New Cross is a funny part of London – it has no identity; it is a place that most people probably drive quickly people through on the A2 down to Dover or Canterbury. However in the past this route did give New Cross some fame and John Evelyn who lived nearby in Deptford recorded in 1675 that he met a friend in ‘New Crosse’ on one of his journeys down to Kent and then to France.
When the railways came, they carved up New Cross with two stations, the rail lines and workshops and the area became known as the New Cross Tangle. In 1891, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths founded an Institute in the former Royal Naval School Building, which despite bombing in the Second World War remains the main building of Goldsmith’s today. What the Worshipful Company did not know is what they had let themselves in for, basing the College in a hotbed of political unrest which, perhaps linked, also became a hotbed of artistic and musical talents.
New Cross bus garage in 1926 was both the largest tram depot in London and a focus of the General Strike with police charges to protect strike breakers against pickets, in the 1960′s, the Goldsmith’s Tavern launched the career of many alternative artists including Julian Cleary and Vic Reeves while Goldsmith’s student union hosted bands such as Wet, Wet, Wet and Simply Red and alumni of the Department of Art include a roll call of British artists including Mark Wallinger, Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley, Sam Taylor-Wood, Lucian Freud, Mary Quant, Bridget Riley, Sarah Lucas, Gary Hume, Steve McQueen and Gillian Wearing. Wow!
Opened this week, the new Centre for Contemporary Art by Turner-prize winner Assemble architects is one of three galleries opening in south London this month, the others being the South London Gallery in Camberwell (in an old fire station) and the Science Gallery at Guy’s ~(in an old hospital building). It’s like buses – you have nothing, and then three come along, all conversions of existing buildings.
Built in 1898, the former Baths and Wash House were bought by Goldsmith’s in 1999 and the spacious old swimming pools have since been used as student art studios (empty of water of course).
The £4.6 million conversion of the old tank and plant areas to the former baths has created a series of fascinating gallery spaces, a little like an archaeological exploration, with many of the existing feature retained by the architects Assemble, in particular the massive old water pipes and the ends of floor beams are still exposed where a new double-height space has been cut through the building. Funding was primarily by former alumni including Damien Hirst, Bridget Riley and Antony Gormley. The ambitious aim is to run international-quality exhibitions in the heart of New Cross. New galleries have been created alongside the old tank at the first floor level, but are in darkness with the current exhibition of works by Argentinian artist Mita Rottenberg, which has a large focus on digital media. It is anticipated they will be opened up for the next exhibition which is of work by the Scottish artist Ivor Cutler, from early October.
It’s a funny old campus, with a variety of buildings including the old Deptford Town Hall and temporary buildings which look like the next phase of development, including a new public space in front of the CCA, plus Will Alsop’s recent development, which does create a landmark and identity within New Cross. It will be interesting to see how the CCA aids regeneration of this part of New Cross and how the campus develops…