MODERN TIMES: A Walk in Charlie Chaplin’s Footsteps

Chaplin Poster (crop)

Saturday, 13 February, 2016.

As part of a weekend of action against the Housing and Planning Bill, Architects for Social Housing conducted a guided tour of the Southwark and Lambeth streets of Charlie Chaplin’s childhood.

Chaplin was born in 1889 into a music hall family that rapidly fell into poverty. As with most poor families, Charlie moved from one temporary accommodation to another. At the age of seven he was sent to the workhouse off Kennington Lane. His absent father died of drink when Charlie was twelve, and his mother, under the strain of supporting her family on badly paid jobs, fell into mental illness and was incarcerated when he was sixteen.

Ten years later Charlie Chaplin was one of the highest paid people in the world; but he never forgot where he came from, and his films always represented the poor with sympathy and compassion, without stereotype or judgement. And he always remembered where the cause of their poverty lay. In Easy Street (1917), The Immigrant (1917), A Dog’s Life (1918), The Kid (1921), The Idle Class (1921), Pay Day (1922), City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936), the poor are always underpaid, the police are always the enemy, the church is always a racket, the rich are always undeserving, the capitalist is always exploitative, the boss always a bully, and the Tramp always in rebellion against the injustices of Modern Times.

Those times have returned. The inequalities of the Edwardian era in which Chaplin grew up have been surpassed today. Britain has the largest gap between rich and poor of any Western country, with the poorest 40% of our population owning just 14.6% of the national wealth. Our richest 10% own 45% of the country’s private wealth. 13 million of us are living in poverty. 50,000 London households are currently homeless. And rough sleeping in the capital has more than doubled over the past five years. By selling off and demolishing existing council housing and driving hundreds of thousands of people into an unregulated rental market, the Housing and Planning Bill will only widen this gap between rich and poor.

What can we do in response?

One of the Tramp’s most recogniseable characteristics was his walk – toes out, hips tilting, skidding sideways around corners. And no matter how many times he was kicked up the arse by bullies, bosses and bobbies, he never changed his gait. It was his walk of resistance. On our own walk around the streets of Chaplin’s childhood, we looked at the conditions under which he acquired that walk, and talked about how we can use it to fight back against the forces of capitalist greed that are destroying our city. We also visited the houses and sites where Chaplin lived and worked as a child, looked at what has happened to them now, and what will happen to the area they are in if the Housing and Planning Bill becomes law.

The Heygate estate has already been demolished and the land handed over to property developers. The Aylesbury estate is following suit and its residents are being socially cleansed from the area. And the Elephant & Castle is being wiped clean not only of its working class population but also of the memory of their history.

Our walk started at 1pm from the corner of East Street Market and Walworth Road, under the Blue Plaque to Charlie Chaplin. Bowler hats, small moustaches, baggy pants, bandy canes and oversized boots were not obligatory but encouraged. The winner of our Best Tramp Walk competition received a free pint in the Charlie Chaplin pub on Elephant & Castle, where our walk finished.


Modern Times map.jpg

1. Corner of East Street and Walworth Road: Charlie Chaplin blue plaque.

2. 1889 April: East Street (Lane), Chaplin born at 91 or 191, Grandfather at 97 in 1893.

191 East Street, SE17. East Street  has 447 houses and flats on it with a average current value of £341,455, compared to an average property value of £450,376 for SE17. There have been 15 property sales on East Street, SE17 over the last 5 years with an average house price paid of £234,036. There are currently 145 properties to buy in SE17 with an average asking price of £586,543, and 126 houses and flats to rent in SE17 with an average asking rent of £427 per week.

3. 1885 March: 57 Brandon Street, Brother Sydney born.

4. 1885 June: 18 Larcom Street, parents marry St. John’s Church.

5. 1890: 32 West Square, Chaplin family home of 3 rooms.

West Square, London SE11. West Square has 62 houses and flats on it with an average current value of £1,671,560, compared to an average property value of £614,931 for SE11. There have been 3 property sales on West Square, SE11 over the last 5 years with an average house price paid of £1,799,833. There are currently 152 houses and flats to buy in SE11 with an average asking price of £732,398 and 119 homes to rent in SE11 with an average asking rent of £453 pw.

1895 June: 164 York Road, Charlie Chaplin lodges with Hodges, mother & brother in workhouse.

6. 1896 May: Renfrew Road, Charlie, Sydney and mother in Lambeth workhouse.

1896 June: Charlie and Sydney sent to Hanwell School for Orphans and Destitute Children.

1896 November: Grays, Essex, Sydney moved to training ship.

7. 1898 January: 10 Farmer’s Road (Kennington Park Gardens)

1898 July: Renfrew Road, family back in Lambeth Workhouse

1898 August: Kennington Park, day’s escape from workhouse, returned to Norwood Schools for the Infant Poor.

1898 September: mother committed to Cane Hill Asylum, Croydon.

8. 1898 September: 289 Kennington Road, Charlie and Sydney sent to live with father on 2 rooms on first floor (plaque mistakenly put on no. 287).

