Common Ground



“I shall have to do research’, Dougal mused, ‘into their inner lives. Research into the real Peckham. It will be necessary to discover the spiritual well-spring, the glorious history of the place, before I am able to offer some impetus.” (from The Ballad of Peckham Rye, Muriel Spark, 1960)


Common Ground is a research project centered around Peckham, a South East London neighborhood which is undergoing significant changes in both its social and physical fabric.

In a city that is being privatized at the speed of light, where to be in flux is the constant, we ask: what is our common ground?

From strips of public space, commercial streets to parks, the city is shared and explored, modified by our presence and the traces we leave. This is the case today as it was yesterday. The city is made of layers of history, key moments and daily routines that give our environment its texture.

Jewellery designer Alice McLean and design historian Justine Boussard are developing strategies for sharing and recording the local history of Peckham. Using history and craft as tools to understand the present, they will create a collection of objects for and with the people of Peckham, capturing a moment in time that sees continuity and change collide.

For this project to have any meaning, they will themselves have to learn and devise a way to share history that is both useful, meaningful and that hopefully has impact. A physical, contemporary archive for our times.


Phase 1: CONTINUITY —> Peckham Rye Common and Peckham Park


“After more than a hundred years of protest against encroachments the Vestry purchased the manorial rights in 1868, and saved the ground for the people.” (John Beadsley - The Story of Peckham)

At the heart of Peckham is an open green space. Peckham Rye Common has been used as grazing land since time immemorial, with references to its existence dating from as far back as the 14th century. The lords of the manor would lease it to the inhabitants of the neighborhood for periods of 21 years. In 1865, as the current leases were about to expire, Sir Wiliam Bowyer Smyth, Lord of the manor, decided to claim ownership of the Rye and asserted that he was entitled to the full building value of the land. With the support of the local people, Mr Drake, an emissary for the local Vestry, spoke in front of the House of Commons to defend the rights of the commoners to their ground and eventually. In 1868, the Camberwell Vestry purchased the Rye for £1000, and it became the ward of the council.

This was considered a true victory for the people, common land saved from land grabbers and developers. The acquisition of the Rye was a historical victory against unfettered development and privatization. Once a stronghold of local pride and common ownership, the Common and the Park (opened in 1894) are now taken for granted.

We believe the Park can and should be reestablished as the “spiritual wellspring” of the neighborhood, and will therefore develop a collection of souvenirs about and around this common land.

Symbols and legends are key to identity building, their origins are not always very clear. We want to create modern symbols, using history and design together as a strategy to capture the spirit of a neighborhood and strengthen the sense of community.

We will be making tokens and other symbolic objects that will each carry a piece of history that will be returned to the neighborhood, in collaboration with local associations and inhabitants.

Our first experiment was conducted on 2nd and 3rd of May 2015, when we distributed a number of Goose tokens to commemorate and celebrate the acquisition and preservation of the Common.

As we get to know the area better ourselves, and build a community of interest around the project, the collection will grow.


The Goose - acquisition of the Common in 1868

The Rats - Opening of the Park in 1894

The Whale Bone Arch -

To be continued...


Phase 2: CHANGE —> Rye Lane and Peckham Rye Station


In a second stage we will be looking at change, and develop a way of building a live archive of Rye Lane and the place around the station, which is going to be redeveloped.


Whether we are long term residents or newcomers, we all leave our imprints and become part of the local fabric. We wish to capture traces that are of significance to the locals, and to draw a picture, a live archive of Rye lane at key moment in its transformation.