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Walk: Music & Art

Did you know that The Who, a-ha and Desmond Dekker all have a connection with Forest Hill? Explore the places and venues associated with many famous names and faces on this walk.

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What connects a notorious art forger and a pioneer of silent movies with Mick Jagger and Cilla Black? 

 

Which 1980s pop legends rehearsed in a house on Elsinore Road? 

 

Where did a ground-breaking Jamaican tenor set up home?

 

Find out the answers to these and many more questions on this circular walk, starting and ending at Forest Hill Station, that explores the many exciting and sometimes surprising connections that Forest Hill has in the worlds of music and art.

This walk even has an associated SE23 playlist on Spotify - check it out and see if you can work out the connections! (all will be revealed on the walk)

Distance: 4 miles

Difficulty: easy

Time (length): 1½ - 2 hours

Route: open on GoJauntly

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Walk details and information

1. This circular walk starts at Forest Hill station, originally opened as Dartmouth Arms station in 1839.

Turn right onto the A205 South Circular and continue to the railway bridge.

2. Forest Hill mural

Under the bridge, you can see Lionel Stanhope’s mural, which was painted in 2018 following a successful crowdfunding appeal to local residents. 

Lionel’s striking and distinctive work can be seen in several other districts of South East London, including Deptford, Camberwell, Nunhead and Herne Hill.  This one features the world famous walrus, a 19th century exhibit in the Horniman Museum in London Road.  The walrus is currently being restored as part of a two year project to refurbish the gallery in which it lives, and is out of sight until at least 2026.

3. The Glenlyn Ballroom

Take the first road on the right (Waldram Place) and turn right onto Perry Vale.  The gold sign Gran indicates the location of what was once the Glenlyn Ballroom, which in its 1960s heyday, played host to some of the most famous musicians of the time.

The house band for most of this period was Bobby King & The Sabres, and significant amongst the early residencies were The Detours, who first played there in 1963, became The High Numbers in April 1964, and later changed their name to The Who.  Other notable names who appeared include The Hollies (1963-4), The Kinks, The Rolling Stones (1964), Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band (1965), The Creation (1966), as well as the Moody Blues, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, John Lee Hooker, Cilla Black and The Yardbirds.

The Glenlyn Ballroom closed around April 1967, becoming a bingo and snooker club, and is currently a banqueting and function suite.  It acquired its gold frontage and interior in 2019 (the full sign reads “Grand Palladium”, but the owners had neglected to gain planning permission, and, when this was refused, the partial cover up you see now was the result. 

For more information on the Glenlyn Ballroom, including a diary of acts compiled from contemporary records visit this link:

 

https://garagehangover.com/glenlyn-ballroom-forest-hill/   

Other musicians of the 1960s with a connection to Forest Hill include:

  • Millie Small – best known for My Boy Lollipop – lodged in Forest Hill when she first arrived from Jamaica to record for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records.  More about her on our blog

  • Francis Rossi of Status Quo was born in Forest Hill and attended Our Lady and St. Philip Neri Infants’ School on Mayow Road.  His father owned a string of ice-cream vans as well as Rossi’s ice-cream parlour in Catford.  In 1968, aged 19, and after the Quo had their first success with Pictures of Matchstick Men, young Francis bought a four-bedroom house at 37 Lowther Hill.

  • Jackie Trent - together with husband Tony “Crossroads” Hatch, they wrote the Neighbours theme tune, as well as songs for Petula Clark and Val Doonican.  Jackie lived in Forest Hill in the 1960s and had a number one hit with Where Are You Now in 1965

  • Desmond Dekker – best known for The Israelites, the UK’s first reggae no. 1 in 1969 – lived in Devonshire Road in the 1980-90s

4. Louis Drysdale, Westbourne Drive

Continue left from the old Glenlyn Ballroom to rejoin the A205.  The first turning on the right is Westbourne Drive, and on the left hand side, no. 11 is the former residence of Jamaican tenor Louis Drysdale.  