Kennington Road has 616 houses and flats on it with a current average value of £818,555, compared to an average property value of £614,931 for SE11. There have been 69 property sales on Kennington Road over the last 5 years with an average sold house price of £595,016.

1898 November: Kennington Cross, Charlie locked out of home, hears ‘The Honeysuckle and the Bee’ from the White Hart public house.

9. 1898 November-August 1899 and periodically: 39 Methley Street, Charlie and Sydney with mother in 1 room beside Hayward’s pickle factory.

The house is valued at £863,000 freehold, £3,200 cpm rent.

177 Kennington Lane: butcher and slaughterhouse.

10. 1898 December: 267 Kennington Road, home of William Jackson, head of Eight Lancashire Lads, which Charlie joins, ending his schooling.

267 Kennington Road, SE11. This 6 bed freehold terraced house has an estimated current value of £1,036,000. The house was last sold in November 2008 for £600,000. Rental price is £3,850 pcm.

1900 April-May: Chaplin lodges with Jacksons.

11. 1901 April 14 Chester Street (Way), Charlie with mother in 2 rooms over Frederick Clarke, barber (demolished and replaced by mansion block in 1938). Neighbours include Francis Healey greengrocer, at no. 27, and Edward Ash, grocer, at no. 18, and Albert Mummery, undertaker, at no. 34.

1901 April: Sydney joins Union Castle Mail Steamship company.

1901 May: Chaplin’s father dies of alcohol related illness.

34 Chester Way, SE11. This 2-bed leasehold terraced house has an estimated current value of £499,000. Chester Way has 112 houses and flats on it with an average current value of £605,955. There have been 16 property sales on Chester Way over the last 5 years, with an average house price paid of £674,632.

12. 1901-1903: 3 Pownall Terrace, Kennington Road, Charlie and Sydney with mother in roof garret. Demolished in 1966, it was replaced with the Ethelred Estate:

20 Lollard Street, SE1. Lollard Street has 224 houses and flats on it with a current average value of £425,028. There have been 5 property sales on Lollard Street over the last 5 years with an average sold house price of £292,080. The Ethelred Estate is being regenerated with the Lollard Street development, a Braeburn Estates a joint venture partnership between Canary Wharf and Qatari Diar.

13. 1890-1900: Broad Street (now Black Prince Road), Charlie’s uncle landlord of the Queen’s Head.

49-51 Black Prince Road: Charlie practices tap-dancing on doors to the coal cellar of the Jolly Gardeners.

14. Walcott Mansions (Gardens), 136 Kennington Road: Chaplin lodges with McCarthy’s, former vaudeville friends of his mother.

1901: 111 Kennington Road, The Tankard public house.

15. 1901 April: Kennington Road, Charlie meets his father for the last time in The Three Stags public house.

1901 September – 1903 March: Sydney works as steward on Atlantic liner.

1903 May: Renfrew Road, mother back in Lambeth workhouse, where she is diagnosed as insane and sent to Cane Hill Asylum.

1903: Munton Road, Charlie plays ‘Billy’ in Sherlock Holmes.

1906-1912: 15 Glenshaw Mansions, Brixton Road, Charlie and Sydney rent flat together.

1908: Kennington Gate, Charlie, employed by Fred Karno, meets and falls in love with Hetty Kelly.

16. 1895: Westminster Bridge Road, mother worships in Christ Church.

1921: Charlie Chaplin’s return visit to London.

17. 1972 February: 26 New Kent Road, Charlie Chaplin Public House, Chaplin visits pub on the Royal premiere of the re-release of Modern Times, forcing royalty to visit the Elephant & Castle.

 1977 December: Charlie Chaplin dies age 88.




The London Borough of Southwark was formed in 1965 from the former Metropolitan Boroughs of Southwark, Camberwell and Bermondsey. The Metropolitan Borough of Southwark was a borough in the County of London from 1900 to 1965. The borough was formed from four civil parishes: Christchurch, St. George, St. Saviour and St. Mary Newington. The parish of St. Mary Newington was part of the Brixton hundred of Surrey, which contained the manor of Walworth. It is here that Charlie Chaplin was born in April 1889.

Walworth is now a community council area made up of three council wards: Newington, Farady and East Walworth, each of which elects three councillors. Of the nine current councillors for Walworth, eight are Labour and one, from Newington, is a Liberal Democrat. In August 2014, Labour councillor Martin Seaton, from the ward of East Walworth, and now Chair of Borough, Bankside and Walworth Community Council, gave a speech in support of the demolition of the Heygate Estate and the £1.5 billion Elephant & Castle regeneration scheme, and congratulating property developers Lend Lease.


