Rescue hope for threatened corner of Dickensian London

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Residents and fans of a rare surviving corner of Dickensian London took heart yesterday at the Grade II listing of two pubs and a collection of commercial buildings and terraced houses.

It is by no means the end of the campaign to save the Borough Market area - a popular location for film-makers - threatened with demolition to make way for a viaduct, but official recognition of the quality of the buildings could prove a powerful weapon.

The viaduct is regarded by Railtrack as essential to its pounds 580m Thameslink 2000 project to improve public transport in the South-east. Conservationists have argued for a tunnel. The scheme would take the roof off Borough Market itself, the country's oldest fruit and vegetable market and so far unlisted.

Railtrack said yesterday that alternative routes, including a tunnel, had been considered and "none of them was viable". The company will now have to seek special consent to demolish any of the listed buildings. Almost certainly there will be a public inquiry.

Tony Banks, the heritage minister, said the listing would ensure the Thameslink 2000 plans were taken forward as sensitively as possible. "The Borough Market area is a fascinating pocket of London's Victorian history, renowned for its Dickensian atmosphere."

The buildings listed include two public houses, the Globe, dating from 1872, and based on an unusual, almost heart-shaped plan; and the Wheatsheaf, with its 1890s interior largely intact, a thin screen separating the saloon and public bars and a central counter. Also covered is a block of commercial premises in Borough High Street built in the 1830s to a design by Robert Smirke, terrace houses in Park Street, and the Joiner Street railway bridge, converted to pedestrian use in 1890 after it collapsed.

However, campaigner Mike Challanger, a painter who has lived in one of the threatened Park Street houses for 21 years, said it was impossible to build a half-kilometre viaduct without destroying the area. "It doesn't matter if you have a nice bit of brick-facing on the pillars. It's still a giant bridge."