Booth poverty map

The BBC’s new documentary series The Secret History of Our Streets is a fascinating watch for anyone who is interested in the social history and the domestic architecture of London. But the series (which screens on Wednesdays at 9pm on BBC2) is also a must-see for builders and anyone interested in the way that we have renovated and altered our homes over the years.

The programmes take Charles Booth’s famous poverty maps of London as their starting point, delving into the history that is to be had on the streets of areas such as Deptford and Camberwell. The last episode on Camberwell Grove was a wonderful lesson in how trends change. The post-war years showed everyone ripping out fireplaces, boarding over panelled doors and putting false ceilings or plaster over decorative cornices.

Skips now sit outside these properties as new owners tear out all the 1960s ‘modernisation’ in favour of a return to the Georgian glory of the stunning buildings on the Grove. Fashion, it seems, is a boon for the building trade. Coloured bathroom suites seem to be making a bit of a comeback, so bathroom fitters should prepare for tearing this out again in a decade or so.

Tonight’s episode is about the Caledonian Road (where I lived when I first moved to London), which runs north from King’s Cross for over one mile. A book on the series is now available.