Could Deptford be the new Paris?
Would you rather go on holiday to Paris or Deptford? An easy choice you might think but one Londoner believes that SE8 has much more to offer than meets the eye. Here, Mary Jane Baxter argues that Deptford is more than a match for the French capital.
Which is Deptford and which is Paris? Answer below
By Mary Jane Baxter
This time last year a day-trip to Paris might have seemed like the perfect way to see in the Spring. A short hop on the Eurostar, and the pleasures of the French capital appeared within easy and affordable reach.
Sipping coffee in a quirky café on the Left Bank or rummaging through the haul of vintage finds at the Cligancourt fleamarket were made all the more pleasurable by knowing that it would cost you more at home.
But jaunts across the Channel are not what they used to be as the purchasing power of the pound plummets. So that's how I find myself shelving plans for a trip to Paris, choosing instead to holiday at home and take in the delights of Deptford, just down the road in South East London – Zone Two.
St Nicholas Church
From Marlowe to Dire Straits
For those who don't know Deptford, it's one of London's former docks. It's also famous for being the place where Renaissance playwright Christopher Marlowe was reputedly killed in a pub brawl in 1593. He's buried in an unmarked grave in St Nicholas's cemetery.
A church has stood on this site since the 12th century and on the gateposts you can see a set of carved skull and crossbones said to be the inspiration for the Jolly Roger.
More recently, Deptford's played a role in nurturing the musical talents of Dire Straits, who shared a council flat here in the early days of their career. And Squeeze lived in Deptford in the late 1970s, recording on the Deptford Fun City label.
So Deptford's got historic and artistic credentials – but Paris – that's quite a stretch isn't it? Well, follow my tips and you'll be amazed to discover that Deptford doubles up nicely!
The charming pavement cafe...
If you're in Paris – you'll probably ease yourself into the morning with a coffee and a croissant, preferably at a charming pavement café. I may not be on French soil, but it doesn't mean I'm denied those pleasures.
Instead, I start my Saturday at the new Deptford Deli in Tanners Hill. Not only can you enjoy your café crème outside in the sunshine, but you can also pick up a jar of Deptford Creek honey, salivate over Suffolk-based Pinney's smoked fish and sample various quality cheeses. Paris eat your heart out!
Dawn Safari and Walter Lav stock only the best quality produce and they try and buy as locally as possible. Their dishes include organic lamb from Woodlands farm in Welling, and they sell artisan breads from Rhodes bakery (which you can find in Borough Market and Greenwich too).
Whilst I'm in the Deli I meet a French woman who came to the area from Versailles twenty years ago – she says that Deptford really reminds her of home. Ah! So my thesis isn't so crazy after all!
Once I've finished my coffee I cross the road to browse through vintage-chic at Gimcrack.
The owners, who were originally set designers, bought the 17th century listed building a couple of years ago. They've just started their shop selling quirky bric-a-brac and one-off finds.
Charlotte and Robert have got a great eye and their pieces are real talking points.
They tell me that a friend of theirs living in France has just purchased one of their chandeliers – it just goes to show that if it's French interior style you're after, then Deptford is definitely a contender.
Unlike many London boroughs, Paris is still blessed with specialist food shops but Deptford has managed to hang on to its local family butcher.
W.H.Wellbeloved opened in 1829 and here you can buy British beef, free-range chicken and pork, as well as pies made on the premises.
Next it's time to tackle the markets.
I have to admit to being something of a flea-market fanatic – I just love bagging a bargain.
In Paris, I usually head for the famous Saint Ouen market at the Porte-de-Cligancourt, or Les Puces de Vanves, which is reputedly the city's oldest flea.
But this morning, I'm checking out Deptford's very own Cligancourt next to the Albany Theatre.
In the past, I've found all manner of treasure amongst the boxes of junk and this morning is no exception. I track down a great dress for £4 and a cute 50s peg bag for 50p.
I'm beginning to flag, but when you're in the grip of market mania, you have to carry on. So I head for the mainstream High Street stalls and stock up on fresh fruit and veg, grabbing a big bag of cashew nuts for £1 - why spend more?
Rummaging in the market
I also find a fantastic stall selling unworn 70s and 80s dresses for £1 each. Apparently, dealers are buying them ten at a time and selling them on with a 900% mark-up. I buy four. Who needs Chanel?
With a flourish, I fill my shopping basket with a big bunch of flowers. I even try a 'bonjour' and a 'merci' and it seems to go down well - I could swear I'm in St Germain!
Food for thought
It's almost lunchtime, and feeling a little peckish I decide to sample some local fare.
On Deptford High Street you'll find plenty of options including The Deptford Project, a converted train carriage-cum-café, The Bear Café, and two traditional pie and mash shops.
A.J.Goddard has been in Deptford since 1890, and it's still in the same family's hands serving up beef pies with parsley liquor. Or, cross the road and sample the jellied eels at Manze's - they're a real East-End tradition.
The original white-tiled interior still boasts marble tabletops, wooden benches and sawdust on the floor. This is the sort of authentic eating environment you'd travel miles to savour.
If it's culture you want...
For a little culture, head to Creekside and see the award-winning Laban Dance Centre, designed by Zurich-based architects Herzog and de Meuron.
Laban dance centre
It's the largest purpose-built contemporary dance centre in the world and boasts a semi-translucent façade which at night glows in a rainbow of colours.
It's almost time to head home – but not before a little aperitif. I finish my day where it began at The Deptford Deli. I settle myself down and order a glass of top quality French wine and a plate of Loch Fyne oysters.
After all, I deserve to splash out. I've saved myself a return fare to Paris on the Eurostar!
* In the picture at the top of this page, Paris is on the left and Deptford is on the right
last updated: 30/04/2009 at 09:37
Have Your Say
So, do you agree that Deptford is the new Paris? Which other London boroughs would stand comparison with the great cities of Europe?
matthew from Hammersmith