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Derelict beauty: A visit to Caroline Gardens Chapel with Open House London

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Caroline Gardens Chapel stands near the Old Kent Road in Peckham and was built in the 1820s

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The old creaky doors to the chapel

As Open House London took place this weekend (20-21 September 2014), I joined thousands of Londoners going through the doors of usually private or iconic buildings which are often off-limits to the public, or cost to visit. While some of the buildings I visited this year were more well-known, such as Westminster Hall and Lambeth Palace, I also stepped away from the Open House hotspots of Westminster and the City of London to visit the little-known Caroline Gardens Chapel in Peckham.

Now known as ‘Asylum’, the part-ruined Georgian chapel is now a flexible project space which hosts art exhibitions, concerts and is used for weddings and other functions. The chapel is sandwiched between the almshouses located in Caroline Gardens, on Asylum Road – named for the buildings’ original name Licenced Victuallers’ Benevolent Institution Asylum. Although named an asylum, which immediately makes you assume of a residence for the mentally ill, the site was actually a retirement home for former pub landlords.

The chapel was built in 1827 and 1833, with 10,000 people coming to the opening ceremony of the asylum site. As well as an organ by Messrs Bovington and Sons, the chapel featured stone and marble tablets honouring donors and supporters, most of which still exist today. The Asylum estate was visited by Prince Albert (1819-1861) in 1858 to open the Albert Wing, which added 31 further homes.

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Although the centrepiece of the chapel is gone, the old altar still forms a focal point in the charming derelict chapel

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This particular south-facing window has lost of its coloured panes

Sadly, like many homes and buildings in South East London during the war, the chapel was heavily damaged by a bomb in World War II, destroying the roof and west-facing back wall. Although the chapel was made water-tight by the addition of an asbestos-cement roof and filing the crypt with concrete, it soon fell into disuse. The Asylum relocated to Denham, Bucks in 1960 and the almshouses went into ownership of Southwark council. The chapel was briefly used over the decades, but was mostly left derelict. It was only in 2010 that Jo Dennis and Dido Hallett took over the chapel to be used as an arts and entertainment space.

A friend and I visited the chapel early in the morning on the Saturday of Open House. The gardens were a quiet, peaceful place and we were impressed by the chapel immediately upon entry. While I usually champion the restoration of old, historic buildings, the part-derelict state of Asylum is utterly charming. What remains of the altar contains several marble memorials and the lit candles sitting on the cracked and ravaged concrete floor certainly added to the romanticism. The stained glass windows are stunning and in varying states of condition, from good to decaying. Some of the original paintwork – blue and gold leaf still remains along the walls, as well as some inscriptions on the wall honouring some donors. The back wall includes stairs to nowhere… ghostly remnants of the stone steps heading up to where presumably a mezzanine where a choir or extra congregation may have sat. I loved the building and am looking forward to hopefully coming back one day for an exhibition, concert or wedding.

  • Asylum @ Caroline Garden’s Chapel, Asylum Road, Peckham, SE15 2SQ. Nearest station: Queens Road Peckham. For more information, visit the Asylum website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The stained glass windows and marble memorial tablets fortunately survived the WWII bombing


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Locale, East Dulwich review: Seasonal Italian fare in a relaxed setting

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To start: Sautéed mussels in garlic, chilli, white wine and Locale tomato sauce served with homemade focaccia

When choosing a cuisine for an evening outing, I rarely opt for Italian as I like to think I can cook pasta and pizza dishes quite well myself. However, when meeting up with a friend for a girlie catch-up, she suggested Locale in East Dulwich. The branch is one of a small chain of five (Fulham, Blackheath, County Hall and Balham) and after Googling the restaurant, found it had overwhelming positive reviews.

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The tables are accompanied by leather seats and boots with exposed brick, chandeliers
and antique mirrors

As we were a party of two, we took a risk and turned up on a Friday night without a reservation and were fortunately able to be accommodated. Entering the building, there is a nice, welcoming bar area to walk through before entering the restaurant at the back. The tables were accompanied by comfortable leather chairs and booths with exposed brick and antique mirrors giving a contemporary feel. There is also a terrace for alfresco dining, although maybe not at this time of year!

We started off ordering a bottle of Prosecco Villa Armellina Spumante from the extensive bar menu, which also included reasonably priced cocktails and a long wine list. The prosecco was dry and refreshing and the perfect accompaniment for a hearty carb fest.

For a starter, I opted for the Cozze Locale – sautéed mussels in garlic , chilli, white wine and Locale tomato sauce served with homemade focaccia. Unlike other restaurants I’ve been to where I find there is either too many or too little mussels for a starter, this serving included a manageable 10-12. The sauce was delicious and the focaccia came in handy for soaking it up after I had seen off the mussels.

