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.
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.
The popular paddling pool in Ruskin Park is reopening for the summer holidays, the Friends of Ruskin Park have just announced.
The paddling pool should be open again on 24th July until 5th September. The pool is run by volunteers, backed by a community partnership of Urban Village Homes, Lambeth Landscapes, and the Friends of Ruskin Park.
A full refurb for the pool is planned at the end of the year.
If you are able to volunteer with cleaning and other tasks, please see details here or join the Save Ruskin Park Paddling Pool group on Facebook.
The Friends of Ruskin Park are an outstanding local charity and play a vital role in keeping the park a vibrant and much treasured asset. In recent months their highly valued Treasurer very sadly died and they are desperately looking for someone to replace him. Obviously with any charity, particularly this one, it’s a vital role. They are struggling now with governance/finance know-how to meet their minimum commitments as an entirely volunteer run charity.
They are looking for a person with some accountancy experience, maybe with charities, and who is a supporter of what they do for Ruskin Park. This is an important and rewarding voluntary contribution to our local community and it will need regular commitment.
On top of that, the committee’s vice-chair has also stepped down recently for health reasons. That’s another post that needs to be filled as soon as possible.
If you are able and willing to help, or know anyone else who might, please contactthe Chair, Lucy Hadfield.
It’s the nearly concert season in Ruskin Park
When summer and sunny days return (they will, won’t they?), the bandstand in Ruskin Park fulfils its purpose as a showcase for musical entertainment on Sunday afternoons.
The first concert is on 4th July (3:00 – 5:00 PM), with an appearance by The Sonnet Wind Orchestra – a musically exciting ensemble numbering some 35 players. Mostly retired professional musicians playing an extensive and eclectic repertoire from arrangements of classical favourites, via selections from stage and screen, to the Beatles, Bowie and Queen. Many of these arrangements are by members of the SWO.
More concerts follow, right until the middle of October. The summer programme can be found on the Friends of Ruskin Park website.
A neighbour reports that they have received a letter from Lambeth advising that a revised application has been made for the notorious Twin Towers project at Loughborough Junction, which we reported on back in 2020: see our summary then, which contains a link to the Herne Hill Society’s magisterial objection.
Fully conscious that their original application blatantly breached Lambeth’s own policy regarding tall buildings, the developers are now, it seems, trying to breathe new life into the proposal by persuading the council to override their own policy.
We have no doubt that the Herne Hill Society’s planners are now gearing up to return to the charge. Hopefully the Brixton Society and the Loughborough Junction Action Group will also spring into action.
Meanwhile, what isn’t remotely clear is why Lambeth have advised (as far as we know) just one household on Fawnbrake Avenue. Surely they’re not trying to keep this cheeky new application secret, are they?
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.
This is a National Grid project, stretching over several years and representing an investment of over £1 billion.
Phase 1 was a seven-year, £1 billion programme, to build 32km of tunnels and two new substations across North London.
Now Phase 2, “London Power Tunnels 2” relates to south London and will see the replacement of existing electricity cables in South London which are coming towards the end of their useful life, the majority of which are buried beneath the road network.
It involves building a new network of cable tunnels, 32.5km in length, between Wimbledon (via Lambeth and Old Kent Road) and Crayford. The local stretch of this long tunnel runs deep under Coldharbour Lane. The Bengeworth Road tunnelling project is designed to connect the substations and other installations on the Bengeworth Road site to this main cross-London tunnel. The operations on the Bengeworth Road site are the responsibility of UK Power Networks, who are infrastructure operators: they own and maintain electricity cables and lines across London, the South East and East of England.
To upgrade the connections between the UK Power Networks installations at Bengeworth and the main National Grid, their contractors need to tunnel down to build a shaft at Bengeworth Road to connect to the main tunnel under Coldharbour Lane. Tunnelling works are due to start in the second half of 2021, and once complete (likely in 2022), a new substation and headhouse (to access the shaft for maintenance purposes) will be installed on the site in 2023 and 2024.
Bengeworth Road is the access route to (and also the name of) a large industrial site occupied by UK Power Networks. It is squeezed between the side of King’s College Hospital , the residential streets east of Cambria Road, and Southwell Street. It borders on the railway line, which separates it from Ruskin Park. See map below.
The residents’ concerns about the impact of this major project include the impact of noise and disruption during the tunnelling and the building of new, taller infrastructures that might permanently dominate their sightlines and deprive them of light. Meetings have been held with residents and attended by our MP Helen Hayes and representatives of Lambeth Council. Consultations are ongoing.
It seems clear that the project cannot be stopped, so the issues are about mitigation.
Planning Permission in the usual way is not required because the project is classified as a Permitted Development – a legal category which seems to have some ambiguous rules and different interpretations. But there may still be ways to challenge certain aspects of the plans, and local planning experts are examining these at the moment. The Loughborough Junction Action Group and the Herne Hill Society are involved in the consultations and the campaign.
All the documents relating to the formal application for Permitted Development can be found on Lambeth’s planning website by keying in reference 20/04417/LDCP or clicking here.
News about Fawnbrake Avenue & neighbouring streets in Herne Hill, London