SE24 is Herne Hill – or as my father would have said Ernill. This is another place I have been through many times but not actually walked around – until now.
We start our walk at the Post Office which is at 31 – 39 Norwood Road. Turn right out of the Post Office and head towards the railway bridge but do not go under it. You will see to the left is a pedestrianised street. This is Railton Road. Go down here and our first stop is soon on the left.
Stop 1: Number 222 Railton Road
It may not look much now but once there was an old cinema here.
This was the Herne Hill Cinema opened in December 1913. According to the wonderful Cinema Treasures site, in 1932, noted cinema architect George Coles was engaged to design a new proscenium and a new facade for the building. It re-opened in December 1932 as the Grand Cinema and was renamed Pullman Cinema in September 1953, finally closing in June 1959. It always seems to have been an independent operation.
It was a bingo club until 1986. The building was then shuttered and remained empty, becoming increasingly derelict. There were hopes that it could be converted into a small repertory theatre, but this did not happen due to lack of funding. Eventually, after a 12 year campaign to save the building, it was demolished in September 1999. The narrow facade facing Herne Hill Station was saved and used as a restaurant/take away, though now it seems to be empty. Housing was built on the auditorium site.
Now walk a little further on and our next stop is over the road on the right.
Stop 2: Herne Hill Station
This rather handsome station building is the original dating from 1862 when the London Chatham and Dover Railway first got here.
It has lovely decorative brickwork and a tower, which apparently was there because it housed a water tank for the steam engines. The canopy over the entrance is a modern replica,. If you go on Streetview at the moment, you can see the facade without its canopy so it cannot be that old.
Although the main building dates from the 1860s the station at track level has been remodelled a couple of times – first in the 1880s when two additional tracks were added and again in the mid 1920s when the layout was rationalised to the present pair of island platforms – one set for northbound trains and the other for southbound trains thus allowing for cross platform connections between Victoria and Blackfriars/Thameslink trains..
Unlike many of the other stations in this part of south east London, Herne Hill has retained both buildings and canopies on the platforms.
Outside the station is a flower shop.
This recently became a bit of a cause celebre when Network Rail wanted to use the site for an electricity substation. Local uproar seems to have ensured that this is not to happen and the flower shop can continue trading. More on the following link:
Now walk a little way along Railton Road and take the first left (Rymer Street) which takes you to Dulwich Road where you turn right. Our next stop is a little way on the left. You will see a road entrance into Brockwell Park, go down there and you will be at Brockwell Lido.
Stop 3: Brockwell Lido
Brockwell Lido dates from the late 1930s and was built by the London County Council
It was designed by Harry Rowbotham and T. L. Smithson in the Moderne style, replacing the Brockwell Park bathing pond. Almost identical in design to the Victoria Park Lido in Hackney, it opened in July 1937.
The Lido closed in 1990 due to cost saving measures by Lambeth Borough Council. A Brockwell Lido Users group was established in 2001 to lobby for reopening. The Lido management was put out for tender and two former council employees won the contract and reopened the Lido in 1994. It is now managed in partnership with Fusion, a registered charity.
Now there are a couple of things to see in the Park
Stop 4: The Walled Garden
Head into the park from the Lido and look out for this little early 19th century building which is called “The Temple” This was a feature of the park around Brockwell House which we shall get to shortly
Behind the Temple is a walled garden which was originally the kitchen garden for the big house providing fruit, vegetables and flowers. When the estate became a park it was converted into a flower garden.
The entrance is a gateway to the left of the Temple.
It is a tranquil place which looks well looked after.
Now head out and ahead in the distance you will see our next stop which is the big house.
Stop 5: Brockwell House
As has been hinted Brockwell Park was the grounds of a large house. Here it is.
Brockwell Hall was built between 1811 and 1813 and was the country home of glass merchant John Blades.
The land house and surrounding estate were acquired by the London County Council (LCC) in March 1891 and opened to the public the following June. The local MP Thomas Lynn Bristowe was one of the prime movers in the land being purchased as a park. Sadly at the opening, he died of a heart attack on the steps of the hall.
