The Herne Hill Society's latest publication was launched in July after several years' preparation by the dedicated Local History Group that produced the Herne Hill Heritage Trail in 2003. Benefiting from the support of Heritage Lottery Fund Awards for All, the Society has been able to issue a substantial work of 152 pages at a low cost.
They have included biographies of 146 people who lived in Herne Hill (but are now dead), concentrating on those "whose character, life-circumstances or achievement are of lasting and far-reaching significance". This is a lot of people for a small area, and some appear to have gained entry on the strength of their titles, like Sir Kingsmill Key described even by Who's Who as having "a very quiet career". Others had a very fleeting connection with the area, such as James Callaghan, former Prime Minister, who was lent a house in Carver Road for a short while.
The index is a useful guide to the contents, showing what a variety of claims to fame that the personalities represent, whether actors or archaeologists, murderers or missionaries, sailors or singers. Many are linked to business and the most common addresses are Denmark Hill and Herne Hill. This is where the larger properties were and the more wealthy residents lived. It would have put the biographies into a wider context if a fuller introduction could have developed this theme to explain the attractions of the area and how it has been defined.
There is surprising little overlap between Patricia Jenkyns' The Book of Herne Hill (2003) with 36 biographies, and the Dulwich Society's Who was Who in Dulwich which includes 16 of people who lived on the Southwark side of Herne Hill. Readers might be a little confused by comparing details in some of the lives. Taking one example, Anna Storace, the singer, last sang in 1808 according to the Herne Hill Society but in 1807 according to the Dulwich Society. The new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (which is now available online to any member of Southwark Libraries at home) agrees with the Dulwich Society on this date but with the Herne Hill Society on Storace's date of birth. Referencing is poor as sources are not given against entries, making it difficult to check information or identify new research, which is unfortunate because a great deal of new work has been done. The location of Storace's house has been found for example, census returns have been searched for other subjects, and much fuller information is given than in the other two works. Overall the book is well written and illustrated and deserves to do well.
Obtainable from Brockwell Art Services, Herne Hill; Dulwich Art Stationers, Dulwich Village or the Herne Hill Society price £7.