A Short History of Fawnbrake Avenue

We’ve heard people wondering about the history of our street, so it might be useful to jot down some key dates and developments. Like several other areas of Herne Hill, Fawnbrake Avenue feels outright Edwardian in its architectural language. But it wasn’t all built at the same time. Which makes this post a little longer than our usual ones.

Herne Hill as a small township developed later than, for instance, Brixton. In the mid-Victorian years, much of the prominent domestic housing hereabouts consisted of the generous mansions and villas with generous gardens, occupied by the “carriage trade” gentry leaving central London, dotted along both sides of Denmark Hill and Herne Hill: now, for the most part, replaced by more modern housing. Down in the centre, the railway station arrived in 1862, at first known as “Hernehill” Station and, as in many other places, this was both a stimulus of and a reaction to urban development and population increases.

A glance at an extract from the Ordnance Survey map of 1870 shows the beginning of this phase of local history. Fawnbrake Avenue and similar streets did not yet exist, but some landmarks are already visible: St Paul’s Church and the neighbouring vicarage (now of course Herne Hill School) and the Half Moon Public House. The railway station can also be seen, operated by the London, Chatham & Dover Railway. But many of the other features visible here will later be swept away: notice, if you can spot it, the clearly imposing residence known as The Cedars placed between what will later become Kestrel Avenue and Gubyon Avenue. Otherwise on our side of the slope it’s mainly fields, trees and gardens, many belonging to grand houses which front on to Herne Hill itself.

Skip forward to the next generation of the Ordnance Survey Map, surveyed in 1894/96 and published in 1897. Alongside Herne Hill itself and Denmark Hill (not visible on this extract) the big mansions are still there.

Fawnbrake arrives – just!

But on our patch, Fawnbrake Avenue has now appeared, linked to the main road by Gubyon and Kestrel Avenues. The Cedars is clinging on, though with a diminished garden it seems.

What is noteworthy is that the newly-created Fawnbrake Avenue is very curtailed. It only extends as far as the boundaries of the back gardens at the bottom of the eastern edge of Kestrel Avenue –as far as number 27 in present-day numbering. Today, where this row of houses ends, there is a gap between 27 and 29, and a noticeable change of design in the front facade of the houses.

My amateur research in the Electoral Register confirms that no. 5 Fawnbrake Avenue was definitely inhabited by 1893.

After no. 27 on this first row of houses on the north-west side of Fawnbrake, it’s still green fields.

But visible on our northern fringe is part of the Milkwood Estate developed by the Suburban Village & General Dwellings Company. Here Lowden Road had already been established in the 1870s. The map shows its long terrace of houses (with their short back gardens, as now) completed all the way up to Poplar Walk.

The electric tramway along Milkwood Road is also shown on the map, along with Neville’s Bakery, to be superseded in a later generation by the Milkwood Community Park and an extension of Jessop School.

Filling up the Avenue

The extension of Fawnbrake beyond no. 27 depended, naturally, on someone buying the land and (usually the same person) erecting the houses and extending the street. Property developers and speculators were still seizing opportunities to acquire land to infill. The land for my own house (81) and its two immediate neighbours either side was parcelled up for sale as building lots in 1899.

Who owned the land? Mr Sanders, mostly

Thanks to the meticulous research made by our neighbour Laurence Marsh, who is a notable local historian, and others writing for the Herne Hill Society’s historical collection, we know that the major landowners hereabouts were the Sanders family. In this instance, Robert Arthur Sanders was the landowner, being the great-grandson of Samuel Sanders (see Herne Hill Personalities) who had made his money in timber in the 18th century and bought more than 100 acres on the Lambeth side of Denmark Hill and Herne Hill.

Samuel himself lived in one of the houses he had built on Denmark Hill, in what is now Ruskin Park. As Laurence has established, it was Robert Arthur Sanders (1867-1940), later MP for Bridgwater, who started to sell off building land at the end of the 19th century. Later, Robert Sanders also sold some of his land to the LCC to establish Ruskin Park.

Laurence believes that most of Fawnbrake is built on Sanders land. Laurence’s own house was, and so was mine: I have a copy of the deed of conveyance dated 3 February 1899 whereby Robert Sanders and Isabella Sanders (his wife) sold the plot of land (consisting of land which now houses numbers 79, 81 and 83), to a Mr Arthur Walter Tribe – although the Vendor (the Sanders estate) reserved the right to approve the plans for these houses.

