20 November 2015

Janusz Korczak and his links with the Industrial Homes in Forest Hill

20th November is Universal Children's Day, which marks the day in 1959 on which the UN Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. This declaration was inspired by the radical Children's Rights proposed by Janusz Korczak in the early 20th century.

To mark this day we are re-producing an article about Janusz Korczak by local historian and author, Steve Grindlay. This article was first published by the Lewisham Local Historical Society in October 2015.

The Warsaw Ghetto
On 1st September 1939 Germany invaded Poland. From mid-September Warsaw was besieged and by the end of September the city had surrendered. In November 1940 the Nazis created the Warsaw Ghetto, calling it the “J├╝discher Wohnbezirk” or “Jewish residential district”.

It was the most densely populated of all such ghettos created in Nazi-occupied Europe. Jews from Warsaw and beyond were rounded up and forcibly herded into it. The conditions were appalling, food and other essentials were very scarce and it was vastly over-crowded.

Amongst those forced into the Ghetto were Janusz Korczak and some 200 children and staff from the orphanage he founded in Warsaw about 30 years earlier. Korczak was a doctor, a successful author and teacher. When the Germans first invaded Warsaw he refused to recognise their authority and ignored their regulations. This led to him spending time in jail. Korczak received several offers from Polish friends who were prepared to hide him on the "Aryan" side of the city but he declined, as he would not abandon the children.

During the summer of 1942 the Nazis began “deporting” residents from the Ghetto. They were marched through the streets of Warsaw to the railway station, unaware of their final destination. In fact they were being sent to the Treblinka extermination camp. It gradually became clear to those still inside the ghetto that they were to be sent to their deaths. Towards the end of 1942 there was a lull in these deportations and it was during this time that resistance groups began to form. The decision by the Nazis, in January 1943, to continue the deportations led to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In total more than 254,000 people were taken from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka, and murdered.
Janusz Korczak was amongst those sent to Treblinka. On 5th August 1942 he, 12 members of his staff and 192 children were rounded up by the Nazis and marched through the streets of Warsaw to the railway station where they were forced onto the train to Treblinka.

One eyewitness remembered Korczak “marching, his head bent forward, holding the hand of a child... the children were dressed in clean and meticulously cared for clothes”. Another wrote, “He told the orphans they were going out to the country, so they ought to be cheerful. At last they would be able to exchange the horrible suffocating ghetto walls for meadows of flowers, streams where they could bathe, woods full of berries and mushrooms. He told them to wear their best clothes, and so they came out into the yard, two by two, nicely dressed and in a happy mood.”

As an educationalist and an author of popular children’s books Korczak had an international reputation. It has been claimed that the Nazis gave him an opportunity to escape from the train to Treblinka but he refused, again because he would not abandon the children.

This was the tragic conclusion to a story that began some thirty years earlier when Janusz Korczak visited a children’s home in Forest Hill.

“Janusz Korczak” was, in fact, the pen-name of Henryk Goldszmit. He was born in Warsaw in 1878 and adopted his pen-name, from a character in a Polish novel, when he began writing in his early 20s.
Korczak described his own schooling as “Strictness and boredom. Nothing was allowed. Alienation, cold and suffocation.” When he was eleven Korczak’s world was shattered. For some years his father suffered severe mental health problems and after several breakdowns was sent to a mental institution, where he died. The family was brought to the brink of poverty by this. Korczak managed to complete his medical training and went into practice as a paediatrician. However, in 1910, he decided to give up his medical practice and found an orphanage.

For him this was a difficult decision to make. He realised that although medicine could care for the body teaching could develop the mind. He wrote, "What a fever, a cough or nausea is for the physician, so a smile, a tear or a blush should be for the educator." He realised that in an orphanage he could combine both medicine and teaching both “curing the sick child and nurturing the whole child”. The orphanage would be “a just community whose young citizens would run their own parliament, court of peers, and newspaper”. Korczak believed that children had a right to be treated by adults with tenderness and respect, as equals. They should be allowed, and helped, to grow into whoever they were meant to be. The "unknown person inside is the hope for the future”.