Jack Jones well and known to everybody

Round about the market, don’t yer see,
I’ve no fault to find with Jack at all
Not when ’e’s as ’e used to be.
But since ’e’s had the bullion left him
E ’as altered for the worst,
For to see the way ’e treats all his old pals
Fills me with nothing but disgust!
Each Sunday morning ’e reads the Telegraph,
Once ’e was contented with the Star.
Since Jack Jones come into a little bit of splosh,
Well, ’e don’t know where ’e are!

– Harry Wright, ’E Dunno Where ’E Are (c. 1890s); sung by Charlie Chaplin on his first stage performance, age 5, in 1894, when his mother broke down on stage, with the lyrics recorded in Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography (1964)


On Silwood Estate, Bermondsey Spar, Elmington Estate, Wood Dene Estate, Heygate Estate, North Peckham Estate and Aylesbury Estate, a net loss of 4,275 homes for social rent has resulted from Southwark Council regeneration schemes. And the 3168 they have promised to rebuild will more than likely turn into ‘affordable’ rents at up to 80% of market value, bringing the total loss of homes for social rent to 7,442. Moreover, the Greater London Authority has predicted that Southwark will lose an additional 2,051 homes for social rent as a direct result of schemes it is currently proposing.

The Aylesbury Estate, completed in 1977, has around 2700 homes holding 7,500 people. Once demolished, these will be replaced by 3,575 new homes, of which only 1,471 will be for social rent. However, Notting Hill Housing, the council’s development partner, has already substituted affordable rent for social rent on its Bermondsey Spar regeneration. Although capped at 50% market rents rather than 80%, this requires double what the average current Southwark Council tenant earns. In fact, Notting Hill’s contract with Southwark Council contains no reference to social rent, and refers instead to ‘target rent’, which is set by government. Notting Hill Trust’s own planning application admits that there will be a net loss of 934 homes for social rent.

At a 2001 ballot responded to by 76% of the Aylesbury estate residents, 73% voted in favour of refurbishment and against demolition. Yet in 2002 the Council announced it was going ahead with the redevelopment. In 2005 it claimed that the cost of refurbishment was £314.6 million, far beyond their means. At the CPO inquiry held in 2015, Professor Jane Rendell showed that the cost estimate for refurbishment had been inflated by £148.9 million for ‘external improvements’, half the total cost.

The estimated total cost of emptying and demolishing the Aylesbury’s 2,500 homes is £150 million, around £60,000 per home. However, Southwark Council has already spent an incredible £46.8 million on the Aylesbury regeneration scheme – £32.1 million on acquisition and demolition, £14.7 million on management and administration – regenerating just 112 homes. That’s a cost of £417,000 per home. This compares with the £20,261 per home the council has spent bringing 611 homes up to the Decent Homes Standard elsewhere on the estate.

Daniel Garfield, former ward Councillor for the Aylesbury estate and Southwark Labour’s chief whip, is owner of a 2-bedroom new-build apartment on the completed phase 1 of the Aylesbury estate redevelopment scheme, which he bought off-plan, two years before it was completed, from property developer L&Q in March 2009.

– 35% Campaign


Completed 1974 with 1,100 council homes, home to 3,000 people. Council announced demolition in 2002. Demolition cost £15 million. £44m was spent on emptying the estate. A further £21.5 million was spent on planning its redevelopment. A total of £80.5 million. Lend Lease were named developers in 2008. The 22-acre site was sold for £50 million, a loss of £30.5 million. A neighbouring 1.5 acre sold for £40 million in 2011. Owners of a 4-bedroom property were offered £190,000. Residents decanted in 2007. Last resident CPO in 2013. Replaced by 2,535 homes. 25% ‘affordable’, up to 80% market rate. Only 82 for social rent. 12 of Southwark’s 63 councillors work as lobbyists.

Tom Branton was Southwark’s lead officer responsible for the procurement of Lend Lease as regeneration partner, and who authored the report to cabinet recommending the signing of the regeneration agreement in July 2010. Tom subsequently left the Council in 2011 to start work directly for Lend Lease, where he is now Development Manager for the Elephant & Castle project.

Kura Perkins worked for Southwark Council on the Elephant & Castle project as Communications Manager up until 2006. Kura then left the council to work for Lend Lease as its Communications Manager until 2011.

Paul Dimoldenberg was Senior Research Officer at Southwark Council for 8 years. He later became a councillor in the borough of Westminster where is now the Labour Group leader. He also set up public relations company called Quarto PR, which Lend Lease currently instructs to deal with public relations for all its major developments.

