From the Elephant and Castle to Belvedere

Dave is a born and bred South Londoner. He grew up on an estate in Bermondsey, where his family ran a pub and an off-licence. ‘We knew everyone growing up’ and ‘everyone knew our lot’. He now lives in Belvedere on the border to Kent. He says: ‘Even though I’m very proud to say I’m from the Elephant and Castle, when people ask me where are you from now, I say Belvedere, because I’m ashamed to say Thamesmead. Which is a bit weird.’

Dave’s family moved east to Thamesmead in the 1970s, after he was stabbed on the estate in Elephant and Castle twice, at age 14 and 16. He says that even though it was a tight, close-knit community, ‘everyone was fighting’. ‘There were lots of neglected areas in South London and when drugs came onto the scene, it became just a little bit more violent than other parts of London’, he remembers. ‘Everyone with half a brain moved out’.

He says: ‘London in the eighties was just a horrible place. If you was on the other side of the river from South London after 6 o’clock in the evening, if you said to a black cab driver I’m going to the Elephant and Castle, they would go: No sorry, mate. They wouldn’t let you in the taxi. So you had to get a bus or walk.’

Now, when he meets with his mates in the pub in Thamesmead, ‘We always talk about the old days like they was good days. But if you think about it, they weren’t that great, because it was so violent.’ But he adds, ‘there’s loads of good things, ain’t all bad. The football’s good, the pub’s good.’

He calls his accent a ‘South London’ one, and he is ‘definitely not a Cockney’, which to him refers only to East Enders. When he hears someone speaking with a South London accent, he hears ‘a lot of truth’ in their voice and can ‘relate to [them] straight away.’

He has a very big family, who all moved out to Thamesmead. He noticed that the younger members of his family ‘have adapted a hint of Jamaican’, what he refers to as ‘Patois’. ‘Culturally we’ve been brought up with a lot of different black families, so you kind of pick up a little bit of their slang and music; it’s all intertwined with it’. But some other family members have been to university and now ‘speak with a university accent.’

Dave is the facilities manager at the German Historical Institute London, where I’ve been a scholar and through which I found him. With his London-born Italian wife and his children, he lived in Spain for many years, working as a DJ. He told me: ‘You’d love it out there for your research. You can’t believe the way Londoners carry on with their traditions even more abroad than in their own country.’

Dave outside of the German Historical Institute in Bloomsbury, where he works as a facilities manager
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