In January 1911, while he was making plans for the new orphanage, two close friends of Korczak died. He was much saddened by their loss and seems to have suffered a period of depression. This was not helped by his memory of his father’s death and his fear that such depression was hereditary.

Visit to Forest Hill
After the cornerstone of the orphanage was laid on 14th June 1911 Korczak left for England to visit orphanages but also, it has been suggested, to shake his depression. It was during this time in London that he visited Forest Hill where he was to have an experience that appears to have given him a clearer sense of the direction his life should take.

Horniman Gardens from the boating lake, looking up
the green slope towards the bandstand
Korczak had clearly been told about two children’s homes in Forest Hill and decided he should see them. He wrote a detailed account of the visit, describing how he took the tram from Victoria to Forest Hill. It seems he got off at Horniman Gardens, at the tram stop by the museum. He describes, “a park – lawns, a large lawn on a hill, the bandstand at the top seems small but on Sundays an orchestra of forty musicians plays there. On the green hill children are playing ball games. Lower down is a lake. Here they are launching boats and model ships. Behind a hedge one can hear the rattle of a train and see the smoke from the steam engine. A clock strikes the hour”. He also mentions a museum that housed a mummy. Little has changed except that the small lake has been drained, the railway line to the Crystal Palace closed in 1954 and the clock no longer strikes.

Korczak then walked towards the shopping centre where “the inhabitants can buy all they need”. Continuing along Dartmouth Road he came to “a larger and grander building – communal baths – a bath for two pennies, a swimming pool for one penny – with separate pools for adults and children”. He speculates on how much it cost to build and maintain the pools adding, “the parish paid towards it all, and some lord topped it up”. In fact the parish donated the land and the Earl of Dartmouth, who may well have donated some money, opened Forest Hill Pools in 1885.

However, the biggest surprise was the orphanage next to the pools, the Girls’ Industrial Home, known as Louise House. The director greeted him politely and showed him around "with no trace of German arrogance or French formality." He saw the laundry, the sewing room and the embroidery workshop. He also visited the Boys’ Home. Every child had a garden plot and kept rabbits, doves or guinea pigs. He noted that the children all went to school for formal education. He also mentioned the report books which still survive in the Lewisham Local History & Archives Centre. On leaving Louise House Korczak signed the visitors’ book “Janusz Korczak, Warsaw”. Unfortunately the visitors’ book does not seem to have survived.

Korczak was aware that a stranger from a distant country was not the sort of visitor that the homes were used to. He commented on how he felt the staff saw him: “Warsaw? A strange guest from far away. Why is he looking at everything with such interest? What is so special about this place? The school? But there are children, so of course there must be a school. The orphanage? But there are orphans, so they must have somewhere to stay. A swimming pool? A playground? But this is necessary. Yes, it is all necessary.”

In a letter written to a friend in 1937 Korczak explained: "I remember the moment when I decided not to make a home for myself. It was in a park near London. Instead of having a son I chose the idea of serving the child and his rights”.

Korczak was clearly deeply affected by his visit to the industrial homes. It seems that on his way home he returned to Horniman Gardens to ponder over what he had seen. He felt his own life had been "disordered, lonely, and cold," and decided that as “the son of a madman” and a Polish Jew in a country under Russian occupation he had no right to bring a child into the world. He decided that he would not take on the responsibility of marriage and a family but would instead commit himself to “serving all children and their rights".

Korczak’s own childhood had been difficult. When he was eleven his father became mentally ill and died in a psychiatric hospital and at the time it was thought that such illnesses might be inherited and this must have played on Korczak’s mind. At the time he visited Louise House Korczak was thirty-three, almost the age his father was when Korczak was born. He returned to Warsaw with a clear vision of what he should do and how the orphanage should be run. In 1912 the orphanage opened, with Korczak as director.
Korczak believed that children had their own personalities and their own paths to follow. The role of a parent or a teacher was not to impose other goals on a child, but to help them achieve their own. Children had rights and their views should be listened to. The children in his orphanage were encouraged to write their own newspaper and they were involved in discussing and agreeing the rules. "Out of a mad soul we forge a sane deed," he wrote in later years. The deed was "a vow to uphold the child and defend his rights."