Matthew Rees was Elephant & Castle Regeneration Project Manager from 2005 to 2014, when he left to take up the position of Development Manager at Alumno Developments, a company currently developing a block of high-end student flats at Elephant and converting the former Southwark Town Hall into artist studios and luxury student accommodation.

Julie Greer was Southwark’s Design Manager for the Elephant & Castle masterplan. She left the Council in 2007 to work for the Olympic Delivery Authority on the Lend Lease Olympic Village development.

Chris Horn was the lead council officer who advised on Lend Lease’s selection as development partner until his departure from the council in October 2007. Chris now works for Inventa Partner Ltd, a company that advises developers on planning and environmental issues. Among the projects that Inventa have advised on was Lend Lease’s Greenwich Peninsula development, before it sold the project on to Knight Dragon in 2012.

Peter John, current Labour Council leader, who signed the Elephant & Castle deal with Lend Lease in July 2010, is under investigation for not declaring tickets to the Olympic opening ceremony donated to him and his partner by Lend Lease. He also accepted an all-expenses-paid trip to the MIPIM property fair in Cannes, also paid for by Lend Lease.

– Anna Minton, The Local Lobby and the Failure of Democracy (March 2013)


It was like a game of draughts: the last move was back to the workhouse.

– Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography (1964)


This workhouse, which was recently opened for the reception of inmates, is situated on a piece of ground at the rear of Kennington Lane, with an approach also from Kennington Road. The several buildings and yards occupy between seven and eight acres of land.

There are three main divisions, viz., the ‘house’ proper, or ‘indoor’ department; the outdoor-relief department; and the official building, in which the parochial poor-law business is transacted. The ‘house’, which is designed for 820 inmates, is arranged on the pavilion system, the administrative block dividing the sexes. There are two blocks for able-bodied and two for aged and infirm, all connected with the central block by a general corridor.

A system of rigid classification has been carried out in this design, and this separation of the several classes has been carried down to all minor offices. Each class has its own and distinct day-rooms, dormitories, staircases, lavatories, water-closets, airing-grounds and workrooms; the only common-place of meeting being the chapel and dining-room, where conversational intercourse is forbidden. The several classes in each sex are for aged, able-bodied of good character, and two subdivisions of able-bodied of bad character, together with accommodation for a limited number of boys and girls. There is a dining-hall for each sex leading direct from the kitchen, and a large chapel with open-timbered roof.

In the rear of the main blocks are the laundry, engine and boiler house, well, bake-house, corn-mill, and general workshops, the machinery in which is worked by a 30-horse power engine. The outdoor poor department is arranged for 400 men and 200 women, and comprises a large stone-yard, with 150 stalls, oakum and wood picking sheds and yards, and hand corn-mills. The official block comprises a large waiting-hall for out-door poor, and the Boardroom and relief-offices.

The cost of the ‘house’ proper was £46,000; that of the official and out-door department £7,500; of the engineering works £7,250; and of the fittings £3,500. The architects were Messrs. R. Parris and T. W. Aldwinckle, whose designs were selected in a limited competition.

– Report on the opening of the Lambeth New Workhouse in 1874


For the poor, the homeless, the unemployed or the ill of Victorian Britain, there were no welfare benefits and no NHS. They could starve on the street or turn to the workhouse as a last resort. The workhouse survived well into the modern era, until after the Second World War. In 100 years it was home to over 16 million people caught between poverty and destitution. By the time it finally shut down in 1948, 5 million people had died in the workhouse. Today, 1 in every 10 Britons has a family connection to this institution. It was an ordeal with uncanny echoes of life in today’s Britain.

Victorian Britain was a time of soaring population and economic upheaval. The workhouse was adopted under the New Poor Law of 1834 as an ingenious solution to the spiralling problem of poverty. The idea was simple: humiliate the poor for asking for help, shame them into standing on their own two feet. Segregation was at the heart of the workhouse system: children from their parents, wives from their husbands. By isolating individual groups of paupers, the authorities believed they could contain the toxic influence of poverty, and stop the spread of degenerate behaviour.

By 1900 Britain was the richest nation on the planet. Yet almost one third of the urban population lived in poverty. To control the numb roy poor becoming dependent, paupers had to pass what was known as the workhouse test. In order to qualify for work, they had to be prepared to work 10 hours a day, six days a week, on tasks like breaking rocks or picking apart old rope. Inmates were treated like prisoners, but the door was always open, and people were free to leave. But for one in every ten who came in, the only way out was in a coffin.

The earliest workhouses appeared in the Seventeenth Century, but it was the Victorians that first used them a the basis of a welfare strategy. At its peak, there were 700 workhouses in England, housing over a quarter of a million people. The largest ones, like Lambeth, where Charlie Chaplin went with his mother and brother, held over a 1000 inmates at a time. By classifying people into categories, the workhouse treated paupers according to how deserving they were of help. It was a ruthless system, designed to judge the poor, without ever addressing the problem of how to deal with poverty itself.

