Living in Herne Hill brings many advantages and pleasures, not least because we are, er, living on an actual Hill. So we have views.
When John Ruskin and his family lived in their houses near the top of Herne Hill itself, there were more views, because there was so much less housing. Much of the time he found them blissful, but in 1854 the translation of the Crystal Palace from South Kensington to the summit of Sydenham Hill spoilt his view southwards. He described the Crystal Palace as “possessing no more sublimity than a cucumber frame between two chimneys”. (Sublimity was a big thing for him; he was not normally seduced by modernity.) Anyways it’s gone now, burnt down in 1936.
But we have other views, particularly to the south-west, and they show a world city which is still evolving. When we looked in that direction a few years ago, we would have seen the four iconic chimneys of Battersea Power Station. Though they are still there, they are dwarfed and hidden from our view by the gleaming towers of the new South Bank development generally known as Nine Elms.
This 561-acre space between Vauxhall and Battersea is transforming at a pace seldom seen in an established world city, with £15 billion total investment, 20,000 new homes and reportedly 25,000 new jobs. The Northern Line Extension with two stations is scheduled to open in 2021. There will still be the vegetable and flower market, tucked among the skyscrapers and the new US Embassy.
Poor Mr Ruskin would probably have hated it, and many of us would not actually want to live there. But we might be happy to view it from a safe distance, across Ruskin Park. In its own dramatic way, the view is perhaps sublime.