SE23 is Forest Hill – a place which many people will know from sitting in traffic as they crawl along the South Circular Road. We start our walk at the Post Office which lives in the W H Smith shop in Devonshire Road. It is right outside the station which is our first stop..
Stop 1: Forest Hill station
This station, opened by the London & Croydon Railway in June 1839, was originally called Dartmouth Arms (which was – indeed still is – the name of the local hostelry round the corner in Dartmouth Road).
The line was also used by the London and Brighton Railway from 1841 and the South Eastern Railway from 1842.
In 1844, the station was chosen by the London and Croydon Railway as the northern terminus of an experimental atmospheric railway which ran to West Croydon using static pumping stations and pipes into which pistons went which could propel the trains.
The London and Croydon Railway and the London and Brighton Railway merged to form the London Brighton and South Coast Railway in July 1846. The following year “atmospheric” working was abandoned, as hopelessly impractical. Then in 1845 the station was renamed Forest Hill for Lordship Lane.
The line was quadrupled in the 1850s with the fast tracks in the centre and the slow tracks on the outside. This involved the moving of the down platform and the creation of an island platform for the fast lines. There is no sign of that island platform as it was removed sometime in the 1960s.
In fact there is really nothing left of the old station apart from the platforms and that is because the station buildings were destroyed by bombing during World War II. They have been replaced by a rather boring utilitarian system built structure.
Now exit the station on the other side. Or if you have not gone into the station go under the subway next to W H Smiths. Either way you will end up in a street called Perry Vale which is the location of our next stop.
Stop 2: site of Glenlyn Ballroom, 15A Perry Vale
Today this modest looking doorway is the way in to a banqueting suite but once it was the entrance to a dance hall, called the Glenlyn Ballroom
In the early 1960s, many soon to be very famous names played there – including The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, Dusty Springfield and Cilla Black.
More about this connection at:
There is also another rock music connection in Forest Hill. Francis Rossi was born here in 1949. According to the Notable Abodes site he had a house at 37 Lowther Hill, SE23 from 1968 to 2006, but it is a bit off our route to go visit.
Now head back to the other side of the tracks either by the subway or by following the roads (Waldram Place and Waldram Crescent).
There is a fun painting under the railway bridge
Love the Walrus and the “Walk this way” arrows pointing in opposite directions.
Once on the other side of the railway, you want to turn up London Road which is a right turn off Devonshire Road and the route of the South Circular Road. Our next stop is just on the left..
Stop 3: The Capitol
According to the wonderful Cinema Treasures site, this lovely building opened as the Capitol Cinema in February 1929. It was built for London & Southern Cinemas and designed by noted cinema architect John Stanley Beard. It had been intended for silent movies, but sound equipment was installed soon after opening. The stage was 22 feet deep and with three dressing rooms it allowed for variety shows to be staged.
It was taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) from July 1933 and it was renamed ABC in December 1968. It finally closed in October 1973 The building stood empty for several years until it became a Bingo Club in February 1978. Bingo ceased in December 1996 and the building again stood empty and unused.
It reopened in May 2001 as a Wetherspoon’s pub called with stunning originality “The Capitol”. Wetherspoons put the pub up for sale and closed it in June 2014. But for some reason it reopened in 2017 and it is still trading as a Wetherspoon’s.
Our next stop is just across the road by the side of the Sainsbury’s building.
Stop 4: Theatrical Transformation
As the sign says this is a work called “Theatrical Transformation”
It explains it was inspired by the Horniman Museum’s collection particularly the objects related to transformation in all its guises.
Not sure this really works.
Now go back to London Road and turn right, where you will find Sainsbury’s.
Stop 5: The homes of Dame Doris Beale
Dame Doris Winifred Beale (1889 – 1971) was an English nurse, and Matron-in-Chief of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service for three years during the Second World War. In the King’s birthday honours list 1944 she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a first in the Royal Naval Nursing Service.
