Yes, it’s not in Herne Hill, and certainly not in Fawnbrake Avenue, but many of us know and treasure Sydenham Hill Wood, and it became a precious haven during successive lockdown periods.
In inevitable consequence, however, the paths and neighbouring areas got heavily trampled, and are now being restored by volunteers. Some vulnerable species have been put under real pressure, and without this vital work, they may not recover.
The wood is a rare remnant of the renowned Great North Wood which stretched in ancient times from beyond Croydon, over the Norwood Ridge (now Crystal Palace) right down to Dulwich and Herne Hill and even to Deptford. It is cared for by the London Wildlife Trust (LWT). The adjoining Dulwich Wood is cared for by the Dulwich Estate, but with support from the LWT.
There is currently an appeal, where public contributions will be matched by larger donors, to raise the money towards the restoration task.
In these tense times there are so many calls on our generosity, but this appeal for Sydenham Hill Wood feels hugely worthwhile. Click hereto read about the appeal.
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.
Yes, Brockwell Park is bigger and offers perhaps more scenic variety, but Ruskin Park is closer. Those of us who live in this quarter of Herne Hill are doubly blessed.
But Ruskin Park has one (so far) unique detail. The massive fallen branch of the Turkey Oak which looms at the bottom corner of the park near Finsen Road has been granted a new life by the Friends of Ruskin Park, who engaged the artist Morganico to work on it, producing a wealth of carved three-dimensional designs – a whale, squirrel, acorns, oak leaves and even a seat and a recess for your coffee cup (though of course we are not supposed to sit down anywhere in public parks at the moment). Children love it, everyone stops to admire it.
You can read a full article about this project, which also features the artist, in the next issue of Herne Hill magazine hopefully out next month. Covid permitting, those joining the Herne Hill Society now (a mere £10) will be sure of getting a copy delivered to them.
Meanwhile the Brockwell Park urban forest are not far behind.
They too have a great and ancient oak tree, albeit of a different species, which has also lost a significant branch. There are now plans to make that branch, too, come alive with carvings by the same artist – all subject to a host of necessary permissions and approvals of course. Undoubtedly some money is needed.
When complete, this new carved bench will be dedicated to all those we have lost during the pandemic & work towards improving mental health for the local community and all visitors to the park.
There is now a funding campaign to help this project along, which can be seen at GoFundMe.
Lambeth Council’s plans to allow music festivals again in Brockwell Park are already well advanced, all subject of course to Covid-19.
At this stage,we have until 8 December to make our views known to Councillors (see below).
Published documents envisage a Summer Event Series 2021 with up to six Large / Major event days taking place over two consecutive weekends, with medium/ small community event days taking place in the weekdays between.
Final decisions will supposedly be made next spring. But the council has naturally been in discussion with the operators already, and appears disposed to grant permission. So, pandemic permitting, the park will again hold a major event organised by Mighty Hoopla plus other events.
Areas blocked off for weeks
The occupation of major parts of the park area would start on Wednesday 26 May (when the contractors begin the build) lasting until Sunday 20 June 2021 when the derig ends. Allow several more weeks for repairing the damage done to the ground and fixtures of the park.
Quite a lot of people
On ‘Major Event Days’, planning will be in place to accommodate 25,000 on site each day. On ‘Large Event Days’ (mid-week community days), planning will be in place to accommodate up to 10,000 on site.
As in previous years, the prospect of such events provokes controversy.
Some people are content to see the park used in ways that brings fun to mainly young people, and some financial benefit to the council and some local businesses. Others are bitterly opposed to offering this public amenity to what are, in effect, fiercely commercial operators whose events can damage the park, create massive noise disturbance, disrupt local streets and prevent local people and visitors having access to and enjoyment of many areas of the Park .
According to a recent Brixton Buzz article, The Friends of Brockwell Park, in particular, are leading the outcry and inviting people to protest to our Councillors by 8 December. We can also send comments direct to Lambeth via firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Herne Hill Ward Lambeth Councillors’ contact details are as follows:
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.
This is the text of a letter from our neighbour Christina Rogers at no 88. Everyone in the street should have received a copy through their door this week.
19th July 2020
Dear Fellow Fawnbrakers,
Do you want to opt out of council weedkilling?
