26 March 2013

Weave some magic

Stella Harding will be running a two day basket making course at the Devonshire Road Nature Reserve on Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 April. The cost is £90, which includes materials, tuition and lunch on both days. Places are limited, so book early to avoid disappointment. Please contact jake.twyf@gmail.com for further details or to reserve your place.

22 March 2013

The Edible High Road

This summer Perry Vale, London Road and Dartmouth Road will be transformed into an Urban Orchard and community garden and we’re inviting all traders to take part!

More and more people in Forest Hill are enjoying growing their own fruit, herbs and vegetables.  This area has allotments and community orchards and gardens; it’s a true food growing hub. In honour of all this fruitiness, the Forest Hill Society, in partnership with Shannon's Garden Centre and Lewisham Gardens, will be hosting The Edible High Road.

This event will be part of the Chelsea Fringe, a massive, London-wide flower and gardening festival which takes place from Saturday 18 May to Sunday 9 June 2013. One of last year's most successful events was the Chiswick Edible High Road, organised by Abundance London. This year, several more high streets have taken up the challenge and over twenty Forest Hill shops and businesses along Perry Vale, London Road and Dartmouth Road have already decided to join in and host a blossoming fruit tree or two.

Each business will receive a fruit tree in an attractive container to display outside their premises for the three-weeks of The Edible High Road. The pot will also be planted with sweet-scented herbs like parsley, coriander and basil. Each tree will be fixed with a tag with its variety and basic care instructions. After the Festival the fruit trees can be donated to local schools and the Albion Millennium Green community orchard, or shops are welcome to keep their beautiful fruit tree.

We are also planning a series of events for the three weeks, so if you're keen to get involved, then drop an email to volunteers@foresthillsociety.com.

20 March 2013

New Shops coming to Perry Vale

Since City Walk, the Berkeley Homes development by Forest Hill station, was completed a few years ago the shops beneath have remained stubbornly empty despite their prime location.

A licensing application has now appeared on one of the units for the sale of alcohol as part of, what we understand will be, a general grocery shop (not a mini-version of one of the big four supermarkets). Discussions are also well advanced on the other unit which is likely to become a restaurant.

These shops are in a key location in the town centre and we welcome new businesses opening up in this location.



Devonshire Road Nature Reserve AGM

If you would you like to know more about the Devonshire Road Nature Reserve go along to the Friends' Annual General Meeting on the 31st March at 1:30pm at Devonshire Road Nature Reserve, 170 Devonshire Rd, SE23 3SZ.
During the meeting they’ll be electing their Executive Committee for the coming year.
If you have any questions or would like to know more please drop an e-mail to infodevonshireroad@gmail.com or visit their website at www.devonshireroadnaturereserve.org

18 March 2013

Planning Applications: 2 London Road & 49 Church Rise

The Forest Hill Society has recently objected to two planning applications in the local area. 

2-4 London Road, Launderette
The Forest Hill Society has opposed the loss of the launderette and replacement with an estate agent.
Details of Planning Application for 2-4 London Road.
You can read the full letter of objection here

49 Church Rise
The Forest Hill Society has opposed the replacement of a single garage with a bungalow in the garden of this property.
Details of Planning Application for 49 Church Rise.
You can read the full letter of objection here

14 March 2013

Forest Hill Society Spring Walk

Sunday April 21st meet 11.00a.m. at London Road entrance of Horniman Gardens. 

Walk will follow Green Chain Link to Brockley via Camberwell Old Cemetery, Brenchley Gardens old train track and One Tree Hill to (optional) lunch at the Brockley Jack. Possible option to continue to Devonshire Road Nature Reserve for coffee after lunch.  Fairly flat walking all the way apart from initial walk through Horniman Gardens.  Approximately one and a half hours duration.

New Butcher for Forest Hill

Address: 49, London Road, Forest Hill SE23 3TY

Ruth and Nathan from The Butchery live in Forest Hill and were attracted to the Forest Hill Food Fair to sell their quality meats. We encouraged them to set up a temporary shop in the run up to Christmas as part of the SEE3 pop-up shops. As well as selling meat they worked with Franklins of East Dulwich (another of our regular food fair stalls) to provide fruit and vegetables.

During December The Butchery did excellent business with 2,000 customers in the first weekend, queues regularly coming out the shop, incredible reviews of their meat on SE23.com, and they realised there was enough demand to turn this into a permanent shop on the High Street.

