Category Archives: Local History

“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.

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.

A Short History of Fawnbrake Avenue

We’ve heard people wondering about the history of our street, so it might be useful to jot down some key dates and developments. Like several other areas of Herne Hill, Fawnbrake Avenue feels outright Edwardian in its architectural language. But it wasn’t all built at the same time. Which makes this post a little longer than our usual ones.

Herne Hill as a small township developed later than, for instance, Brixton. In the mid-Victorian years, much of the prominent domestic housing hereabouts consisted of the generous mansions and villas with generous gardens, occupied by the “carriage trade” gentry leaving central London, dotted along both sides of Denmark Hill and Herne Hill: now, for the most part, replaced by more modern housing. Down in the centre, the railway station arrived in 1862, at first known as “Hernehill” Station and, as in many other places, this was both a stimulus of and a reaction to urban development and population increases.

A glance at an extract from the Ordnance Survey map of 1870 shows the beginning of this phase of local history. Fawnbrake Avenue and similar streets did not yet exist, but some landmarks are already visible: St Paul’s Church and the neighbouring vicarage (now of course Herne Hill School) and the Half Moon Public House. The railway station can also be seen, operated by the London, Chatham & Dover Railway. But many of the other features visible here will later be swept away: notice, if you can spot it, the clearly imposing residence known as The Cedars placed between what will later become Kestrel Avenue and Gubyon Avenue. Otherwise on our side of the slope it’s mainly fields, trees and gardens, many belonging to grand houses which front on to Herne Hill itself.

Skip forward to the next generation of the Ordnance Survey Map, surveyed in 1894/96 and published in 1897. Alongside Herne Hill itself and Denmark Hill (not visible on this extract) the big mansions are still there.

Fawnbrake arrives – just!

But on our patch, Fawnbrake Avenue has now appeared, linked to the main road by Gubyon and Kestrel Avenues. The Cedars is clinging on, though with a diminished garden it seems.

What is noteworthy is that the newly-created Fawnbrake Avenue is very curtailed. It only extends as far as the boundaries of the back gardens at the bottom of the eastern edge of Kestrel Avenue –as far as number 27 in present-day numbering. Today, where this row of houses ends, there is a gap between 27 and 29, and a noticeable change of design in the front facade of the houses.

My amateur research in the Electoral Register confirms that no. 5 Fawnbrake Avenue was definitely inhabited by 1893.

After no. 27 on this first row of houses on the north-west side of Fawnbrake, it’s still green fields.

But visible on our northern fringe is part of the Milkwood Estate developed by the Suburban Village & General Dwellings Company. Here Lowden Road had already been established in the 1870s. The map shows its long terrace of houses (with their short back gardens, as now) completed all the way up to Poplar Walk.

The electric tramway along Milkwood Road is also shown on the map, along with Neville’s Bakery, to be superseded in a later generation by the Milkwood Community Park and an extension of Jessop School.

Filling up the Avenue

The extension of Fawnbrake beyond no. 27 depended, naturally, on someone buying the land and (usually the same person) erecting the houses and extending the street. Property developers and speculators were still seizing opportunities to acquire land to infill. The land for my own house (81) and its two immediate neighbours either side was parcelled up for sale as building lots in 1899.

Who owned the land? Mr Sanders, mostly

Thanks to the meticulous research made by our neighbour Laurence Marsh, who is a notable local historian, and others writing for the Herne Hill Society’s historical collection, we know that the major landowners hereabouts were the Sanders family. In this instance, Robert Arthur Sanders was the landowner, being the great-grandson of Samuel Sanders (see Herne Hill Personalities) who had made his money in timber in the 18th century and bought more than 100 acres on the Lambeth side of Denmark Hill and Herne Hill.

Samuel himself lived in one of the houses he had built on Denmark Hill, in what is now Ruskin Park. As Laurence has established, it was Robert Arthur Sanders (1867-1940), later MP for Bridgwater, who started to sell off building land at the end of the 19th century. Later, Robert Sanders also sold some of his land to the LCC to establish Ruskin Park.

Laurence believes that most of Fawnbrake is built on Sanders land. Laurence’s own house was, and so was mine: I have a copy of the deed of conveyance dated 3 February 1899 whereby Robert Sanders and Isabella Sanders (his wife) sold the plot of land (consisting of land which now houses numbers 79, 81 and 83), to a Mr Arthur Walter Tribe – although the Vendor (the Sanders estate) reserved the right to approve the plans for these houses.