At the moment, Lambeth Council sprays glyphosate weedkiller to keep our pavements and road gutters weed-free. As you may know, over the last few years there have been health and environmental concerns about the weedkiller glyphosate. A US court has awarded large damages in a case of lymphoma in a man who sprayed it professionally. A WHO committee has said it’s ‘probably carcinogenic’. There is evidence of an effect on the soil, the water table, and bees and other pollinators, and several European countries have already banned it. Although it hasn’t yet been banned here, Lambeth plan to stop using it in October next year, and they are trying out a range of alternative ways of keeping the weeds down.
One option would be for us to weed our own road and pavements. If there were enough of us, it wouldn’t take long – all you need is gloves and a knife. According to the council webpage if roots and accumulated soil are removed in Spring it takes longer for weeds to grow back after hand-weeding than after weedkiller, so three times a year would probably be enough.
We already have 16 Fawnbrakers who are interested in helping. The more of us there are the quicker it would be for each person to do.
Tell us what you think
So, if you would like to HELP WITH WEEDING, or OBJECT to opting out of spraying, please contact me on 07952-956-551, or drop a note through the door of number 88. To join the what’s app group please give me your mobile number.
The council deadline for opting out is coming up soon so please respond before 31st July.
You do not have to have a Zoom account to join these talks. You will be prompted to download the software once you have clicked on the above link. You can also create an account, but it is not essential. If you are a first-time Zoom user, please allow yourself time to do this before the talk starts.
Plans for the twin tower development proposed for Loughborough Junction, featured in our last post, have been comprehensively rubbished in a formal objection now tabled on behalf of the Herne Hill Society.
The main thrust of the Society’s objection is that a decision to allow the proposed development would go against the Lambeth Plan for new developments, as well as the London Plan and indeed the 2019 National Planning Policy Framework.
This sounds academic, but demonstrating how the proposal is fundamentally inconsistent with the Council’s own planning guidelines makes it very difficult for the Lambeth planners to give it the green light – though of course there’s no guarantee that they won’t find a way to wriggle out of this.
The draft new Lambeth Plan lays down many requirements that new developments must respect, including the principle that the design of a new development must be a response to the good aspects of the local context and historic character in many detailed ways.
The proposal flouts Lambeth’s own standards
As the Society’s magisterial demolition of the proposal states, the architects have signally failed to meet these policy criteria. “Two towers rising to 29 and 20 stories are not a positive or contextual response to the character of the area. On the contrary, they are wilfully antagonistic to the character, creating densely congested structures with an overbearing presence out of any reasonable scale with neighbouring buildings.”
They go on to say: “The rationale of the designs stems solely from the maximisation of housing capacity on a small site, not from any response to local context.”
Rules for tall buildings
There is more. They note that the London Plan and the Lambeth Plan emphasise that tall buildings require excellent design and should be of “exemplary standard”. But as the Society points out, “the towers stand out for their gross incongruity in the local context not for any outstanding design quality or distinct architectural expression.”
They also flag up the proposed towers’ harmful effect on heritage assets, particularly views from Ruskin Park and Brockwell Park where what is proposed is a “markedly intrusive, permanent alteration to views from the park, one that makes no positive contribution to the park and its local context.”
The proposal’s airily dismissed references to potential bottlenecks in public transport (mentioned in our last post) are also painfully exposed and politely savaged in the Society’s response.
There is more: it’s well worth a read, and shows the importance of having a strong local Society, supported by experts who know their stuff. The upshot is that their demolition of the tower development proposal, while elegantly written, is comprehensive and enough to make its architects blush. (Don’t count on it.)
Read it all
The full text of the Objection can be read in a PDF found via a new page on the Herne Hill Society’s website, through this link.
Many neighbours (including Fawnbrake Avenue residents plugged into the Fawnbrake Street Party WhatsApp group) have already heard about the plans to erect a massive building sprouting two tower blocks of 20 and 29 storeys at Loughborough Junction, where Herne Hill Road approaches Coldharbour Lane. Yes it’s in Loughborough Junction, but this eyesore would dominate much of Herne Hill too, particularly on the Lambeth side.
The site is bounded by Hinton Road (the short extension of Milkwood Road), Wanless Street (right up against the back gardens of the houses), Herne Hill Road, and one of Loughborough Junction’s many railway viaducts, this one carrying trains to and from Denmark Hill Station.
The proposed new building (it is nominally one “podium building” with two towers superimposed) would offer some employment and retail floorspace, and 170 flats.
Time to send in our comments
Few of us would argue that these two sites are perfect as they are. Redevelopment is overdue, with the emphasis on more housing accommodation, but with some space for businesses too.