The Butchery have signed the lease to take on the shop permanently. The shop is currently closed for refurbishment, and is due to open in late February.

Nathan and Ruth will stock a small but special range of meat from native bred animals raised naturally on small English farms. The seasonal Christmas range included: free-range turkeys, ducks, cockerels and geese, as well as beef, pork and lamb roasts. They make their own tasty stuffings, stock and pigs in blankets, and goose fat for the best-tasting roast potatoes, as well as gammon, ham, chutneys and pork pies.

The Butchery Ltd source the best meat they can find, dry age it themselves in Bermondsey and cut from whole carcasses so there is always different cuts for different budgets.

Nathan and Ruth say: “We love the meat we stock, we love to cook, and we love to talk! If people want something special, or something cheap to cook quickly in the week, we have heaps of ideas to get the best out of different cuts. It’s cool to be able to show people something new – and really cool when we get great cooking tips from our customers, too.”

More details at: http://www.thebutcheryltd.com/

Roaring Hot!

Just a hop away from Forest Hill on the train - or a short but lovely walk via the spectacular outlook from One Tree Hill - Honor Oak Park's high street offers another clutch of independent shops, coffee shops and restaurants to explore.

We moved to Forest Hill just over a year ago.  Busy repainting what felt like every wall in the house,  we hadn’t  ventured 'over the hill' very many times. But with a New Year's resolution to put down the paint brush and get out more, a dark Saturday evening in January seemed the perfect moment to try out Babur - especially with the news that it had recently been awarded Zagat 2013 London 'Best Indian Restaurant'.

On arriving, the first surprise was finding a tiger on the roof of a restaurant in Brockley Rise. (Babur is derived from the Urdu word 'babr' meaning 'tiger', Wikipedia tells me, so a week after our visit, this brilliantly over-the-top ornament makes sense!) The surprises continue inside - this is much more than your ordinary Indian restaurant. Bare brick walls, polished walnut tables,  intriguing art - a relaxed, stylish and welcoming place.

We're offered an inventive list of cocktails to kick off our evening. And the menu is pleasingly brief - no compendium of 1001 curries - instead, an intriguing range of dishes which all have something a little different or unusual about them, from South Indian style mussels in a coconut milk, mustard seed and curry leaf broth or tamarind-glazed quail breast as starters, to steamed spice crusted shoulder of lamb (allegedly marinated for 100 hours!) or pan seared bream with black mangosteen, coconut and Malabari masala.

There’s a great choice of vegetarian dishes too. And with main courses, there's a suggestion of the wine that will best accompany your food. It's all incredibly well thought through - the only disappointment of our meal is the clove-smoked buffalo curry, one of the mains, which seems rather heavy handed on the cloves to the exclusion of everything else. We will know for next time – and there definitely will be a next time - Babur isn't the cheapest evening out, but it feels really special, the food is excellent, and the service is friendly and attentive.

Sitting at our table, I found myself already plotting who I could bring back, and when. But before that I need to decide what's next on my list - Le Querce, apparently another of the star restaurants in Honor Oak, The Sylvan Post , Dartmouth Arms or Canvas & Cream in Forest Hill, That’s Amore in Kirkdale, or Trattoria Raffaele in Sydenham—so much choice!

If our evening at Babur is anything to go by, some great nights out at local restaurants and pubs lie ahead.
Review by Catherine Wood

New planters installed at entrance to Forest Hill station

At the last Ward Assembly of 2012 the Forest Hill Society successfully bid for funds to replace the two collapsing barrel tubs which have stood outside the entrance to Forest Hill Station for many years.  Local workman Tony O’Toole of Renovations Unlimited was commissioned to build replacements and on Sunday 2nd December, with the help of some fourteen volunteers, two large square planters of seasoned cedar wood were installed. 

These new planters cover most of the top of the brick plinth on which they stand – one of the ideas being that this would reduce space for litter to accumulate - so far with a degree of success. The old barrel tubs were donated to a local community gardening group for rebuilding and reuse by them. 

A selection of plants which need little attention were chosen, along the lines of a spiky thing in the middle of each, ivy around the edges, spring bulbs, and bright coloured somethings for summer. With this in mind we chose a colour scheme of pinks to purples and various shades of green: mixed Heucheras, Alliums and trailing Ivy were planted with a pink edged Phormium standing tall in the centre.   Mixed daffodils and narcissi will enliven the arrangement come the Spring.