Gubbins vs. Sanders

However that first small original stretch of houses that marked the start of Fawnbrake was not built on Sanders land but on property belonging to the trustees of the Gubbins family, who owned the land on which Gubyon, Kestrel, Cosbycote, Shardcroft, Woodquest and Rollscourt Avenues were also built. When it came to extending the original short stretch of Fawnbrake, there was a legal dispute – perhaps let’s call it a negotiation – between the Gubbins and Sanders trustees which was resolved, as you might expect, by a handsome payment to the Gubbins trustees.

(We should assume, Laurence advises, that the Sanders estate (and no doubt the Gubbins land too) would have been parcelled up and sold to builders/developers under building leases (often for 99 years), which meant that the original owners retained the freehold, taking a ground rent of a few guineas a year. It would have been several generations later, maybe half way through the 20th century, that householders bought the freehold.)

Tribe’s the man

So Mr Tribe was the builder-developer for our little plot: there will have been others for different parcels of land, which will account for the differing styles along the length of the street. Mr Tribe lost little time in getting the houses built, as we know that number 81 at least was first registered to an individual owner in August 1902. Not long after, we hear of controversy about the cost of paving the road, which had to be shared among ratepayers. On that, more on another occasion perhaps.

Thanks again to Laurence’s investigations, we now know, too, that Arthur Walter Tribe was an architect and surveyor, born in Kennington in no great wealth: his father was a bricklayer. He died in 1942, leaving a decent fortune.

The 20th century dawns

So by the turn of the century, our urban landscape, at least in these streets, was edging closer to what we now know. The next decade, running up to the start of the First World War, saw the progressive completion of the Avenue largely as we see it today, roughly when Queen Victoria died (January 1901) and was succeeded by Edward VII. (So our street is a mix of late Victorian and (mainly) early Edwardian architecture.)

The 1913 edition of the Ordnance Survey confirms this milestone. Fawnbrake Avenue is by then in its current condition, missing only the link into Brantwood Road which of course did not appear until the 1920s/30s. As far as I can tell from the Electoral Register, number 71 was occupied by 1901, and number 81 by 1903. The letterbox shown on the map outside nos. 79/81, and bearing the cipher of Edward VII, is still here! Whether house building proceeded unit by unit along the street until the road was complete, or in different plots according to the financial state of the housing market, it is not easy to say without further research.

Note on the map that the electric tramway (between West Norwood and the City) is still visible at this point, coming up Milkwood Road from Loughborough Junction with a little branch running along Lowden Road. The tram system was wound up in the 1950s.

So since Edwardian times, Fawnbrake Avenue’s domestic architecture has seen almost no outward change, though of course the arrival of the motor car has made a difference …

World War II

But we must recall that there was a little interruption from the Luftwaffe whose bombs took out a couple of houses (identifiable by their post-war rebuilds) at nos. 133-135: see this extract from the extraordinary  LCC Bomb Damage Maps. (The next bombs to be released from the same aircraft demolished several houses in Lowden Road, where again the post-war rebuilds are obvious.)

The same map also shows bomb damage at the other end of the street, at numbers 1 and 2, which I hadn’t previously been aware of. If rebuilds and repairs were necessary, they have been carried out to match the pre-existing architecture.

On these maps, incidentally, a building colour-coded black normally means it was totally destroyed; other colours indicate varying degrees of damage and repairability. But by comparison with other areas, elsewhere in London, in Britain and in Germany, our streets escaped lightly.

Narrow escape

Nevertheless if we’d been around on 23 August 1944, we would all have heard a massive explosion when a V-1 flying bomb narrowly missed Milkwood Road but took out properties on the northern section of Shakespeare Road, just across the railway lines. Four houses were demolished and 40 damaged, but miraculously, no lives were lost on this occasion. This was the last of five V-1’s to hit our area in 1944.

Still, over 6,000 people were killed (mainly in and around London) by V-1’s and over 17,000 seriously injured and maimed.


Much more local history is accessible through the publications of the Herne Hill Society including:

Herne Hill Heritage Trail
Herne Hill Personalities
The Milkwood Estate – the Story of a Lambeth Community
A Short History of Herne Hill

Personal and Doorstep Security

These security announcements in the latest Dulwich Society Newsletter are relevant to us here too.

