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In Booth's Footsteps - Walking Deptford With Sean Patterson

19/07/2013 10:55 BST | Updated 16/09/2013 10:12 BST
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Last Saturday was the hottest day of the year, so what better way to spend it than embarking on a three hour, fifteen minute walking tour of Deptford's streets and backwaters? Seriously, I couldn't think of a better way to spend it.

At Tanners Hill (home to some of the oldest residential dwellings in London, and also, one of the city's finest butchers), we rendezvous with our guide, Sean Patterson. Sean has earned a reputation as one of London's most savvy guides; he traces the footsteps of Victorian philanthropist Charles Booth, who himself documented the poverty levels of London in painstaking detail with colour-coded maps.

As Sean leads us through the jostling fish, meat, veg and hardware stalls of Deptford High Street, he points out how the strip survived relatively unscathed throughout the Second World War, and how Booth would have seen many of the extant buildings erected while he was conducting his famous survey.

Sean's walking tours (he does one in Clerkenwell and is about to debut a Whitechapel walk) are immersive affairs. We pause regularly under arches, by bridges, in graveyards, where he reads out extracts from Booth's magnum opus (there are also entertaining quotes from Booth's many aids and accompanying policemen).

Although Booth sets the blueprint for the walk, it is not just Victorian Deptford we are enlightened on. Sean stops us by an reproduction painting of the old maritime Deptford to explain how Deptford was always a more vital dock than Greenwich. Every illustrious seafarer from Drake, to cook, to Nelson passed through here at one time or another.

Remnants of World War II are everywhere in Deptford if you squint hard enough. We're shown a sign slapped onto the side of a building, still pointing in the direction of an air raid shelter. Later on, we realize the fence we're leaning against is fashioned from old stretchers.

It is not just Deptford's distant past that Sean touches on though; this is an immaculately well-rounded walk highlighting what has changed little in centuries, and what is now (or will soon be) beyond all recognition.

Towards the tail end of our cultural schlep, we're whisked inside the paradisaical St. Nicholas churchyard, where the playwright and spy Christopher Marlowe is buried. The skull and crossbones flanking the graveyard's entrance, reckons Sean, may be what inspired the notorious Jolly Roger. Yet another nugget to stuff into our ballooning brains.

By this time the sun is beating down furiously, and we retire to the beer garden of the Dog & Bell (Sean's preferred Deptford boozer) for a well-earned refresher, before finishing up in the cool of another graveyard (this one St Paul's) where Sean imparts a final touching story.

Then we all go our separate ways to scribble down extensive notes and shove ice cubes down our tops.

To go on one of Sean's walking tours, sign up at Charlesboothwalks.com

Taken from Will's blog on Fiz.com