The early Victorian pioneers of the workhouse viewed poverty as a crime. But as the Twentieth Century unfolded, there was growing sense that it was a social problem that could only be treated by showing greater compassion. In this new world order the idea of a deterrent workhouse looked increasingly outdated. Over time, many of its functions have been discharged to specialised institutions like pauper schools and free hospitals for the poor, as a new model of social welfare began to take shape. In 1929 the workhouse was formally abolished by an act of Parliament, although it took almost twenty years to phase out altogether. With the introduction of the NHS in 1948 the last workhouse shut up shop, as its remaining functions were absorbed into the Welfare State.

Secrets from the Workhouse (2013)


In 2016, 592,000 London children, 37 per cent of all the children in the capital, are living in poverty – that is, in a household with an income below 60% of the UK average. 250,000 London households are currently on housing waiting lists. 240,000 households, with 320,000 children, are living in overcrowded accommodation. 50,000 households, with 78,000 children, are homeless and living in temporary accommodation.

Hanwell School

Punishment took place every Friday in the large gymnasium, a gloomy hall about sixty feet by forty with a high roof, and, on the side, climbing ropes running up to girders. On Friday morning two to three hundred boys, ranging in age from seven to fourteen years, marched in and lined up in military fashion, forming three sides of a square. The far end was the fourth side, where, behind a long school desk the length of an Army mess-table, stood the miscreants waiting for trial and punishment. On the right and in front of the desk was an easel with wrist-straps dangling, and from the frame a birch hung ominously.

For minor offences, a boy was laid across the long desk, face downwards, feet strapped and held by a sergeant, then another sergeant pulled the boy’s shirt out of his trousers and over his head, then pulled his trousers tight.

Captain Hindrum, a retired Navy man weighing about two hundred pounds, with one hand behind him, the other holding a cane as thick as a man’s thumb and about four feet long, stood poised, measuring it across the boy’s buttocks. Then slowly and dramatically he would lift it high and with a swish bring it down across the boy’s bottom. The spectacle was terrifying, and invariably a boy would fall out of rank in a faint.

The minimum number of strokes was three and the maximum six. If a culprit received more than three, his cries were appalling. Sometimes he was ominously silent, or had fainted. The strokes were paralyzing, so that the victim had to be carried to one side and laid on a gymnasium mattress, where he was left to writhe and wriggle for at lest ten minutes before the pain subsided, leaving three pink welts as wide as a washerwoman’s finger across his bottom.

The birch was different. After three strokes, the boy was supported by two sergeants and taken to the surgery for treatment.

Boys would advise you not to deny a charge, even if innocent, because, if proved guilty, you would get the maximum. Usually, boys were not articulate enough to declare their innocence.

– Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography (1964)


Savills, the estate agents that prepared the viability assessment on the Heygate estate that slashed social rent to 82 homes, is the source of David Cameron’s recent announcement that his government intend to ‘Blitz’ 100 sink estates across England. The estates are not easily identified in the Savills report, as they are not named and have been disguised by flipping and rotating their layout plans. But under a photo of the Brandon Estate they write: ‘This type of housing topography is deeply inappropriate for current and coming decades.’

Local Authority Housing Estate land can provide more and better housing and secure affordability:

  • We estimate that approximately 1,750 hectares of London’s 8,500 hectares of Local Authority Housing Estates might be capable of Complete Streets regeneration, with the potential to provide somewhere between 190,000–500,000 homes, depending on the densification achieved. Between 54,000 and 360,000 of these would be additional homes, over and above the existing housing provision.
  • It is recognised that most estates with potential for regeneration will be long-term projects, often involving a development period of over 10 years, sometimes considerably more. The long-term nature of estate regeneration transcends both local and national policy cycles and any solutions need to be well-supported and robust enough to survive 5 year government terms.
  • The total land area of Local Authority (and ex-Local Authority) Housing Estates in London is unknown. Our approximate estimate of the land and property held, or formerly developed, as housing estates by London’s 32 boroughs and City of London is around 8,500. We estimate the average number of households currently accommodated on Local Authority Housing Estates is 78 households per hectare. These Local Authority Housing Estates have the capacity to be densified and to provide additional homes in London.
  • As a global figure, if all Local Authority estates had been originally built to the average density of the Complete Streets presented in this report, then not only would all existing tenants be housed on them (estimated at 660,000 households) but an additional 480,000 households would also have been accommodated.
  • Looking at how many of these estates (now often in disrepair and needing redevelopment) are capable of being regenerated, Savills estimate that approximately 1,750 hectares might be more readily capable of regeneration. These may have the potential to provide an additional 54,000 to 360,000 homes using the Complete Streets

– Savills Research report to the Cabinet Office, Completing London’s Streets: How the regeneration and intensification of housing estates could increase London’s supply of homes and benefit residents (January 2016)


On a summer afternoon,
Where the honeysuckles bloom,
When all nature seemed at rest.
‘Neath a little rustic bower,
Mid the perfume of the flower,
A maiden sat with one she loved the best.

