Reading Patrick Barkham’s book The Butterfly Isles I was transported back to south London, where I grew up. I’d reached the chapter on urban butterflies where he describes Coldharbour Lane and the bus station at Camberwell Green. Immediately I was once again 9 years old, with my mum, sitting on the top deck of a red London bus on my way to my dancing class at Kennington Oval.
The bus route took us past a huge colourful mosaic of a Camberwell Beauty butterfly, set high up on the front of the Samuel Jones & Co factory, which produced gummed paper shapes. I was fascinated by this butterfly, ever after wanting to see one. I never managed to do so in the UK. They are very rare visitors and I had to wait until 1982 before I saw several for real in Sweden. That was memorable – I still recall how I couldn’t quite believe my eyes!
The Camberwell Beauty has stayed with me as being rather special. My mum bought me a gummed paper shape puzzle of this butterfly with a cardboard shape to base the pieces on. I still have it. It’s a childhood memento that I wouldn’t part with.
What I was interested to discover from Barkham’s book is that Coldharbour Lane ( not an especially nice place these days), was once known as Cool Arbour Lane, where there were green meadows and willow trees, a rural habitat suitable for this butterfly and its caterpillars.