If you would like to join in our community gardening activities (no experience necessary) - please contact volunteers@foresthillsociety.com

SEE3 Forest Hill Market - Saturday 16th March


Forest Hill Town Centre: A plan for the next 10 years

The last town centre plan for Forest Hill was produced in 2003. This plan was formally adopted by the Council and set out to redevelop the station area with strong links to both the Horniman Museum and to the Civic buildings of the Pools and Library. I think we can safely say that the museum, library and pools have been greatly improved over this period, but the station area has changed very little.

Ten years on, it seems a good time to start planning for change in this part of the town centre. During this year we hope to work with the Council and a range of stakeholders on a new ten year plan for Forest Hill Town Centre to take us through to 2023.

At the moment it is still very much only an idea but over the next few months we will start thinking about the best way to develop this plan. This will involve working with stakeholders (including both Network Rail and Lewisham Council), engaging with residents through the Forest Hill and Perry Vale Ward Assemblies and other events, and making good use of the many design related professionals that we have in the area! This is a real opportunity for a community generated vision for the town centre to help bring about positive change.

We see this process as taking forward some of the neighbourhood planning work that was started with the Sydenham Society in 2011, whether it ends up being a Neighbourhood Plan or something else.

We will keep you up to date with progress. Next time you are walking to the station have a good think about what needs to be different or should happen there…because we will be asking you about this very soon!

East London Line Trains Set to Increase Capacity

In December TfL announced their plans for the next few years for improving transport in the capital. One of the major successes of the last decade has been the Overground service, particularly on the East London Line (ELL). Already trains are very crowded especially at peak times, and forecasts show that more people will be using this service in the coming years.

So TfL has taken the sensible decision to increase capacity on the East London Line and have two plans that will together increase capacity by over 50%. The first plan is to increase train lengths on all ELL services from four carriages to five carriages. This will involve selective door opening at a few stations close to the Thames but will give all the trains an extra 25% capacity.

The second plan is to run two additional services on our line, probably from Crystal Palace. This will increase the number of ELL trains through Forest Hill and Honor Oak Park from 8 trains per hour up to 10 trains per hour. Once again this increases capacity by another 25%, taking the overall increase to 56%. There are slots available in the timetable so it should be possible to run these additional services without impacting the existing Southern service to London Bridge. We have also received assurances from Southern Railway that there are no plans to reduce services due to the Thameslink works at London Bridge.

The timetable for the increase in capacity is not completely clear yet but it looks like they will be delivering the additional services in 2014/2015, at the same time as the connection between London Bridge and Charing Cross is temporarily suspended to allow for the Thameslink work to go ahead. This is likely to lead to a temporary jump in demand for ELL services connecting to the Jubliee line. So services are likely to be extremely busy on the ELL for the next few years but it is worth recognising that TfL are planning the right enhancements to increase the capacity on these services.

Jewish New Year for Trees

On the 3rd February members of Bromley Reform Synagogue, together with members of the local community (including Jim Dowd MP and Councillor Susan Wise) planted a tree at the Horniman Play Park in Forest Hill to celebrate Tu B'Shevat—The Jewish new year for trees.

The tree chosen was a Paper Bark Maple (Acer griseum) or in Hebrew אֶדֶר (eder) Interestingly there is another incredibly similar word in Hebrew אֵדֶר (ayder) which is translated as the hide of a stuffed animal. Just across the road from the play park is the Horniman Museum which is probably most famous for their collection of stuffed animals!

I would like to say that this was all carefully planned, but no, it was just a remarkable coincidence, but I can't think of a more suitable tree to plant opposite the museum.

If you visit the Horniman Triangle you can see this tree in the corner of the play park, behind the swings. Across the road in Horniman  Gardens, between the sunken garden and the nature reserve you can visit the Sweet Chestnut tree that  Bromley Synagogue planted two years ago for Tu B'Shevat and to commemorate the visit of Janusz Korczak to Forest Hill one hundred years earlier. This tree now has a plaque so you can find it.

Take a trip to the Amazon

Visit Horniman Museum and visit the Amazon to discover a diverse landscape of exotic plants, unusual animals and fascinating cultures.

This dual language exhibition (English/Spanish) is perfect for families looking for some adventure.

You can buy single-entry tickets for Amazon Adventure or annual tickets for unlimited combined entry to Amazon Adventure and the Aquarium.

