I’m a Catford returner. And a very happy one. Eighteen months ago I came back to live near my starting point after 43 years of living elsewhere. And of course, it’s an unusual thing to have done. Most people reach a certain age and want to move further out of London rather than back into it. But I am/we are not “most people”.
I grew up in Catford and Forest Hill. My earliest memories are of living with grandparents in overcrowded post-war austerity at 366 Stanstead Road. Then parents and I got a place of our own 200 yards along the road in a flat over The Corner Shop which they ran as a successful antiques business for 25 years. Later they bought 2 Vancouver Road where we lived throughout my teens.
Meanwhile I’d been a pupil at Rathfern Road School (as it was then called) and Sydenham High School where I had a free place because I’d passed the eleven plus.
In 1969 I married Nicholas Elkin at St George’s Church – the old building, of course. My husband’s background is very similar to mine. He’d lived in Forest Hill all his life and it turned out that his family had known mine before the war – all very parochial. We began married life in a flat in Taymount Rise where our first child was born in the front bedroom.
Then came the big change. Work (his, initially, and then mine) forced us out of London. The result was four years in Wellingborough, Northants and thirty-nine years in Sittingbourne, Kent where our children grew up.
Well, our Sittingbourne house was a large town centre Victorian villa which we eventually extended. It had six bedrooms including converted cellar and attic and lots of living space. For many years it seemed perfect although the location was a bit ropey.
There comes a time, though, when you need a change and, anyway your circumstances move on. Both our sons have long since left home and have jobs and families of their own in Cambridge and Brighton. I was no longer teaching in Kent – today I work as journalist/writer/author and for years I travelled into London from Sittingbourne several times most weeks at considerable expense in terms of both money and time. And my husband, retired, was beginning to be forgetful and shaky on his feet. He has, since we moved, been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
So, we needed to downsize. The question was: Where? There was no longer anything to keep us in Kent. Our last dependent, very long-lived parent had died in 2014. Gradually we realised that if we sold the Sittingbourne house and sunk some savings into the project we could move back to our roots – savings are probably better invested in property than idling in the bank, anyway.
For six months we house hunted and looked very closely at SE6. I didn’t want a Corbett house – too much like the one I was leaving and I was hungry for a really refreshing change. I fancied a 1930s house with off-street parking, which we didn’t have in Sittingbourne and always found inconvenient. Other criteria included a downstairs loo, or space to put one in. We also needed to be near transport links and basic shops. For this I was prepared to sort through a life-time’s accumulation of “stuff” and get rid of at least half of it.
We found, after many house viewing trips, pretty much exactly what we wanted in the southern reaches, the Downham end, of SE6. I can walk to Catford and remember doing so with my grandmother when I was a tiny child. She bought fish from the wet fishmonger, meat paste in wax pots from —- and always treated herself to cup of coffee and me to an ice cream in Marc Antonios (anyone remember it?).
I’m very close to one railway station and a short walk from two more which gives me access to three different railway lines. Frequent buses go to lots of useful places and I can get to the DLR at Lewisham or the Overground at Sydenham quite easily. And I still can’t get over the novelty of being able to pop up the South Bank and getting home in half an hour door to door.
I really like the diversity of London too. At, for example, Sainsbury’s at Lower Sydenham (it will always be the Gasworks to me just as the “Bromley Road Retail Park” is the Jam Factory) I sometimes just stand and listen. You can hear languages and accents from all over the world – Europe, Africa, Asia and the rest. So many different backgrounds and yet, almost always, so harmonious. This isn’t the London I left but it’s one of the things I admire most about it now.
We’ve had a fair amount of work done to our house to get it exactly as we want it. The other day I had a count up and realised that over 60 people have worked for us in the last 18 months and meeting most of them has been an enhancing joy: the Hungarian bathroom fitters, the Latvian plasterer, the Russian fencer and cleaner originally from La Reunion, for example.
So we are very contented Catford residents – and the icing on the cake is Beckenham Place Park which is on our doorstep. I like the Pool Linear Park too. Doing what we’ve done makes you look objectively and with fresh eyes at somewhere you’ve known all your life. Do not undervalue SE6. We’re native Londoners and moving back “home” is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.