As they sang the songs of love,
From the arbour just above,
Came a bee which lit upon the vine.

As it sipped the honey-dew,
They both vowed they would be true,
Then he whispered to her words she thought divine:
You are my honey, honeysuckle,
I am the bee.
I’d like to sip the honey sweet

From those red lips, you see.
I love you dearly, dearly, 

And I want you to love me.
You are my honey, honeysuckle, 

I am the bee.
So beneath that sky so blue,
These two lovers fond and true, 

With their hearts so filled with bliss.
As they sat there side by side,
He asked her to be his bride,
She answered ‘Yes’ and sealed it with a kiss.
For her heart had yielded soon,
‘Neath the honeysuckle bloom, 

And thro’ life they’d wander day by day.
And he vowed just like the bee,
‘I will build a home for thee,’
And the bee then seemed to answer them and say:
You are my honey, honeysuckle,
I am the bee.
I’d like to sip the honey sweet

From those red lips, you see.
I love you dearly, dearly, 

And I want you to love me.
You are my honey, honeysuckle, 

I am the bee.

– William Penn, The Honeysuckle and the Bee, from the London stage play Bluebell in Fairyland (1901)


1899 was an epoch of whiskers: bewhiskered kings, statesmen, soldiers and cricketers – incredible years of pomp and absurdity, of extreme wealth and poverty, of inane political bigotry of both cartoon and press. But England was to absorb many shocks and indignations.

Sydney was now fourteen and had left school and got a job at the Strand Post Office as a telegraph boy. With Sydney’s wages and Mother’s earnings at her sewing machine, our economy was almost feasible – although Mother’s contribution was a modest one. She worked for a sweat-shop doing piece-work, sewing blouses for one and sixpence a dozen. Even though the patterns were delivered already cut out, it took twelve hours to make a dozen blouses. Mother’s record was fifty-four blouses in a week, which amounted to six shillings and ninepence.

Often at night I would lie awake in our garret watching her bent over her sewing machine, her head haloed against the light of the oil-lamp, her face in soft shadow, her lips faintly parted with strain as she guided the rapidly running steams through her machine, until the drone of it would send me off the sleep again. When she worked late this way, it was usually to meet a monetary deadline. There was always the problem of instalment payments.

And now a crisis had arisen. Sydney needed a new suit of clothes. He had worn his telegraph uniform every day in the week, including Sundays, until his friends began to joke about it. So for a couple of weekends he stayed home until other was able to buy him a blue serge suit. In some way she managed to scrape together eighteen shillings. This created an insolvency in our economy, so that Mother was obliged to pawn the suit every Monday after Sydney went back to work in his telegraph uniform. She got seven shillings for the suit, redeeming it every Saturday for Sydney to wear over the weekend. This weekly custom became an habitual ceremony for over a year until the suit became threadbare. The came a shock!

Monday morning, as usual, Mother went to the pawnshop. The man hesitated. ‘I’m sorry, Mrs. Chaplin, but we can’t lend you seven shillings any longer.

Mother was astonished. ‘But why?’ she asked

‘It’s too much of a risk; the trousers are threadbare. Look,’ he said, putting his hand in the seat of them, ‘you can see right through them.’

‘But they’ll be redeemed next Saturday,’ said Mother.

The pawnbroker shook his head. ‘The best I can do is three shillings for the coat and waistcoat.’

Mother rarely wept, but it was such a drastic blow that she came home in tears. She depended on that seven shillings to carry us through the week.

– Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography (1964)


Perceptions of those in poverty are extremely negative; they are stereotyped as lacking warmth and competence. The response to this stereotype is often contempt, harmful behaviours towards this group and belief that poverty results from personal failings. This presents an impediment to policy-makers seeking to tackle poverty.

Social contact with negatively regarded groups can help to combat these views and improve attitudes and relations.

Negative perceptions affect how people see themselves. Those experiencing poverty show significantly lower levels of confidence in their own ability to succeed. This has negative physical and psychological health consequences, along with reduced educational and professional attainment.

Poverty increases the risk of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and substance addiction. Poverty can act as both a causal factor (e.g. stress resulting from poverty triggering depression) and a consequence of mental illness (e.g. schizophrenic symptoms leading to decreased socio-economic status and prospects).

Poverty during early childhood is associated with genetic adaptation, producing a short-term strategy to cope with the stressful developmental environment. This comes at the expense of long-term health, with increased susceptibility to cardiac disease and certain cancers.

