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Ruskin in the South London Press – how appropriate!

‘Sunset over Herne Hill’, an absorbing & very  readable exploration   – by local writers (including one of our Fawnbrake neighbours) and  published by the Herne Hill Society  –   of the great John Ruskin’s South London (indeed, Herne Hill)  roots, is featured in the current issue of the bi-weekly South London Press.

Luckily it’s also in their online edition at pages 34-35.

See also the Society’s online shop.

As Jon Newman, one of the authors, writes:

“Ruskin was one of the first people to question the self-confident and assured capitalism of the 19th century – what he referred “the Great Goddess of Getting-on” – and to foresee the destructive physical and social consequences of unfettered industrial and urban growth. In the 21st century, with the same concerns, we have much to learn from him. What is more, the destruction and damage that he started to observe around him, became more and more focused on his immediate surroundings in South London. Around Herne Hill he finds confirmation of his antipathy to railway building, uncontrolled suburban growth and the consequent destruction of the landscape. The Crystal Palace, glittering on his skyline, came to exemplify the philistine commercialism of Victorian capitalism for him. …”

Good news about The Cambria

Some much-needed cheerful news: The Cambria pub down on the corner of Cambria Road and Kemerton Road is scheduled to reopen next spring under new and competent management.

The Cambria in December 2021

The Victorian pub closed two years ago but had been in decline for longer, lacking capital investment and experienced managers. Following repossession orders, it was acquired by Star Pubs & Bars, the pubs management wing of Amsterdam-based global beer brand Heineken.

The new owner indubitably brings a safe pair of hands and access to the sort of investment capital needed to refurbish this poor rundown institution, which might now once again offer joy, refreshment and a welcoming meeting space to the residents of this quiet and attractive corner on the cusp of Herne Hill and Loughborough Junction, as well as to those visiting Ruskin Park.

Star in turn have let the premises to experienced pub operators Prospect Pubs & Bars Ltd  who will now be taking this forward, supported by the marketing, financial and technological experience of Star Pubs & Bars / Heineken.

We should expect major refurbishment and some expansion, for which Lambeth have already granted planning permission. Work on the ambitious redevelopment, including the back yard of the pub, has been entrusted to Vidette UK, specialists in pub refurbishment, and has already started.

Work has already started on the ambitious pub garden

As well as the refurbished indoor bars, the new plan offers a 40-cover garden room with retractable roof and sides, as well as indoor dining and liquid refreshments.

The core beer brands on the bar will be those supplied by the Brixton Brewery – hardly surprising, since they are now wholly owned by Heineken.

The Brixton Blog reported this news yesterday, and has obtained an cosy-looking artists’ impression what the pub might look like when the refurbishment is finished.

The future Cambria

Christmas Trees to support St Saviour’s School – order soon!

We are fortunate in having several nice schools within easy walking distance and now it’s almost Christmas (which seems to have crept up on us more quickly than usual this year), St Saviour’s School have announced a clever way to support their fundraising campaign and also help us get a Christmas tree in a highly convenient & hopefully stress-free way. The school earns £10 per tree ordered.

Baubles and other ornaments not included!

Prices vary of course according to the size of the tree but seem reasonable.

Orders have to be placed and paid for online by close of play on 26 November, so not long to go. Trees will be ready for collection from the school playground on Saturday 4 December. Probably within walking distance unless you order a giant tree.

Use this link to order.

Registration and payment are quick and easy and you get an email acknowledgement which you need to take along when collecting the tree on 4 December.

Electric cars – where can we charge them (and other problems)?

I’m afraid I have shamelessly lifted this article from a recent Spectator website. It attracted a very high number of interesting comments, which I cannot begin to reproduce.

But the many problems of electric vehicles – including not just the initial cost but also their weight, the environmental impact of the raw materials, their high demands on the electricity network and of course, as mentioned below, the obvious problem of where they can be charged especially in a crowded city – are beginning to dawn on people. True, some houses on Fawnbrake Avenue have been able to convert their front gardens to a parking space, thereby solving one of the problems. But a majority of residents don’t have that option. And lamp-post charging sets off a whole number of other complications.

 

“With their private jets and gas-guzzling mansions, delegates at Cop26 have been widely criticised for an elitist attitude towards the environment. Nothing better demonstrates the gulf between policymakers and ordinary people than over the charging points for electric cars. It is one thing to install a home charging point for your car if you own a large house up a crunchy gravel driveway – indeed, according to the property website Rightmove, owners of such properties have been fitting charging points with great enthusiasm, with a 541 per cent increase in the number of homes being advertised with such a facility over the past year.

But what do you do if you live in one of the 43 per cent of homes which do not have off-street parking? In fact, you don’t necessarily have to be of modest means to live in such a house – there are plenty of city centre homes, in Belgravia and such places to boot, which open straight onto the pavement. Owning a car in a city has not been easy ever since controlled parking and traffic wardens started to appear in the 1960s, but it is just about to get a whole lot more difficult. Even if you can find somewhere to charge an electric car the electricity is likely to be several times more expensive than plugging it in to your home supply.

