07 May 2014

Doopo Doopo and Forest Hill’s Creative Heart

Agata Zielinska-Hryn has transformed a neglected retail space on 15 Dartmouth Road into a colourful social enterprise supporting the creative community in Forest Hill and surrounding areas. Doopo Doopo sells a range of pieces (many locally themed) created by local artists and designers, whilst also offering workshops, events and film screenings to help people of all ages develop their skills and kindle a love for art and creativity.

“It's been said that there are over 600 artists in this area (Forest Hill, Honor Oak, Sydenham, Dulwich) so it's impossible to keep up,” says Agata. “I wanted to give people the opportunity first to display and sell their works, and also for residents of Forest Hill and beyond just to see what beautiful people and art we have in our area. I opened in April 2012, and in May we had the Dulwich Arts Festival and I remember one tiring but amazing weekend when I was dragging my girls behind me and we went through a hundred studios in two days - seeing all the artists, having quick conversations, introducing myself and my idea - asking whether they would be interested in displaying their works ... and that's how it all started really.”

Lowbrow art

With other venues like Canvas & Cream, The Montage, Stag & Bow and soon-to-open V22 at Louise House, there are plenty of opportunities to get creative in Forest Hill. Agata’s philosophy is that there’s room for everyone, and that they all benefit from this increasingly visible creative scene: “I’m happy just selling local artists and to be in the local community. We all know each other here [as traders]. It's so beautiful that you can walk the streets here and you're constantly saying hi to everyone.”

For Doopo Doopo, one important principle is what Agata likes to call “lowbrow” art: “My idea was to create an opportunity for people who may be a bit shy [to show their work]; or for older artists who never succeeded anywhere and became very introverted. So it's not just about having very well known artists and designers here - it's about helping people understand that art is subjective and if they think that they can create and if they feel good creating things, then maybe someone else will like it. Every single piece can have its own fans.”

Creative hub

These days Agata doesn’t need to head out and recruit people, because there’s a constant stream of locals who visit the shop eager to show their work. But selling art and design is only one part of what happens here. There are regular workshops for people interested in oil painting, guitar lessons, printing and jewellery making along with kids’ art classes. Also coming soon are courses in decoupage, lino printing, screen printing, t-shirt printing and up-cycling.

A large downstairs area is being refurbished and will be ready soon, offering studios for rent along with a space for events, theatre, exhibitions and cinema. Amongst the new tenants will be some local musicians and a tattoo studio. In the meantime Doopo Doopo is already active on the Forest Hill film scene through the Vortex Cinema Club which organises regular screenings and other film-related events. Keep an eye out for the Forest Hill Film Festival which kicks off on 14th July.

As a social enterprise, Doopo Doopo trades with an eye on supporting the local community, with clear guidelines stating that profits must be re-invested to further this social purpose. Social enterprises are not automatically entitled to financial assistance (such as business rates relief) from local councils, although this is something Agata and others are working to change. In the meantime the continued active support from the Forest Hill community is vital to ensure its survival, as indeed is true of all our local businesses.

In Doopo Doopo’s case, there’s an opportunity to own a piece of Forest Hill through buying locally-themed and locally-made art, and also to tap into the vibrant, creative community of artists, designers, musicians and filmmakers which together contribute to making Forest Hill an exciting place to live.

More information

06 May 2014

John Parris, Parris Cues

Forest Hill Society support, promote and encourage local businesses. In each newsletter we plan to interview successful businesses in the community who are helping to make Forest Hill a vibrant and successful town centre.

Helen Wicks from the Forest Hill Society recently met local businessman John Parris, owner of Parris Cues who manufacture snooker cues in Church Vale Forest Hill.

Q. How did you get into the snooker cue trade?
It started as a hobby, I played snooker and started experimenting with repairs/ fiddling with snooker cues. I was asked by others to repair their cues and it progressed from there. It’s quite a niche market and there are not a lot of competitors just small ‘one man bands’. Obviously larger shops sell mass produced cues much more cheaply, but like any other sport, if you are serious and/or talented, bespoke equipment is recommended.

