CIA World Peckham Factbook

Our weekly cut-out-and-keep factoid series exploring the fascinating world of Peckham in South London. If you enjoy these facts, why not visit Peckham yourself? If you send proof of your visit (such as a bus or train ticket, or a bit of raw goat), we'll send you an exclusive badge in hand-crafted tin saying 'I went to Peckham and survived with only minor injuries'.

Other things not many people know about Peckham. This is largely because I completely made them up.

  1. There are approximately 1,000 car owners living in Peckham and around 25 residents' car parking spaces. This means that any attempt to park your car involves a mind-bending 3-hour drive around Peckham's four-dimensional one way system, taking an elliptic short cut through Hilbert space, mowing down pedestrians and goats as you crane your neck to see if that bloke's driving off or not.

    When you finally find a space, seven other people will have found it at the same moment as you, resulting in a deadly game of Kerbside Chicken. Assuming you actually park your car, you will have taken up someone else's regular space, who will then return from work ten minutes later and be forced to start his own parking odyssey.

    The game of Musical Spaces will continue indefinitely until the disputed space has moved all round Peckham, like an electron hole in a semiconductor, and ends with some bastard taking your space. And so the wheel of pain, karma and fixed penalty notices turns full circle.

  2. Peckham was actually constructed from scratch by the McDonald's Corporation as a gigantic, stinking, burger-related theme park. Which explains why the new municipal library has been built in the shape of a Happy Meal. It's all a big con by Ronald McDonald. Why, even the name gives it away. If you rearrange the letters of the word 'Peckham' you get 'McPhake'. See what I mean?

  3. Peckham Borough Council has at last approved renovation work on the never-popular Kings on the Rye nightclub. To this end the place has been bulldozed to the ground and replaced by a block of luxury flats. 'Luxury', in this context, would appear to mean 'squalid', but we'll pass lightly over that. However, local ghost-hunter Keith 'Charnel Stench' O'Donald has reported that spectres of the past still haunt the oblivious luxury flat-dwellers. A tragic big-permed figure known only as 'The Woman in White Stillettos' is said to pace up and down one of the rooms, while several passing travellers have testified to being approached by a mysterious shadowy phantom who spoke to them in a voice of doom and foreboding, asking if they were 'sorted for E's and whizz'. O'Donald also quotes the legend attached to the name: that three once-mighty Kings of England lie buried beneath the soil of Peckham Rye and one day, when the land is in dire need, they will arise, put on their ceremonial black puffer jackets of state, and go forth in seriously tuned BMWs with UV lights underneath, uniting the troubled nation with their own idiosyncratic brand of drum'n'bass. But, added O'Donald, that might just be bollocks.

  4. There's been a lot of ballyhoo recently about the so-called 'Tate Modern' art gallery, housed in a knackered old riverbank power station. Well, it may be good enough for the likes of Melvyn Bragg, and other children's TV presenters, but London's more discerning art lovers would be well advised to direct their feet instead to the Peckham Modern. This throbbing, vital urban culture feast includes exciting works such as kebab sculptor Keith Scrape's exhibition of local portraits in chilli sauce on pitta bread, a wry retrospective of 1950s 'dogshit art', local fishmonger Abdul-Ali Hassan's 200-foot installation 'Kipper of the North', a prized copper bust of the Dreaded Kite-Eating Rottweiler of Peckham Rye, and controversial 'art terrorist' Jonathan Mungo's gigantic mural of Jeffrey Archer's lying face done in oils and spray paint on the railway arches at Queen's Road station. Admission free. Exit £12.50 adults, £7.50 concs. Open Sundays.