If you already have a valid Aquarium Annual Ticket, you are eligible to upgrade this to a Combined Annual Ticket which includes unlimited entry to Amazon Adventure. This offer will be for a limited period only.

The exhibition is open from 16th February—24 November.


10 March 2013

Seeing Three Ways

2012 was a great year for Forest Hill. We have campaigned hard over the past few years for investment in our town centre and are beginning to see the rewards. 

Back in 2006, when the Forest Hill Society was formed, one of our key concerns was the future of the swimming pool. The sudden closure of the pools was really the driver for a number of local people to come together to form the Society. Over the years we worked hard with many other people in the community and in the council to bring swimming back to Forest Hill. In September 2012 our dreams were realised with the opening of the new pool, a great new facility in the heart of Forest Hill.

The opening of the pool has brought in new businesses to Dartmouth Road after many years of harsh conditions for retailers on the street. In 2011 there were far too many empty shops on Dartmouth Road and the decline was having a bad impact on many businesses that were still there. But as we got closer to the pool opening we started to see new shops opening; a charity shop, a new pub, a few boutiques, a sweet shop, a deli, and a bagel shop. The difference between now and a year ago is stark. Dartmouth Road is back to being an important shopping street, with a mix of shops, restaurants and pubs. There are still a number of empty units but we can be a little more confident that these will be brought back into use in the not too distant future.

In April we decided that we wanted to try having a food fair in Forest Hill, to see if it would help bring more people into the town centre and to prove that there was demand for quality retailers. After a couple of food fairs we were getting good reactions from local businesses telling us that the town centre was busier as a result, so we decided to run these fairs monthly.

2013 is also looking positive for Forest Hill. We are actively involved in SEE3, a separate organisation with responsibility for delivering the promises made in the Portas bid document. We work closely with SEE3 to ensure that Forest Hill and Kirkdale get the maximum benefit from their share of the funds. SEE3's activities will help improve our Town Centres, but unlike us, they are a commercial organisation with funds to pay people to deliver the improvements. Louise Brooks and her team have done a great job in creating three pop ups before Christmas. By the time you receive this, there will be a fourth Pop Up in Forest Hill, “Love Ur Look” at 10A Dartmouth Road, whose launch is timed to coincide with Forest Hill & London Fashion Week (15-19 February) and a fifth is planned for Kirkdale in April.

Forest Hill Traders' Association will be promoting Totally Locally in the spring edition of Lewisham Life, so keep your eyes open for the chance to win a £100 spending spree.

But all is not rosy. We are actively involved in the campaign to Save Lewisham Hospital. Although the Minister has decided that Lewisham should lose its Maternity and A&E units, nothing has yet been closed and the hospital remains open as normal. It will take at least three years before the necessary infrastructure has been built to replace Lewisham's facilities. In the meantime, the fight will go on, and we would encourage you to use Lewisham whenever you need hospital facilities. Other hospitals have suffered due to people avoiding them after similar announcements and we need to make sure Lewisham survives.  The proposed changes will materially impact the long term viability of Lewisham Hospital and it could well suffer a total failure due the impact of the proposals. Lewisham Council will be seeking a Judicial Review of the decision.

Finally, we are monitoring the situation regarding the laundrette. There are rumours that an Estate Agency wishes to get change of use for this vital community resource. Forest Hill has a wonderfully diverse population and a laundrette is an essential requirement for many local residents.

We end the year with a great outlook for Forest Hill town centre. We can be sure that 2013 is set to be a great year for Forest Hill with the SEE3/Portas funding and a great team behind it, pop-up shops, monthly food markets, an active traders' association, and last but not least the swimming pool open again.

Richard Hibbert, Chair of the Forest Hill Society

What’s the difference between SEE3, Totally Locally, Local Assemblies and the Forest Hill Society?

In recent conversations with various people, it has become apparent that there is some confusion about the difference between local assemblies, Forest Hill Society, SEE3 and Totally Locally and how they interact.

The Forest Hill Society is a civic society, supported by its members through their membership fees and volunteer actions. The Society has an Executive of about sixteen members who, together with the additional members on its committees, organise the various events, activities, publicity and campaigns which we run. None of the Executive or committee roles are paid.

SEE3, Totally Locally and the local assemblies are all separate local entities with no direct association with Forest Hill Society. However, since we are the sort of people who are passionate about their community, many of the Executive are also heavily involved in these other organisations too.