But why the looming towers? The crass unsuitability of such an intrusive development has provoked an unprecedented torrent of predominantly hostile comments on Lambeth Council’s planning site. There is still time for others to lodge their objections. It’s easily done and now is the time, before the website closes for comments. The site can be reached by clicking here.
A host of objections suggest themselves, including the grotesque disturbance of the traditional, mainly low-rise landscape and views around this part of south-east London including from Ruskin Park.
Herne Hill Society on the case
The Herne Hill Society’s highly expert planning group have already posted a report, available by clicking here. They are currently preparing a major, detailed objection to this plan. We will post a link to this when it becomes available.
Meanwhile, this post focuses mainly on the transport issues.
But first … another 16-storey tower looms
What makes things worse is that the proposed development would sit alongside another earlier one, in the pipeline already, featuring a 16-storey tower, on the neighbouring so-called Higgs Estate. This lies just the other side of the same railway viaduct and abuts on to Coldharbour Lane. Lambeth granted planning permission for this development in December 2019. Local societies including the Herne Hill Society and the Brixton Society strongly objected to this application too, but were overruled by Lambeth.
So if the current application were to be granted, Loughborough Junction would “benefit”, as the estate agents say, from three highly intrusive tower blocks – see the picture.
In our view, one’s enough.
Rail transport links? Wishful thinking
What is particularly nonsensical is the claim that the development is well served by public transport.
It is literally true, as the application blandly states, that “The application site is well served by public transport and Loughborough Junction Station, which is within a two-minute walk of the site, offers mainline train services to central London and elsewhere.”
But of course, this ignores, either deliberately and cynically, or unprofessionally, the fact that at critical times of the day (and particularly at morning rush hour between 7:30 and 9:00), the Thameslink trains stopping at Loughborough Junction are already full to bursting – so much so that passengers wanting to board at Herne Hill station, just 2 minutes up the line, often have to wait for several trains to go through before they can squeeze on. No way would the hundreds of additional commuters emerging from the proposed tower blocks be able to struggle on board at Loughborough Junction.
Lies, Damned Lies and Cynicism
A Transport Plan, one of the many supporting documents accompanying the application, concedes that a Lambeth Council study in 2014 already identified, even back then, that “Loughborough Junction … suffers from sharp peaks that contribute to relatively uncomfortable conditions for passengers both within the ticket hall and on the platform.”
Things have undoubtedly got worse in the last six years, and will get even worse when the residents of the 16 stories on the Higgs Estate start trying to get to work. But the authors of the Transport Plan, inevitably delivering what the developers want to hear and have paid for, suggest that people could quite easily walk to Denmark Hill station (already highly congested) via Ruskin Park or to Brixton Underground. We have seen no evidence that the developers or their transport planners have bothered to open a dialogue with the train operators to address these issues. Perhaps because there is no solution?
Raising the very same objections last March to the earlier Higgs Estate proposal, the Brixton Society pulled no punches:
“The present Public Transport Accessibility score is … deceptive, and new residents will experience difficulty if they wish to travel to work in Central London at normal hours. Yet that access to Central London will be the main appeal of this location for purchasers of the sale or shared ownership dwellings within this development. Claims by the applicant that only a few will wish to do so are entirely specious.”
It still went ahead.
Maybe our new neighbours in Loughborough Junction will all resort to cycling? In which case, the cycle shop on Coldharbour Lane might do quite nicely out of it. The rest of us won’t.
I guess we’ve all noticed that the noise from flights overhead has worsened in recent years, badly affecting our enjoyment of our homes, gardens and local parks, and disturbing our sleep particularly in the early morning.
This is due to changes which mean that over this part of South London, flights are more frequent and planes are flying lower.
Herne Hill, Dulwich, Forest Hill, Brixton, Camberwell and swathes of south-east London are particularly affected.
Changes in recent years mean that we are on a concentrated flight path for arrivals into Heathrow Airport. When the wind is westerly, which is 70% of the time, all flights arriving into Heathrow airport are flying over our area in a concentrated descent approach.
Dulwich and Herne Hill Quiet Skies Campaign
Some neighbours in Dulwich have started a petition and have highlighted this in a post on the Herne Hill Forum website, but this does not seem to have been well publicised on social media, least of all on Twitter unless I have missed something. The number of signatures so far is disappointing.
We would encourage all readers of this message to visit the petition site at change.org and sign it.
News about Fawnbrake Avenue & neighbouring streets in Herne Hill, London