14 September 2020

From Our Foreign Correspondent on Lockdown … Blythe Hill Fields

Opportunities for far-flung exploration have been curtailed during the coronavirus lockdown and you probably don’t want to read about a three-mile walk to Waitrose in Beckenham. So I will focus on a destination that is only partly foreign: Blythe Hill Fields, which straddles the border of SE23 and SE6.

Firstly, as anyone familiar with the topography of SE23 knows, the word ‘hill’ in a local place name indicates a substantial incline not suited to a gentle stroll. Blythe Hill Fields is no exception. Sitting on the summit of Blythe Hill, the park is reached by a determined walk up one of the many surrounding access roads. However, it is less strenuous than walking up to Horniman Gardens and the views are just as good, if not better.

Blythe Hill Fields has panoramic views of central London to the north, from Canary Wharf to the Shard and the City of London. To the south are glimpses of a far-reaching treescape, hinting at what the Great North Wood might have looked like.

The park has a lovely mood on summer evenings. The light from the setting sun casts a warm glow over the city skyline — a warmth that extends over the park itself, creating a magical atmosphere over the small clusters of park visitors. The midsummer magic wasn’t confined to this correspondent, as a member of a group of youngsters doing cartwheels was overheard to exclaim “We came here to drink and ended up doing gymnastics!”.

A visit to Blythe Hill Fields is further rewarded by including  a walk up or down nearby Lowther Hill (warning: steep hill alert). Looking west to the Sydenham Hill Ridge reveals a wonderful view of Forest Hill and the top of Horniman Museum’s clock tower nestled among the trees.


Railway Station Recipes

By Belinda Evans

Our previous newsletter’s recipe of spaghetti with sage and butter went down so well with some readers that we thought you might like another recipe, again using some of the herbs freely available from Platform One at Forest Hill station. On your way back home, why not pop into the garden area behind the bike shelter and pick some sage or thyme for the following gratin, along with some mint for a refreshing tea?


Serves 4


1 pack of sausages (meat or veggie/vegan)

500g sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1cm thick rounds

200g any other root vegetables you have at home (e.g. turnip, parsnip, celeriac, carrots), peeled and cut into even-sized slices or chunks 

2 onions, sliced

2‒3 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried sage, or thyme)

300ml vegetable stock

250ml double cream

1‒2 tbsp Wholegrain, French or English mustard 

75g Parmesan, Pecorino or other hard cheese, grated

A handful of breadcrumbs 

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


In a large mixing bowl combine all the vegetables including onions.

In an oven-proof dish, layer half the mixed vegetables.

Pour over the vegetable stock, scatter the fresh herbs, and dot with a few teaspoons of mustard on top.

Repeat with the remaining onions and vegetables. Pour over the cream to coat the top layer of vegetables.

Mix the breadcrumbs and grated cheese together in a small bowl, and season with salt and black pepper.

Scatter on top of the dish and place in a preheated oven (190C / 170C fan) for 50 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the top is golden. You can cover the dish with some tinfoil for the first half of the cooking time to stop the top from over-browning.

If you have space in your oven, place the sausages in an oven-proof dish and cook for the remaining 20 minutes of the gratin’s cooking time. Alternatively, fry or grill whilst the gratin is cooking.

Serve the sausages and gratin together. The leftovers will keep in the fridge for 2—3 days and can easily be reheated in the oven or microwave.

All washed down with a refreshing mint tea using your freshly picked mint…


Serves 2


2 cups water 

15 fresh mint leaves (peppermint or spearmint)

Optional: 1—2 teaspoons sugar (or honey)

Optional: lemon slices

Optional: fresh lemon juice

Optional: ice


Bring the water to a boil.

Remove from the heat and add the fresh mint leaves.

Steep for 3—5 minutes, depending on desired strength.

Add optional sweetener. Start with 1 teaspoon per cup and add more as desired.

If serving iced, fill tall glasses with ice and pour the tea over. If serving hot, pour the tea into mugs. Garnish with optional lemon slices and/or lemon juice to taste.

12 September 2020

Birley House Open Air School

By Sheila Carson

In the latter part of the 19th century it was recognised that pollution, overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions in many cities contributed to the development and spread of infectious and debilitating diseases. Children were particularly affected, primarily with tuberculosis, but also with asthma and anaemia. These children were often described as 'delicate', meaning that they were malnourished and underweight.

German studies in the 1890s showed that the health of children with tuberculosis could be improved with good nutrition, fresh air, exercise and rest. Purpose-built schools implemented these interventions alongside education. The first of these ‘forest schools’ or ‘open air schools’ opened in Charlottenburg, near Berlin, in 1904. As a result of the success of this school the idea was copied in many European countries and further afield. A delegation from London County Council visited Charlottenburg, and were so impressed that it was decided to repeat the experiment in London. The first Open Air School in London opened in Bostall Wood, near Abbey Wood in 1907. The following year three more were opened including Birley House School in Forest Hill.

Birley House was a mansion with a large garden located at 108 London Road next to the newly built Horniman Museum. Being high on a hill it was above urban pollution and benefitted from a steady breeze. The school was open all year round but was not residential. Children were brought up daily by tram from the slums on the south bank of the River Thames. The school buildings initially consisted of prefabricated wooden sheds; later, some permanent pavilion-style classrooms with open sides were added. Staff consisted of a trained nurse, a head teacher, three assistant teachers and some domestic help.

By 1913 the school accommodated 90 children from 6 to 14 years of age. At this time, children left school at 14 years old and started work. The children arrived at 9am and were given a breakfast of porridge or bread and milk. During mid-morning they had a snack of bread and butter or dripping or hot soup in the winter. The main meal consisted of meat or fish with two vegetables followed by a pudding or stewed fruit. Before they went home at 6pm they were given tea with bread, butter, jam and a slice of cake. The staff ate with the children but at their own table. The children sat at tables of ten and elected a monitor who supervised table manners and made sure that children ate their food.


