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Once dubbed the ‘town of the twenty-first century’ Thamesmead is a vast housing estate, with some peripheral industry, situated on former marshland between Woolwich and Erith. The River Thames here makes its most northerly excursion within Greater London, so Thamesmead is on the same latitude as Westminster. Its name was the winning entry in a newspaper competition. After the land was vacated by the military the Greater London Council developed Thamesmead in fits and starts from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. The area was divided into sectors, of which Thamesmead South was the main housing zone, while Thamesmead East was initially designated for industry and commerce. Thamesmead Central offers the majority of the town’s retail facilities – but these are woefully inadequate for a settlement of such proportions. Thamesmead North was the last of the municipally built zones, while Thamesmead West has recently seen private development on a major scale. The first buildings used pre-cast concrete but this was subsequently abandoned in favour of more humane materials. The topography is dominated by a series of lakes and canals that serve to drain surface water as well as providing good fishing and relieving the starkness of the built environment. After the abolition of the GLC the estate’s ownership transferred to a trust company and the founders’ wishful vision of a futuristic community has largely been abandoned in favour of traditional British suburban housebuilding. Large sums of money from municipal, national government and European Union sources will continue to be ploughed into improvement and expansion but forecasts of Thamesmead’s final population have halved from the original target of 100,000.

Stanley Kubrick used Thamesmead South for location scenes in his 1971 masterpiece A Clockwork Orange. Southmere lake doubles as the ‘Flat Block Marina’, an old tramp is attacked under a walkway by the shopping centre and Alex dumps his fellow droogs into the water beside Binsey Walk. The area was depicted again in Beautiful Thing, Jonathan Harvey’s 1996 portrayal of life in the vicinity of Tavy Bridge.

click for a map covering most of Thamesmead
The more recent blocks of flats to have been built in Thamesmead have been private developments

Since 2009, Thamesmead’s least glamorous parts have been the setting for E4’s comic drama Misfits. This award-winning series makes outstanding and extensive use of the estate’s stark architectural features and bleak ambience. As with A Clockwork Orange, Southmere Lake is also employed to excellent effect, including one scene in which a phony Messiah walks on the water. [NB While Hidden London recommends A Clockwork Orange and Misfits highly, neither is suitable for those of a sensitive disposition.]


Postal districts and postcode area: SE28, SE2 and Erith, DA18
Population: 22,456 (Bexley’s ward of Thamesmead East and Greenwich’s ward of Thamesmead Moorings)
Further reading: Foreman and Bossert, Thamesmead Rediscovered, Alan Conisbee and Associates, 1998
and Valerie Wigfall, Thamesmead: Back to the Future, Greenwich Community College Press, 1997

Chambers London Gazetteer has separate entries for Thamesmead Central, East, North, South, South West and West, as well as for Thamesmead as a whole

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Text and selected images are reproduced with the permission of Chambers but may differ from the published versions
All content 2005–2010