According to Notable Abodes (which cites Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online) this was the address of her parents when she was born. Today Sainsbury covers the site.
The same source says that she died at 84 London Road, just a little further down the road, on the same side just before Honor Oak Road.
Now turn right down Honor Oak Road and take the first on the right. Our next stop is the first house on the right.
Stop 6: Number 2 Manor Mount
You have to look very carefully but you can just see a Lewisham maroon plaque hiding in the greenery to the left of the main door.
This commemorates that this was the home of Deitrich Bonhoeffer (1906 -1945)
According to his Wikipedia entry, Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian and writer, Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later, he was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being accused of being associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then executed on 9 April 1945.
You may wonder what connection he had with this part of South East London. It seems he spent a couple of years in the mid 1930s as a pastor of two German-speaking Protestant churches in London: the German Lutheran Church in Dacres Road, Sydenham and the German Reformed Church of St Paul’s, Goulston Street, Whitechapel.
Now return to Honor Oak Road and continue to walk up the road. Our next stop is a short way on the left.
Stop 7: Ashberry Cottage Honor Oak Road
This was apparently once home to the Duke of Clarence (later King William IV) and his mistress, Mrs Dorothea Jordan.
From a distance it looks like there is a proper English Heritage Blue Plaque but closer inspection reveals it is no such thing..
And maybe it would never get an official one if London Remembers website is to be believed:
This says “The Duke and Mrs Jordan lived at various addresses in and around London but we could find Ashberry Cottage in no creditable source.” It also says “the original cottage (of which we can find no picture) was demolished in the 1820s to make way for the present building (in photograph). It was incorrectly named for Joseph Ashbarry who owned it in the 1830s and 1840s.”
Now retrace your steps back to London Road and turn right our next stop is a short way along on the right.
Stop 8: The Horniman Museum
The Horniman Museum is an odd mix of anthropology, natural history and musical instruments, and rather a lot of stuffed animals and birds, plus an aquarium.
It started out as the collections of Frederick Horniman (1835 – 1906) who lived in this location. Frederick had inherited his father’s Horniman’s Tea business, which by 1891 had become the world’s biggest tea trading business. The cash from the business allowed Horniman to indulge his lifelong passion for collecting, and which after travelling extensively had some 30,000 items in his various collections, ranging from natural history, cultural artefacts and musical instruments. He started opening the collection to the public two days a week in December 1890 and it went from there.
He commissioned a purpose built gallery in 1898. Designed by Charles Harrison Townsend in the Arts and Crafts style, it opened in 1901. This is the bit with the distinctive tower and mosaics.
This mosaic mural is called Humanity in the House of Circumstance and was designed by Robert Anning Bell. Consisting of more than 117,000 individual stone pieces and measuring 10 feet × 32 feet, it was assembled by a group of young women over the course of 210 days.
The theme of the mosaic is personal aspirations and limitations. According to this site
“The three figures on the far left represent Art, Poetry and Music, standing by a doorway symbolising birth, while the armed figure represents Endurance. The two kneeling figures represent Love and Hope, while the central figure symbolises Humanity. Charity stands to the right bearing figs and wine, followed by white-haired Wisdom holding a staff, and a seated figure representing Meditation. Finally, a figure symbolising Resignation stands by the right-hand doorway, which represents death.”
In 1901, Horniman gave the 15 acres freehold estate, museum and the art and natural history collections to London County Council for use by the people of London.
In 1911, an additional building to the west of the main building, originally containing a lecture hall and library, was donated by Frederick Horniman’s son Emslie Horniman. This was also designed by Townsend.
A Grade II listed conservatory from 1894 which was moved from Horniman’s family house in Croydon to this site in the 1980s.
The Horniman Museum contains the CUE (Centre for Understanding the Environment) building. This opened in 1996 and was designed by local architects Archetype using methods developed by Walter Segal. The building has a grass roof and was constructed from sustainable materials. It also incorporates passive ventilation.
A further extension opened in 2002, designed by Allies and Morrison.
