Up to the mid-nineteenth century, Camberwell was visited by Londoners for its rural tranquillity and the reputed healing properties of its mineral springs. Like much of inner South London, Camberwell was transformed by the arrival of the railways in the 1860s.
Camberwell St Giles formed an ancient, and later civil, parish in the Brixton hundred of Surrey. The parish covered in 1831 and included Peckham to the east and Dulwich to the south. The width of the parish tapered in the south to form a point at Crystal Palace. In 1801 the population was 7,059 and by 1851 this had risen to 54,667. In 1829 it was included in the Metropolitan Police District and in 1855 it was included in the area of responsibility of the Metropolitan Board of Works, with Camberwell Vestry nominating one member to the board. In 1889 the board was replaced by the London County Council and Camberwell was removed from Surrey, to form part of the County of London. In 1900 the area of the Camberwell parish became the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell. In 1965 the metropolitan borough was abolished and its former area became the southern part of the London Borough of Southwark in Greater London.
Early music halls in Camberwell were in the back hall of public houses. One, the "Father Redcap" (1853) still stands by Camberwell Green, but internally, much altered. In 1896, the Dan Leno company opened the "Oriental Palace of Varieties", on Denmark Hill. This successful venture was soon replaced with a new theatre, designed by Ernest A. E. Woodrow and with a capacity of 1,553, in 1899, named the "Camberwell Palace". This was further expanded by architect Lewen Sharp in 1908. By 1912, the theatre was showing films as a part of the variety programme and became an ABC cinema in September 1932 – known simply as "The Palace Cinema". It reopened as a variety theatre in 1943, but closed on 28 April 1956 and was demolished. The 1957 film The Smallest Show on Earth tells the tale of a struggling family-run suburban cinema, is thought to be based on the Palace. Nearby, marked by Orpheus Street, was the "Metropole Theatre and Opera House", presenting transfers of West End shows. This was demolished to build an Odeon cinema in 1939. The cinema seated 2,470, and has since been demolished.
Camberwell today is a mixture of relatively well preserved Georgian and twentieth century housing, including a number of tower blocks. Camberwell Grove and Grove Lane have some of London's most elegant and well preserved Georgian houses.
The crossroads at the centre of Camberwell is the site of Camberwell Green, a very small area of common land which was once a traditional village green on which was held an annual fair of ancient origin which rivalled that of Greenwich. An extensive range of bus routes have stops at Camberwell Green (see the link to the bus spider map below for details). The Salvation Army's William Booth Memorial Training College, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, was completed in 1932: it towers over South London from Denmark Hill. It has a similar monumental impressiveness to Gilbert Scott's other local buildings, Battersea Power Station and the Tate Modern, although its simplicity is partly the result of repeated budget cuts during its construction: much more detail, including carved Gothic stonework surrounding the windows, was originally planned.
Camberwell is home to one of London's largest teaching hospitals, King's College Hospital with associated medical school the Guy’s King’s and St Thomas’ (GKT) School of Medicine. The Maudsley Hospital, an internationally significant psychiatric hospital, is also located in Camberwell along with the Institute of Psychiatry. As well as the significant Camberwell College of Arts Camberwell is home to several art galleries including the South London Gallery and numerous smaller commercial art spaces. The annual Camberwell Arts Festival is well supported.
The town is referenced in the film Withnail and I — "Camberwell carrot" is the name of the enormous spliff rolled using 12 rolling papers, by Danny the dealer. His explanation for the name is that "I invented it in Camberwell and it looks like a carrot".
Camberwell is connected to central London by Camberwell Road in the north and Camberwell New Road in the west. It is very well served by bus routes: its location means that it is easy to travel into central London with journey times of 12-20 minutes, though often much longer in the rush hour.
Camberwell had been served by three railway stations until the First World War, Camberwell Gate, Camberwell New Road and Denmark Hill. Like many less well used stations in inner London, Camberwell Gate and Camberwell New Road were closed in 1916 'temporarily' because of war shortages and were never reopened.
London Underground have planned a Bakerloo line extension to Camberwell on at least three occasions since the 1930s, and this is again said to be under consideration.
Nearest railway stations:
The local ethnic mix includes a large proportion of people of Caribbean and African descent, a Greek Cypriot community, and number of immigrants of Middle Eastern origin. The area is also popular with art students, as it is home to the Camberwell College of Arts (part of the University of the Arts London - formerly the London Institute) on Peckham Road. Goldsmiths College is found in nearby New Cross with many students living in Camberwell. King's College London (part of the University of London) also has a hall of residence (King's College Hall) on nearby Champion Hill. Camberwell has a thriving gay community, and has been labelled south London's favourite gay neighbourhood.