Drysdale first visited England in 1906 with the Kingston Choral Union, booked to appear at an exhibition in Liverpool, before making a short tour of other venues across the country.  He was encouraged to stay by the founder of the exhibition, and gained a place to study at the Royal College of Music.

His desire was to teach, rather than to perform, and, together with his English wife, he established his first studio here around 1911.  After a visit from the renowned American cabaret singer Florence Jones, his reputation spread, and he set up further studios in central London and Margate.  The Drysdales’ house became a haven for visiting black singers and musicians, hosting, amongst others, Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson, who would later become the first American-African to perform at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

For further information read our blog post

5. Perry Vale Studios

Continue along Westbourne Drive and take the first turning on the left into South Road.  The route continues past the former Christ Church, a landmark visible from much of Forest Hill, and ends at the junction with Sunderland Road.

(Not quite on our route, but just along here no .67 Sunderland Road once belonged to John Illsley, bassist with Dire Straits.)

Follow the footpath directly opposite, passing Perrymount School and Forest Hill Methodist Church on your right, and emerge onto the junction of Trilby Road and Shipman Road.  Bear right to follow Shipman Road, then take the second turning on the right into Siddons Road (named after the famous actor Sarah Siddons, although there isn’t any known connection between her and the area).

Siddons Road ends at the junction with Perry Vale, and directly opposite – through the archway promising A Kind of Hush – are the Perry Vale Studios.  Owned by former Vibrators bassist Pat Collier, the studio boasts an impressive roster of recording and production credits, mainly for punk and post-punk releases.  Artists who have recorded here include the Vibrators, Ruts DC, Rhoda Dakar, Fat White Family and The Men They Couldn’t Hang.

Forest Hill’s punk and new wave credentials are quite extensive and include:

  • Peter Perrett, of The Only Ones (Another Girl, Another Planet), lived and worked – as a heroin dealer - in Forest Hill (probably in Manor Mount) for several years after the band first split up in 1981

  • Don Letts, musician, DJ and film-maker, whilst a DJ at the Roxy in the 1970s, lived in Westwood Park.  Guests at the after-parties at the house included members of The Slits, Generation X, The Clash and The Sex Pistols.  He went on to found Big Audio Dynamite with ex-Clash guitarist Mick Jones 

  • Chrissie Hynde moved into Letts’ house in 1976 after the suicide of another occupant, and wrote Private Life (recorded by Grace Jones) there.  When she left, Joe Strummer took over her room

  • Derek Birkett – bassist with anarcho-punk band Flux of Pink Indians (who lived together in Westbourne Drive, and were mates with fellow anarchists Crass) – founded One Little Indian records just over the border in SE26.  The label – now called One Little Independent – somewhat improbably released The Sugarcubes, and then Bjork, who remains on the label today

6. Japan, Elsinore Road

Turn left on Perry Vale and, past the former fire station, take the first exit left on the roundabout onto Woolstone Road.  Continue along here until you turn left onto Elsinore Road.  

The Michaelides, the family of Mick Karn, bassist with 1980s art rock band Japan, used to live at no. 34, and in their formative stages – they actually formed in 1974 - the band would rehearse here.

Other Forest Hill connections from this period include:

  • A-ha, the Norwegian art pop band, lived on Dartmouth Road in 1983 whilst rehearsing at the Rendezvous Studio on Kirkdale in Sydenham

  • Neil Finn was living in Forest Hill when he joined Split Enz in 1977 - the band split in 1984 and Finn went on to form Crowded House

7. Tom Keating, Herschell Road

Continue to the end of Elsinore Road where the walk rejoins the South Circular at Stanstead Road.  Turn left and at the traffic lights, cross over to turn right onto Brockley Rise.  On the left, look out for Soundheart Music and Art Dog before passing Dalmain School.  

You may have noticed various examples of street art (and probably some graffiti) on the walk so far, and the shop shutters along here are particularly colourful.