  5. Frank Herbert's Dune novels have been enjoyed by thousands of readers, but how many of them know that Herbert originally intended his epic space opera to be set in Peckham? A lifelong resident of the borough, Herbert conceived the idea of the giant terrifying killer worms of Arrakis while eating a battered sausage in the 'Royal Fish Bar' restaurant on Peckham Rye. Also key to the novels is the mysterious substance melange, an intoxicating spice which prolongs the user's life and can bring on bizarre trance-like states. Herbert later claimed that he had this idea while enjoying a Chinese curry from the 'Full Garden' takeaway in Rye Lane. His publishers, however, initially rejected the manuscript, demanding that he change the setting from London SE15 to outer space. And like a craven fool he agreed.

  6. One of the many quaint local folkways that draw millions of Nigerian tourists every year to Peckham, alongside the Lennard Pearce Memorial Housebreaking Treasure Hunt, and the Sternhall Lane Car Stereo Smash & Grab Steeplechase, is the annual Whitsun Day Traffic Warden Lynching and Reggae Carnival. Hundreds of gaily-clad local people gather on the greensward of Peckham Rye Common, just behind the injection mouldings factory, to see the specky bearded git from BBC TV's 'The Clampers' hoisted high on a specially-constructed gallows supplied by a local scaffolding firm, to the infectious beat of Peckham DJ Keith Oluahuru's mobile sound system. The event traditionally ends in uproarious applause and laughter as the hapless council employee is clubbed to death by members of the area Rotary Club wielding festively-decorated lengths of rusty angle iron.

  7. We all know that the Tatooine desert scenes in the Star Wars movies were filmed in North Africa. But did you know that many other scenes were filmed in Peckham? In fact, during the scene where Darth Vader tells Luke what happened to his father, you can clearly see the "Peckham Wines and Grocers" newsagents behind his shoulder. Maybe.

  8. The idyllic metropolitan enclave of Peckham is home to some of the world's most unusual smells. Walking up Rye Lane in the heat of summer has been known to make strong men upchuck. Between the dodgy halal butchers, Unhygienix the fishmonger and the never-washed rubbish cart, Peckham has generated some of the strongest whiffs known to science. Jean-Paul Sartre's famous play Les Mouches depicts a community under the influence of a brooding evil symbolised by an unbearable plague of flies. It is now known that Sartre was staying in a bedsit near the Peckham Municipal Waste Recycling Centre when he wrote this great work.

  9. Peckham. Is it the ancient site of King Arthur's legendary castle Camelot? Was Arthur's court here, instead of at Tintagel or Glastonbury, or some other places? Did Sir Lancelot and Guinevere and... the other fellows... once sit around the famous Round Table in a fairy-tale castle on Peckham Rye Common? And was it here in Peckham that Arthur pulled the mighty sword Excalibur from its stone, thus signifying by divine right that he was to be King of all England?

    No.

  10. The Sphinx Kebab & Burger Grill on Rye Lane in Peckham has changed hands more often than any other business in history. It once had eight owners in a single afternoon. It's not uncommon for the shop to be under new management between the time you order your kebab and when you receive it - which may explain why you often end up with salad even though you specifically asked them not to put any on it. The shop also stays open later than any other in Peckham, so that its customers tend to be very tired and usually blind drunk - ideal conditions, in fact, for buying grilled curried dead sheep flakes.

  11. The popular science fiction writer John Wyndham once wrote a short story about a manned rocket mission to Peckham, in which the intrepid astronauts wandered around the strange barren landscape of South London finding out about the grumpy, poorly-dressed alien inhabitants. However this was thought too fantastic for publication, and the setting was changed to Mars at the last minute.

  12. We've all heard of legendary terrorist Carlos the Jackal, or at least been shot at by him from a top-floor window. But how many people know about Peckham's own international master criminal Dave the Leopard? So named because he once went out with a girl called Suzy who looked a bit like a leopard, Dave the Leopard is known to be responsible for the theft of over 75 pence worth of pick'n'mix from Woolies in the High Street, and a high-level IRA grass recently fingered him for the 1979 dogshit-through-letterbox attack on Mrs Stibley in the flats.