Q. Why Forest Hill?
I started in Bromley about 30 years ago. We outgrew our premises in Bromley and were looking for a larger site, and then found this building in Church Vale SE23 which was bigger with good transport links by road and rail into central London. Our premises in Forest Hill are very modest and many of our distinguished customers expect to see a grand showroom are surprised to find the business tucked away in the back streets of Forest Hill in an unglamorous shop. We are established here now, we like it – we have no plans to move.

Q. How many people do you employ?
It’s a family business run by myself and my wife and my son looks after the IT side of things. We employ 8 people including an apprentice and I will soon be looking for a second apprentice to work on a new leather snooker case line that I am introducing. I am fortunate to have a skilled and loyal workforce with very little staff turnover producing high quality cues.

Q. Who are your customers?
At the beginning we were basically providing cues to the UK market. During the 1980’s snooker was very popular in England…..thanks to Steve Davis and Jimmy White.
We are now a global business and 60% of our business is export. Our biggest customers are from China particularly Hong Kong, and also Brazil, Canada and Australia. The Crown Prince of Brunei has bought cues and flew me over to deliver them. He has even visited the showroom arriving in 3 limos …blocking Church Vale!
The internet has facilitated this success. We have invested a lot in our website and this has been an important way to reach the world market.
The fortunes of Parris Cues prospered during the 1980’s snooker boom and were further lifted by the Sporting Events Promoter Barry Hearn, who as chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association and the subsequent controlling interest in the commercial arm World Snooker Limited, revitalized the game from 6 tournaments a year to tournaments somewhere in the world every week.

Q. Any well known customers?
Yes, snooker players; Ronnie O’Sullivan, Jimmy White, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Stephen Maguire, John Higgins, and Neil Robertson. Other celebrities who have bought cues include: Ronnie Wood, Damien Hirst and Ian Wright.

Have a look at our photos on the website!

Q. So how did you manage to get such big names on your books?
It all started when I cornered Steve Davis at a tournament… I offered to produce a replica of a cue that he damaged in a tournament…and he liked it! From this stroke of good luck, I built up my reputation on recommendations and to add to this Steve has become a good friend.

Q. How many snooker cues do you make on average every year?
We manufacture about 1500 cues a year.

Q. What materials do you use?
I source wood for the cues from all over the world, exotic wood mainly, ash and maple from North America in addition to British plum and pear tree wood.

Q. Snooker was very popular - Why do you think are there no clubs in Forest Hill?
There were three clubs within walking distance of Forest Hill station, two of which were in Perry Vale behind the station and one at Brockley Rise... a real shame they closed…I believe this was because of high rents, combined with drop in popularity, possibly also because smoking ban and gaming regulations took their toll on profits. However most pubs are not big enough for snooker tables but do have pool tables – incidentally, we also make cues for pool and American Pool!

Q. Can you give any advice to a budding entrepreneur wanting to start up a business in Forest Hill?
Yes, find a niche market product that you are passionate about and spend as much as you can on a website to promote it!

05 May 2014

Festival in the Forest, June 29th

High summer brings the music festivals out and if you don’t have tickets for Glastonbury and hate the idea of camping, why not keep it local and spend the day at the Devonshire Road Nature Reserve’s annual Festival in the Forest on Sunday 29th June from 1pm until 10pm.

With an emphasis on Folk and Country music and some Jazz thrown in for good measure, this boutique festival showcases great music, superb home-cooked food and locally brewed beers and cider.

It includes two stages and ten bands and featuring headliners The Fire Pit Collective along with Charlie Hart, Alan Tyler, Steve ‘Boltz’ Bolton, Bruise, The Rude Vandals, The Twangers, Ezra, No Frills and Paul Astles with Bobby Valantino you’re guaranteed a great day in a beautiful setting right in the heart of Forest Hill; and all for £7 entry (under 18’s £4).

Tickets available in advance from

Photo: Last year’s headliners ‘Hungry Grass’ ripping it up on the main stage. 

04 May 2014

Crystal Palace High Level Line

Did you know there used to be a station at the junction of Wood Vale and Lordship Lane? And another at the other end of Wood Vale, where it meets Forest Hill Road?    We asked local historian, Steve Grindlay, to take us on a journey down the line.

