The Artists’ Open House project, a major element of the annual Dulwich Festival every May, goes from strength to strength. The full programme now has nearly 100 pages! And the area covered reaches from Peckham Rye down to Crystal Palace and from Loughborough Junction across to the fringes of Forest Hill and Sydenham.
This year, we have an open house here on Fawnbrake at number 73 where Alan and Jorge are opening their house to show Jorge’s landscape, portrait and abstract paintings. There is more information about his work on his website www.sanchezart.co.uk
Here, as across the festival, the artists open their houses for visitors on 14–15 May and 21-22 May, normally between 11 am and 6 pm
The website for the whole of this year’s Artists’ Open House programme can be found here.
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.
Like all older streets, all over the world, Fawnbrake Avenue has seen many generations coming and going, mostly now forgotten except possibly by their descendants, if they bother to look.
Turning to the 1911 Census for my own house, I discover that it was lived in then by a family of three along with a young domestic servant.
The 42-year-old head of the family was Mr Frederick Reader, who gave his profession as Wholesale Provision Salesman. His wife Mrs Grace Reader was also 42.
She was previously Mrs Grace Hunter(née Wilmott) from Chatham in Kent, and had been widowed, with a young daughter, Sybil Grace Hunter, by now 13: Sybil Grace also lived in the house.
10 years earlier, Frederick and Grace had married in St Paul’s Church, Herne Hill, in October 1901; at that time Frederick Reader was shown as living at 37 Kestrel Avenue.
The domestic servant living with them in 1911 was a 17-year-old girl, Rose Moulton. A quick glance through a selection of the other houses on Fawnbrake Avenue shows quite a number with domestic servants living in at that time.
After the First World War, Sybil Grace went on to marry a Mr Edwin Everett in 1925 and ended up in Esher in Surrey. Sybil Grace died in 1997.
Thus do the lives of residents in our houses overlap, even though they never meet.
A recently-arrived neighbour on Fawnbrake Avenue, Maxine Latinis, is a Barre fitness instructor, and would be happy to welcome local residents to her classes at the South London Dance School in the centre of Herne Hill.
After noticing that several gyms in the area offer oversubscribed Barre classes, Maxine decided to team up with The South London Dance School and bring Drop In classes to South London. She hopes to save Barre converts the long trip into central London, or the commitment of a gym membership.
Barre, she explains, is a fitness class, open to all abilities, that utilises the strengthening elements of Ballet, the stabilising focus of Pilates and the stretching techniques of Yoga. Each class is to music, and runs for 55 minutes. As she puts it … “imagine the repetitions of Pilates with a little more diversity & excitement!”
Maxine can be found at The South London Dance School, Wednesday mornings, between 7-7.55am & 8-8.55am
Maxine also teaches for Virgin Active, around London, including Virgin Active in Streatham.