    Dave's connections include the Provos, the Red Brigade, and Baader-Meinhof. He is also known to be a member of Blockbusters. At present he eludes the police of over 20 countries, and is believed to live in hiding at a secret location not too far from the bookies in Heaton Road.

  13. Turgid Scots novelist Muriel Spark once wrote a book entitled 'The Ballad of Peckham Rye' about the hilarious antics you can get up to in South London's parks after midnight (published by Macmillan, 141pp. with an introduction by former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies).

    Sadly, the book has scant literary merit and is of interest only to friendless, disturbed people who obsessively collect things related to Peckham.

    ...I expect.

  14. We all know from our schooldays that the length of a metre is defined by the length of a big metal bar in a glass box in Paris, or something. But how many of us know that many important scientific units are derived from the town of Peckham in South London? For example, the nanosecond (one billionth of a second) is defined as the time it takes for a car left in Rye Lane with the keys in and the engine running to be stolen. Similarly, the megawatt is defined in terms of the energy generated if all 17,000 of Peckham's traffic wardens were to run around inside a giant treadmill. While everyone stood around laughing.

    Finally, Absolute Zero, the theoretical point of temperature where all molecular vibration ceases and absolute motionless cold reigns, is pegged to the indoor temperature in a Peckham flat when your central heating breaks down and all the shops selling heaters have just closed.

  15. Because Americans have no imagination or creativity, most towns in America are named after towns in Britain. Familiar examples include New York, Boston and Birmingham. There are so many towns in the United States that every single place name in Britain has been used up - except Peckham. If you meet an American, ask them why this is. Whatever the answer, be sure to club them soundly afterwards.

  16. Seen from space, the lanes and alleys of Old Peckham form an enormous landing beacon for beings from other planets. In fact Rye Lane is actually Runway 24, and the Mecca Bingo Hall on the High Street will form the VIP Arrivals Lounge when the first cargo of interstellar passengers arrives. Unfortunately due to a strike on the part of the galactic Space Traffic Control service, over a hundred alien starships have been circling in a holding pattern behind the Moon since 1885, and are unlikely to receive permission to land in the near future.

  17. Among its many inner-city delights Peckham is host to the Moose Mansions Museum. This delightfully-restored small poky flat over a newsagents in Rye Lane is a tribute to Britain's most slightly amusing weekly fortnightly electronic chortle sheet. This chair and desk are the ones that Maurice the Moose actually used. Everything is exactly as it would have been - here, the sherry decanter and bound volume of Marcus Aurelius. Here, the actual empty packets of inexpensive flavoured maize snacks. And here the worn spot where his chin used to rest glumly on the keyboard as he contemplated thinking up another issue's worth of Homeric quips and sallies. Closed Sundays and Bank Holidays.

  18. The 'Kings on the Rye' nightclub in Peckham has received the prestigious award of 'UK's Tackiest Club'. The award, presented by the trade magazine 'Nightclub and Strip Joint Gazette', has been held for the past four years by 'No Fucking Jeans', a redneck club on the Larkman housing estate in Norwich. Announcing the award, editor Steve Leith quipped, "No comment."

  19. Most people, when asked if Peckham was an inner-city area with no scenic views to speak of, would reply, "Yes. Peckham is an inner-city area with no scenic views to speak of. Are you a fool?" But they'd be wrong, of course, as you've probably gathered if you've bothered to read this far. In fact if you read these facts every week you must be slightly peculiar. But if you think you're peculiar, what about me? I have to write 'em every week. And I only receive a piddling 55p luncheon vouncher from Peckham Municipal Council. It's enough to make you go nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Anyway, the views. Yes. Peckham in fact commands spectacular views of the River Severn, Hadrian's Wall and Norwich Cathedral. If you get up high enough, obviously. I never said you could see them from ground level, did I?. You'd have to be about twenty-five to thirty thousand feet up. In an airliner. But you can see them.