For my main course, I decided to steer away from my usual Italian favourites like seafood spaghetti or gnocchi and chose the Pasticcio Vegetariano – a vegetarian pasticcio made with mixed grilled seasonal vegetables in layers of crepes, tomato sauce and a light béchamel sauce. Served straight out of the oven, it was piping hot so I had to wait a while for it to cool down. It was very filling, but without being too heavy and tasted delicious. My friend ordered the grated beetroot and goat’s cheese risotto with Arborio rice, parsley and parmesan cheese and really enjoyed her dish too.

Locale pride themselves on offering seasonal menus and each branch has its own specific menu, with all food being prepared on site. We found the food delicious and hearty and the service friendly and attentive. The atmosphere was relaxed and it was an easy location to wile away a few hours with a friend over good food and wine. I’m looking forward to returning and also trying some of the other branches.

  • Locale, East Dulwich, 58-60 East Dulwich Road, SE22 9AX. Tel: 020 7732 7575. Nearest train: East Dulwich. For more information, visit the Locale website.

Locale on Urbanspoon


For contents of all Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.

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Risotto alle barbabietole (left) and Pasticcio vegetariano (right)

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Mimosa and a full Spanglish: Brunching at the No67 cafe at the South London Gallery

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A Full Spanglish at No67: Eggs (fried or scrambled), chargrilled chorizo and morcilla, beans, roast mushroom and toast

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A gem on the Camberwell and Peckham borders – No67

Like many people, I love a good brunch. In fact, I would say brunch is my favourite course ever… not that I get to have it as often as the standard breakfast, lunch and dinner! Having recently holidayed in Australia, I enjoyed more brunches in two weeks than I had done in months. So when I returned home to London, I made a conscious decision to go out for brunch more often.

So when searching for somewhere not too far from home, I decided to try out the No67 café, an independent establishment at the South London Gallery on the Camberwell/Peckham borders. Accompanied by some family members visiting from Scotland, we visited on a Sunday afternoon. The café lies on the right of the entrance to the South London Gallery, with seating area both in front and at the back of the Victoria townhouse. The café itself is separated into two section – the first and counter in the front part of the building, while the second section in a light, airy modern extension in the back.

Being a party of five, we were shown to a large communal seating area in the modern extension – although there are smaller tables for less diners located in the vicinity. The room was bright and white with very high ceilings. Although I personally wasn’t hungover at the time, I can imagine the location being a great place to clear your head – combined with the food of course – after a wild night out. All the tables were dotted with jugs of waters with a sprig of mint and lemon, which was a nice touch.

The extensive weekend brunch menu includes a mix of fry ups, cold options and reads quite different from many other establishment’s menus. Among the items which caught our eye were the waffles, bacon with Bourbon syrup or the Welsh rarebit. As we were celebrating a special occasion, we all opted for a Mimosa to start off proceedings at a reasonable £4.

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So many choices: Veggie brunch (left) or kippers, spinach and boiled egg (right)

For our brunch, we opted for two Full Spanglish (two eggs of your choice, chargrilled chorizo and morcilla, beans, roast mushroom and toast), two Veggie breakfasts (two eggs of your choice, halloumi, bubble and squeak, beans, roast mushroom and toast) and one kipper, spinach and soft-boiled egg with toast.

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Caffeine fix: The drinks got our family barista’s seal of approval!

I have tried many veggie breakfasts in different establishments, but No67 was the most unusual and delicious I’ve tried. I love halloumi, so to have it with my breakfast was a pleasant addition. The scrambled eggs were cooked to perfection with a sprinkling of paprika for added flavour. The beans in question were ‘proper’ full-sized beans (unlike a popular brand’s smaller baked beans we’re used to) , while a Portobello mushroom was gently fried in just the right amount of oil.

The Full Spanglish is a fusion of English and Spanish food and would certainly do the trick remedying a sore head after a night on the tiles. Both of my party who ate it said it was delicious and particularly loved the chorizo. All five in our party actually ate our dishes fairly quickly, and while feeling full, all enjoyed them so much we agreed we could have eaten them again.

After sipping our mimosas with our food, we wisely opted to stop and move on to hot drinks before paying the bill. One of my party is a barista and had plenty of compliments for way the lattes and cappuccinos had been made and served, so No67 is definitely a destination for coffee aficionados. All in all, the food and drink was delicious, reasonable priced and the venue was a comfortable, relaxed place to start a lazy Sunday. I can’t wait to go back to try the dinner…

  • No67 is located at 67 Peckham Road, Camberwell, SE5 8UH. Brunch is served at No67 between 10am and 3.30pm every Saturday and Sunday. Other menus apply at other times. No67 is open from Tuesday – Sunday, various times apply for check the website. Buses: 12, 36, 171, 343, 345, 436. Nearest rail station: Peckham Rye (15 minute walk). For more information, visit their website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Hair of the dog? There’s a choice of Mimosas or Bloody Marys, and lots of drinking water on tap

No. 67 Café and Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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For contents of all Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, visit our reviews page.