27 March 2018

A Better Crossing for Perry Vale

The Forest Hill Society have started a petition for a new crossing on Perry Vale.

 Many passengers exiting Forest Hill station wish to cross Perry Vale to go home and to visit local shops. Site lines are poor for pedestrians close to the station and shops, and the nearest safe crossing point is beyond all the shops (beside Perry Vale car park). This is not appropriate for a busy crossing point used by all sections of the community, including children and elderly people.

A light-controlled pedestrian crossing (pelican or puffin crossing) would provide a safer crossing point for pedestrians and better manage traffic on the junction with Waldram Place.

With the 20mph speed limit on this road, we believe that a light-control crossing at this location would provide greater safety for all road users. We ask that Lewisham prioritise the installation of a formal crossing at this location.

If you agree, please add your name to this petition.

14 March 2018

Environment Report

By Quetta Kaye, Chair of the Environment Committee

The winter seems to have been a long one, but the Forest Hill Society’s Environment committee has been active, working with Energy Gardens in the area behind the bike stand on Forest Hill station’s Platform 1, with the installation of a ‘bug hotel’ and two new compost bins so that we can create our own compost. A new container of bamboo on Platform 2 helps to screen the metal railings as well as absorbing pollutants.

We suggested to Lewisham Council the need for a footpath across the Horniman Triangle park, from the café to the play equipment area. Our idea was agreed by the Forest Hill Ward Assembly and work is now in the planning stage. Broken play equipment has also been mended and repainted.

Concerned residents raised the problem of trying to use the path at the bottom of Horniman Gardens alongside the nature trail, which is almost impassable after heavy rain. Lewisham’s Highways Department has agreed to look into this and bring it up to standard.

We have been in contact with our new MP, Ellie Reeves, who has forwarded our photographs (see inset) of the area beside the underpass, which gives access to the railway path to Network Rail, in the hope that this town centre eyesore can, at last, be dealt with. Fingers crossed that something can be done, sometime soon.

Diaries Out for Spring Events:

Saturday 28th April, 2.00pm:  Call for gardeners, young and old(er), to help create exciting new planters for Perry Vale. We will also have a general post-winter planting spruce-up session to ready this year’s entry to the RHS’s “It’s your Neighbourhood” contest. Meet in Forest Hill station forecourt and bring gloves, a trowel and secateurs, if you have them — if not, we have a few spares.

Saturday 12th May, 2.00pm: Our popular Edible Plant Give-away. Once again the Forest Hill Society will be giving away starter food plants donated by Horniman Gardens to encourage growing your own, saving money and thinking green. Venue to be announced, but will probably be the station forecourt.

12 March 2018

SE23 Whisky Club

By Nikola Runev, Founder of SE23 Whisky Club

The SE23 Whisky club has been going for over three years. We meet every two weeks on Tuesdays at 8pm, in a pub in Forest Hill. Between 10 and 15 people usually attend each meeting to learn about whisky, understand more about how it is made, and which flavours we most enjoy.

At most meetings we sample six small whiskies with a particular theme, and in doing so we learn more about the process of making whisky — including the water, the barrels and the shape of the stills.

Many of the meetings are hosted by brand ambassadors, and we have had visits from ambassadors from Macallan, Suntory, Benriach/Glendronach, Chivas/Glenlivet, Whisky Exchange, Maverick Drinks, Paul John and Port Askaig. We look forward to welcoming Phil Huckle on the 3rd April for a Longmorn tasting.

Within the club are a few very knowledgeable individuals (with rather impressive personal whisky collections), but most are novices who just want to know more about whisky and explore the vast range of whiskies available.

The club is open to anybody: You just need to join the group at www.facebook.com/groups/se23whiskyclub/ for updates about forthcoming events. Some events are free, and some have a charge of £10 to cover the cost of the whisky for the evening.

For further information, visit the Facebook page or Twitter @se23whiskyclub.

11 March 2018

Local Police Patrols on Twitter

Forest Hill, Perry Vale and Crofton Park Safer Neighbourhoods Teams are our local police teams, reporting to Sergeant John Biddle.

As well as working hard to keep our streets safe, they provide regular updates on Twitter (@MPSPerryVale, @MPSForestHill, and @MPSCroftonPark) and on the local forum — SE23.life.

Regrettably, the police have recently reported a rise in house burglaries, thefts of mopeds and thefts of items from vehicles in the SE23 area. Nevertheless, some successes have been achieved in arresting suspected burglars in the local area, as well as dealing with drugs offenses and anti-social behaviour, and working with residents on crime prevention.