  20. Guitar-strumming arse-faced folk singer Ralph McTell's famous song 'Streets of London', turgidly executed by buskers everywhere, was originally titled 'Streets of Peckham'. McTell, who used to live up the top end of the common, changed the title after representations from Peckham Municipal Council. The lyrics were also altered - they originally read:

    "Let me take you by the hand
    And lead you through the streets of Peckham
    I'll show you something
    To make you change your mind
    About moving to Peckham."

  21. The actor who played Egg in the hit BBC2 drama 'This Life' lives in Peckham. Probably. Well, thereabouts, anyway. It's definitely in London. Or the surrounding area.

  22. In the words of the song, "If you're going to Peckham in South London, wear some raw goat's meat in your hair." For the humble metropolitan scum-heap of Peckham boasts the densest population of goat butchers in the known galaxy, and Swansea.

    A short walk from the Peckham Rye BR station to my own simple house bombards the pedestrian with opportunities to buy wigs, yams, lingerie, eternal salvation, recently-stolen television sets and, of course, a remarkable quantity and variety of goat.

    Recipes you might like to try include fricaseed goat surprise, 'Billy's Beard' spaghetti, goat ice-cream, goat's legs, goat's ears, goat's trotters and some suspicious-looking dumplings.

  23. Peckham has rather arcane by-laws, and certain products are forbidden from sale within the city limits. For example, cheese. Cheese is only available in small slivers (100g per household, per calendar week), which is n.b.g. for people who enjoy their cheese, among whose number I proudly categorise myself. There is also an ancient edict restricting the sale of pesto to tiny little pots a baby would get through in a couple of days.

    On the other hand, if you like yams you're absolutely sorted. I mean it. Every shop in Peckham is bursting with the things. Even hairdressers and video rental places. Bastard yams all over the place.

  24. Peckham derives its name from an amusing incident in mediaeval times when the terrifying Giant Hen of Old London Town attacked a small village in South London. Worried inhabitants, fearful that their homes and livelihoods would be destroyed by the rampaging poultry, scattered the road leading into the village with hundreds of fresh hams. Sure enough, the colossal pullet was distracted from its mission of destruction and started pecking at the ham. Taking advantage of this momentary ham-induced lapse of concentration, the villagers immediately rushed out and beat the bastard to death with sticks.

    The legend of the Giant Hen lives on, commemorated by such London place names as Peckham, Hendon, Kilburd, Hensington, Poultry, Cluckham Common, and Hackney Beak.

  25. Peckham is an area rich in natural resources, like Rwanda and Wales. In 1877, prospector Joe 'Flabby' Flabstein discovered a stash of gold doubloons buried in the garden of a house in Heaton Road. Sadly they turned out to be chocolate money left over from a kiddies' party. But in 1981 all that changed when the geophysical survey company Milner & Associates found signs of oil reserves under Peckham Rye Common. In the years afterwards they dug up the ratty old football pitch and the south end of the flower garden, and have extracted over 8 barrels of oil. It is now feared that Peckham will be one of Saddam Hussein's first targets for invasion in the new war spectacular, 'Gulf II - The Revenge'.

  26. Everyone in Peckham lives in a council flat and sells left-handed Ukrainian nostril-hair clippers out of a suitcase down the market. They also have a dopey younger brother called Rodney, and an annoying white-haired old uncle who keeps going on about when he was in the Navy. All the pubs in Peckham are called 'The Nag's Head'. The only vehicles to be seen on the streets are decrepit three-wheeled vans. All right? Happy now?

  27. Some people consider South London, and especially Peckham, to be a den of drug-dealing. Nothing could be further from the truth. As an experiment, I walked into the White Horse pub in Peckham and called out 'Can anyone here supply me with some drugs?'. I found absolutely no-one willing to do so. Though I did find out that the landlord of the White Horse used to be in the Royal Marines Tae Kwon Do team.