Korczak's ideas influenced the development of free schools such as Dartington Hall and A S Neil’s Summerhill in the 1920s and there was even a school in Sydenham influenced by his ideas, the Kirkdale Free School at 186 Kirkdale. It opened in 1964 and closed in the 1980s. Korczak’s work on children’s rights was also used as the basis for the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child which is used to this day by governments around the world.

Louise House and Shaftesbury House
The industrial homes that so impressed Janusz Korczak during his visit to Forest Hill developed from the Ragged School movement of the mid-19th century. Whereas the Ragged Schools offered a basic, free education to destitute children and sufficient training to enable them to earn an honest living, the children still lived in what were often appalling domestic conditions.

However there were some who believed that such children could only prosper if they could leave “the destitution of parents or influence of surroundings, which were very likely to lead them into a life of crime”. They should be “rescued from the perils of the street, fed, clothed, housed, educated and taught a trade”. The industrial homes, often established in pleasant locations, provided that refuge; they were intended to provide a “home” for children who had no home.

A group of local philanthropists felt that Forest Hill offered a suitable environment for such a home. Funds were raised and a small house at 17 Rojack Road, between Stanstead Road and Rockbourne Road, was acquired. The Boys’ Industrial Home opened on 3rd May 1873 for “the reception and industrial training of destitute boys”. At that time it could accommodate just six boys.

The home was funded by donations from local people. These included F J Horniman who made an annual donation of 18 guineas (almost £1500 today), sufficient to support one child for a year. Under the terms of his will this was to continue after his death. Forest Hill’s other important tea-merchants, the Tetley family, were also generous donors together with several dozen other local people. Clearly, founding the home was the initiative of wealthy and benevolent Forest Hill and Sydenham people.

Each application for entry to the home, usually from a sponsor or parent, was considered by the Industrial Homes committee. They decided whether those who applied for admission were likely to benefit from their time in the home. They would accept only those children who were aged between 7 and 10 and whom they knew to be “destitute or the children of poverty-stricken parents” and would not consider anybody who had already become involved in serious crime. Where possible “a small weekly sum [was] expected from the parents” according to their means. During his visit to Louise House Janusz Korczak wondered why an affluent area like Forest Hill needed an orphanage but, of course, very few of the children were actually from Forest Hill.

By 1875 the house next door, 16 Rojack Road, became part of the boys’ home. At this time the boys were training to be shoemakers. Their wares were sold to help raise funds for the home, which, in 1875, raised £63 (more than £5,000 today). The boys also chopped and bundled firewood and this too was sold.

For their formal education the children attended local schools, initially Christ Church National School, Perry Vale and Holy Trinity National School, Dartmouth Road but when the non-denominational board schools opened the girls attended Sydenham Hill School (now Kelvin Grove School) and the boys went to Rathfern Road School.

By 1881 the need for a home for girls was becoming apparent and so it was decided to make arrangements for the reception of “a few of these little waifs, who are without doubt on the verge of moral and spiritual ruin”. No. 16 Rojack Road was adapted and on 20th July 1881 was opened as a Girls’ Home by the Earl of Shaftesbury. In the same year a further two houses, 3 and 4 Rojack Road, became boys’ homes. By this time there were 22 boys and 11 girls being cared for. By 1880 it was already clear that these houses were inadequate and that there was a need for larger and better-designed homes. A building fund was set up to achieve this.

In May 1884 a purpose built boys’ industrial home, Shaftesbury House, Perry Rise, was opened by the Lord Mayor of London in the presence of the Earl of Shaftesbury, who was patron of the home.
The architect of Shaftesbury House was Thomas Aldwinckle (1845-1920). Although he built hospitals and workhouses across south-east England, including the old Lewisham Baths, Brook Hospital and the water tower on Shooters Hill, and the important Kentish Town baths, he was very much a local architect. He lived in Forest Hill for almost all his working life and his house at 62 Dacres Road, which still survives, was almost certainly designed by him.

The boys’ home closed in about 1943 and the building needlessly demolished in 2000.