At present all three teams are based at Catford Hill police station, but the Metropolitan Police have plans to close this station (as well as the main Catford police station) and deploy officers elsewhere. The current thinking is that the Perry Vale, Forest Hill and Sydenham teams will be relocated to Newlands Park, just inside Bromley Borough, with the Crofton Park team either joining them or being relocated to Lewisham or elsewhere in the borough.

Each ward has a Safer Neighbourhoods Panel that includes representatives from local neighbourhood watch groups, residents’ associations, civic societies, councillors and traders. These panels help set the priorities for the police in their local areas, so that the concerns of residents can be dealt with.

09 March 2018

The Capitol and Other Lost Cinemas of Forest Hill

Alistair Dey looks at The Capitol pub and Forest Hill’s other former cinemas.
In May 2016, JD Wetherspoon announced that they were going to sell off The Capitol pub on London Road in Forest Hill. Indeed, two years earlier there had been rumours that the pub was closing or being sold off or being converted back into a cinema. For a large, seemingly successful pub which packs in the drinkers and eaters, I found this to be a slightly strange decision. Over a year on, Wetherspoon’s pub is still there, possibly because they have not yet found anyone to take over the lease or because the building is a Grade II listed building. Whatever the reason, I hope the pub continues and, if sold, the building does not lie empty again as it had previously done in the mid-1970s and late-1990s.

The Capitol is the jewel in the crown of Forest Hill’s cinematic heritage. It is believed that Lewisham borough once had more than 30 cinemas though not all in existence at the same time; Forest Hill had three of these cinemas.

Three houses on London Road had to be demolished to make way for the new  Capitol Cinema. Designed in a Neo-Classical style, the cinema was built in 1928-9 for London & Southern Cinemas and designed by noted cinema architect and garden designer, John Stanley Beard. The building also reflected an Egyptian influence, a style popular at the time following the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. The cinema opened on 11th February 1929 with John Gilbert in  the silent film Man, Woman and Sin. The local MP and the Mayor of Lewisham gave speeches at the opening. The opening programme’s advert described the cinema as a “New Mammoth Luxury House of Entertainment.”

The Capitol had class: It had a Compton theatre organ which was in use, as required, until it was removed in the late-1950s, a café for the convenience of patrons and an impressive initial seating capacity of 1,691 in the stalls and circle. The stage was deep and wide and, along with three dressing rooms, it allowed for music and variety shows to be staged — music hall type shows into the 1950s and pop concerts in the 1960s.
Since the cinema was designed and built just at the end of the Silent era of movies, sound equipment had to be installed very soon after it opened for the “Talkies”. The first sound film was The Singing Fool starring Al Jolson on 15 April 1929. This was the follow-up film to Jolson’s Jazz Singer, the first commercial Talkie. Some silent films continued to be shown at The Capitol for another year or so until the sound era took over completely.

The cinema was taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) in July 1933 and they operated it for the remainder of its cinematic life. The cinema was re-named ABC in December 1968 and closed on 13th October 1973 with its last two films being the road movie Scarecrow starring Gene Hackman and Al Pacino and Class of ’44 starring Gary Grimes. The building stood empty for several years until it was leased to Mecca Ltd and opened as a Mecca Bingo Club on 23rd February 1978. It was later leased to the Jasmine group and  was known as the Jasmine Social Club. Bingo ceased in early December 1996 and the building again stood empty and unused.

In September 1993, while still a bingo hall, the building was designated as a Grade II listed building. This means it is of special architectural or historic interest; considered to be of national importance, and therefore worth protecting; and warranting every effort to preserve it. The then Department of National Heritage described the building as “a rare survival of a complete 1920s cinema and the earliest complete cinema by J Stanley Beard now surviving.” This protection partly explains why The Capitol is the only former cinema in the area still recognisable as a cinema.

The building re-opened on 9th May 2001 as part of the Wetherspoon chain of pubs, which brings us, 16 years later, to the pub’s uncertain future.

The Two Other Lost Cinemas of Forest Hill

The Capitol was undoubtedly one of the foremost cinemas in south-east London. There were, at different times, two other cinemas in Forest Hill. The first cinema, The Picture Playhouse, opened in September 1910 but was short-lived. This relatively small 400 seater cinema was created out of existing shop premises, with its auditorium at the rear, where the China House restaurant now stands at 18 Dartmouth Road. By November that year, a tea lounge had been added to the building. The cinema was then refurbished in 1912 and re-named the Empire Picture Theatre. It ultimately closed in February 1914 and the premises then reverted to retail use. In recent times it has been a second-hand furniture shop, Wok Express and now the China House restaurant.

