Awakenings and nostalgia on the A23

Posted by Paul Travers on February 8, 2019

Way back when I began my estate agency career in 1986, I started working in a start-up company in South Croydon that covered all the way down to the edges of Redhill. When I moved later on, I first went to Norbury, then Streatham, and then Brixton: a 10 year work period that was essentially carried out along one road. Every agent I worked in had its office on the A23, starting with Brighton Road in South Croydon, then London Road in Norbury, next on Streatham High Road and finally at Brixton Hill.

 

So I had a pang of nostalgia when Simon told me about his day, which began with a morning in Bletchingley in Surrey, and ended with an afternoon in the middle of Streatham.

 

It’s remarkable how many types of typically British towns you encounter on the road from the English Channel to Westminster. From the Regency seaside squares of Brighton, through the new towns of Crawley and Horley, past Gatwick and then into Redhill, with streets of Victorian terraces surrounded by rolling countryside. The neighbouring villages, like Bletchingley, are peppered with medieval architecture, including the former hunting lodge Simon saw today (a favourite of Henry VIII, apparently).

 

Further north you hit Croydon, the big regional centre on the outer edge of suburbia, before reaching the endless 1930s avenues of Norbury and the hefty Edwardians of Streatham Common. After that, the roads get narrower and the traffic gets bigger as Streatham lets you know that you’re properly in London.

 

And it was here that Simon found himself in the converted snooker hall of a former social club, now a collection of unusual apartments just up the road from Streatham Hill station and a few minutes before Brixton, where the suburbs become the inner city.

 

I have many fond memories of working in Brixton, because I suddenly felt the difference in lifestyle and outlook. Of course Streatham has really grown up recently with shops and cafes for modern boys and girls about town, but back in the 1990s Brixton occurred to me as South London’s first foray into hipness.

 

Friends suggested heading out for an Indonesian or Japanese (not pizza or curry); the Ritzy cinema was a members joint with tea served from a samovar; people painted their living rooms funky deep reds and varnished their floorboards. I felt I’d arrived!

 

It was also in Brixton that I saw my first loft, which I’ve only just realised while writing this piece. I can still see it now: a long narrow building with a garage and workshop on the ground floor and an open plan living space running front to back above. I’d never seen anything like it, except in the Halifax Cardcash advert with the Easy Like Sunday Morning soundtrack.

 

I’d never before connected Brixton to my loft dweller self, but I’ve always known my time there caused a transformation in the way I lived. So it’s been a nice revelation to awaken to its early influence; something that wouldn’t have happened without Simon’s day today.

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