From Bob's archive: Where is Sarf London?

I am away, a long way from South London, hopefully somewhere warmer. So, as is my wont, I am posting some things from the archive while absent. This is from June 2007, although I've added a little. What would you add?

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 Tamil food, 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 UcheaMillwall 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'sWonderland, Gary Oldman's Nil By Mouth, Hanif Kureishi's Buddha of Suburbia. It's Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Saxon Sound SystemKirsty MacColl, Squeeze, speed garage and jungle music, Alabama 3, Topcats and Ska Cubana. It's Electric Avenue and Deptford High Street, pie and mash shops, the Dog and Bell in Deptford ("woof/clang"), 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: TranspontineSlightly Lost in Sarf LondonEd 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).

Image via Soccerprint.


Waterloo Sunset said…
Overpriced watery beer? ;-)
Waterloo Sunset said…
Oh, and even for the Daily Fail, that Lily Allen article is hilariously bad:

this time last year she was just a 'Sarf London girl' who would have laughed at the very idea of having an army of aristocratic admirers.

This would be Bedales alumni Lily Allen, naturally. Boarding Fees £9,985 per term.'t+buy+me+love

(That reminds me, I should get off my arse and do another Bob's beats post soon).
Wayne Peacock said…
One for the list: Bob Hope was born in Eltham. I'm from Bermondsey (wot, no mention?!) , born in Guy's Hospital. Now living in East Greenwich which is as Sarf as it comes. Oh, and I have the Savage Souwf London T-shirt and I prefer that spelling too.
Yeah that overpriced watery beer pisses me off as well =)

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