pain. (When I started at the Barley Mow I lived a mile away, in Ravenscourt Park.)

Eventually it was easier to work from home in Camberwell. It also deterred burglars because we had no more break-ins after that.

Below, top to bottom: (1) The Barley Mow Centre in Chiswick where I worked from 1986-1990; (2) The road in Chiswick where I could have bought a one-bedroomed flat for £48,000 in 1985; (3) Ravenscourt Park Road where I rented a studio flat from 1985-1986. I had to move out after an incident involving a Christmas pudding that went up in smoke.

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