Forest Hill’s other cinema lasted longer before, presumably, succumbing to the embryonic TV age. The Stanstead Picture Palace opened in January 1913 at 12-14 Wastdale Road, just off Stanstead Road. Like The Picture Playhouse in Dartmouth Road, its entrance was created out of shop premises, with its 834-seat auditorium built at the rear. By 1927 it had been renamed the Stanstead Cinema and, in that year, it had a canopy installed over its entrance.

Western Electric Sound was installed in 1931 to bring the cinema into the Talkies era. The cinema had a brief closure while this work was carried out, and re-opened on 26th December 1931 as the Astoria Cinema, with Marion Davies in It’s a Wise Child. Incidentally, this film was a Hollywood “Pre-Code” comedy. “Pre-Code Hollywood” refers to the brief era in the American film industry between the introduction of sound pictures in 1929 and the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code censorship guidelines in mid-1934. As a result, films in the late 1920s and early 1930s were often much less sanitised than later films and often featured some strong female characters.

The cinema was renamed the Balmoral Cinema on 11th April 1954, but soon closed on 29th May 1954. It was re-opened as the New Astoria Cinema on 14th November 1954, but only lasted a few more months before finally closing on 26th February 1955.

In August 1968, the building was converted into an independent bingo club. It later became derelict and was ultimately demolished in 1975 — as was much of the surrounding neighbourhood during that “wrecking-ball” decade. The site was later redeveloped and housing was built. The cinema, when it existed, was a few yards away from the old Swiss Cottage pub on Stanstead Road, which was demolished in 1990.

Sydenham’s Cinemas

Although Forest Hill had three former cinemas, this is outmatched by Sydenham, which can claim five former cinemas at one time or another: two on Sydenham Road (where The Sydenham Centre and the empty Budgens supermarket now stand), one in Kirkdale, one in Silverdale and one at the Bell Green end of Perry Hill.

Thanks to the book “The Big 5: Lewisham Super Cinemas” by Ken George and the websites “Cinema Treasures” and “Lewisham’s Lost Cinemas” for much of the information in this article.

08 March 2018

St Antholin’s Spire

By Derek Randall

In a little-visited corner of town but close to Forest Hill Library, a magnificent church spire surprisingly emerges as if springing from the ground below, encircled by a cul-de sac of modest modern town houses just off Round Hill.

My children, when they were young, were convinced it remained the only visible part of a large church buried below by a catastrophic mudslide, due to the deforestation of the top of Forest Hill. (I confess they may at least have not been discouraged from reaching this conclusion in order to foster respect for trees.) The truth is barely less astonishing: It is in fact the 330-year-old spire of a City church built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666!

St Antholin’s Church was rebuilt after the Great Fire to Wren’s designs in Budge Row in the City and completed around 1682, at the huge expense of £5,700. The spire was particularly notable in that it was the only one cut from stone among 51 churches rebuilt by the famous architect. (Others of the time were timber-framed and variously clad such as with tile or lead.)

In the early 1800s, George Godwin stated, of the tower and spire, that "although they might not be termed beautiful or pure, display great powers of invention, and are of pleasing proportions" noting its clever octagonal and ribbed design with round shell openings at the base. He was less impressed by the composite Italian capital topping which he felt was too formal for such an ingenious design.

Reputedly, in 1829 the spire was damaged by lightning and had to be replaced, although there is some contention that the stone was too heavy for the tower and was likely to have been of more traditional construction and had become unstable.  One of the church wardens, Robert Harrild, purchased the upper section of the spire for £5 to save it from destruction.

Harrild had business premises nearby and presumably developed a great affection for the building. He was the owner of a printing works and became a pioneer in the manufacture and sale of printing machinery, developing the use of composite rollers instead of hand-held balls to apply the ink.

He became very wealthy and purchased Round Hill House, a grand manor house in Sydenham, to which he had the spire transported and re-erected in his gardens. The date is the subject of speculation, but it was known to have made its way to and been erected at Round Hill by 1850, where it stands to this day.

Harrild’s daughter Mary married another famous local resident, George Baxter the engraver and printmaker, who lived at The Retreat in Peak Hill and after whom Baxter Field is named.  The families were very close and Baxter’s sister married Harrild’s eldest son and heir. Harrild died in 1853, but the business continued under his sons until 1949.

St Antholin’s Church was demolished in 1875 to make way for the construction of Queen Victoria Street, but a memorial stone tablet depicting the famous spire still exists nearby at St Mary Aldermary, Watling Street, having been re-sited from Budge Row, which also no longer exists.

Round Hill House became The Sydenham and Forest Hill Social Club in the 1930s and was subsequently demolished in the ’60s, making way for the town houses we see today; but the spire survived, perched loftily on a brick plinth and complete with a ball and wolf’s head weathervane, along with a stately old Cedar of Lebanon tree from the original garden, both standing incongruously in the middle of the close.