On 21st October 1889 Viscount Lewisham wrote to The Times announcing the decision to build a new girls’ home and laundry and appealing for funds. On 17th June 1890 Princess Louise laid the foundation stone of the new building on a site in Dartmouth Road. This was the building visited by Janusz Korczak in 1911. It is one of four significant buildings on this part of Dartmouth Road, three of them listed Grade II. The other buildings are Holy Trinity School, Forest Hill Library and Forest Hill Pools. They were built within 25 years of each other with a shared common purpose, the health and welfare of less advantaged people in Forest Hill, Sydenham and beyond. Between them they provided opportunities for education, religious instruction, exercise, cleanliness and learning a trade. Three of the four buildings are still in use for the purpose for which they were originally intended.

The history of the site on which these buildings were erected began in 1819 when Sydenham Common (500 acres of open land in Upper Sydenham and Forest Hill) was enclosed. Since time immemorial the common had provided local people with certain rights such as free access, grazing livestock, gathering firewood, hunting and holding fairs. After the enclosure the common was divided into small plots that were fenced to keep out trespassers. These plots were awarded to those who already owned land in Lewisham. Thus, as so often happens, the wealthy benefitted at the expense of the poor.

One of the beneficiaries of the enclosure was the Parish of Lewisham, which was awarded the large field on which these four buildings were to be erected. The field, which became known as Vicar’s Field, was originally let as allotments to those who had lost their common rights. As circumstances changed, the vicar (from 1854, when the parish of St Bartholomew was created, the freeholder was the Vicar of St Bartholomew’s Church) was persuaded to make parts of this field available for purposes he deemed to be socially worthwhile. During the early 1870s Vicar’s Field was one of the sites proposed for a public recreation ground but the vicar decided such a use was not a good enough reason to deprive the poor of their allotments so an alternative site was found, now known as Mayow Park.

However, the vicar did agree to make part of the field available for a church school and in 1874 Holy Trinity National Schools opened. This was followed by the pools in 1885, Louise House in 1891 and finally the library in 1901.

The foundation stone of Louise House was laid by Princess Louise, Marchioness of Lorne and daughter of Queen Victoria, on 17th June 1890. She retained an interest in the industrial home that bore her name for many years. Thomas Aldwinckle, who also designed Shaftesbury House and Forest Hill Pools, was the architect of Louise House.

The house remained a girls’ home (the word “Industrial” was carefully removed from the fascia across the front of the building in about 1930) until the mid-1930s. By 1939 it was occupied by Air Raid Precautions and after the war it became a maternity and child welfare centre. Louise House was closed and boarded-up in 2005 but is now being used as artists’ studios and its future seems secure. As a rare survivor of a purpose built industrial home that is still largely intact and also because of its significant link with Janusz Korczak English Heritage listed the building Grade II.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
By an extraordinary coincidence another heroic person who died opposing the Nazis also had links with Forest Hill. In 1933 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was elected pastor of the German Evangelical Church in Dacres Road, Sydenham and moved into a flat above the German school at 2 Manor Mount, Forest Hill. In 1935 Bonhoeffer, who strongly opposed the Nazis, decided to return to Germany where he became active in several anti-Nazi groups. Bonhoeffer was apparently connected with the assassination plot of 20th July 1944 when a group of military officers attempted to overthrow the Nazi regime by killing Hitler. Bonhoeffer was arrested and held in the Flossenburg concentration camp. On 9th April 1945, as American forces approached Flossenberg, Bonhoeffer and six others, who had also been involved in plots against Hitler, were executed.

The German Church in Dacres Road was bombed and had to be demolished. The new church, opened in 1959, was named in memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There is also a plaque on the house in Manor Mount where he lived and a statue of him on the front of Westminster Abbey, unveiled in 1998, celebrating him as a “protestant martyr”.

Both Janusz Korczak and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are regarded as heroes and martyrs of the holocaust who chose to die for their beliefs. That both should have such significant links with Forest Hill is quite remarkable and something we should celebrate.

Annual Reports and Management Committee minutes held at the Lewisham Local History & Archives Centre
Information from Marta Ciesielska and Bozena Wojnowska of the Warsaw Historical Museum, kindly translated by Adam Kawecki

19 November 2015

118 Stanstead Open Studios


More open studios for the weekend of 28-19th November.
Situated behind Topps Tiles on the South Circular.

