Where is Sarf London?

Daniel, in a comment on my last post, and an American reader about a year ago to whom I never replied, ask "What or where is 'Sarf London'?" The short answer is that this is the generally accepted phonetic rendering of how people from South London say "South London". Of course, if you don't have a London accent, then the way you'd naturally read the letters S-A-R-F would not sound like it should; I think the correct transcription is "sæːf". (Savage London produce clobber branded "Souwf London", which seems more accurate to me, but Lambeth-born Michael Caine endorses the SARF spelling.)

Sarf London is not exactly geographically co-terminous with South London, if the latter term is taken to mean any part of London south of the river. For example, Sarf London excludes most of Clapham (or "Claum" as it is reputedly called by its gentrifying denizens), a territory colonized by
the rich and stupid of North London. But it includes the estates like Winstanley, Surrey Lane and Doddington around Clapham Common, the areas that gave us those archetypal Sarf Londoners The So Solid Crew. I don't know the southern reaches of the Northern Line very well, places like Tooting and Wimbledon, so I'll reserve judgement on them - but I'd like to include them, in order to include Jamie T and To The Tooting Station. And it absolutely doesn't include Richmond, which is basically Surrey as far as I'm concerned.

In the east, I'm not sure where Sarf London shades into Kent. Years of connections through hop- and fruit-picking, caravan holidays, and white flight have blurred the borders there. Blackheath, one of the places in South London that North Londoners are likely to have heard of, has always seemed like an interloper to me.

I suppose, more than a place, Sarf London is a state of mind, a structure of feeling. It is Charlie Chaplin, Michael Caine, Jamie Forman. It's Freddie Forman, Charlie Richardson, Mad Frankie Fraser, the Great Train Robbers. It's Jade Goody, Charley Uchea, Millwall Football Club, Charlton Athletic. It's bear-baiting in Southwark and Christopher Marlowe's death in Deptford. It's Graham Swift's The Last Orders, Michael Winterbottom's Wonderland, Gary Oldman's Nil By Mouth, Hanif Kureishi's Buddha of Suburbia. It's Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Saxon Sound System, Kirsty MacColl, Squeeze, speed garage and jungle music. It's Electric Avenue and Deptford High Street, pie and mash shops,
the Dog and Bell in Deptford, the Brixton riots and the Battle of Lewisham, Jah Shaka at the Moonshot, Club Multepulciano at the Rivoli Ballroom, and perhaps even the Flying Pickets at the Albany Empire.

Readers, feel free to nominate more truly Sarf London things in the comments below.

Extra links: Transpontine; Slightly Lost in Sarf London; Ed Barrett "The making of London's 'white trash'" (on Michael Collins' The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class); Will Self "Southern Discomfort"; Darcus Howe "Welcome to the Republic of Sarf London; Simon Jenkins "Nuffink wrong wiv accents guv"; Wikipedia "Southern English Dialects"; Cockney English; "Sarf London Lily" (on Lily Allen).


Anonymous said…
So what they call Kings Cross then, where I live? Brothel of the nation? Or are we part of the alleged dump and rich North? Anyway most street girls have relocated now, to further north, on a street called "market street" of all names.

Thanks for your SARF clarifications, just one questions, is it because you guys don't go to the dentist, and through a toothless mouth South becomes SARF.. ha ha only joking. You never stop learning!
bob said…
As I've not visited a dentist for close to two decades, maybe you're right...
Anonymous said…
Don't forget 'Our Enery' from Catford, the only boxer to put Cassius Clay down (at least temporarily!) in the ring.
He should certainly count as a Sarfener.

Whether Sowf/Souf or Sarf is the better spelling depends on which North & South the word comes out of.

Bellingham ex-pat.
kate said…
Hi Bob, i grew up in a place called st mary cray which although was in the london borough of bromley was in fact kent. I could walk for about ten minutes and be in swanley or crockenhill and a little bit further to eynsford all most definately not sarf london. I think (only my opinion) that se london would go as far as bexleyheath one way bromley town and maybe orpington. havent got a clue about the rest of the south though ;-)
bob said…
Eynsford - absolutely definately not Sarf London. I was there a little while back, and noticed quite a few pro-hunting bumper stickers - not exactly a big concern for Londoners.

Swanley - a bit more borderline. It's historically had stronger connections to London (at least Swanley town has, Swanley Village being more like Eynsford) because of the market gardening, the jam factory, the fruit-picking convoys up and down the A20.
Anonymous said…
How funny. I was looking for some kind of an "official" explanation to my always calling it "Sarf London" and found your post - only two days old. Thank you, very handy. (",)
Anonymous said…
Ah, but did you know that the Dog and Bell was once run by two of the Hennessey brothers (proper Sarf London villians)? An extra layer of Sarfness to the place I reckon.

Talking of dogs, I'd add Battersea Dogs Home to list.
Anonymous said…
Are you talking about South of the River rather than South London?

To me there is South West London, South London & South East London.

South of the river is fan shaped with the point at Waterloo fanning out roughly to the rim of the London Basin?

South London is Crystal Palace, Streatham, Balham, Tooting, Stockwell, Brixton, and Clapham East.

South West London is Clapham West, Wandsworth.

South East London is Peckham, East Dulwich, Lewisham.

Jade Goody is not to be confused with Sarf London she is Bermondsey, a different kettle of fish. As proved by her move to Essex.
bob said…
Hmm. An interesting perspective from the last anonymous there. Is South of the River and SE London different? I can see that they are, but both seem to me part of the same bigger Sarf London thing. Take the Richardson Brothers. Their manor stretched from Peckham/Camberwell to Catford - is that South or South East?

Bermondsey as sui generis - maybe, there's a kind of island mentality. But the Isle of Dogs is the same on the other side of the river - an island unto itself, *and* definitively part of the East End.

The Bermondsey/Essex connection - Barrymore is another example isn't he? Good riddance both of them!
Anonymous said…
Now ,Bromley and Bexleyheath in Sarf London do me a favour.They might be London Boroughs but thats only a recent additon to making london greater . are you telling me that in 50 years time when they make Dartford or Gravesend part of the london Borough network that they would be clased as Sarf London.
As for Bermondsey alot of my pals live there and they do have that air of being nothing but Bermonsey ,the pub down there called The Blue Anchor lends it's name to much of the area just known as the Blue ,they are a different breed they even have a name for the way they walk called The Bermondsey Bowl .
Unknown said…
I love all of sauf london. It's only when you have to leave it you miss it so much. Believe me
Unknown said…
I love london. It's only when you have to leave it that you appreciate how amazing it really is
Anonymous said…
Couldn't agree more South of the river there is South London South East London and South West London.

South London to me is- Kennington Stockwell Tooting Brixton Streatham Clapham Balham Peckham Walworth, Battersea, Crystal Palace, Dulwich Sydenham The Norwoods.

South East London is New Cross Lewisham Deprdord, Greenwich; Woolwich Thamesmead Eltham Brockley Catford.

South West London is Wandsworth Putney Wimbledon Barnes Mortlake Kingston Vale Raynes Park etc
Anonymous said…
Wimbledon fans sing “Sarf London”. I would suggest that Plough Lane/Haydons Road, which is closer to Tooting than Wimbledon and probably even South Wimbledon are in Sarf London. I agree that The Village, West Wimbledon/Raynes Park and Kingston Vale are South West London and more connected with Kingston and Richmond in Surrey.