Camberwell Submarine

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The Camberwell Submarine. Copyright J. Mark Dodds.

This beautiful concrete creation occupied the central reservation separating two stretches of dual carriageway on Akerman Road in Camberwell (although being in SW9 Brixton has also laid claim to it).

Its nautical geometry and imposing concrete exterior have fueled speculation that the unusually-situated monolith is a forgotten relic of the Cold War–some kind of military structure. Perhaps it’s even a portal to a nuclear base?

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The Camberwell Submarine. Copyright SecretLondon123.

Although the truth is mundane in comparison it’s still interesting. The Camberwell Submarine is in essence a ventilation shaft for a subterranean boiler room and heating system used to supply the nearby estates.

The Sub is now unfortunately hidden behind the hoardings of a development that has engulfed half of the dual carriage way and central reservation. In 2007 the folks at Urban75 were granted access and reveal what lies beneath.

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The Camberwell Submarine. Copyright Joe Dunckley.

The future of this unlikely landmark has been in doubt for over a decade. Attempts to have the building listed were rejected by Historic England and it is now no longer visible or accessible, having been absorbed into the redevelopment of Myatts Field North, which the boiler room originally served.

According to a recent piece by urban geographers, the Camberwell district heating system…

…originally provided [the estate] with heat and hot water until disrepair led to its disconnection and replacement with individual home boilers during the 1990s.

Interestingly, part of the redevelopment includes the switching back on of the system below the Submarine, which unexpectedly brings out the cultural power politics of state-led redevelopment.

Connecting all refurbished council homes on the estate to the CHP involves the enforced replacement of gas cookers with standardised electrical induction hobs supplied by E.ON

Seems innocuous enough. But this facilitates cultural disposition because…

…the new induction hobs have been particularly unwelcome because they do not work with traditional Caribbean style “Dutch pot” or similar ethnic cookware.

Source: S.N. Hodkinson and C.E. Essen, ‘Grounding accumulation by dispossession in everyday life: the unjust geographies of urban regeneration under the private finance initiative’, International Journal of Law in the Built Environment, 7 (1): pp. 72-91.

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