Like much else in this area, the Crystal Palace High Level Line was a direct result of the opening of the Crystal Palace on Sydenham Hill in 1854. The building was designed by Joseph Paxton as a temporary structure to house the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations (to give it its full title) in Hyde Park. By the time the Great Exhibition closed, on 11th October 1851, plans were already afoot to rebuild a much larger version of Paxton’s iconic building, already dubbed “the Crystal Palace”. To achieve this, the Crystal Palace Company was formed with a board of nine directors. One of their first objectives was to find a suitable site for the new building.

It may not be coincidence that four of the nine directors of the CP Co had lived in Sydenham or Forest Hill since the mid-1840s, long before the original building in Hyde Park had even been proposed. One of them, Samuel Laing, lived in a large house near Mayow Road from 1847. He was chairman not only of the Crystal Palace Company but also of the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, which ran from London Bridge through Forest Hill and Sydenham to Croydon and beyond.

The railway companies had done very well out of transporting visitors across the country to the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park and were keen to have a say in where the new Crystal Palace should be built. Another local resident, Leo Shuster, was deputy chairman of the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway Company (he took over as chairman when Samuel Laing retired in 1855). He was also one of the directors of the Crystal Palace Co. Furthermore he owned a very large estate called Penge Place, conveniently situated between what is now Crystal Palace Parade and Thicket Road, which he was prepared to sell to the Crystal Palace Company.

By August 1852 work had begun on erecting the Crystal Palace on Sydenham Hill. The building was formally opened by Queen Victoria on 10th June 1854. On the same day, thanks to the efforts of Laing and Schuster, the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway opened a branch line from Sydenham to Crystal Palace, extended to Victoria by 1860. This allowed visitors to travel from London Bridge through Forest Hill and Sydenham to the present Crystal Palace station. The Palace proved highly popular and, from the outset, the railway struggled to cope with some 10,000 visitors daily (on one occasion 112,000 visitors arrived by this route) coming to enjoy the music, exhibitions, festivals and other events that were on offer.

In order to control this vast volume of traffic, and to make the line safer, the LB&SC railway decided to install an “electronic railway telegraph”. This consisted of an electric cable suspended from posts alongside the line with sensors that could detect the passage of trains. This information was relayed to the signal boxes, allowing signalmen to control the movement of trains. This was presumably quite a significant feature because a new public house opened in Forest Hill, at the junction of Sunderland Road and Stanstead Road, called the Railway Telegraph.

By 1860 the branch line from Sydenham to Crystal Palace had been extended to Victoria but it was still having difficulty coping with the large number of visitors. Several proposals were made for a second line to the Palace. By 1862 agreement had been reached on a branch line from Nunhead to Crystal Palace, terminating at a grand station on the west side of Crystal Palace Parade. There were several challenges, not least the steep incline from Nunhead to the height of Sydenham Hill and the need for two tunnels.

Eventually, on 1st August 1865, the Crystal Palace High Level Line was opened. The intermediate stations between Nunhead and Crystal Palace weren’t yet ready for the formal opening. Lordship Lane opened on 1st September 1865 and Honor Oak station opened on 1st December 1865 while Upper Sydenham station didn’t open until 1st August 1884.

The High Level station was considered London’s most imposing branch line railway station, outshone only by mainline stations such as St Pancras and Euston. It was designed by Edward Barry and situated on the western side of Crystal Palace Parade, between the parade and Farquhar Road. The site is now occupied by Bowley Close. The entrance to the Paxton Tunnel still survives at the northern end of the site as does part of the long, arched retaining wall below Crystal Palace Parade.

The finest survival of the High Level station is the arched, brick-lined subway which allowed 1st class ticket holders direct access from the station to the Palace. Others had to come out of the station and walk across the road.

On leaving the High Level station on the train back to London passengers would almost immediately enter the Paxton Tunnel, emerging in what is now the Hillcrest Estate. At the far end of this estate is the site of Upper Sydenham Station and the entrance to the Crescent Wood Road tunnel. Above the tunnel, in Wells Park Road, the station building still survives and is converted to flats.