  28. Peckham is not generally associated in the public mind with sporting success, yet it is a true force to be reckoned with in the sporting world. For many years Peckham's football team has dominated the game, and many of the finest names in soccer have played among its ranks. However, when the name for the team was first chosen, players felt that including the name 'Peckham' would prejudice people against them, so the name 'Manchester United' was chosen instead. Sports fans will also be familiar with Peckham's successes in the cricket world, under the pseudonym 'Surrey'.

  29. In the golden light of a winter's morn Peckham sparkles like fine crystal, the sun flashing from its jewelled towers and facets like a playful dolphin splashing through waves of light. Oh no that's Venice.

  30. Peckham is often thought to be a deprived area, full of poor families struggling to make ends meet. In fact, according to a survey undertaken recently in the Morning Star pub in Peckham, many locals have cash to spare, which they waste on cigarettes and beer. One man was even seen putting 50p into the jukebox. So let's hear no more whining from the lefties on this one.

  31. Many great explorers have set off from Peckham, including Sir Francis Drake, who was living in a flat over the glaziers in Heaton Road when he sailed away to discover... whatever it was he discovered. Ferdinand Magellan also started his epic journey from the borough, pausing for a sticky bun in the bakers outside Peckham Rye station before sailing off to... before sailing off.

  32. The world's highest mountain is not Mount Everest, as was previously believed, but One Tree Hill in Honor Oak, near Peckham. At least it seems pretty high when you're completely pissed and freezing to death on Christmas Day and irrationally determined to urinate from a triangulation point. Apparently.

  33. Many believe that Buckingham Palace is the Queen's traditional London home. In fact, the official residence of the supreme ruler of Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a two-bedroom flat over a chip shop in Peckham. Indeed, the Royal Court was held in Peckham throughout the Middle Ages, and was only transferred north of the river in 1988, so that the Peckham flat could have the kitchen re-tiled. Apparently the builders are still waiting to hear from their mate Charlie who does tiles at cost.

  34. According to a linguistic study sponsored by the Peckham Tile & Grout Centre, the name Peckham comes originally from the common Sanskrit phrase P'i khuum, meaning "Place where a man may enjoy the lowest prices for tiles and tiling accessories in South-East London."

  35. Now-legendary popsters Morrissey and Marr first met in Peckham, when egotistical jangly guitarist Johnny Marr ran over pretentious whiny-voiced fop Morrissey's foot in his Humber Snipe on Peckham High Street, just outside Dave's International Hairdressers (see facts passim). That chance meeting was to be the beginning of a stormy relationship that led to the formation and later breakup of 80s gloom-mongers The Smiths, and a boom in the bedsit leasing market. This fact is only rather tangentially related to Peckham, but it does have the saving grace of being totally true. Ish.

  36. The Heaton Arms, on the corner of Heaton Road and Rye Lane in Peckham, has been voted Dodgiest Pub in Britain for the 7th time running by a panel of independent judges. Receiving the award, publican Jimmy 'The Razor' Connelly said 'Me an' the lads, we're just choked up about this. Them judges - diamond geezers. But if they came in my boozer lording it over us and chattin' up our girws an' that, I'd say "OI! JUDGES! NOOOOOOO". And I'd give 'em a slap.'

    Pub regular Mike 'Psychopathically Violent and Disturbed' Jenkins commented 'We're all very excited about winning the award. You've got to hand it to Jimmy, he knows the pub game and he knows a number of extremely shadowy figures in the South London underworld as well. Hard men, if you know what I'm saying. Take on anything, cash up front, no questions asked. Did you look at my pint?' At this point our reporter made his excuses and left.

  37. Nationalism seems to be on the agenda these days, and nowhere more so than in the Shire of Peckham. A local organisation called the Peckham Republican Front are campaigning for independence; their leader, a sinister figure known only as 'Big Darren' has called for the creation of a state to be known as 'The People's Democratic Republic of Peckham'. The PRF want to convert the Sphinx Kebab & Burger Emporium on Rye Lane into their future seat of government, although residents are assured that kebabs will continue to be available.