Local muggings

There have been recent reports of single
young women being hassled or mugged near the
junction of Turney Road & Croxted Road

Aggressive doorstep salesmen

There are continued reports of aggressive door-step salesmen
both in the Village and in West Dulwich. Police
advice is to be very careful to check before opening
front doors.

These are probably the infamous ‘Nottingham Knockers’ who were seen in Fawnbrake Avenue in recent months – see this report from SWLondoner quoting advice from Operation REPEAT .

It’s a national problem. Kent Police issued the following advice about doorstep callers earlier this year. This includes:

  • If someone turns up unexpectedly always put a door chain on before opening the door and keep it on while talking to callers.
  • If you don’t have a door chain, check who is at the door from the nearest window
  • Don’t be afraid to turn people away.
  • Always ensure rear doors and windows are shut and locked when answering your front door.
  • Call police if you suspect cold callers may be bogus.

Southwark Police issued the same advice earlier this year.

NappyValleyNet reports similar issues.

Discarded needles/syringes in Brockwell Park

We understand via the Herne Hill Safer Neighbourhood Panel that a frighteningly large quantities of discarded needles/syringes are strewn about in Brockwell Park, according to local residents with children that play in there.

They are mostly concentrated within the bushes, where children naturally like to run about in and play. To describe the quantities as ‘scores’ is no exaggeration, we hear.

Our Police Community Support Officers do excellent and effective work in knife and weapon searches, often finding needles etc., but the police are not caretakers and cleaners. Dealing with the needles is a specialised job with Health and Safety implications and the Council, with financial support from central government, possibly via the Mayor’s Office, to make this possible, needs to address this issue. People are recalling a case in 1992 when a 7-year-old found such a needle having unknowingly pricked herself on it. Fortunately, hospital tests gave her full clearance but it could so easily have been a different outcome.

The relevant local councillors in Lambeth have been made aware of this situation, but any parents with children likely to visit the park should perhaps be conscious of the risk and keep an eye on where the children are venturing.

Hold the front page

A very talented local artist – a blacksmith in fact – features in the cover story of the latest Herne Hill magazine.

Frances Plowden, blacksmith

Very appropriate for #InternationalWomensDay !

See more about Frances Plowden, whose studio is in Loughborough Junction but who lives in Herne Hill, in the magazine (reaching you shortly, if you are members)  and on her website http://francesplowden.org/

Reminder – Fast approaching deadline

We can still comment on Lambeth’s application for a performance/food/drink pop-up on and around the Ruskin Park bandstand this summer.  But Wednesday 10 March is the cut-off date.

 

The performances and other events would happen 5 days a week including evenings and weekends all through spring to autumn (29 April – 12 September 2021), presumably blocking off the long-established summer weekend concerts traditionally organised by the Friends of Ruskin Park (FoRP).

The Friends’ explanation and comments can be read on their website here.  Others might think, on the contrary, that this is all a wonderful idea.

We can give feedback to Events Lambeth by Wednesday 10 March 2021.

Why bother?

There’s a natural tendency in Lambeth Council (as in others, probably) to assume that “no comment”/silence =  either approval or indifference.

So if we feel something is wrong (or right!) it could make sense to take five minutes to feed back our comments. Lord knows, it doesn’t always make a difference but if we stay silent when things we don’t approve of look like happening, we can’t really complain afterwards if they do. End of homily.

 

Dug out

The site of the planned electricity sub- station in unit 315 in the new-ish Railton Road shops on Station Square is the scene of much activity.
Currently the floor of the unit is being excavated and, presumably, strong foundations laid. The explanation has always been that the larger vacant shop units – numbers 319-327 Railton Road, as well as the unit under the bridge– cannot be rented out until upgraded electricity power supply is available.

Digging in a tight spot

“Finished by early summer”

A notice by The Arch Company on the neighbouring shop unit that has been temporarily commandeered as a site office states that

“we expect the works to be completed by early summer 2021 with new tenants moving in soon afterwards. We’ve had a high level of interest from potential tenants all of whom are small independent operators”.

Of course we all hope that this prediction comes true. The more cynical ones among us might wonder which “small independent operators” would find the funding and the appetite for risk that would justify taking on such retail units at any time, let alone in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. But we must try to stop being so cynical, yes?