The train emerged from the Crescent Wood tunnel into what is now Sydenham Hill Woods. You can follow the track through the woods, over the Cox’s Walk footbridge and continue in the same direction through the Sydenham Hill Estate towards Lordship Lane.

The station at Lordship Lane was built on land owned by the Dulwich College estate and, as with other bridges and stations on their land, they insisted on high quality buildings. In this case it was an elaborate Gothic style building of red brick and stone. Nothing, apart from sections of the embankment, now survives.
The track continued along what is now the Horniman Nature Trail, under a bridge at Langton Rise, and on towards Forest Hill Road.
Honor Oak station was near the junction of Forest Hill Road and Wood Vale, opposite Brenchley Gardens. Again, there are signs of the embankment in Buckley Close and the Woodvale Estate.
Of course, the main purpose of the High Level Line was to offer quick and easy access to all the events and exhibitions that the Crystal Palace had to offer. The fate of the line was finally sealed on 30th November 1936 when the Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire. Although the line struggled on, closing briefly during World War 2, the inevitable happened and it was finally closed on 20th September 1954.

Much of the line is now woodland and nature trails, with bats roosting in the tunnel underneath Sydenham Hill, while other sections of the line became housing.

01 May 2014

Dulwich Arts Festival comes to Forest Hill

Next month between 10th–18th May, the Dulwich Arts Festival will take place across Dulwich, Forest Hill and Sydenham to celebrate the arts in all their forms; there will be a host of events taking place across south east London ranging from music, literature and art. Havelock Walk in Forest Hill (just off the South Circular, behind Canvas & Cream), will be a central part of the festival’s Open House Studios event. Now in its 11th year, the festival’s Open House Studios is a unique chance for the public to view and purchase one-off pieces directly from talented artists in the area and thereby avoiding the usual gallery commissions and premiums.

One of the artists showing her work during the festival is Pip Tunstill who has been a long time resident of the artistic community at Havelock Walk. She recollects, “Twelve years ago, my husband & I came to look a site that was for sale on a cold rainy winter morning, very early before work. We were walking a up and down Havelock Walk and as we passed a workshop, the door was open and a voice said ‘would you like a cup of tea?’ That was it! Coming from an area where you barely knew your neighbours this was a welcoming introduction to a street that has a very strong sense of community”.

Pip Tunstill has been working as a professional artist for more years that she cares to remember and studied Fine Art at Hornsey College of Art & Design (now Middlesex University). Pip teaches Design at the University of the Arts, and combines this with working as an abstract painter. In simplistic terms, abstract art uses form, color and line to create a composition which generally exists independently from a true representation of reality. Pip takes inspiration from the whole world around her; everything from colour itself to nature, the built environment, the sea, books and music. She uses oil, pencil and occasionally collage to translate her ideas onto canvas.

Pip is currently busy getting some new work completed for the festival’s Open Studios but generally her work is sold via art consultancies and galleries. Pip really enjoys taking part and says, “It’s good to stand back from your work and see it through other people’s eyes. You meet a wide variety of people and in Havelock Walk we put out the bunting, blow up the balloons, get out the barbecue and make it a very festive occasion”.

Pip has been a resident of Forest Hill for many years and her favourite things about the area are Havelock Walk itself, the Horniman Museum, Reeves Garage and The Overground.

Pip also loves the toasted cheese sandwiches at Aga’s Little Deli on Dartmouth Road, a relatively recent addition to the high street and a success story of the original farmer’s market run by the Society at the train station. Pip also enjoys swimming at the Forest Hill Pools and really relishes being able to pick up fresh produce at the Horniman Farmers market each Saturday (both of which the Forest Hill Society has been fundamental in getting off the ground). Moreover, it’s encouraging that Pip has identified the growing cohesiveness of the community spirit in Forest Hill. She says, “There’s a much more active local community with an increasing concern about local environmental issues pursued with energy by the ‘Totally Locally’ group and Forest Hill Society.”

If you would like to see Pip Tunstill’s beautiful work, the Open House Studio’s event will run at Havelock Walk during the weekends of 10/11 May and 17/18 May. You may also like to visit other studios across the area and more information can be found at www.openhouseart.co.uk/art-trail/dulwich-festival.