A twelve foot iron mesh fence topped with razor wire now completely surrounds the Nunhead Reservoir. If you did somehow get past the fence, ominous signs around the perimeter promise that you will be torn apart by guard dogs. So it’s fair to say that it is now inaccessible to the general public.
Res had been growing in popularity for a while, not just for people shooting music videos, but teenagers, uni students, and families, all there to see the best view in South East London if not the whole city. Something like 500 people turned up on fireworks night last year, and soon after, construction of the new and incredibly sturdy fence began.
The Reservoir is owned by Thames Water, a (privatised) utility company. The company allows members of the public to visit around 100 of it’s properties, but unfortunately the Reservoir is not one of them. For whatever reason, they have decided to divert what must be quite a big chunk of their budget towards keeping people out. And after a while, it seems like they might have succeeded.
Res was probably Essy magazine’s favourite place in London. Speaking for myself, nowhere else has as many good memories attached to it. I spent most of last summer up there. We used to go looking around the actual reservoir or sit on the edge of the hill staring at the city. Sometimes bare people would go, like forty or fifty, and you would see people from school you hadn’t seen in ages. A few peoples birthdays were spent up there, and I remember going there to celebrate the end of AS exams. I even took my dad up there once just to show him the view.
Of course, the number of people who went up there meant there were some problems. Noise or litter could have been irritating for people living next door. There was also vandalism, which was probably what sped up Thames Water’s decision to tighten security. But while there were problems, the reservoir was undeniably valuable to the local area.
Families would go up when it snowed for sledging, and would take their dogs for walks there. On sunny days, teenagers and university students would play football, fly kites, or sit around looking at the view. A lot of people would go on summer evenings, gathering to watch the sunset, and a few had BBQs or lit bonfires. Res also brought out a friendly, communal attitude in its visitors; complete strangers would feel comfortable starting conversations with each other, asking for lighters or offering food or drink. A few locals even used to go up with bin bags to clear rubbish. There was a conscious effort to preserve the reservoir, to hold on to what it was and prevent Thames Water from finding a reason to do what they have now done.
So yeah, the reservoir getting locked off is a loss to the community, and yeah, Thames Water do have their reasons. The fact is that the reservoir was too good to lose so suddenly, it was too important to too many people. It has been open and used by the public for over 150 years, and now it has been shut off by some dickhead company because they technically have a right to, and because it is no doubt the cheapest option. With town centres all over south London (Deptford, Lewisham, Catford Bridge, Elephant, Brixton, Woolwich, the list goes on) being pulled down and re-modelled for luxury housing, with the social cleansing that is taking place in the capital showing no signs of stopping, the closure of Res, however justified, feels like another blow, another case of the invisible “powers that be” moving in and taking something important away. It feels like another place in the list of places which is being changed or destroyed by unseen authorities for unseen interests.
So fuck Thames Water. Unfortunately, it’s quite unlikely that they’re going to reconsider. There are almost definitely legal reasons which mean the Nunhead reservoir can not be opened to the public again any time soon. We wrote them some emails and a letter asking them, but as expected, they haven’t got back to us. So if you want to see that view, at least for now, it’s bolt cutters or Blythe Hill.