Sadly, there is currently justified concern for the future of the spire which on my recent visit now looks in a very sorry state — surrounded by plastic orange barriers, boundary walls and railings that are crumbling away, sprouting weeds and the absence of a plaque or inscription denoting its significance. The spire is Grade ll listed by Historic England and we are expecting them to make a survey visit soon to report on its condition, hopefully as a first step towards its restoration.

With funds for public works of any kind in short supply, how nice and appropriate it would be if a wealthy local business owner — a Robert Harrild of today — stepped forward to earn our respect and help provide the ‘TLC’ that this unusual local heritage asset needs?

06 March 2018

Fix My Street

Local resident Margot Wilson told us about a very useful App.
If you have a smart phone you can easily report problems in your street to the local council by using the FixMyStreet app. It’s easy to use for reporting problems such as fly-tipping, overflowing rubbish bins, faulty street lights, graffiti and potholes. Just take a photo, report where it is and the local council gets notified. Alternatively, reports can be submitted online at fixmystreet.com.

We’ve tried it and have gotten a few issues fixed by Lewisham Council. So if you see a problem, please report it.

05 March 2018

The First World War Memorial, St George's Church

By Janet Killeen

After the recent building works and refurbishment of Christchurch Chapel at St. George’s Church on Church Rise/South Road, its marble War Memorial was sadly not re-installed. The church aims to re-install the memorial, with a Service of Remembrance in November 2018. This would be an ideal time to bring it back into prominence as a significant memorial to the sixty-eight names it records.

Among the names listed are poignant reminders of the loss of life: twin brothers; near neighbours; brothers; only sons. Some names can be traced and their addresses known, but others are a mystery. Perhaps a married sister wanted to commemorate a brother. Perhaps a fiancée, whose lover never returned to marry her. One young man was awarded both the DCM and the VC; another, who had emigrated to Canada from Forest Hill, the DCM.

Names 'Associated with this Parish' that are commemorated:
Ernest F Adams, Herbert C Ambrose, Albert C Amsler, William C Bance, Henry Bassett, Leonard C Boag, Walter E B Boecker, Cecil E Bowden, Victor F Bristow, James W Brooks, Alfred Budgen, Tom Budgen, Michael Callanan, Harold M N Chatterton, William F Chesterton, Harold C Clarke, Albert Clayton, Sidney Coles, Robert Cresswell, Cecil J Davies, Norman S Davies, James Draper, Harold Elphick, Leslie Elphick, William J Everitt, Cyril J Ford, Leslie W Gibbins, Stanley Greenwood, William Griffiths, Will Hersee DCM, Ernest A Holder, Fred Horlock, Arthur B Jay, William Jenns, Walter Jones, Dudley W Lancaster, Thomas C Lindley, Walter KLindley, Peter C London, John Lynn, DCM, VC, Arthur B Marston, Cyril P Marston, Harry L Maynard, George W Moore, Stanley C Narraway, Edwin E C Paddon, William H Payne, Frederick W Peet, Sidney C Pepperell, Frank J R Poynor, Stanley M Rhoades, Walter S Robinson, Charles L Robinson, Frank Sherrington, Ralph Sivier, James Skipper, William J Smail, Percy C Somerset, Joseph H Stead, Fred Stroud, C Melliar Talbot, Harold Toms, John Vine, William Websdale, Herbert Websdale, Frederick E Webster, Harold D West, Augustus M Wheeler

Do you know of any family members who were commemorated on this memorial and can you trace their stories? Please contact Janet Killeen via parish.office [at] stgeorgeandstmichael.org.uk.

01 March 2018

Horniman Museum — One of the Coolest Museums in the World!

We always suspected as much, but this year the New York Times has named the Horniman Museum and Gardens as one of the ten coolest museums in the world.

Out of the top ten, the Horniman is the only museum from the UK and one of only three from Europe — the others are in Germany and Denmark.
We are very lucky in Forest Hill to have the Horniman on our doorstep, and the New York Times article is likely to entice more people to discover the wonders of the Horniman and hopefully venture further into Forest Hill.

The Forest Hill Society are working with the Horniman to look at ways to link the Horniman into the town centre — to encourage people in Forest Hill to visit the Horniman, and for visitors to the Horniman to explore our delightful local shops.

The latest exhibition at the Horniman is
Colour: The Rainbow Revealed. Pop along to be dazzled by how colour is made and perceived, to discover how animals use colour to attract and hide, and to learn how different colours mean different things for people around our planet (charges apply.)

Later this year the Centenary Gallery will be re-opened after a major make-over and this will help keep Horniman’s place as one of the best museums in the world.