Children raised in environments of low socio-economic status show consistent reductions in cognitive performance across many areas, particularly language function and cognitive control (attention, planning, decision-making).

Resource scarcity induces a ‘scarcity mindset’, characterised by increased focus on immediate goals at the expense of peripheral tasks and long-term planning. This may contribute to perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

– Ben Fell and Miles Hewstone, ‘Psychological Perspectives on Poverty’, Joseph Rowntree Foundation (June 2015)


In the 18th century the name Kennington Road was applied to what is now known as Kennington Park Road. Until 1868, what is now Kennington Road was divided into a number of terraces with subsidiary names. Nos. 1-9 Pownall Terrace are built in yellow stock brick and are grouped on a line set at an angle to the roadway. They are of basement and three storeys, the basements extending forward to form a raised way. The lower windows and doors are set back slightly in semicircular recesses linked by stone impost bands. Above this level the fronts have been rebuilt in recent times, probably in replica of the original facades, which would appear to have dated from the early 19th century. The first floor windowsills are linked by a stone band and there is a simple cornice to the parapet. These houses can be traced back in the rate books to 1790, but it is improbable that much 18th century work remains.

Survey of London, Vol 23. Lambeth: South Bank and Vauxhall (LCC, 1951)

Pownall Terrace

Although I left Lambeth thirty-five years ago, I shall always remember the top room at 3, Pownall Terrace, where I lived as a boy. I shall always remember climbing up and down those three flights of stairs to empty those troublesome slops.

Yes, and Healey’s the greengrocer’s in Chester Street, where one could purchase fourteen pounds of coal and a pennyworth of pot herbs, and a pound of tuppeny pieces at Waghorn’s the butcher’s, and Ash’s the grocer’s where one bought a pennyworth of mixed stale cake, with all its pleasant and dubious surprises.

Yes, I went back and visited that little top room in Pownall Terrace, where I had to lug the slops and fourteen pounds of coal. It was all there, the same Lambeth I had left, the same squalor and poverty.

Now they tell me Pownall Terrace is in ruins, blasted out of existence by the German blitz.*

I remember the Lambeth streets, the New Cut and the Lambeth Walk, Vauxhall Road. They were hard streets, and one couldn’t say they were paved with gold. Nevertheless the people who lived there are made of pretty good metal.

And all through your days of trial I was thinking of you, your poverty, your unbeatable courage and your humour. That humour and courage saved Lambeth. They helped to save London. They will save the world.

Although you have suffered, the future will be brighter. For out of the ruins of Lambeth will rise a new England, where poverty should be inexcusable, and charity offensive to the dignity of a people who have won the right, by blood and tears, to be profitably employed and to live peaceably.

— Charlie Chaplin, broadcast reported in the Daily Worker (8 March, 1943)

* In fact it was not the German Luftwaffe that destroyed Pownall Terrace but the Greater London Council developers, and not until 1966.


29 pubs are being lost every week across Britain. London and the South East have seen the highest increase in pub closures, up from nine to ten net pub closures per week. The area has also had the largest number of closures overall, with 550 pubs lost between 2014 and 2015.

— The Daily Mirror (19 July 2015)

Before Westminster Bridge was open, Kennington Road was only a bridle path. After 1750, a new road was laid down from the Bridge forming a direct link to Brighton. As a consequence Kennington Road, where I spent most of my boyhood, boasted some fine houses of architectural merit, fronted with iron grill balconies from which occupants could once have seen George IV coaching on his way to Brighton.

By the middle of the Nineteenth Century most of the homes had deteriorated into rooming houses and apartments. Some, however, remained inviolate and were occupied by doctors, successful merchants and vaudeville stars. On Sunday morning, along the Kennington Road one could see a smart pony and trap outside a house, ready to take a vaudevillian for a ten-mile drive as far as Norwood or Merton, stopping on the way back at the various pubs, the White Horse, the Horns Tavern [demolished in the 1960s] and the Tankard in the Kennington Road.

As a boy of twelve, I often stood outside the Tankard watching these illustrious gentlemen alight from their equestrian outfits to enter the lounge bar, where the elite of vaudeville met, as was their custom on a Sunday, to take a final ‘one’ before going home to the midday meal. How glamorous they were, dressed in chequered suits and grey bowlers, flashing their diamond rings and tie pins! At two o’clock on Sunday afternoon, the pub closed and its occupants filed outside and dallied awhile before bidding each other adieu; and I would gaze fascinated and amused, for some of them swaggered with a ridiculous air.

When the last had gone his way, it was as though the sun had gone through a cloud. And I would return to a row of old derelict houses that sat back off the Kennington Road, to 3 Pownall Terrace, and mount the rickety stairs that led to our small garret. The house was depressing and the air was foul with stale slops and old clothes. This particular Sunday, Mother was seated gazing out of the window. The room was stifling, a little over twelve feet square, and seemed smaller and the slanting ceiling seemed lower. The table against the wall was crowded with dirty plates and tea cups; and in the corner, snug against the lower wall, was an old iron bed which Mother had painted white. Between the bed and the window was a small fire-grate, and at the foot of the bed was an old armchair that unfolded and became a single bed upon which my brother slept.

– Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography (1964)


Anytime you’re Lambeth way,
Any evening, any day,
You’ll find us all doin’ the Lambeth Walk.
Every little Lambeth gal,
With her little Lambeth pal,
You’ll find ’em all doin’ the Lambeth Walk.
Everything’s free and easy,
Do as you damn well pleasey,
Why don’t you make your way there?
Go there, stay there!
Once you get down Lambeth way,
Every evening, every day,
You’ll find yourself doin’ the Lambeth Walk.

– Douglas Furber, Lambeth Walk, from the London musical, Me and My Girl (1937)


The Three Stags in the Kennington Road was not a place my father frequented, yet as I passed it one evening an urge prompted me to peek inside to see if he was there. I opened the saloon door just a few inches, and there he was, sitting in the corner! I was about to leave, but his face lit up and he beckoned me to him. I was surprised at such a welcome, for he was never demonstrative. He looked very ill; his eyes were sunken, and his body had swollen to an enormous size. He rested one hand, Napoleon-like, in his waistcoat as if to ease his difficult breathing. That evening he was most solicitous, inquiring after mother and my brother, and before I left took me in his arms for the first time and kissed me. That was the last time I saw him alive.

– Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography (1964)


The attitude of wanting to make poverty attractive for the other person is annoying. I have yet to know a poor man who has nostalgia for poverty, or who finds freedom in it. Nor could you convince any poor man that celebrity and extreme wealth mean constraint. I find no constraint in wealth – on the contrary, I find much freedom in it. Such glibness as ‘the streets of South London are the scene of frolic, gaiety and extravagant adventure’ has a tinge of Marie-Antoinette’s airy persiflage.*

I found poverty neither attractive nor edifying. It taught me nothing but a distortion of values, an over-rating of the virtues and graces of the rich and the so-called better classes.

Wealth and celebrity, on the contrary, taught me to view the world in proper perspective, to discover that men of eminence, when I came close to them, were as deficient in their way as the rest of us. Wealth and celebrity also taught me to spurn the insignia of the sword, the walking-stick and the riding whip as something synonymous with snobbery; to know the fallacy of the college accent in estimating the merit and intelligence of a man, and the paralysing influence this myth has wrought on the minds of the English middle classes; to know that intelligence is not necessarily a result of education or a knowledge of the classics.

Like everyone else I am what I am: an individual, unique and different, with a lineal history of ancestral promptings and urgings; a history of dreams, desires, and of special experiences, of all of which I am the sum total.

– Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography (1964)

* When told the people of Paris were starving, she reportedly said: ‘Let them eat cake!’


‘Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.’

– George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)


The Coronet has announced that it will close its doors for good on 5 January, 2017. The theatre, which was originally built in 1872 and retains many of the Art Deco fittings from its conversion to a cinema in 1932, last year had it’s application for grade-II listed status refused by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Relaunched as a nightclub in 2003, the Coronet is now set to be demolished by Lend Lease, the property developers behind the £3 billion Elephant & Castle regeneration scheme, which recently demolished the 1,100 council homes of the adjacent Heygate Estate.

Despite a petition to save the theatre signed by over 4,000 people, in 2014 the Mayor of London lobbied English Heritage to reject the listing of the Coronet, arguing that to do so would obstruct the Elephant & Castle development scheme and what he called the ‘once in a lifetime opportunity to remove the 1960s eyesore’ of the adjacent shopping centre. The first covered shopping mall in Europe, the centre’s outdoor clothes market, cheap retail shops, penny laundromats, Caribbean, Columbian, Asian and Polish food outlets, bingo hall and bowling alley all cater to the tastes and means of the local working-class community.

The Housing and Planning Bill, currently being debated in the House of Lords, will further extend the power of the London Mayor to overrule opposition by the public and grant planning permission to private contractors for social cleansing schemes such as this.

A painting of Chaplin, who as a child performed in what was then the Elephant & Castle Theatre, was part of a mural in the underpass to the Elephant & Castle roundabout. This, too, was recently demolished as part of the redevelopment of the area.


I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an Emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone, if possible – Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone, and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful. But we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood, for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me, I say: Do not despair! The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel, who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder! Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate, the unloved and the unnatural!

Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: ‘The Kingdom of God is within man.’ Not one man or a group of men, but in all men. In you! You, the people, have the power! The power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power! Let us all unite! Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men and women a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfil that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people!

Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! In the name of democracy, let us all unite!

– Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator (1940)

Kennington Road

©LG 2016

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