The local assemblies are Lewisham Council's way of communicating at a local level. These have been running since 2008 and meet about four times per year. Each ward is given a small amount of money to spend each year on the priorities set by their local assembly. Originally, this was £25,000 per year, with an additional £10,000 at the councillor's discretion. These budgets have shrunk to £15,000 and £3750 as Lewisham Council has had to implement cuts. The Forest Hill Society has successfully bid for funding from various local assemblies to support the Food Fair, cover planting and watering at Honor Oak and Forest Hill Stations, install swings and table tennis tables in the Horniman triangle, run the original PopUp Forest Hill and for a few other projects.

In February 2012, we were approached by Lewisham Council who asked various groups in eight wards to submit a bid for £100,000 of government money. Based on these bids, they chose Sydenham and Forest Hill to put forwards a joint bid for Portas Pilot funding. This bid was put together by a group of people which involved Forest Hill and Sydenham Societies, local councillors and various locals whom we had been working with to improve the area.

Unfortunately, our first round bid was unsuccessful, but we had continued working on the problems and asked why our bid had failed. As a result, a modified bid with matched funding from s106 money (planning conditions) was submitted in Round Two, and was successful at the end of July 2012. None of the money will come to the Forest Hill Society. We are, however, represented in the core group and on the Board of SEE3. We are also deeply involved in delivering the various projects. There are three main projects – Jack & Jill hubs, markets and Pop Up shops. There are also additional projects to support existing businesses.

SEE3 is a commercial organisation which aims to improve the town centres by creating events, improving publicity and encouraging new businesses. They are also required to build a Town Team which involves community groups, landlords and traders. The Town Team will define how the town centre evolves over the next ten to twenty years.

One of the prerequisites for the Town Team is a traders' group in each area. As a result, we encouraged Forest Hill's traders to reform the Forest Hill Trader's Association. This had been neglected following the passing of Michael Davey. Totally Locally is the public face of the FHTA. It has nothing to do with SEE3.

Together all these organisations are working together to make a real difference in the local area, and we are proud that the Forest Hill Society is an integral part of this.

Lewisham Hospital under Threat

At the end of January, members of the Forest Hill Society joined 25,000 other people to march through Lewisham in support of our local hospital.

The South London Health Care Trust (SLHT) has been having serious financial difficulties, primarily as a result of costs of their PFI deal. As a result a Special  Administrator was brought in to propose changes to improve their financial viability. Although the SLHT does not include Lewisham Hospital recommendations were made to close the A&E and maternity services at Lewisham, as a way to save money and keep the other hospitals more viable.

Apart from the questionable legality of the Special Administration making recommendations of reorganisation beyond the scope of the SLHT, this will have serious consequences for the people of Lewisham. Lewisham is recognised as providing excellent quality of care and is performing well financially—unlike the hospitals in Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley, which form the SLHT. This high quality of care in Lewisham is being put at risk by the proposals.

On 31st January Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, announced that the hospital will keep a reduced A&E department - a concept that exists nowhere else in the NHS. In addition the maternity unit will be midwife led only, rather than having the support of obstetricians. These changes will put huge pressure on Kings and Woolwich hospitals, which will see a significant increase in emergency admissions and births.

Lewisham is rated excellent and provides services to an area of London with high rates of deprivation. It is being sacrificed to bail out the neighbouring hospitals which generated huge PFI debts. 

Jeremy Hunt claimed in parliament that the changes to Lewisham will save 100 lives per year. These figures are disputed by the hospital and the local authority. We  believe that these changes at Lewisham will only reduce the quality of health care provided to people in Lewisham, increase journey times to good hospitals, and put more pressure on hospitals in Southwark and Greenwich.

Lewisham Council has sought legal advice and will be  challenging the decision of the secretary of state. This is not a cheap action but is clearly in the interest of the people of Lewisham. They have set up a fund to help with the costs that will be incurred in the legal challenge. If you would like to contribute to Lewisham's fund, you can do so at: http://bit.ly/LewishamFightingFund

The costs of the reorganisation are massive and will take at least three years to be implemented. From a financial perspective it is questionable whether the proposed changes at Lewisham will actually save any more in the medium to long term.

In the meantime, the fight will go on, and we would encourage you to use Lewisham whenever you need hospital facilities. All services at Lewisham continue to operate as before and it will continue to be an excellent hospital for now, but a serious threat remains over the future of services at this hospital.