Just inside the entrance by the cafe is a bust of this eminent man.
But all is not what it seems. Originally this was outside by the main entrance to the park. It was atop a column with a statue of Perseverance holding a laurel wreath up towards the bust . But in 1958 the LCC wanted to widen the road and so the column was taken down. rather than re-erect it the Council gave the plinth and bust to the Bristowe family who placed it in in their country estate, Brookhampton Hall, near Cambridge.
And there it remained until April 2012. After a campaign by the Herne Hill Society and the Friends of Brockwell Park and in conjunction with the Bristowe family the bust was removed and conserved and on 6 June 2012 (the 120th anniversary of Bristowe’s death) it was unveiled in its new home here.
There is a lovely little 20 minute film about the story of Thomas Bristowe coming “home”.
Now head back down the hill and towards the main gates.
You will see this rather dramatic piece of street art across the road. This work is by Phlegm and is inspired by dutch artist M C Escher (1898 – 1972)
This mural is part of Dulwich Outdoor Gallery, a collection of works in the Dulwich area by top street artists. We saw quite a few of these in SE22.
Go under the railway and our next stop is just on the right after the railway bridge.
Stop 6: Half Moon
This is the Half Moon Hotel.
It is a fine example of a late Victorian pub. It dates from 1896, as can be seen at the top of the big ornate gable.
Architectural expert Pevsner describes it as “a cheerful corner pub … generously decked out with bay windows, balconies and marble columns”.
Now cross over and head up the street called Herne Hill
Our first stop is a fair way along this road, after St Paul’s Church.
Past the church, you will pass a parade of shops and our next stop is a little after this on the right hand side.
Stop 7: Number 26 Herne Hill
Why you may ask are we stopping here. Well look carefully on the left of the driveway and you will see this little plaque.
This indicates that John Ruskin lived in a house on this site.
John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) was truly an eminent Victorian – a leading English art critic, as well as an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist.
He was born in Bloomsbury but his childhood was spent here from 1823 where he was largely educated at home by his parents and private tutors, The house he lived in was demolished around 1912. It was clearly not thought to be worth preserving at the time, though the LCC decided to commemorate the connection in 1925 according to plaque.
Our next stop is just a little further on the right hand side.
Stop 8: Number 51 Herne Hill
The frontage to Herne Hill can hardly be seen but go round the side and you will see there is a blue plaque.
This is to commemorate Sax Rohmer, author of the Fu Manchu series of books.
Sax Rohmer was a pen name used by Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward (1883 – 1959). Ward had been a songwriter and comedy sketch writer for music hall performers and in 1911 he was the ghost writer for the biography of music hall star Little Tich (whose blue plaque we saw in NW4)
Published using the persona of Sax Rohmer, the first of a series of stories featuring the master criminal Dr. Fu Manchu (“The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu”) was serialised from October 1912 to June 1913. It was an immediate success, creating an archetype of the evil criminal genius and mad scientist, as well as giving a name to a kind of moustache.
The first three Fu Manchu books were published in four years from 1913 to 1917 and they were soon adapted for the big screen. Rohmer carried on producing works of fiction but resisted writing more Fu Manchu stories until 1931 when he was persuaded to revive the character. He went on to write at least 10 more books featuring Fu Manchu.
The Fu Manchu series has drawn criticism from the Chinese government and Chinese communities in the US amongst others for what was seen as negative ethnic stereotyping. But we do have to recognise that at the time these books were written attitudes were somewhat different to today.
Now continue along Herne Hill and just a little further along you will see a side street called Casino Avenue. Turn down here as this is our next stop
Stop 9: Sunray Estate
Casino Avenue is the main street in a cottagy style 1920s housing development called the Sunray Estate.
This has an interesting history. But before we delve into that do note if you look into the distance you can see another iconic housing estate – Dawson Heights – which we visited in SE23.
