This page gives only a cursory glimpse of a few cafes from across south London. A dedicated exploration of its vast railway suburbs would have found still-extant gems like West Norwood’s Electric Cafe and others which, I guess, might still be sunning themselves in two-storey terraced backstreets, next to MOT garages or builder’s yards or vacant plots overrun by buddleia: pieces to be added to an imagined personal utopia.
The photo at the top was taken in a place called simply ‘The Cafe’ which was on Battersea Park Road near the junction with Albert Bridge Road. The people running it were not only friendly but enthusiastic at getting their pictures taken. Unfortunately I was cack-handed with the camera and a photo of the proprietor grinning and holding a pie came out badly.
Small cafes colonising nooks and crannies were and are appealing. Towards the London Bridge end of Tooley Street was ‘My Tea Shop’, a mirror and formica-lined burrow in what must be the smallest occupied railway arch in the city. This served substantial fry-ups. It was run by an elderly Italian man and later taken over by an East European family who renamed it ‘My Tea and Coffee Shop’.
‘The Cafe’, pictured below, was at the junction of Florian Street and Putney Bridge Road – behind is the viaduct for the Wimbledon branch of the District Line. It’s still there, now named ‘The Florian Cafe’ and with a couple of tables and chairs set outside in fine weather.
Smaller still was the Obelisk Dairy which was on Borough Road by St George’s Circus. The whole block was clearly lined up for redevelopment so it seemed important to get a picture of the Dairy, even though it did a mostly takeaway business serving up rolls and sandwiches.
Above the Diary was this painted wall sign, reading: ‘Obelisk Dairy, Estd 1810, New Milk Fresh From The Country Twice Daily’.
The path towards the miniature leads at last to the functional purity of the tea hut and roadside snack caravan. At the time, I didn’t think to include these but this was probably a mistake. There was a good, green-painted shack under the railway bridge which spans Union Street off Blackfriars Road. For some reason the experience of having a sausage sandwich and polystyrene cup of tea on the shelf running along the shack’s front seemed best savoured early on a chilly morning.
A well-known tea hut still stands on the southern side of Chelsea Bridge. In an urban version of the familiar scenario where newcomers to the country complain about cockerels crowing, residents of Chelsea Bridge Wharf had tried to get it closed down, citing noise and litter. Pro-tea hut campaigners won the battle in 2014.
The last cafe in this series is the plain-looking Sun Cafe on Putney Bridge Road opposite Wandsworth Park. It was there in 1982 when I left school and got a job nearby. Now it’s gone, converted into a ground-floor flat.