More about the story of the Horniman at their website:
The entrance is now in the gardens rather than the impressive buildings on London Road.
There is a nice little fountain by the old main entrance.
It seems this was renovated by the Tallow Chandlers’s Company – one of the historic City Livery Companies.
According to their website, the company was originally formed in about 1300 to regulate oils, ointments, lubricants and fat-based preservatives and to manage candle making using tallow (animal fats). There is another company, the Wax Chandlers who were involved with candle making but they were more up market as they only worked with beeswax.
Also just here is the beginning of a “Sundial Trail” which goes through the gardens behind the Museum.
This is Number 1 on the trail.
Now go into the gardens up the wide pathway as this is our next stop.
Stop 9: Horniman Gardens
The Horniman Gardens has a variety of features including some themed gardens.
But the thing that is really worth coming for is the view. You get a great vista of central London from the terrace by the bandstand (which by the way dates from 1912)
And a great view of Dawson Heights which we saw in SE22. In a way it looks much more impressive from a distance.
And you will see the odd sundial lurking – like this one.
Another feature is this “sound garden” where you can play various strange looking things and make sounds, not necessarily very musical though!
Now retrace your steps back to London Road and cross over you will see a sign for the Green Chain walk.
Head up this away from the Horniman and after going through the edge of a housing estate, you will get to the start of Sydenham Hill Wood.
Stop 10: Sydenham Hill Wood and site of Lordship Lane station
This is a ten hectare wood on the northern slopes of the Norwood Ridge. With the adjacent Dulwich Wood, Sydenham Hill Wood is the largest remaining tract of the ancient Great North Wood, a natural oak woodland which covered a vast area almost from Deptford to Croydon.
Here’s a little piece from London Wildlife Trust
What I have not been able to find out is why it is called the Great North Wood, when it is south of London. I guess maybe it has something to do with the fact that it is north of that other great expanse of old woodland in the Weald of Sussex and Kent which is south of here – on the other side of the North Downs.
Now follow the path along and you will soon see a path striking out to the right, which goes over a bridge.
Go down here and you will see a panel explaining the connection with a painting by Camille Pissarro, called Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich. Painted from this vantage point in 1871, it shows a long lost scene of a train in a railway station.
The picture is now owned by the Courtauld Institute of Art.
According to the Courtauld website:
“Pissarro spent over a year in London, fleeing the Franco-Prussian war. He painted sights around his home in Norwood, including this view of Lordship Lane Station (now demolished). The station had opened only a few years earlier, catering to visitors of the Crystal Palace and to the residents of this growing south London suburb. In the painting, rows of new houses border areas of undeveloped land.
Standing on a footbridge over the tracks, Pissarro depicted the train leaving the station. His view however is curiously devoid of people. He originally included a man mowing the grassy slope to the right, but painted him out.”
The station itself was on the Crystal Palace and South London Junction Railway. We saw the location of the terminus in SE19.
Lordship Lane station was actually operated by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. When it opened in September 1865, it took its name from the main road nearby Lordship Lane becomes London Road just around here.
The station was closed during the First World War between January 1917 and March 1919 and again during the Second World War in May 1944 after it suffered heavy bomb damage during the Blitz. The station was repaired and temporarily reopened in March 1946.
It was permanently closed, along with the rest of the line, in September 1954. The railway crossed London Road (just beyond the southern end of Lordship Lane itself) on a bridge and the station was just to the southwest of the road. The station was demolished shortly after closure. The site is now occupied by housing and as far as I can establish there is nothing left of the old railway line or station.
So that brings us to the end of our SE23 walk. When I started I thought that the only thing of significance would be the Horniman Museum and gardens but it turned out there were quite a few other interesting things, not least the (possible) connection with King William IV before he was King, not to mention the ballroom which hosted many music acts who would go on to stardom.
For onward travel go back to London Road. there are a number of buses you can get from here – in particular you can get the 176, 185 or 197 to Forest Hill station for rail connections.