Introducing the Friends of Dacres Wood

Claire Jaeger, chair of Friends of Dacres Wood, tells us about Dacres Wood and their plans for 2013.

This has been an exciting time for the residents of Dacres Road and the surrounding area. Unbeknownst to some there is a small, little known nature reserve hidden between Dacres Road and the railway. I say small but that does not mean uninteresting as any visitor will tell you. 

Back in September 2012 an initial meeting was called by the council to see what local residents and interested parties wanted to do about the area. It was decided a "Friends of " group should be created. So with that in mind several local people decided to join forces to open the nature reserve more frequently and show the world what's there.

Since the meeting the Friends of Dacres Wood Nature reserve (in conjunction with the Forest Hill Society and Friends of Mayow Park) have hosted an open day and a bring and take day. Both events have been very well attended and the interest shown by visitors has shown how necessary it has been to open the reserve.

Towards the end of 2012 the project was awarded £2000 by Lewisham Council at the Perry Vale Assembly. The money has been awarded to support the on-going pond works in the reserve.

Interestingly, the two ponds in the reserve are remnants of the Croydon Canal. When the railway was built by the Croydon railway company this little stretch of water was left behind, and one of these was where the young Ernest Shackleton played with friends. Unfortunately, in the last few years it has become overgrown and so the awarded money will be used to remove some of the overgrowth.

Later this year, along with removing pond weed, more open days will be organised and in conjunction with Lewisham Council, volunteer aided maintenance of the vegetation. Our website dacreswood.org.uk keeps all of us up to date as to what is going on and if anyone else would like to get involved please leave a comment on the website.

The next event at Dacres Wood Nature Reserve will be an open day to explore this hidden treasure of Forest Hill on Saturday 16th March. There will be a meeting of the Friends group at 11am, and the nature reserve will be open from noon.

Shackleton Plays Truant in ‘Dacres Wood’

by Jan Piggott, assisted by Steve Grindlay.
Reproduced with permission from the Sydenham Society Newsletter


As you may know, Ernest Shackleton passed his schooldays in Sydenham, as commemorated by the Blue Plaque on the large house on Westwood Hill next to St Bartholomew’s Church, now called ‘St David’s’, but which was originally ‘Aberdeen House’ [to know more, type Shackleton into the Sydenham Town Forum—www.sydenham.org.uk].

He was the son of Dr Henry Shackleton, who settled here as a General Practitioner, but was also a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, in Classics, and originally a small landed proprietor, of Kilkea House, County Kildare in Ireland. He practised homeopathy. Ernest was the second child, and had eight sisters (who attended Sydenham High School) and a brother. In the back garden Dr. Shackleton had a famous rose garden, and the young Ernest built a switch-back railway from the drawing-room window right across the lawn; he also liked to play on the roof of the house. Later the house would be decorated with pennants by his sisters on his return from the Antarctic. He explored the radius of a day's journey on his bicycle all around Sydenham.

Shackleton kept up loyally a friendship with the manager of the bookstore at Sydenham railway station, Charles Lethbridge, and wrote to him during his first Antarctic expedition (with Scott on the Discovery) on 20 September 1902. He and his sisters in his early days belonged to the Band of Hope, a children’s Temperance Society group, who regularly sang songs about the evils of alcohol outside the Sydenham pubs. From ‘Aberdeen House’, starting at the age of thirteen in 1887, for three years he walked over the hill to and from Dulwich College. At the College he ‘did very little work’ according to a contemporary, ‘and if there was a scrap he was usually in it’. His form positions, usually low, very likely indicate impatient boredom; however, the single high results in Mathematics and English that he gained twice reveal his exceptional intelligence.

Dr. Shackleton reluctantly let him join the mercantile marine after his sixteenth birthday in 1890; later, he was to say that for all the good points of Dulwich his first year at sea was a better school: he had the leisure to read for hours on end, and memorised long passages of poetry; he was saved from the sea (pulled by his hair) and went through a hurricane. Returning to the Great Hall of the College as the man of the hour in July 1909 after the return of his Nimrod expedition, to give the prizes, he declared that he had never been so near to the prizes as he had been today. The Dulwich boys used to call him ‘Mick’, ‘Mike’ or ‘Micky’, as he retained traces of an Irish brogue.