That said, there have been some trials with on-street recharging points, which may be coming to a street near you soon. Under the Go Ultra Low City Scheme, 1000 on-street charging points were installed in London in 2019 – utilising existing lamp-posts. You are not going to get a rapid charging point from the electricity supply to a lamp-post – they are limited to 3.7 kW – but it is enough for an overnight charge. Reading, too, has been experimenting with fixing sockets to existing lamp-posts.

But there are still many problems to overcome. In Reading, many street lamps proved to be unsuitable because there are installed on the nearside of the pavement, which would have required a cable to be dangled dangerously across the footway. Pedestrians face enough obstructions without having to step over an electric cable every few yards. That problem could be overcome by excavating small channels beneath the pavement so that a cable can be run across without tripping people up. One company, Greenmole, in association with Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Salford has been installing just that: channels which lead from a motorist’s own home to the roadside, to enable charging. It comes at a price – such an installation will cost you around £3000. But there is a bigger problem, too: very few people have a reserved parking place directly outside their home – even where parking permit schemes exist they tend to allow parking on a street-by-street or area-by-area basis, not to individually-designated parking spaces.

As more electric cars come into use, there are going to be intense battles over this. Should homeowners be allowed to claim parking spaces directly outside their homes so they can charge their vehicles more easily – and if so, what should they be charged for the privilege? After all, the public highway is supposed to be a facility for all, not for bits effectively to be privatised for the exclusive benefit of nearby property-owners. In any case, reserving parking spaces outside homes is not going to help everyone. If you have a house, say, divided into three flats, who, if anyone, gets to bag the single streetside parking space?

One thing is for sure, until the problem of charging electric vehicles on the streets is solved, properties with off-street parking are likely to command an even greater premium than they already do. The Battle of Cable Steet is long remembered as the struggle between communists and fascists in the 1930s. The Battle of Street Cabling has yet to come.”

“Sunset over Herne Hill”

A new and deeply interesting book about John Ruskin and Herne Hill has just been published by the Herne Hill Society (as members of the HHS have just been told).

John Ruskin spent his childhood and most of his working life here in Herne Hill. When he died in 1900 just a year before Queen Victoria – about the same time as many of the houses here on Fawnbrake Avenue were built – he had become one of the most original,  controversial and globally influential thinkers and writers of the 19th century.

Despite the cascade of studies and biographies of Ruskin over the last hundred years, this is the first book to look with authority and in depth at the importance of South London in shaping Ruskin’s thinking.

Despite all his foreign travels, public lecturing, the academic posts at Oxford, his work for London’s museums, and those messianic forays into the new industrial regions of England, Herne Hill was the place where Ruskin spent his childhood and most productive years. Here he wrote the increasingly passionate books, articles and speeches that made him nationally and indeed globally celebrated.

It was also from here, and well into his old age, that he studied and pronounced upon his shifting world.

A witness to a degrading environment

Even from his early age a precocious and acute observer of nature, Ruskin loved the then unspoilt hills, skies, rivers and fields of Herne Hill, Dulwich, and Norwood .

But his affectionate memories of this unblemished (but as he discovered, all too fragile) environment also turned out to be a painful benchmark for what developed in later decades. So it was also in Herne Hill, as the years passed, that Ruskin witnessed and described, with increasing horror, the destruction of the natural environment through railway building and uncontrolled suburban growth.

Sunset at Herne Hill through the Smoke of London 1876 (The Ruskin Museum,Coniston)

A prophet of climate change?

As early as 1860, he had written “Whenever I look or travel in England or abroad, I see that men, wherever they can reach, destroy all beauty.” (Modern Painters V). His vivid 1876 watercolour “Sunset at Herne Hill through the Smoke of London”, featuring on the front cover of the new book, is a melancholy and prophetic attempt to illustrate this change

Published by the Herne Hill Society, this important new book by local historians Jon Newman and Laurence Marsh, based on meticulous research, brings sensitive and original insights into the development of Ruskin’s distress about the world and the environment, as he prophesied how manufacturing and hasty urbanisation was damaging society and the climate across England, and especially, from his own bedroom window, in the world metropolis that his native city had become.

“Sunset over Herne Hill” concludes with a rewarding examination of the social and historical context of Herne Hill and Denmark Hill during Ruskin’s lifetime and his family’s place within South London as the 19th century progressed, when London was becoming the most prosperous and populous city in the world, as well as probably the most polluted.

This illuminating and touching book restores John Ruskin to South London… the authors of ‘Sunset over Herne Hill’ take us back to the neglected roots of the great Victorian romantic’s creativity”Andrew Saint, Professor at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, general editor of the Survey of London, and author of the newly-published “London 1870-1914: a City at its Zenith”

The book has 160 pages with 80 colour & b/w illustrations, with a map by David Western.

£17.00 (including delivery) by mail order from the Herne Hill Society
or from Herne Hill Books.

Crossrail draws ever closer

The Elizabeth Line, its official name, now seems almost within reach.

Although the full stretch of the route from Reading or Heathrow all the way to Brentwood and Shenfield in  Essex may not be ready next year, we are now being assured that the busiest, central section, from Paddington to Abbey Wood, is on course (fingers crossed) to open to passengers in the first half of 2022.

