For decades, left unloved and uncared for, railway arches were considered grotty places and left to rot and ruin. Nowadays, Network Rail rents arches to more than 7,000 small businesses across London.
By working with developers, many of these architectural stalwarts of Victorian Britain have been brought back to life, so they can be enjoyed by discerning city dwellers.
Leake Street Arches is one such example, with eight former railway arches next to the famous Graffiti Tunnel being redeveloped by LCR to provide a curated collection of independent restaurants and bars that capture the essence of urban culture. In addition to these new bars and restaurants, the adjoining graffiti tunnel will enable visitors to watch artists at work or even pick up a can to leave their own mark on this iconic London landmark. Meanwhile, neighbours House of Vans (a multi-use space for skateboarding, BMX, art, music and fashion) and The Vaults (a theatre space offering immersive experiences) offer a plethora of entertainment options to cater for all tastes.
The regeneration and popularity of railway arches across the capital has spawned a variety of other activities. What can be created under these brick caverns is limited only by ones’ imagination.
Here we take a look at ten other arches and businesses that are keeping Londoners busy…
10. Release your inner art critic at Peckham Springs
Under the arches near Peckham Rye station, are a number of small businesses including the especially popular gallery-cum-bar space, Peckham Springs. The gallery space is programmed by The Chopping Block, a company who showcase the work of emerging and established artists that mirror chosen topics and themes. So if the cocktails don’t whet your appetite, the art work certainly will.
9. Play games at Draughts
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Draughts opened in a railway arch in the heart of Hackney in November 2014. London’s first ever board game café, it offers a haven for game lovers. An experienced team of knowledgeable and friendly staff are on hand to help customers select from a huge library of games – 600 and counting! Serving high quality food and snacks, and a range of local craft beers, ales, ciders, and wines for all those late night sessions, they also host tournaments, themed evenings and design workshops.
8. Develop your Circus Skills at Deptford Market Yard
Regeneration of these arches began in 2008, with the arrival of an old train carriage that was converted into a café and community event space and the arches used by artisans as temporary workspaces. Interest grew and nowadays the 14 arches include shops, restaurants, a market space and a circus fit class.
7. Host a private party in Hoxton Arches
Located mere metres from the Hoxton Overground Station and the popular Shoreditch area, Hoxton Arches is just a short walk from an extensive list of attractions and is within walking distance of Liverpool Street and Old Street stations. Set within a sensitively converted railway arch, Hoxton Arches is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of London’s exciting East End. Comprising of 2,500 square feet of space, this unique two-room venue provides a high-spec alternative event space for hire with original exposed brick and distressed features.
6. Rock climb at Vauxwall
Part of the Lakeland Climbing chain started by a former JP Morgan banker, this ‘bouldering’ (rock climbing with no ropes or harnesses) studio can be found under Vauxhall’s railway arches. Driven by a passion for climbing and the positive effects it can bring to everyone’s lives, this unique London facility sets a new standard for accessible, clean and constantly evolving indoor climbing.
5. Kickbox at Ko-muay Thai Located in The Arches at Bethnal Green, the KO Muay Thai Gym offers the full kickboxing experience in a truly urban setting. From beginners keen to grasp the basic strikes using elbows, knees, hands and kicks to those competing or on a path to become a trainer or coach, all levels are catered for.
4. Watching a film at Whirled Cinema
A little off the beaten track, Whirled cinema is hidden away in railway arches in Loughborough Junction (just a stone’s throw from Brixton and Herne Hill), making it one of South London’s best-kept secrets. Small, cosy and intimate, it’s a world away from your everyday multiplex experience. With an affordable membership, and free of advertising and trailers, this is the place to come to indulge your love of good film, kick back with a few drinks and make new friends in a chilled and welcoming environment.
3. Work creatively at The Arches Studios
Nearing the end of Blenheim Grove, through the railway arch and into Blenheim Court, you will find a thriving creative hub of cabinet makers, ceramicists, painters, sculptors, jewellery makers, a guitar maker and even a forge. Behind the metal gates and broken down motors is a thriving community of artisans working alongside like minded, supportive neighbours, sharing resources, knowledge and milk.
2. Dance like you mean it at Corsica Studios
Located in two railway arches immediately behind the shopping centre in the Elephant and Castle, Corsica Studios is an independent arts organisation that sets up and develops creative spaces in areas of London. Divided into two spaces – a live music and bar area and a second, smaller studio next door, there is also a large terrace to the rear of the space that is completely self-contained. Holding a multitude House and Techno nights across the year, this brickwork backdrop is perfect for getting a sweat on.
1. Shop and Save at Hackney Walk
Hackney Walk is London’s first Luxury Outlet and this major urban development is re- energising an area with unmistakable historical links to the fashion industry. The area was already home to a small cluster of premium outlet stores including Anya Hindmarch, Burberry, Aquascutum, and Pringle of Scotland. Twelve formerly unused railways arches now join them, having been converted into beautiful retail spaces by renowned British architect David Adjaye. These arches are occupied by an array of luxury outlets with retailers offering up to 70% off.