Gubbins vs. Sanders

However that first small original stretch of houses that marked the start of Fawnbrake was not built on Sanders land but on property belonging to the trustees of the Gubbins family, who owned the land on which Gubyon, Kestrel, Cosbycote, Shardcroft, Woodquest and Rollscourt Avenues were also built. When it came to extending the original short stretch of Fawnbrake, there was a legal dispute – perhaps let’s call it a negotiation – between the Gubbins and Sanders trustees which was resolved, as you might expect, by a handsome payment to the Gubbins trustees.

(We should assume, Laurence advises, that the Sanders estate (and no doubt the Gubbins land too) would have been parcelled up and sold to builders/developers under building leases (often for 99 years), which meant that the original owners retained the freehold, taking a ground rent of a few guineas a year. It would have been several generations later, maybe half way through the 20th century, that householders bought the freehold.)

Tribe’s the man

So Mr Tribe was the builder-developer for our little plot: there will have been others for different parcels of land, which will account for the differing styles along the length of the street. Mr Tribe lost little time in getting the houses built, as we know that number 81 at least was first registered to an individual owner in August 1902. Not long after, we hear of controversy about the cost of paving the road, which had to be shared among ratepayers. On that, more on another occasion perhaps.

Thanks again to Laurence’s investigations, we now know, too, that Arthur Walter Tribe was an architect and surveyor, born in Kennington in no great wealth: his father was a bricklayer. He died in 1942, leaving a decent fortune.

The 20th century dawns

So by the turn of the century, our urban landscape, at least in these streets, was edging closer to what we now know. The next decade, running up to the start of the First World War, saw the progressive completion of the Avenue largely as we see it today, roughly when Queen Victoria died (January 1901) and was succeeded by Edward VII. (So our street is a mix of late Victorian and (mainly) early Edwardian architecture.)

The 1913 edition of the Ordnance Survey confirms this milestone. Fawnbrake Avenue is by then in its current condition, missing only the link into Brantwood Road which of course did not appear until the 1920s/30s. As far as I can tell from the Electoral Register, number 71 was occupied by 1901, and number 81 by 1903. The letterbox shown on the map outside nos. 79/81, and bearing the cipher of Edward VII, is still here! Whether house building proceeded unit by unit along the street until the road was complete, or in different plots according to the financial state of the housing market, it is not easy to say without further research.

Note on the map that the electric tramway (between West Norwood and the City) is still visible at this point, coming up Milkwood Road from Loughborough Junction with a little branch running along Lowden Road. The tram system was wound up in the 1950s.

So since Edwardian times, Fawnbrake Avenue’s domestic architecture has seen almost no outward change, though of course the arrival of the motor car has made a difference …

World War II

But we must recall that there was a little interruption from the Luftwaffe whose bombs took out a couple of houses (identifiable by their post-war rebuilds) at nos. 133-135: see this extract from the extraordinary  LCC Bomb Damage Maps. (The next bombs to be released from the same aircraft demolished several houses in Lowden Road, where again the post-war rebuilds are obvious.)

The same map also shows bomb damage at the other end of the street, at numbers 1 and 2, which I hadn’t previously been aware of. If rebuilds and repairs were necessary, they have been carried out to match the pre-existing architecture.

On these maps, incidentally, a building colour-coded black normally means it was totally destroyed; other colours indicate varying degrees of damage and repairability. But by comparison with other areas, elsewhere in London, in Britain and in Germany, our streets escaped lightly.

Narrow escape

Nevertheless if we’d been around on 23 August 1944, we would all have heard a massive explosion when a V-1 flying bomb narrowly missed Milkwood Road but took out properties on the northern section of Shakespeare Road, just across the railway lines. Four houses were demolished and 40 damaged, but miraculously, no lives were lost on this occasion. This was the last of five V-1’s to hit our area in 1944.

Still, over 6,000 people were killed (mainly in and around London) by V-1’s and over 17,000 seriously injured and maimed.


Much more local history is accessible through the publications of the Herne Hill Society including:

Herne Hill Heritage Trail
Herne Hill Personalities
The Milkwood Estate – the Story of a Lambeth Community
A Short History of Herne Hill

The Fawnbrake dead of the First World War

This is of course the season when each year we remember those who died in last century’s World Wars.

 

 

 

It’s quite a shock to be reminded of those men and their families who  –  had we been living at the time  –  would have been our neighbours and perhaps friends here on Fawnbrake Avenue during the First World War.  We might have seen them leave; we would have witnessed and often shared the distress that the dreaded telegram brought to their families.

History, yes  –  but not that long ago, and still on our doorsteps.

We can understand this more easily these days because of the moving and detailed research conducted in recent years by members of the Herne Hill Society with help from the students of the Charter School North Dulwich and other local volunteers.

