Introducing the new Montmartre: it's Del boy's manor, Peckham SE15

It's not as odd as it sounds – the deprived south London area is rebranding itself as the capital's contemporary art hub, much like the Parisian district during the 19th and 20th centuries

By Simon Tait
Sunday 27 March 2011 02:00

One boasts the Sacré-Coeur, Salvador Dali, Picasso and Van Gogh. The other has abandoned car parks and dark echoes of the murder of Damilola Taylor. On the face of it, Paris's famed Montmartre and London's infamous Peckham have very little in common. But all that is about to change.

The Southwark district will throw off its associations with Del Trotter of TV's Only Fools and Horses and relaunch itself as London's artists' quarter, the UK's answer to the French capital's right bank.

At the heart of a 10-year plan to be launched in May is a growing community of artists who have based themselves in the area. "Peckham is the place," said Hannah Barry, a gallery owner. "It's where people are coming to find the best in international contemporary art."

Admittedly, it has nothing to rival Paris's basilica. Instead, it has made the most of a white elephant 10-storey car park. Four years ago Ms Barry held the first Bold Tendencies, a summer-long sculpture exhibition, on the top four floors of the car park, to which she has added Frank's, a rooftop pop-up restaurant. Some 300 visitors came to see the specially commissioned pieces. Last summer there were 45,000, and as many as 100,000 people are expected this June.

The car park's rebirth as a sculpture venue has given it a new lease of life. Nearby, in part of the Bussey Building, a former arms factory, 60 artists have created studios. In another area of the massive Victorian pile, one of London's leading rave venues has been established, with recording studios, editing suites, a theatre and community space to be added this year.

One of the longest residents is Garudio Studiage, a co-operative of four artists specialising in screen printing, jewellery and painting. Jeweller Laura Cave said: "Peckham feels like it isn't England. It's so multicultural and it's a great inspiration for what we do."

The building is in the seven-acre Copeland Industrial Park, which was at one time earmarked by Transport for London as a tram depot. Artists and local business saw off that plan, and now, with local authority backing, plan to transform the area into the Copeland Cultural Quarter, with more art galleries, shops and cafés, an open market and events space.

In Peckham Road, north of Copeland, the South London Gallery reopened last year after a £1.6m extension. A few doors away is Camberwell College of Art; its initiative to bring art into the community spawned Peckham Space, which opened last May next to Will Alsop's award-winning Peckham Library.

Realistically, the area has a long way to go before it can hope to rival its Parisian counterpart. Nevertheless, art and artists have given Peckham's supporters reasons to be hopeful. They point out that Montmartre's days as a hub for artists have passed, while Peckham's artistic development is just beginning.

Peckham vs Montmartre


Peckham Peckham Rye Common was the inspiration of poet and painter William Blake. Currently home to Hannah Barry, Sven Münder, Paloma Gormley and other cutting-edge British artists.

Montmarte Home and inspiration to artists including Picasso, Van Gogh, Modigliani, Monet and Dali.


Peckham The multiplex may lack the showbiz glamour of its Montmartre cousin but it provides year-round entertainment.

Montmartre Championed by the award-winning actress Fanny Ardant, the Cinéma des Cinéastes is a showcase for French cinema and hosts several film premieres a year.


Peckham Persepolis is a deli renowned for its Persian delicacies.

Montmartre Le Wepler is one of the most famous of Montmartre's many brasseries and bistros. It was a meeting point for such luminaries as Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec and Henry Miller.


Peckham Not served by the Underground but has two overland stations – Peckham Rye and Queen's Road, Peckham.

Montmartre Eight Métro stations along three different lines. The closest is one stop away from the Gare du Nord, which connects Paris to London on the Eurostar.


Peckham Nearby Nunhead cemetery is one of the great Victorian burial grounds. Its memorials to the dead include the musical hall star Jenny Hill and Frederick Abel, co-inventor of cordite.

Montmartre One of the great Parisian cemeteries, the final resting place of the composer Berlioz and the film director François Truffaut.


Peckham The library and community centre won the Stirling Prize for architecture in 2000 and attracted more than 500,000 visitors when it first opened.

Montmartre The Sacré-Coeur basilica is one of the most famous landmarks in Paris.

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