17 November 2015

Havelock Walk Artists' Open Studios

Sat 28th - Sun 29th November. Havelock Walk is located off London Road, between Santander and M&Co.

12 November 2015

Controlled Parking Zone for Forest Hill?

The Council is holding an exhibition of the proposed CPZ at Forest Hill Library on Wednesday 18th November, 4pm- 7pm where full scale plans will be available.
During November and December Lewisham Council is carrying out a consultation into a proposed Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) in a network of streets bounded by Tyson Road, Horniman Drive, Sydenham Rise, Kirkdale, Dartmouth Road. 

The cost of parking in the CPZ areas would currently be:
Residents - £120 per year or £30 per year for low emission vehicles
Businesses - £500 per year

You can take part in a consultation on the proposal by visiting the Lewisham website

10 November 2015

Library Consultation - Forest Hill Society Response

Lewisham Council are consulting over plans to downgrade Forest Hill library, together with Torridon Road, and Manor House libraries to community libraries. You can read and respond to the full proposals here.

The Forest Hill Society is opposed to these changes and you can read our full response here.

The conclusions are:
1. We are proud of Forest Hill library; the 17% increase in visitors in the last four years, maintaining book borrowing at 94% of 2010 levels, and all the additional services already provided in the building.
2. We accept that, due to cuts in Local Authority funding, there may need to be a reduction in staffing levels in library services.
3. We believe that using volunteers to support existing Lewisham libraries can be a useful way to reduce the impact of these cuts.
4. We recommend that volunteers should be used across all Lewisham managed libraries rather than only in community libraries.
5. We cannot support an increase in hours for the three remaining ‘Hub Libraries’ while staffing levels are being reduced in Forest Hill, Manor House, Torridon Road, and Catford.
6. We expect that borrowing figures will plummet in any community library, as has been demonstrated in five separate libraries across Lewisham.
7. We do not accept that the community library model is suitable for larger libraries (with borrowing levels higher than all five community libraries in the borough put together).
8. We do not believe that a community library in Forest Hill would be capable of supporting library services that are financed by other profit-making services in the space, and as a result library services can only deteriorate in the community library model.

08 November 2015

Lewisham's Writer-in-Residence Opposes More Community Libraries

Chrissie Gittins, Lewisham’s first honorary Writer-in-Residence, has written to us outlining her concerns with plans to turn Forest Hill, Manor House, and Torridon Road into Community Libraries.

8th November 2015
Dear Residents,I was very proud to be appointed Lewisham’s first honorary Writer-in-Residence by Lewisham Libraries in 2010. I write poetry for adults and children, short fiction and radio drama; I’ve lived in Forest Hill for 26 years.

It grieved me in 2011 when 5 of out then 12 libraries lost their funding and became community libraries. It grieves me now that a further 3 libraries are in danger of following the same route.

The statistics for book borrowing in the five community libraries since 2011 are very clear. Borrowing is down by an average of 74%. At Grove Park Library borrowing is down by 90%. If three further community libraries are implemented the borrowing figures for Lewisham Libraries would no doubt continue to decline.

It is inconceivable to me that an inner London borough, where over 275,000 adults and children live, work and learn, should be left with only three professionally staffed libraries.

Having a well-stocked library within a reasonable distance, with consistent trained staff, who can advise and recommend, and provide an atmosphere conducive to exploring books, is essential to a child’s learning. I grew up in a household with only a handful of books. I wouldn’t have developed my love of reading and of literature without the expertise on hand at my local library. I certainly wouldn’t have become a writer.

I urge you to make your feelings known and to fill in the Lewisham Libraries Consultation document by the 15th November.

And please sign the petition to Save Lewisham Libraries.

A comprehensive library provision is crucial to the future literacy and enrichment of the children of Lewisham.

Chrissie Gittins

Chrissie lives in Forest Hill and is currently Writer-in-Residence with the Borough of Lewisham. Chrissie has received a fellowship at Hawthornden Castle, and awards from the Society of Authors, the Royal Literary Fund, and The Author’s Foundation.
Further details about Chrissie on her website: http://www.chrissiegittins.co.uk/

06 November 2015

Pub Crawl: Thursday 26th November

The Forest Hill Society invite you to a Pub Crawl through Forest Hill on Thursday 26th November. 