The Sunray estate was built by Camberwell Borough Council as homes for heroes returning from the Great War. The land was owned by the Dulwich Estate who had a significant role in determining what was developed.
The land was the grounds of an elegant mansion originally called Casina House (meaning little house) but later known as Casino House. So it would seem the name is not connected to gambling. The grounds were landscaped and included a pond at the bottom of the hill.
The story of how this came to be developed as a council estate is explained at
Confusingly the side streets off are also called Casino Avenue, but stick to the road you came in on.
Amazingly the hedges have survived and the front gardens have not been lost to parking.
If you follow the road through the estate, at the bend your will see an alleyway.
Go down here and you will find yourself in Sunray Gardens
This has at its centre the pond which survived from the garden of the original house.
There were lots of ducks and also a heron, when I visited.
Go though the gardens. Come out by Beckwith Road and go down that street and the end turn right into Half Moon Lane. Then a little way further on take a right in to Ruskin Walk and our next stop is at the next corner.
Stop 10: Number 2 Warmington Avenue
This house has two Southwark Blue Plaques.
One is for writer and poet Richard Church (1893 – 1972)
Now I have to confess I do not know his work. He published his first poem in 1917. He wrote no less than 16 novels and three volumes of autobiography over a career which spanned more than 50 years. He lived here as a teenager and went to school locally.
The other plaque is for a man called Sam King who could not have been more different from Richard Church.
Sam King (1926 – 2016) was Jamaican and having served in the Royal Air Force in the Second World war, came to Britain in 1948 as one of the 492 passengers on the Empire Windrush seeking work in post war Britain. He helped pave the way for the Notting Hill carnival, Britain’s first multicultural street festival and he.went on to become the first black mayor of the London borough of Southwark, in 1983.
Here is a link to his obituary in the Guardian:
Now return to Half Moon Lane. Turn right and soon on the left you will a side street called Burbage Road. Go down here. Our next stop is a little way down after the railway bridge.
Stop 11: Number 84 Burbage Road
You will see there is a blue plaque at Number 84.
This commemorates a man called Scipio Africanus Mussabini (1867 – 1927).
He was commonly known as Sam and was an athletics coach best known for his work with Harold Abrahams. In total, he led athletes to eleven medals over five Olympic Games. Mussabini is considered to be the first professional, paid coach in sport.
This house was Mussabini’s home from 1911 until about 1916 and backed on to the Herne Hill Stadium, where he worked as a cycling and athletics coach from the 1890s until his death.
In 1998, the Mussabini Medal was created, to celebrate the contribution of coaches of UK performers who have achieved outstanding success on the world stage
Stop 12: Herne Hill Velodrome
Just a little way further on the left you will find a small roadway and this leads to what was Herne Hill stadium or Velodrome.
Go down here and you will see the sign for the Velodrome.
And also another sign – I did not feel able to take photographs because of this.
Herne Hill Velodrome is one of the oldest cycling tracks in the world, having been built in 1891. Initially there was also a cinder athletics track inside the cycle track, and tennis courts within that. The tennis courts later became the site of a football/rugby pitch, although it is no longer used for that.
The Velodrome hosted the track cycling events in the 1948 Summer Olympics and was briefly the home of Crystal Palace Football Club during the First World War.
Herne Hill Velodrome is different from ones built today – a modern Olympic velodrome will have an inner circumference of 250m, and banking of about 45° whereas Herne Hill is more shallow being a concrete bowl measuring approximately 450m with the steepest banking of 18°.
The original 1891 grandstand survived until fairly recently but has now been replaced with a new structure.
So that brings us the end of our SE24 walk.
This was another of those postcodes which at first seems unpromising and yet there is a historic park and a number of interesting connections, such as John Ruskin and Sax Rohmer of Fu Manchu fame, not to mention an interesting “garden city” style housing estate.
For onward travel, you should retrace your steps along Burbage road and turn left into Half Moon Lane. Follow this and you will soon be at Herne Hill Station.