Changing shopping habits?

Indeed, it may be that we are at the beginning of the revolution in shopping habits that some commentators have predicted.There’s a theory that people who previously commuted into town for their work will instead be working partly or entirely closer to home, and will therefore need more shops locally rather than in the City or the West End. That could herald a brighter future for retailers and hospitality venues in places like Herne Hill.

Full story with more detailed background in the forthcoming issue of Herne Hill Magazine.

Feel more at home

Now that we’re all (supposedly) walking more, and now that the (supposedly) warmer, sunnier weather will encourage us to walk even more, neighbours might like to harvest a little local knowledge as they stride along.

The Herne Hill Heritage Trail is a very successful and useful 168-page book published by the Herne Hill Society. With six hand-drawn colour maps and many other  illustrations, this soft-cover book explores the unique identity of Herne Hill. Our history is traced through many changes over the last two centuries and told through a mixture of buildings, places and objects – some to be seen to this day but others long gone – and the people associated with them.

Available for £9.50 plus postage from the Herne Hill Society’s online book store. It’s quick and easy with Paypal.

New roadmap out of Covid restrictions

There’s a lot of information this evening, from numerous sources,   about the government’s new graduated roadmap towards greater normality.  But we thought a summary might be useful .

The full detailed text of the government announcement is available online.

Separately, a stage-by-stage summary in diagram form has also been issued :

The COVID-19 Roadmap for England: Step 1
The COVID-19 Roadmap for England: Step 1
The COVID-19 Roadmap for England: Step 2
The COVID-19 Roadmap for England: Step 3
The COVID-19 Roadmap for England: Step 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calling all Ruskin Park fans

Friends of Ruskin Park (FofRP) have released information about a series of events  –  The Open Arms  –  that Lambeth are proposing to host in Ruskin Park across the summer. The events, and supporting installations, would mainly happen around the Bandstand.

Sounds fun, maybe – but as the FofRP comment, “This is too much time for one organisation to be effectively taking over the popular bandstand area. It is more like a concession, not an event.”

The proposal  – ‘pop-up’ or concession?

Lambeth’s proposal explains that  “The Open Arms is a performance-led pop-up occupying Ruskin Park Bandstand (ideally) for summer 2021. As a recipient of the Arts Council England’s ‘Culture Recovery Grant’, they will be looking to bring to life an activation that celebrates and supports the rich pool of talent living within the borough. They will provide a stage for local performance in the midst of rapid venue closures. Alongside a Food and beverage offer.”

Full details of the proposal are in a PDF accessed via the FoRP website

FofRP initial comments

The Friends of Ruskin Park committee has already raised some initial points with Event Lambeth.

They are not opposed in principle to appropriate new ventures for entertainment and refreshments that benefit Ruskin Park and local people.

However, they have several concerns:

  • that this is too much time for one organisation to be effectively taking over the popular bandstand area. It is more like a concession, not an event.
  • about the installation of two semi-permanent pavilions and toilet structures in the area surrounding the bandstand and their impact on the landscape.
  • about the size of the event levy and what would actually be spent on Ruskin Park.
  • about risks of noise and size of audience.
  • about the overall balance of these facilities, as proposed, with the calm and natural character of the park.
  • that this is an untested format so there should be monitoring and revision stages during the 5 month contract.
  • that the business model of the organiser should be transparent and the assets of the public park are properly valued in any such transaction.

Feedback and deadline

Anyone  –  and particularly, perhaps, those of us who  live nearby and use Ruskin Park  –   may lodge comments with Lambeth.

Please visit The Friend’s excellent web page for further information and advice on opportunities for public comments to Lambeth by the consultation deadline of 10th March.

 

What’s happening in Station Square?

If you’ve been out and about in the centre of Herne Hill, you can’t have failed to notice the unexpected works going on in and around the new-ish shop premises on Station Square. This started yesterday with no warning to the shop and flat tenants.

Station Square, 16 February 2021

It’s all connected with the installation of the electricity substation, which threatens to be a massively heavy piece of equipment. Under the planning application that was agreed last year, it will be inserted into the shop unit next door to Lark.

Home for an electricity substation

Full background  –  and lots of other local stuff  –   in the next issue of Herne Hill magazine, out in the next couple of weeks. Anyone joining the Society now will get it delivered with no fuss when printed.

 

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