Bordering on Lambeth, Dulwich and Peckham, Camberwell is one of the ancient South London 'villages', and still boasts a village green, albeit now surrounded by busy roads! Mentioned in the 11th century Doomsday Book, the name Camberwell is probably derived from the Old English Cumberwell or Comberwell meaning British well. Apparently, the curative powers of Camberwell's natural springs attracted central Londoners in hope of miracle cures. That the local parish church is named in honour of Saint Gilles, the Patron Saint of Cripples, is probably no coincidence!
Before the 1860's and the arrival of rail travel, Camberwell was a farming village surrounded by woods and fields. Laid out around a central High Street, now called Denmark Hill after Prince George of Denmark, the village contained a traditional English village green, which still exists. Every year the notorious Camberwell Fair was held on Camberwell Green. The first recorded fair was in 1272 and continued to flaunt its animated revelry and apparently disreputable celebrations until finally, in 1855 the fair was abolished and designated a public park four years later.
Sitting on the site of a much earlier medieval church, the Parish Church St Giles was rebuilt in 1154 and 1844; the latest edition contains stained glass windows designed by John Ruskin, a local resident.
Kings College Hospital first opened in 1840 and moved to its present site at Denmark Hill in 1913. Kings College is one of London's largest and busiest teaching hospitals with a unique blend of strong local services and many specialist facilities that are recognised the world over.
Founded more than a century ago, The Camberwell School of Art has a distinguished tradition and has long been regarded as one of the country's leading art and design colleges. Famous students include filmmaker Mike Leigh and artists Richard Long, Tracey Emin and Damien Hurst.
Felix Mendelssohn composed a piano piece to the beauty of Camberwell entitled Spring Song, poet Robert Browning and actor Boris Karloff were both born and bred in Camberwell; other famous residents include Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, Kenneth Brannagh and Michael Caine.
As with much of London, the traditional suburban village has blossomed, developed and expanded. Today, Camberwell is a flourishing multi-cultural community famous for its carnivals, festivals and rich artistic character. More and more residents are attracted each year.
Camberwell itself has no rail station, although nearby Denmark Hill station offers overland links into Victoria and London Bridge. In addition, the Oval and Elephant & Castle tube stations are within easy reach and the large numbers of very good bus routes into the city make Camberwell an ideal commutable district. Click here for additional transport information.
Camberwell is a mixture of elegant, well-preserved Victorian, Georgian and Edwardian town houses as well as some less expensive housing. The area has a wide variety of pubs, modern bars and restaurants, as well as local cafés, bakers, butchers, delicatessens and most of the national chains including Safeway and Iceland. The area also boasts a very active local community, a library, a leisure centre, cinemas and some great outdoor and indoor facilities for children of all ages. Click here for information on local schools.
Each summer at the end of June, The Camberwell Festival celebrates the thriving cultural scene in SE5 with a week of street parades, art exhibitions, film screenings, tours, talks and activities for all the family.
In addition to the annual festivals, Camberwell has a rich dramatic history and today The Blue Elephant Theatre, dubbed Camberwell's coolest venue by The Guardian, has a vibrant Arts programme bringing theatre, dance, visual arts, film, music and workshops to local and London-wide communities.
In 1748 the Camberwell Beauty butterfly was discovered on Coldharbour Lane. Sadly, you can no longer find this rare species in Britain, in part due to a frenzied attempt by Camberwell's town officials to 'apprehend' caterpillars in 1782!