After the main meal the children had two hours of rest every day. They laid in reclined deck chairs or on the grass and were given blankets. There were weekly checks of underwear and heads for lice followed by a hot bath. The children regularly had their height, weight and haemoglobin measured and recorded. Education focused on developing useful citizens through cooperation, division of labour and self-reliance. Activities for boys and girls included gardening, acting, dancing, cooking, domestic skills and infant care. Other subjects studied included mathematics, geography, music and nature study. The school was successful in improving the health of the children and gave them skills to succeed at work and in their personal lives.

After the Second World War the health of children improved greatly as a result of the use of antibiotics to treat tuberculosis, improved standards of living and the introduction of the National Health Service. Open Air Schools were no longer required. Many closed and some were repurposed as Special Schools for physically handicapped children.

Birley House Open Air School moved and was incorporated into Brent Knoll Open Air School in Sydenham in 1927. Birley House was demolished in the 1950s and the land used to extend Horniman Gardens. No trace of this pioneering school in Forest Hill is visible today.

Prioritising Pedestrians at Forest Hill Rail Station

 After many years of campaigning on the issue, the Forest Hill Society is pleased to see that their proposals for prioritising pedestrians at Forest Hill station are being given serious consideration, but it is early days and there are many partners to consult. 

Our proposal is for a temporary closure of the WHSmith side of the station forecourt’s car park, to allow pedestrians a safe access to the station’s entrance, unimpeded by moving or parked vehicles.

If successful, and assuming no possible adverse effect on traffic on the south circular road outside the station, this closure could lead to the permanent removal of car parking on that side of the forecourt next year. This would allow for improved paving and planting, and installation of a drinking water fountain. Keep an eye on those four parking spaces!

In addition to improving the station’s car park, we will continue our campaign for improved pedestrian crossings on both sides of the station: on the South Circular, by making the pedestrian island more safe from vehicular traffic; and on Perry Vale, by improving vehicular sightlines for pedestrians attempting to cross the road. In July, we highlighted the difficulties of social distancing on the pedestrian island on the South Circular outside the station, which prompted Ellie Reeves MP to write to TfL requesting that “works are done as soon as possible to upgrade this crossing”. We wait to hear if any action will now be taken to make this busy crossing safer for pedestrians.

11 September 2020

Booking Your Library Books

By John Firmin

Forest Hill Community Library has partially re-opened for a ‘click and collect’ book service. Sadly, we are not able to fully reopen the library due to Covid-19, but we are pleased that volunteers are running the click and collect book service three days a week:

Tuesday, 10am ‒ 2pm

Thursday, 3pm ‒ 7pm

Saturday, 10am ‒ 2pm 

To reserve books you can call the library service on 020 8314 8024, email libraries@lewisham.gov.uk or order your books using the online library catalogue by going to https://lewisham.gov.uk/myservices/libraries/using-the-library

You will get a call when your books are ready to be collected from Forest Hill Library.

As well as reserving books you can drop in to the library during opening hours and pick up a ‘lucky dip’, which will be three books chosen according to genre or subject. If you need help with click and collect you can also call Forest Hill Library when it is open on 020 8244 0634.  

Good reading!

25 August 2020

Children's Second-hand Book Sale

On Sunday 20th September we will be attending Horniman Farmers' Market with second-hand books for children. This is organised in conjunction with Forest Hill Library and Leaf and Groove bookshop and to raise money for the library. Actually, our main priority is not to raise money but to get more children reading books, particularly while access to the library is limited.

If you have books to donate please make sure that are donated to Leaf and Groove before 13th September so that all books can be quarantined for at least three days.



History of Forest Hill Talk


On Monday 14th September, 7:30pm, The Forest Hill Society presents a free online talk on the History of Forest Hill.

Find out about the history of the local area, its buildings and its people.

Please register in advance of the meeting to receive joining instructions: https://historyfh.eventbrite.co.uk


Gardening in the Town Centre

Forest Hill Society will be undertaking gardening ‘tidy up’ from 2:30pm on Saturday, 29th August. Please join us for some socially distanced weeding, trimming and tidying up for the autumn.


Meeting point: Forest Hill station forecourt, 2:30pm.
Tools provided, no experience necessary just enthusiasm!
Face masks may be needed in some locations and please bring your own gardening gloves.

24 August 2020

Make Mayow Road Safer

The high number of road accidents on Mayow Road, close to schools and the park, is a cause of concern for local residents. They have set up a petition for safety on this road to be improved.

The residents of Sydenham and Mayow Road request immediate action from Councillor Sophie McGeevor. We recommend a full review of Mayow Road's safety risks and propose the following safety measures are put in place:

     - Full length speed bumps
     - Pedestrian crossings by all Mayow park entrances
     - A speed camera

You can sign the petition at:https://www.change.org/p/lewisham-councillor-sophie-mcgeevor-cabinet-member-for-environment-and-transport-make-mayow-road-safer

23 June 2020

Summer Lockdown Quiz

While it is difficult to organise community events during the present time, we still want to bring people together across the community, so we invite you to join us via Zoom for a quiz evening, including some questions specifically about Forest Hill.

8.00pm, Thursday 2 July 2020

Entry is free but donations to Lewisham Foodbank welcome
You can play by yourself or as a household, and once you have registered details of the Zoom link will be sent to you close to the event. We hope you can join us for a bit of fun with your neighbours and local community. (Bring your own bottle!)