    So far the campaign has not gathered much momentum; the only public demonstration organised by the PRF has consisted of Big Darren standing outside Peckham Rye BR station handing out leaflets saying, in green crayon, 'Independense Now - Vote 4 a Free Peccem'.

  38. The sign hanging next to 'Peckham News' on the corner of Rye Lane and Sternhall Lane seems completely blank by visible light, but when viewed in ultra-violet reveals the legend 'Everyone without ultra-violet vision is a toss-pot.'

    This is completely true. I wrote it with an ultra-violet pen by hanging out of my window while someone else hung on to my legs.

  39. Adorning Peckham High St. is a shop which late-night revellers catching the N12 or N84 night buses home will be very familiar with, as it marks the boundary of God's True Kingdom of Peckham. The shop is affectionately called 'Dave's International Hairdressers', though it remains unclear whether it is the hairdressers, the hair or Dave himself who is international, and in what sense.

  40. Peckham Rye BR station is Europe's 4,712th worst railway station, according to a recent EC survey of over 19,000 stations, their ambience and facilities. (For the curious, the very worst in Europe is actually nearby South Bermondsey).

  41. The biblical city of Peckham was founded in 808 BC by Alexander the Mediocre. Recent excavations have revealed that Blockbuster Video was built on the site of an ancient public gallows, and that the Top Rank Bingo Hall used to be the municipal stoning-place.

  42. We all know that a shopping trip down Rye Lane of a Saturday afternoon guarantees you a smile and a stab from the friendly Peckham natives, but Peckham also has its sinister side. In 1986, a mini-cab firm were convicted of running their business by voodoo. They were assigning jobs by sticking pins into little wax models of cars, and consulting goat's entrails to generate excuses for late pickups. Customers also complained that their drivers wore top hats and dressed as scarecrows. The manager got three months and was fined 18 live chickens.

  43. Peckham is often thought to be part of the London Borough of Southwark, but in fact is legally a dependent dominion of Argentina. This puzzling anomaly dates from the early 1980s, when we swapped it for the Falkland Islands in order to avoid some South Atlantic unpleasantness.

  44. Although Rye Lane in Peckham, where I live, looks as solid as you or me, it was in fact built as part of a gigantic movie set for the notoriously doomed Heaven's Gate, before script changes forced the crew to relocate shooting elsewhere. The Superdrug store next to the station is made entirely of packing cardboard, and all the shops from Argos down to the Co-Op Funeral Parlour are simply painted façades. Which is a bugger if you want to buy a newspaper. Or a funeral, for that matter.

  45. The crucifixion of Our Bearded Lord Jesus Christ is placed by the bible and most historians at Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. However, recent archaeological evidence has shown that Golgotha was in fact in Peckham. A 'PriceBusters Everything A Pound' shop now stands on the site.

  46. Peckham, besides being the home of the fictional Del and Rodney Trotter, has many other famous sons and daughters, including Selina Scott, James McGuffy (inventor of chipboard), the racing driver Sterling Moss, and Cher (yes, really!)

  47. Although Peckham seems small, it is in fact over 31,000 square miles in area. This illusion of smallness is produced because the terrain is quite hilly.

  48. The Royal Borough of Peckham is Europe's largest producer of small wooden figurines of Norma Major.

Are you Australian? If so, can you confirm sightings of an antipodean children's book called 'Two Weeks with the Queen' by Morris Glitzman which allegedly features Peckham's very own Royal Fish Bar, where I've personally bought many a battered sausage and chips twice, salt and vinegar please, no I wouldn't like a pickled gherkin. Send us the relevant bit of the text and win the contents of my trouser pockets! Currently, a wallet, four pounds twenty in change, a 'Prestige' disposable lighter, a 3-inch lockknife (it's for fishing officer), a London Underground travelcard, various unidentified small metal things, probably electronic parts, and half a Ryvita that I forgot about. So get searching your local bookshop!

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