 

It’s a fiendishly complicated project with many features that need to be severely tested before passengers are allowed on. The ‘Trial Running’ phase (operating timetabled train movements in the central operating section) is almost complete now, and the more real-life ‘Trial Operations’ testing phase is scheduled to open later this year.

At the moment, Crossrail is running 12 trains per hour (tph) in the 42km of tunnels that have been built below London, increasing train mileage, building reliability and flushing out issues with the systems and signalling software. Already seven of the new stations have been commissioned and handed over to TfL following successful completion of testing and integration work. Canary Wharf and Bond Street will follow.

12 tph is the initial level of service on the Elizabeth line, but they will also be testing 24 tph train movements on the railway later this year – this will be the service frequency in the central section when the full Elizabeth line is operational. Which is pretty fast.

But we aren’t on Crossrail

No indeed, so why does this matter to us?

Well, because Herne Hill Station is in the fortunate position of offering not only a swift direct line to Victoria but also the Thameslink route which takes us to Farringdon, where there is a major interchange with the Elizabeth Line. From Farringdon it’s only a few stops west to Paddington or east to Canary Wharf, cutting out some of the tiresome interchanges on the tube network.

Farringdon Elizabeth Line Station (c) Crossrail

A couple of years ago, we asked some local estate agents if they thought Crossrail would make an impact on property values in Herne Hill. We got some blank looks, and the impression that they hadn’t even thought about this.

It’s often true that people buy flats or houses here without first carrying out a deep study of transport options. But those potential incomers who do take such things into account must see these improved travel options as being another positive feature about SE24 – as might many of us who already live here.

Except, of course, for people who are permanently WFH? Nice if you can get it, and many observers think that it is now embedded in work culture; but  as a total replacement for commuting to the office as well? Maybe not: we’ll still need to get around.

Crime and Punishment in Herne Hill

Crime and Punishment in Herne Hill, 1750 – 1900  –  a free illustrated talk by Laurence Marsh and Rebecca Tee from the Herne Hill Society, Monday, 27 September 2021, 7.00pm to 8.00pm

This is a free online event via Zoom as part of Lambeth Heritage Festival.

Join to listen to the stories uncovered by research into the murkier history of Herne Hill.

In 1750 there were more than 150 crimes where the death penalty could be imposed. 1902 saw the very first use in evidence of fingerprints in an English courtroom.

Book via Eventbrite here .

 

One of the most unusual houses in Herne Hill …

… is an archetypal 1930s modernist home in Dorchester Drive, which has just come on the market after 65 years.

It starts with Kemp & Tasker

Who? Leslie Kemp and Frederick Tasker were English architects who practised in the 1930s as Kemp & Tasker.
They are best known for their cinemas (many now demolished, inevitably), although they are also responsible for several notable 1930s/modernist buildings in South London and Kent, often constructed by an energetic firm of builders, the Morrell brothers of Bromley.
These include the Dorchester Court flats between Herne Hill and Dorchester Drive, which as many local people will know are now owned by a neglectful property company harbouring ambitions for deleterious extensions.
However the Morrell brothers also built individual family homes including two Kemp & Tasker designed houses just up the road from our street, on Dorchester Drive. Indeed, the Morrells designed and built that whole street, each house being different from its neighbours.

Dorchester Drive

In 1934, one particular Kemp & Tasker house design was submitted to the Daily Mail’s Ideal House Competition.

The Morrells embraced and promoted this design, claiming in a glossy brochure  (unearthed for us by our learned neighbour Laurence, who indeed spotted that this distinctive house has come on the market) that it could be built to order anywhere. And so it was.

It’s red

Unlike another No 10 with a famous black door, number 10 Dorchester Drive, two streets up from here, has in fact a red door and windows and is one of the three known Kemp & Tasker examples of this design that still exist – and it is now on sale.

Morrells brochure for K&T house


Form an orderly queue

The 5-bedroomed  house is said to be fundamentally in good order, having been lived in and cared for by the same family – Mr & Mrs Eysenck – since 1956. Hans Jürgen Eysenck, the celebrated and latterly controversial psychologist, died in 1997 and his wife Sybil Eysenck died in March 2020, which explains why the house is now on the market for the first time in 65 years.
The property is being marketed through estate agents Hamptons. Their blurb announces that

“… this house now provides the opportunity for a buyer to breathe new life into a well-loved family home to create something really special in terms of style and space. It has wonderful features such as curved doors, original hardwood flooring (beneath existing carpets), original Crittall windows, the fabulous ‘sunspan’ curved window in the lounge, grand iron staircase and original tiled bathroom. There is a wraparound garden and off-street parking on both sides.”

However, the buyers will need to find £1.75 million, plus a fair bit more for the necessary updating. Insulating all those big windows will also be quite a challenge. The red paint will probably be replaced by something more muted from Farrow & Ball or Mylands.

Disappointed dreams

Incidentally, the Morrell brothers (they were twins) also built a much bigger house, for themselves, at no. 5 Dorchester Drive. But they managed to go bankrupt and never got to live there.