Looking out at you smugly from the pages of Get a Lifestyle, You Sad, Unstylish Person are lofters Rajiv and Zoe. The fashionable pair inhabit a loft-style apartment (please don’t call it a ‘flat’), which is probably in Bermondsey — the new Hoxton or the new Clerkenwell, depending on which property supplement you pore over with a pang of guilt-tinged longing.
Once the province of spivs, gangsters and noxious tanneries, this tangle of warehouses, wharves and printworks, Victorian railway arches and council housing has, since the mid-Nineties, emerged as a hip and thriving artists’ quarter. The past decade has seen a stampede of arty urbanites moving in, seduced by the cavernous live/work spaces offered by converted industrial buildings, the proximity of the river and vibrant Borough Market, and transport links vastly improved since the arrival of the Jubilee line.
Space is being made for plenty more: the £35 million Spa regeneration scheme is well under way, while Bermondsey Square, shabby site of the weekly New Caledonian Antiques Market and the ruins of a 10th-century abbey, is the object of a £36 million redevelopment scheme, courtesy of Southwark Council, due to start at the end of this year. Property-price-boosting plans are afoot for 45,000 sq. ft of residential space, an art-house cinema and displays of public artwork in the squares, which should go down well with the local lofters.
But despite the fiercely modern presence of Zandra Rhodes’s orange and pink fashion museum, the galleries, gastropubs and cafés, there is a lingering whiff of the area’s lawless and licentious past, the echo of a bawdy cackle as you make your way through its dank railway tunnels. Annette Kobak, who has lived in Morocco Street for four years, loves ‘the wonky mediaeval curve of the street and the fact that it was once a pilgrim’s route’.
It’s a struggle to find a downside, but green space is in shortish supply (the area once had meadows for cows and woods to provide nuts and acorns for pigs, according to the Domesday Book), although there are some small, newly revamped parks off Bermondsey Street.
This is a quibble, though, and would-be residents are obviously keeping local agents busy. During a well-earned break, Mark Williams of Williams Lynch, sounding slightly out of breath, told me, ‘Business has been brisk, even in August, which is traditionally a quiet time of year.’