‘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.
“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. …”
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.
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.
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.
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.
… 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.
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.
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.
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 blurbannounces 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.
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.
Tomorrow, Monday 2 August, is the last day on which we can submit our comments to the Boundary Commission’s proposals to abolish our constituency and split it three ways – an outcome that would seriously weaken our ability to articulate our interests to local authorities and central government, which can at present be voiced by our current MP.
I am thinking in part of Helen Hayes’ ability and willingness to support our local refugee initiatives, which would inevitably be diminished under the Commission’s proposals. But there are many other implications in the current proposals.
The Herne Hill Society has already commented. But individual objections also count. Those who believe that our identity is important could perhaps take a few minutes to get a grasp of the issues and lodge a comment on the Boundary Commission website (link at the end).
For what it is worth, I have written in the following terms, which draw heavily on the well-argued submission from the Herne Hill Society:
“I am strongly opposed to the Boundary Commission’s proposals for the drawing the constituency boundaries for Herne Hill, an area with a strong local identity centred (though not exclusively) on the SE24 postcode. I strongly urge the Commission to develop an alternative solution, perhaps along the lines identified below.
Under the current proposals, Herne Hill, the area in which I live, would be divided between three constituencies. This means that the Lambeth ward of Herne Hill would become part of the new Clapham and Brixton constituency; the Southwark ward of Dulwich Village would become part of the new constituency of Dulwich and Sydenham; and the Lambeth ward of Thurlow Park would be attached to the far-distant Streatham area. Herne Hill is already divided between two London boroughs, but this proposal sees it losing its current unity within one parliamentary constituency.
This is a major loss to the people of Herne Hill on two levels.
The first relates to local identity, a vital element in a city as large as London. An essential part of community cohesion is the sense of belonging to a particular place. People are motivated by this sense to strive for the best outcomes for their area. One of the criteria that the Boundary Commission must take account of is “local links that would be broken by changes in constituencies”. The local links in this case are those that have given Herne Hill its cohesion and hence its very identity over many generations. Splitting Herne Hill three ways can only be permanently damaging to Herne Hill’s identity and would gravely hamper our ability to voice our democratic concerns.
The second level of loss concerns the practical advantages for Herne Hill in being in one constituency and is therefore easier to define. There are distinct benefits in having one member of parliament, particularly where local issues concern the whole of the Herne Hill community. These include Issues such as traffic calming measures and transport more generally, public safety and policing, and the promotion of social, humanitarian, educational and economic initiatives that help keep our community together. It makes practical sense for one member of parliament to represent Herne Hill’s interests. In the present constituency, one member of parliament can – and does – speak to the local authorities in both Southwark and Lambeth, as well as to national government, and can have an overview of matters that cross the borough boundary. Under the Boundary Commission proposals as they affect Herne Hill, Southwark and Lambeth are divided. In our view, this can only lead to a fragmentation of the interests of Herne Hill and a lessening of the ability of our community to be heard effectively through parliamentary representation.
However, there is a counter-proposal that would achieve the goal of numerical parity within given margins and avoid the harm to Herne Hill outlined above without inflicting disproportionate disadvantages on other areas.
This solution would involve retaining the current constituency of Dulwich and West Norwood (or whatever name is most appropriate), but with some modification of the boundaries. Thus the revised constituency would comprise: the wards of Coldharbour, Gipsy Hill, Herne Hill, Knight’s Hill and Thurlow Park in Lambeth, and the wards of Champion Hill, Dulwich Village and Dulwich Wood in Southwark.
I urge the Boundary Commission to consider this alternative solution which would ensure that Herne Hill remains within one parliamentary constituency, an arrangement which has served us well over many years.”
The link to the Boundary Commission’s comment facility is here.
A very talented local artist – a blacksmith in fact – features in the cover story of the latest Herne Hill magazine.
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/
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.
“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.
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.
News about Fawnbrake Avenue & neighbouring streets in Herne Hill, London