The result is an impressive memorial website which now contains over 550 full records of men (and two women) from Herne Hill who served and died in the First World War. The Remembering Herne Hill website captures not just the names but important background details about those who died, bringing them to life in our minds. The website also has an interactive map that lets us view local casualties from individual roads in Herne Hill and neighbouring streets.

 

The research, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund is largely complete. It establishes that there were at least seven of our then neighbours on this street alone who lost their lives in this war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alongside that online catalogue of names and personal details, there is now of course a physical memorial displayed prominently in our station.

A specially commissioned war memorial, carved on Welsh slate by Mark Brooks, was unveiled by Helen Hayes MP at Herne Hill Station on Sunday 10 November 2019. This was the culmination of two years’ intensive research into Herne Hill’s casualties. The memorial stone was financed by Southeastern Railway.

Fawnbrake residents who died in the Great War

A list follows, with links to the more complete descriptions which can be accessed via the map on the memorial website.

12 Fawnbrake Avenue ~ Second Lieutenant Harold James Cryer, died 13 October 1917

Harold Cryer was born in Brixton in 1898. The family attended St Saviour’s Church, Herne Hill Road, where Harold became a choir boy.
He was killed on 13 October 1917, at the age of just 19, piloting his Sopwith Camel single-seat fighter at an airfield in England. (Accidents were common.)
His funeral service was held at St Saviour’s on 18 October 1917 and he was buried at West Norwood Cemetery on the same day (his address being recorded as 12 Fawnbrake Avenue, although the CWGC website gives his parents’ address as 24 Ferndene Road Herne Hill). Harold’s brother Leonard survived the war, married Clarice Brett in 1922 and died in 1961.
Full details about Lieutenant Cryer at https://tinyurl.com/y5ou35kh

20 Fawnbrake Avenue ~ Private James MacGregor, died 13 February 1916

James MacGregor was born on 3 February 1896, the second son of Frank MacGregor from Kinfauns, Perthshire, and Mary MacGregor from Wallacetown, Ayrshire. The first family home was at 57 Lowden Road. On 29 March 1896 he was baptised at Camberwell Presbyterian Church.
By the time of the 1901 Census the MacGregors had moved to 20 Fawnbrake Avenue. On 8 August 1905 James entered Jessop Road School, going on to study at Alleyn’s in Dulwich.
James MacGregor joined the 20th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). They landed in France in November 1915 and were transferred to 19th Brigade, 33rd Division.
Private MacGregor was killed in action near Cambrin on 13 February 1916 and is buried at Cambrin Churchyard Cemetery, about 24 kilometres north of Arras and eight kilometres east of Bethune.
Full details about Private MacGregor at https://tinyurl.com/y45rf36c

40 Fawnbrake Avenue ~ Lance Corporal Sidney Giles, died 1 July 1916

Sidney Giles lived at 40 Fawnbrake Avenue, the youngest of the five children of Herbert and Martha Giles.
Sidney was a Lance Corporal in the 14th Battalion (London Scottish) of the London Regiment. He fought in the war from January 1916 and was killed in action on the first day of Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, aged just 22.
Having no known grave, he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, and his name is also on the St Paul’s Memorial Screen in Herne Hill.
Full details about Lance Corporal Giles at https://tinyurl.com/yxwadqz5

90 Fawnbrake Avenue ~ Lieutenant Reginald Dell, died 8 May 1918

Reginald Dell was born in Wells, Somerset in 1887. At some point he became a resident of Herne Hill. He married Hilda Margaret Fox in Wells in early 1918, but he was killed in May of the same year, serving in the Machine Gun Corps.
His military records cite his address as 90 Fawnbrake Avenue.
The 20th Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps was formed in March 1918 and fought at the Battle of St. Quentin and suffered heavy casualties at the Battle of Rosieres. In April the troops were withdrawn while they waited for new drafts. However, by this time, Reginald had clearly suffered fatal wounds and died on 8 May. He is buried in the Communal Cemetery of Avesnes-Sur-Helpe.
Full details about Lieutenant Dell at https://tinyurl.com/y2cxyano

107 Fawnbrake Avenue ~ Rifleman Herbert Walter Irons, died 12 February 1917

Herbert Walter Irons was born in Camberwell 1884 to William, a clerk, and Louisa. He was the eldest of their four children. The family lived at various addresses in Peckham but at some point they moved to 107 Fawnbrake Avenue.
Herbert enlisted as a rifleman with the London Regiment, 1/21st Country of London (First Surrey Rifles) but contracted nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys) whilst on active service in Belgium and he died on 12 February 1917 at the age of 33 years old. He is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, in the West Flanders region.
Full details about Rifleman Irons at https://tinyurl.com/y6kwwntq