The third road on the left is Herschell Road, birthplace in 1917 of the notorious art forger Tom Keating (who attended Dalmain School).  He lived with his parents in a flat in one of the three-storied houses on the right, opposite the church.   

After moving to Westbourne Drive, Keating started to work for a shady art dealer who paid old ladies to paint still lifes which were aged in an oven and passed off as Dutch old masters in West End galleries.  Tom’s artistic talent was such that he could recreate paintings catalogued as “lost” by Dutch, English and Italian masters, and have them authenticated by art experts as the real thing.

He narrowly avoided fraud charges in 1976 and went on to present a Channel 4 series on painting techniques of the Old Masters.

Read more about Tom Keating on our blog

8. Jim Connell, Stondon Park

Continue along Brockley Rise, and look out for the ghost sign on the left at the junction with Whatman Road.  The route continues almost to the border with Brockley (SE4), but, just beyond Kilgour Road on the left, look out for the maroon plaque at 22 Stondon Park.

This commemorates Jim Connell, an Irish political activist who wrote the words to the socialist anthem The Red Flag, and who lived here from 1915 until his death in 1929.

The song –apparently inspired by the sight of the train guard signalling on his journey home to Honor Oak Park – is usually sung to the tune of O Tannenbaum, which Connell particularly disliked.  His preferred setting was to the Jacobite song The White Cockade, and the version by Billy Bragg is one of the versions notable for using this melody.

Connell is commemorated on 1 May each year near his birthplace in County Meath.

9. W Reginald Bray, 135 Devonshire Road

From Stondon Park, take the next turning on the left into Holmesley Road, the northernmost point of the walk, then at the end turn left again onto Grierson Road.

Note on the left as you pass Riseldine Road – Spike Milligan moved to no. 50 from nearby 22 Gabriel Street, where he had lived since moving to England with his parents aged 12 in 1931.

At the junction with Honor Oak Park, cross at the zebra crossing and turn right.  Take the first turning on the left into Devonshire Road, and the start of the long stretch back to Forest Hill.

Just beyond the turning with Benson Road, on the right, 135 Devonshire Road marks the home of W. Reginald (“Reggie”) Bray, an Edwardian accountant and notable eccentric.  Born in 1879, Reggie lived with his family at 155 Stanstead Road (now the site of the fire station) before moving here in 1899.

Reggie’s obsession was the Post Office Guide, a publication setting out its services, prices and the rules, conditions and regulations of carriage and delivery.  Taking these to their extremes, he posted countless letters and objects to see whether or not they would reach their destination successfully.  Surviving examples include starched shirt collars serving as postcards, letters made of embroidery or crochet work, addresses which are written in poetry, code or just generally ambiguous – perhaps a postcard of a landmark with the instruction “to the person nearest this place”.  Objects that haven’t survived include vegetables with the address carved into them.

After realising that it was possible to “post” a dog – by leaving it at a post office to be taken to the designated address by a postman – he became the first recorded instance of someone posting himself – by presenting himself at a local post office to be accompanied home as part of the next delivery.  

In 1909 he and his wife Mabel moved to 13 Queenswood Road, and he became an assiduous collector of postal autographs, using ever more contrived and clever methods of obtaining them. 

His surviving collection is a fine early example of “postal art”, but at the same time, autographs of people such as Laurence Olivier bridge the gap between history and modernity.

Bray’s life and work are the subject of John Tingey’s excellent book The Englishman Who Posted Himself – And Other Curious Objects, published by Princeton in 2010, but still widely available.

Just a few metres away from the house is an example of a Victorian postbox, most likely the same one Reggie used for his postal experiments.

10. Leslie Eveleigh, 6 Woodcombe Crescent

Continue along Devonshire Road past the nature reserve on the left (the annual family music Festival in the Forest is held here in September), then turn right into Ewelme Road.  Take the first turning on the left into Woodcombe Crescent, and follow this road downhill until you reach No. 6, the former home of Leslie Eveleigh.