A significant further detail of local interest about Shackleton’s youth was given by Hugh Robert Mill in in his Life of Shackleton (1923): ‘The story of these days would not be complete without a paragraph of secret history, the revelation of which is no longer an indiscretion. Mike was addicted to playing truant from school, and we may assume that he was versed in the art of plausible excuses both at school and at home. He was the leader of a sworn band, other members of which were Arthur Griffiths (‘Griff’ for short’), Ned Sleep and Chris Kay. With such names they could not help playing at the hunt for hidden treasure on desolate islands, the chosen haunt being a strip of private wood adjoining the railway.

Many a long day they spent there, cowering in a hollow under the root of a great tree, speaking in whispers, for might not the next lair hide the lurking shapes of Ben Gunn, Black Dog, old Pew, and even Long John Silver himself?  – in that wood in those days time and space, fact and fiction were a continuum of romance. All things there were held in common by the four, and the properties in the drama that was being lived included a revolver with cartridges, an air-gun, a flute, a concertina, and the hull of a large model boat, the rigging and altering of which gave rise to lengthy discussions and very unsatisfactory results. Food was stored up also, for missing school meant doing without dinner, and there was a box of the cheapest cigarettes on the market, which Mike smoked with the best of them, and once when cash was available a bottle of cooking sherry was smuggled in for a grand carouse. This Mike would not touch, and the others long regretted their rashness. All the talk was of adventure, and many a rousing tale of the sea did Mike read aloud to his comrades, all of whom resolved to be sailors; and remarkable as it may appear, all four grew up to follow the sea’.

Mill’s source for all this seems to be from Shackleton himself, who was his friend, as the passage contains many details only found in his book, but confirmation that the strip of private wood was what is now the Dacres Wood Nature Reserve with the pond on Silverdale comes from a book of reminiscences written by ‘Griff’ himself, called Surrendered: Some Naval War Secrets, published in 1918, in which he states that ‘the safest haunt’ of their truancies, selected by Shackleton himself, was ‘a deep hollow in the SSilverdale [Dacres] Woods, where the thick undergrowth obscured all vestige of trespassers. Books on ships and sails found their way into the lair. Sails and flags were stretched taut to the spars of the model ship. Arguments and reference to nautical works occupied weeks and weeks before the little model passed muster. An old wooden box was installed in the hollow to act as a table, where the model was secured for close inspection – and it became the imaginary vessel of their travels’. The lads, Griff wrote, decided to run away to sea, and set off to London in quest of a ship, but the mate smiled at them and said they were too young. Later they were ‘not deserted by the growing call of the sea, and one by one exchanged school caps for the smart badge and buttons of sea service’. The ‘cheery lads’ all worked in full rigged ships. Shackleton left in the Houghton Tower, a ship of the White Star Line, for Valparaiso in 1890. The three others eventually became officers in ocean liners.
 
One fascinating element of this truancy is how closely their activities appear to have been a boyish rehearsal for the real drama when Shackleton was marooned on the ice during the Endurance expedition after the ship sank, with music (instead of the flute and concertina of Dacres Woods) from Hussey's banjo (now preserved in the National Maritime Museum); when it was suggested to discard the banjo on account of its weight, Shackleton insisted it must be kept, as ‘vital mental medicine’ for the group. The men on the ice took part in smoking and feasts from dwindling stores; they had with them an arsenal, and books; they discussed sails and other nautical matters, and talked about literature.

Steve Grindlay has cleverly established the ages and addresses of the other boys, so that we can imagine them covertly converging on the Silverdale Woods on school days: Arthur ‘Griff’ Griffith (not Griffiths), born in Sydenham on 12 July 1873, lived at Elmcroft, 15 Recreation Road, on the corner of Silverdale, from 1881 to 1890, on the other side of the road from the Reserve, but not many paces away; he was not a pupil at Dulwich College. Ned Sleap (not ‘Sleep’), born at Belvedere in Kent, on 1 July 1870, lived also in Silverdale, at Birch Tor, from 1881-2, and then at 'Homestead', Recreation Road, (either no. 1 or 2) from 1884 to 1891. They then moved to Longton Grove; he was at Dulwich College for four terms only, from September 1884. Chris (actually Christol) Kay, the son of a General Practitioner, was born 17 September 1871. He was at Dulwich College for only one year, in 1880-1. The Kays lived at 48, Crystal Palace Park Road, from 1880 until about 1885 and then moved to 'Darley House', Venner Road, where Dr. Kay had his surgery, until 1891. In the late 1890s the address of 'Darley House' was changed to 14 Sydenham Road; later the house was the Midland Bank, then HSBC, and is now an estate agent. Steve surmises that they probably all met when they attended the small preparatory school, Fir Lodge, which was on the corner of Jews Walk and Kirkdale, though the records have not survived. Shackleton, conspicuously the youngest, was said to be the leader.

