The big smoke has long been recognised as a capital of contrasts, and its often grimy back streets have caught the eye of many a Londoner and foreigner alike. Writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once said: “London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.”
But before we start dissing the Queen’s hometown let’s not forget how much character pervades the fine city by way of its rough edges and imperfections. After all danger does have a certain, perverse appeal, and no matter what HRH thinks we’re sure you (well, maybe just a couple of you) wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the wise words of Samuel Johnson: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
Holly Enriquez quite eloquently sums up what to expect from a sojourn in London.
“The gross thing about London is that no matter how beautiful you make your retreat, it’ll find you. I had a beautiful morning, poached eggs on toast, a pot of coffee, then I opened my front door, ready for work, determined to have a great day. And lo, there they were, two used condoms on my doorstep.”
Needless to say, we didn’t have to scour the interwebs too hard to unearth your horror stories. Read on for more tales of drug busts, torture chambers and generic hovels.
When you mention North London, most people envision the grand terraces of Hampstead Heath and the yummy mummies of Muswell Hill. But alas, even the affluent north hasn’t escaped unscathed from our readers’ reports.
Rebecca Clarke, a one-time resident of Finsbury Park certainly had an ‘interesting’ time in the area. “I thought Finsbury Park was dodge when I first moved here. We were less than 5 minutes from the station in a room for £130 per week all-inclusive. Within the first week there was a drug bust, stopping us from going to our place for a few hours.
“The rest of the week we had to have police escort us to our place (who found it entertaining when they pretended they had to confiscate my pizza) and we entertained ourselves watching men in boiler suits remove the drug paraphernalia.
“Then a few more weeks later there was some type of shoot out and there were bullet holes in the shop windows, and then a young man was stabbed and killed outside the station coming off the night bus we used every weekend.
“Despite this overwhelming and intimating introduction to London, we continued to stay in that place and managed to save a mint. Then we had to move because it turned out it was actually a council house which was being sub-letted.”
Jess Symes talks about her time in Turnpike Lane and Wood Green residing in a “really expensive shit flat”. She explains that within six months of moving in there was a shooting outside the tube station and a gang fight near her street which included a stabbing in the main alley she took every day.
“We had blood splattered outside our doorway and forensic police there for the weekend. And my flatmate was mugged.
“But that’s what you get for living in Turkish mafia gangland. Oh and a couple of years ago there was a bust in the shops two minutes away. They only found THREE TORTURE CHAMBERS, lol.”
South of the river is where London is probably the most divided, with areas such as Dulwich playfully jostling alongside Peckham.
Will Hardy regaled us with his “poor” decision to get a night bus through Catford, where a woman was projectile vomiting in front of her hysterical six or seven-year-old kid screaming ‘not again mum.’
But Mr Hardy is not the only one to have experienced the vibrant night time economy of South London.
Roma first moved to Lewisham from Australia in July 2012, where she was offered a room by some friends until she and her boyfriend could find a place of their own.
“I’m initially a country girl then I left Sydney’s lower north shore for the grey skies of London. A sheltered life I wouldn’t say I’ve had but SE13 was a bit of a shock to my system!
“My second week in the country there was a brawl in my local Sainsbury’s between security staff and locals because the locals were attempting to enter through the exit!
“The next week I was in my local Primark when another scuffle broke out between security staff and a local family. Accusations of stealing were made and all hell broke loose.
“With prolific swearing and name calling, I thought it was time to leave the store before anarchy broke out, as products were thrown and stands looked as if they were about to topple over from the pushing and shoving.
“I used to be blonde. VERY blonde. I would go for a daily walk through my local area to become familiar with my surroundings. I got heckled, screamed at, approached by men in groups asking for my number and on one occasion I was asked how much I charge (as if I was a prostitute!)
“Finally, not too long ago, a boy was stabbed after getting off the 202 bus I used to take, outside Sainsbury’s.
“I was so shocked; I’d never experienced anything like it. I’d moved to a place I was too scared to go outside during THE DAY!
“Safe to say I don’t report back to my family back home about these events otherwise I’d get shipped home! I can’t see it getting much worse. Can it?!
“I’ve considered moving but to where? I’ve heard good and bad things about just about everywhere in London. Sure Chelsea is nice but it still has council housing! And I have no idea how I’d afford it!”
With organised crime bosses the Kray twins and serial killer Jack the Ripper among its previous residents, it probably won’t raise many eyebrows when we say that the notoriously deprived ‘hood has been frequently cited as one of the worst places to live in the UK.
An anonymous Hackney resident wrote an ode to the area on socially aware and class sensitive website chavtowns.co.uk, having lived there in 2005/2006. His affection for the borough of Hackney can be neatly summed up in his closing statement: “I never want to go back”.
But we don’t want to cut out all the juicy bits, so find more depressing, drug-laden anecdotes below.
“Hackney is a desolate sprawl of grotty council blocks, with endless amounts of winding alleys for the ‘youths’ of the area to run down after mugging an innocent person in a pathetic attempt to appear ‘hard’ to their peers.
“On a Friday night, Mare Street is packed with roaming gangs of youths in baggy Adidas hoodies, smoking super strong weed, blasting grime music out of their phones.
“Some of these groups are massive, literally 30 teenagers in a rundown chicken shop shouting at each other, while older, hard-faced ex-convicts are sat down in the cheap plastic seats, grimly discussing drug dealing.
“Walk east from Mare Street and you’ll find the Trelawney Estate, the worst part of Hackney. Trash litters the grass around the tower blocks; the bottom floor windows are either smashed or have burglar bars on them.
“As you go further east, all you find is a seemingly endless maze of council flats, ranging from two-storey low rises to twelve-storey, grotesque tower blocks that blot out the sun. Hooded drug dealers hang around on the street corners, selling crack and heroin to gaunt faced junkies in broad daylight.
“As it turns to night Hackney becomes even more frightening. Sirens wail, police helicopters circle above, cars with blacked out windows drive by blasting hip hop. Sometimes, gunshots ring out, leaving a young man slowly bleeding to death as he tries to run into his block of flats.
“Hackney was once known as murder mile, due to amount of gun related murders that happened here. There’s just a strange culture of violence in the place. I saw a man get knocked out cold from one punch on Mare Street, seemingly randomly.”
The West End is renowned as the home of theatre, Made in Chelsea and Harrods, but it seems there are some surprisingly shady spots nestled among the homes of the gentry.
Daniel Richardson extols the virtues of politically correct watering holes in Hounslow. “Any place that has a section of the bar titled: ‘deformity corner’ surely gets a mention.” He adds: “Plus it has the dirty tex-mex kebab!”
Acton received several nods from disillusioned London residents, including Colin Macrae and Chris ‘TheStrangerz’ Hughes, while it appears that East Acton also merits a mention, having received a thumbs up from Joy Davenport for its transport links: “The only thing good about the place was the tube was on the central line.”
And finally, Leigh Williamson provided us with a concise overview of Shepherds bush: “Shit hole!”