Nunhead Reservoir: new enclosures in South London

Nunhead Reservoir: although owned, long in effect common or free space, used for years by local people, has now been enclosed by Thames Water…

Nunhead reservoir is situated a mile west of Goldsmiths, just over the border between Lewisham and Southwark. It is a covered, underground reservoir, which is to the naked eye simply 30 acres of grassland nestled between Nunhead Cemetery and Peckham Rye. It is owned and run by Thames Water, but has nevertheless been for many years perceived as a common by Nunhead locals, and has a somewhat mythical presence in discussions online.   Accessed through a broken panel in its fence, its high position makes it perfect for watching the sunset. It’s liminal position in terms of being privately owned and therefore overlooked by state forces such as police, made it a popular place to hang out, especially for teenagers in groups who are often moved on from public places, and who might want to do things you can’t do in a public park. However, in December of 2014 it was ‘re-enclosed’ by a new, penitentiary style fence within the perimeters of the original one. If you go there now, you will be greeted by guard dogs and security guards.”

A brilliant podcast about Nunhead Reservoir, people’s free use of it, the recent enclosure, can be found at:

“The piece concerns the plot of land as representative of many different struggles currently ongoing: water commons – the reservoir’s owners Thames Water make much profit out of treating water as a commodity; land commons- this space was treated as if unowned by anyone, and was a popular and much written about online as being a ‘secret’ yet quasi-public place, and yet now its re-enclosure signals the rapidly increasing securitisation of space in London, exemplified by the increase in private streets, gated communities and constant cctv. The concurrent struggle over the nearby Aylesbury estate’s gentrification is discussed for its similar concerns with borders and fences, as is the struggle over the enclosure of One Tree Hill 100 years ago, which situate the reservoir in a geographical and historical context. The piece is held together by Foucault’s theory of the ‘heterotopia’, literally meaning, ‘other place’, which the reservoir is an example of. One of the principles of a heterotopia is that they ‘always presuppose a system of opening and closing that isolates them and makes them penetrable at one and the same time.’ The private status of the reservoir means that traversing this border is illegal, and trespassing, and thus brings up many interesting questions about borders – who gets to set them, what do they symbolise- concerning power and ownership – and how can we overcome them?”

The above was stolen from Rosanna Thompson, who made the podcast…

At past tense we have long had a powerful interest in all the issues Nunhead Reservoir brings together: commons, free space, resistance to enclosure, and the free enjoyment of resources (such as water).
Some links to a couple of things we have written about the above:

‘Free Like Conduit Water’, our pamphlet of a trespassing walk and anti-enclosure, water rights and moral/immoral economies relating to North London’s New River, is currently not available but will soon be back in print, we hope…


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