114 Fawnbrake Avenue ~ Driver Harry Cruse died 27 October 1918

Harry Leonard Cruse was born in Camberwell in April 1896. In 1901 the Cruse family was living at 90 Denmark Road, Camberwell but by 1911 the family had moved to 114 Fawnbrake Avenue. Harry, an only child, was a pupil at Alleyn’s School, which he left in 1912.
During the war Harry Cruse served in the Honourable Artillery Company as a driver. His unit saw active service at Aden and in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign from 1915 onwards.
Harry contracted malaria and died on 27 October 1918. He is remembered at the Damascus Memorial in Syria.
Full details about Driver Harry Cruse at https://tinyurl.com/y4owvh5n

129 Fawnbrake Avenue ~ Private Thomas Evans, died 16 September 1916

He was 30 years old when he was called up on 10 December 1915, joining the 23rd (County of London) Battalion of The London Regiment.
The second son and youngest child of Thomas (a King’s Messenger) and Ellen Augusta Evans, he and his older brother and two older sisters were all born near Morecambe Bay in Lancashire. An Architect’s Assistant, he married Eleanor Barber at St Leonard’s, Streatham, on 27 May 1916 and was listed as living at his parents’ house, 129 Fawnbrake Avenue. But with his battalion he was soon posted to France, and was killed in action on 16 September 1916 – one of many thousands killed in the heavy fighting during the Battles of the Somme in Summer/Autumn 1916.
His grave lies in the Warlencourt British Cemetery, near Bapaume in Northern France (Pas de Calais).
Private Thomas Evans’s details have not yet been entered on the database.

Two hundred life-size silhouettes of First World War soldiers and 75 poppy wreaths by the Witney artist Dan Barton stand at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire to mark Remembrance Day
Photo by Geraint Lewis, for The Times

Discover the lost mansions of Denmark Hill this Saturday

Lambeth Heritage Festival continues and on Saturday 19 September at 19:00 we can Zoom in for a new talk about Denmark Hill.

Denmark Hill c.1906

Many from London’s well-to-do merchant class began to leave town at the end of the 18th century and make their home in what were then the rural outskirts.

Denmark Hill was an especially favoured location. In this talk and virtual walk, Ian McInnes (Chair of the Dulwich Society) and Laurence Marsh (Fawnbrake neighbour and Vice-chair of the Herne Hill Society) look at the houses, now long gone, that were built on the Lambeth (i.e. north) side of the road – and the varied stories of some of their residents over 150 years.

This Herne Hill Society online-only event is hosted by Lambeth Archives.

So to sign in, follow this link:

Lambeth Heritage Festival 2020: week 3

to the relevant section of the Lambeth Heritage Festival website and scroll down to the Denmark Hill event. Then you can click on the book here link on the web page.

You will receive an email by return and, before the event, an email invitation with a web link to join the talk by Zoom. There is no charge.

Local History talks continue

The highly committed and creative team at Lambeth Archives have more lock-down talks to offer : their repertoire is not exhausted yet.

The July and August programme (above)  includes a talk about life in Lambeth during the War, a virtual history walk from Vauxhall to Camberwell, an account of the bitterly contested campaign of the 1880s  to create those free libraries in Lambeth  that we now all take for granted, and a look at the growth of the borough’s southern suburbs.

Log in details for talks will be sent out two days ahead.

Although they have not run out of topics to talk about, they are slightly changing the way they deliver them. After next week’s talk, Home Front, Lambeth in World War II, the programme will become fortnightly and will always be on a Thursday evening at 6.45 pm.

But  the programme will be put  on hold from mid-August as they switch to preparing for the Lambeth Heritage Festival, which will also be an online programme.

Finally, Jon’s talk of last week, Before and After Windrush, a history of the Black community in Lambeth, is now available to be listened to as a recording at https://www.instagram.com/tv/CB3HgWnn-O-/?hl=en

Local History in Lock-down talk on Thursday – Before & After Windrush

The next Local History in Lock-down talk will be this Thursday 18th June at 6.45 p.m. and will be given by Jon Newman.

Before and After Windrush, a history of the Black community in Lambeth,  looks at the very different experiences of Lambeth’s two Black communities: the well-documented story of the community that came to live in the borough after the voyage of the Windrush in 1948; and the much less understood history of Black people who were living in Lambeth in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The log-in details for the talk are here, or in full:  https://zoom.us/j/91540334790

If required: Meeting ID: 915 4033 4790. Password: 176800