Gentrification in London – Surrey Quays in particular

We all know about Gentrification – when old neighborhoods become cool places to live – and people with money arrive and take over buildings, renovating them to make them acceptable living quarters – by their standards of course. I’ve read all about – but now that I’m staying ‘long term’ with my daughter – my perspective has changed.

Living in the area near Surrey Quays in London is about living in an area undergoing Gentrification while you watch. The old neighborhoods are still holding on – but just barely. There are betting storefronts, restaurants that have clearly seen better times, and a wonderful brick building with a huge plaque stating that this model low-cost housing was built in 1916 by the good will of William Richard Sutton. In 1984, he left 1,500,000 pounds – a fortune at that time – for the establishment of low-cost housing for the poor of London, one of which is located right where my daughter has just bought a brand new flat.

So one of the issues – do you tear these down to make more of the much more modern flats like my daughter lives in – or do you recognize the heritage value of these old fashioned – but extremely well-built buildings and leave them standing? They have survived two world wars – it seems wrong to trash them because they have no elevators, the flats are small, and the layout hardly the modern style that today’s kids require.

But then – I’ve read that in the 50’s average houses were under 1000 sq feet – today they are over 2000! (don’t believe – check it out here:

So while the Sutton flats are hardly palaces – should they be replaced just because someone could make more money? Tis of course a question that I’m not going to answer. Interesting one though.

Back to the neighborhood – there’s a ‘high street’ – that’s a main shopping street – and parts of it are quite nice, a lovely fish and chips shop, a coffee shop, two DIY shops that never have what I need, and a local pub. But there is also an area of big box stores – a huge grocery store, a sporting goods store that runs on for several thousand square feet – and of course the requiste huge parking lots. I think it’s the parking lots that seem wrong somehow. Flat expanses of what was once grass – now paved and mostly empty.

Her area is also home to Canada Waters – an extremely upscale section of the city that is built over the tube stop. Now there they have elevators. And surprisingly – or I guess actually not surprisingly – we are hard by the Thames. My daughter took me into the Mayflower – an absolutely lovely pub with great beer – that is actually on the Thames! It overlooks the location of the wharf from where the Mayflower was launched.

Best of all – the Simplicity Cafe and Restaurant –

We’ve eaten there twice – and it’s a wonderful example of a tiny destination restaurant in a crazy location. You aren’t going to wander in off the street – you either have read about it – or you don’t go. My daughter had walked by many times, and since they were open on Monday night – when many restaurants are closed – decided to take me there on my first night in London. It was perfect. Maybe 40 seats total – the chef behind the helm of the ship – and portions so large that even though we’d ordered one to share – we thought they had brought us two!

Again – Gentrification at work. This isn’t a restaurant for the working class – as Londoner’s would define that term. They serve fabulously fussy food – hardly what a guy looking for a quick dinner of peri-peri chicken or fish and chips would enjoy – but the increasing amount of Gentrification in the area means that there are more and more DINKS (Double Income No Kids) family – and they can definitely afford the splurge.

Speaking of kids – I’ve never seen so many fabulously fancy carriages in my life as I have since I arrived in London. Not just in the Surrey Quays area either – in fact I think I’ve seen fewer there. But at some of the markets – the in thing is to take your 2 kids in a huge stroller – one standing in back, the other sitting in front – or in one alternative – one sitting in front and the infant hidden from view tucked into the back basket – for a market stroll.

My daughter is conflicted about the Gentrification. On one hand – she loves areas that have already been gentrified, lots of nicer restaurants, cute shops, cobblestone streets and big sidwalks. On the other hand – gentrification means the loss of the lower cost options – no DIY shops, no inexpensive fast food options, no Thai Box take-aways with one chef and his wife as cashier. You win some and lose some with Gentrification.

My wonder – I wonder where the people who are displaced by people like my daughter go to live? Will they sell, take their money and run to the country? Will they move further away from the city – trading commuting time for living costs? Or will they move in with their friends – creating even more crowded conditions in tiny flats that are valued at far more than they can afford in taxes.

At the heart of my daughter’s area is the real prize – the huge park called “Southwark”. It’s huge – and her daily walking commute to the Arch of Crown & Queue ( takes her (and me) straight thru it. I love that part of my “commute”. I get to enjoy a deep refreshing breathe of green grass and old trees between sidewalks and street crossings.

How do I feel about all this?

I’m glad my daughter lives in a place she loves, and I’m really really glad she has an elevator in her building. And I’m very pleased that they carefully bought a flat that has a guarenteed view. And her location couldn’t be better – there’s a smallish, but well stocked, grocery store about 50 feet from her front door, a tube stop a 10 minute walk away – and the park is under a 10 minute walk as well. I love walking her current ‘high street’ – I find the mix of classes fun to see.

But will this last?

The presence of the big box stores with their huge parking lots is an eyesore – and I’m sorry they are there. And the loss of the ‘working class’ will change the feeling of the area.

Signing off to take a walk in Sutton Courtenay. I hear the area near the Thames is awesome.

The Soup Lady

2 thoughts on “Gentrification in London – Surrey Quays in particular

  1. You finally learned how to spell Sutton Courtenay!! Just in time to have it auto-correct from Surrey Quays at the end there. ;p

    It is tough – but thankfully (as you can see by so much of the city already), London excels at mixing the new and the old… So gentrification usually doesn’t mean the disposal of beautiful buildings like the Sutton. More commonly, just the inside will get gutted, making 4 flats out of what once was 8 or even 10.

    That said, it is a good question about where the original population migrates as gentrification raises rents and cost of living. That’s a huge problem in London right now – where even those “with money to spend” are having trouble finding affordable housing. There is a housing crisis in general – and truth be told, I cannot tell you how it will all shake out.

    Good post!

    • I can only hope you are right about the Sutton – it would be such a shame if they tore down those buildings. But looking it up on Google it seems there is some debate! And I loved the little houses that we walked past – particularly the ones near where the zip car was parked. They must be worth a fortune – because one can easily imagine a developer making a fortune building a higher rise…

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