Eveleigh was one of the pioneers of the British film industry in the silent movie era, first credited as a cameraman on the 1913 Ealing film Sixty Years A Queen, a dramatised life of Queen Victoria, directed by the prolific Bert Haldane.  In 1915 he again worked with Haldane on Jane Shore, an epic on a similar scale to DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, using thousands of extras for its crowd scenes.

Although Ealing, Elstree and Pinewood are considered the centre  of the British film industry, after the first British 35mm film was made in 1895, studios began to appear all over the country, and there were no fewer than 640 production companies registered from 1925 to 1936.  The advent of the talkie and the emerging power of Hollywood meant that only 20 remained in 1937.

Eveleigh and the producer George Banfield founded British Filmcraft in 1926, operating from Walthamstow Studios until 1931.  One of their surviving films, the 1928 short The Lady Godiva, is notable for its location filming in Coventry’s medieval centre, later destroyed in the Blitz.  Restored by the BFI Archive, you can watch it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtHJ-9XLU40 

Eveleigh and his wife Nellie were living in Kentish Town in 1930, but moved to Forest Hill shortly after.  Nellie died in 1939, and just a few months later, Sydenham police received a hand-written letter with directions and a garage key.  When they reached the scene, they found Eveleigh kneeling behind his car, with the exhaust and his head both covered by a mackintosh.  The ignition was on but the engine was no longer running.  He was only 49.

For further information on Leslie Eveleigh read our blog post

11. Havelock Walk

Continue to the end of Woodcombe Crescent to rejoin Devonshire Road, turning right to continue into Forest Hill.  The end of Devonshire Road meets the South Circular, bear right for a short distance to the junction with Davids Road on the right.

Here you can just make out the mural commemorating the Croydon Canal, carved into the wall which one formed part of the canal towpath.  Turn right into Davids Road (using either path) and continue past the modern housing until you see a small passageway on the left signposted for Havelock Walk.

Go through this alley and emerge onto Havelock Walk itself.  The warehouses along here have been converted into studios and creative workspaces, and a community of artists has grown up here in recent years.  

Dizzee Rascal has a studio here, as does David Mach RA.  The best time to visit is in May or November, when the studios are opened for a couple of weekends, and you can meet over 15 artists and designers in their creative spaces. 

For more details (and dates to visit) go here https://www.havelockwalkstudios.com/ 

12. Forest Hill railway station

The end of Havelock Walk emerges onto the London Road (South Circular), and opposite, behind the mature tree, is the listed art deco Capitol building.  Originally built as a cinema in the 1920s, it showed its last film in 1973 and became a bingo hall from 1978 to 1996, and most recently a Wetherspoon’s pub.  It closed in 2023 and its future is uncertain, although it seems likely that it will reopen in some form.

A local legend is that David Bowie played here during its fallow period, although that seems unlikely, given that it was empty from 1973 to 1978, when Bowie was already filling far larger venues. 

There is more about the Capitol’s cinema history here: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/CapitolTheatreForestHill.htm 

Turn left along London Road to return to Forest Hill station, and the end of this walk.

13. Afterword

The artistic and musical heritage of Forest Hill is very much a living, contemporary affair.  Aside from the community of Havelock Walk, there are many other artists and musicians currently living here, some of whom might achieve levels of fame to become a subject for future historians.

If you haven’t already done so, check out our Spotify playlist https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6oepM0RSlvF19y2uq97qeg?si=b7b37d3ab4b24bea  

and our handy guide to the featured musicians 

This guide has been compiled from information gathered from many different sources, and we can’t possibly acknowledge them all.  However, we need to credit the Transpontine blogsite https://transpont.blogspot.com/, which has been a valuable background resource, and is a fascinating place to explore the vast musical heritage of South East London. 

For further reading, we would also recommend Mel Wright’s Rock Around Lewisham, published in 1990.  And if anyone has a copy we can borrow, please let us know.

Finally, this guide is by no means complete.  All comments, additions, corrections, or whatever are very welcome.  If you know someone or something we’ve overlooked, or have any interesting anecdotes, please get in touch!

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