Pub Crawl through pubs new and old in SE23, starting at the All Inn One on Perry Vale at 7:30pm and departing for the next venue at 8pm. Just turn up!

Sadly we cannot visit all the pubs of Forest Hill, but we have a selection to take you to, where you can purchase a variety of refreshing beverages.

This is a great way to meet other local people to enjoy a drink and a chat.

02 November 2015

26 Inglemere Road - Planning Application

A new application has been made to convert a building to the rear of 26 Inglemere Road to a one bedroom dwelling. The application can be viewed on Lewisham website. (Application number DC/15/93613)

The Forest Hill Society has written with concerns regarding this application relating to:
•    The design quality
•    The quality and legibility of the planning application documentation
•    The planning history of the site
•    Site suitability

You can view the full text here

20 October 2015

Library Visits and Borrowing in Lewisham

Using two different reports to the council it has been possible to see the changes in library usage since the first community libraries were set up in 2011. The figures are detailed below:

Library Type Visitors in Oct 2010 Visitors in Oct 2014 % Change in visitors ...... Borrowing in Oct 2010 Borrowing in Oct 2014 % Change in borrowing
Lewisham Council 31,855 31,756 0% 22,025 17,387 -21%
Deptford Council n/a 39,561 -n/a 10,387 -
Forest Hill Council 12,208 14,266 17%
9,461 8,853 -6%
Downham Council 35,799 30,692 -14% 8,853 7,307 -17%
Catford Council 23,973 18,975 -21% 10,197 6,905 -32%
Manor House Council 17,749 19,533 10% 9,779 5,952 -39%
Torridon Road Council n/a 5,085 -n/a 4,101 -
Crofton Park Community 7,550 8,000 6% 6,036 2,419 -60%
Blackheath Community 7,897 10,548 34% 5,044 1,672 -67%
Sydenham Community 5,382 6,570 22% 4,035 934 -77%
New Cross Community 4,033 6,113 52% 2,770 726 -74%
Grove Park Community 3,743 3,692 -1% 3,764 391 -90%
Libraries ordered by October 2014 borrowing figures.
Full Excel download available with all years.

Three trends emerge over time:
1. Visitor numbers to community libraries have increased faster than other libraries in Lewisham.
2. Book borrowing is on a general downward path.
3. Decline in book borrowing has been far worse in community libraries.

Looking specifically at Forest Hill Library, the decline in borrowing has been least of all Lewisham libraries. Forest Hill has also seen the largest increase in visitors of all council run libraries (not including Deptford and Torridon Road which were not open in 2010).

Community libraries are almost certainly better than no library at all, and volunteers have worked hard to make these smaller libraries work, but based on the experience with existing community libraries over four years, transferring more libraries to Community management is likely to result in massive reductions in borrowing (core library services).

The Forest Hill Society opposes the community model as a method of providing services in Forest Hill Library and believe it will have a negative impact on children and adults in the local area.

We urge you to complete the survey provided by Lewisham council on cutting library services and make your views known.

06 October 2015

Vote for Water for Horniman Play Park

Vote now!

For a number of years Horniman Triangle Play Park has been without water, we are looking to change that.

The Play Park has lots of equipment designed for use with water, sadly the hand pump was broken off, replaced, vandalised,and removed for health and safety reasons. We have looked at various options to bring water back to this play equipment, and the simplest is to replace this hand pump with a drinking fountain - a tap that provides a small amount of water when pressed for drinking or for filling buckets to play in the sand and play equipment.

To make this happen we need approximately £3,000 according to the council (this is no ordinary tap, it is a council approved drinking fountain that will hopefully withstand the type of use it will get from small children).

We have submitted a bid to the OneFamily foundation for a grant to make this happen, all we need now is your vote.

You will be asked to register on the site, which is easy to do with Facebook, Twitter, or Email address. This is so that they can prevent multiple voting and it will not post anything to your social media account and you should not get advertising emails from the organisation.

In the past the local community has been brilliant at supporting these types of on-line votes, so please vote and share on social media to encourage your friends to support this project.