07 March 2013

A Win for the Horniman

rAndom International’s recent immersive installation Rain Room, at Barbican’s Curve Gallery, had visitors queuing for hours. For Museums at Night they will be weaving their magic at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, whose 1,615 votes secured a live art event with an installation, music and storytelling inspired by the museum, garden spaces and natural history collections.

Commenting on this site Horniman Museum have said:
"A BIG THANK YOU to everyone that took the time to vote for the Horniman in the Museums at Night/Connect10 competition. We're very excited to have won and can't wait for rAndom International to come to the Horniman. We'll keep you updated about the Museums at Night event, which will be in May, as it progresses.

Once again, thank you to everyone for your support, we're very grateful! "
The Forest Hill Society led the way in promoting the vote to our members, our friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter, and across local forums: se23.com, Sydenham Town Forum, East Dulwich Forum, South East Central, and Brockley Central.

We are delighted by this success for Horniman Museum and look forward to rAndom International setting up something special at the museum.

01 March 2013

Sydenham Police Station—Potential Closure

The Mayor of London Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) has been consulting over changes to policing across London. There are two issues that will impact policing in Forest Hill.

The Metropolitan Police have been told to make cuts of 20% to costs, whilst at the same time cutting crime by 20% and increasing public confidence in the police. A challenge for any organisation, but MOPAC believe they have a plan that will do exactly that.

The first aspect is a reduction in their property portfolio by reducing the number of buildings and concentrating their activities in fewer properties. Part of this includes the sale of New Scotland Yard, but no part of London is untouched by this sell-off of property. They propose to reduce the number of front counters across all of London, with each borough (except Westminster) having only one 24 police station open to the public, there are also proposals to close most other front counters across all of London. The main reason for this is that front counters are no longer the first point of contact between the public and the police, with much more done by phone, email, or at people’s homes.

In Lewisham the  proposals are to keep Lewisham police station as a 24 hour front counter, with daytime only front counters in Deptford and Catford. Two other police stations would be closed in Brockley and Sydenham. In addition East Dulwich police station would also be closed as part of the plans in Southwark.

Chief Inspector Stuart Bell spoke to the Forest Hill ward assembly at the beginning of February about these plans and made it clear that Lewisham police force favours the retention of Sydenham police station as a front counter. It is currently used as a base of operations by safer neighbourhoods teams in three wards; Forest Hill, Perry Vale, and Sydenham. There is a suggestion that Sydenham police station could be closed and a front counter open in a police building located on Catford Hill, on the edge of Perry Vale ward. This would provide some local facilities for the police and would avoid the cost of building works required to keep Sydenham police station maintained to a decent standard, but it is not as well located for the three wards it would serve. Other discussions are taking place about sharing facilities with other emergency services, most notably the fire brigade which could possibly be able to accommodate a police front counter. But all these alternatives are in the early days of being investigated.

The Forest Hill Society believes that keeping Sydenham police station open is in the interests of the local community and will help to keep them anchored in the area. 

Beyond the physical location of police stations is another important change to policing. There are plans to increase the number of police officers across the Metropolitan police while reducing the number of senior ranks. In Lewisham the proposal is to increase the number of police officers from 593 in October 2011 to 647 by 2015, a 10% increase in the number of officers.

One important difference to the current structure would be the spread of safer neighbourhoods teams. At present most wards have one sergeant, two-three PCs and three Community Support Officers (PCSO). This would be reduced to one PC and two PCSOs, with a sergeant overseeing multiple wards. However, there would be a significant increase in the total number of police officers in the safer neighbourhoods team, to respond across the borough where the most crimes need to be tackled. The proposals are to increase the number of police in the safer neighbourhoods teams from 53 to 162. Chief Inspector Stuart Bell is one of the few officers who has experienced the restructured safer neighbourhoods teams in action, when he was based in Lambeth, and his opinion was that the new structure would provide greater flexibility and improve community relations.