The Crystal Palace - London's longest running 'Soap'

In 1852 following the fantastic success of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, an enterprising group of businessmen, including some of the Great Exhibition's committee and Paxton himself, pulled off one of the most audacious coups in London history. They bought up the remains of the Crystal Palace, the glass structure which housed the contents of the 'Manufacture of Nations', and free of planning restrictions, rebuilt it almost twice the size on a 350 feet high ridge overlooking London at Sydenham to which they then ran a railway branch line to service it. They added what Walt Disney would a century later term 'attractions' and sat back and awaited the profits.

A devastating fire, under-insurance and waning public interest pushed the venture towards bankruptcy. It was only sentiment and patriotism and perhaps a national guilty conscience over the neglected role of Queen Victoria's Prince Consort which rescued it for the first time from oblivion. A generation later it needed to be rescued again and when it was finally destroyed by a devastating fire in November 1936 at a time when the edifice and its contents were looking decidedly threadbare, it seemed an overdue yet appropriate end to what at times was a remarkable enterprise.

The financial crisis of the '30's, the outbreak of war and the austerity which followed precluded making any kind of plans for the future of Crystal Palace. Following the success of the 1951 Festival of Britain, which marked the centenary of the Great Exhibition, hopes were raised by the idea of establishing a National Exhibition Centre on the site to compliment the National Recreation Centre built by Sir Gerald Barry, fresh from his triumph on the South Bank (of which the Festival Hall still survives). It was at this point that the tradition of protest at Sydenham evolved. There were fears about access and transport, despite the fact that the high-level branch line was still operating, but the protest and procrastination allowed the city of Birmingham to steal a march on London and go ahead with a scheme for its own exhibition centre.

In 1979 a band of enthusiastic Sydenham residents staged an exhibition of the Crystal Palace's former glories at the National Recreation Centre. Attended by two thousand visitors and with the interest and enthusiasm thereby generated, it led to the formation of the Crystal Palace Foundation. The Foundation set about conducting an urban excavation, shifting tons of earth which covered the site and gradually uncovered the terraces. Later it opened the museum in one of the original buildings which had survived the fire.

Twenty years then passed and it was the threat that something was actually going to be done about the site by Bromley Council which galvanised the local population once again. The application for a multiplex cinema, restaurants and car parking on the prominent top site beside Crystal Palace Parade seemed to horrify the majority and protests groups formed, united and eventually triumphed and the application was withdrawn. The various groups which had so successfully cooperated in their protest now began to fall out with each other as each pursued a different agenda for the future of the Crystal Palace site and the Park.

But there were other factors which would muddy the water. The area surrounding both the Park and the site is shared between Southwark, Bromley, and Croydon councils with Lewisham and Lambeth edging in as well. Over the years, Croydon Council had approved numerous applications for change of use from shops to restaurants in the area although there was insufficient space for parking. The only viable space had been the old high level railway line and station area which had lain empty for years below the Crystal Palace Parade but which was eventually given building permission by Southwark Council after being used for a lengthy period as a temporary housing site.

Depending on your viewpoint, a Good Fairy or a Demon King, in the form of the London Development Agency then entered the story and announced that following negotiations with Bromley Council it would take over the running of the National Sports Centre in March 2006, and have an option to take over the rest of the Park by 2009. It is currently proposing to redevelop the park and rebuild the sports centre at a cost of between £90-100 million. Some of this sum it expects to fund by developing parts of the site for housing. As these plans include the provision of a 150-200 space car park, the traders in area are delighted. However, campaigners for the Park are appalled and are contesting the developments with especial venom being reserved for the proposed development at the Norwood Triangle end. Local residents meanwhile are alarmed at the proposed development at the Rockhills end of the Park close to the top of Fountain Drive, although some appear to be mollified by the fact that the development is intended to be for individual, architect designed dwellings.

According to the press release, the LDA's proposals to rejuvenate Crystal Palace Park received 82 per cent support. The devil, however, appears to be in the detail. To confuse the issue still further there has been a sudden new initiative at Crystal Palace Park which the Dulwich Society's Vice-Chairman, Ian McInnes explains:

The London Development Agency is currently running a competition for a new multi million pound sports centre near Crystal Palace station which could mean the end of the Grade II* listed National Sports Centre. The Twentieth Century Society, with active support from the Victorian Society and the Garden History Society, has put forward an alternative proposal to show how new sports facilities could be provided in Crystal Palace Park without any need for the demolition of the threatened NSC. The C20 Society hopes to encourage the LDA to take a broader view on the park and to view their involvement as being a positive opportunity to not only save its best building but to actively integrate additional state of the art sports facilities into the park and bring back to life the park's rich and varied history.

Architect Julian Harrap's alternative scheme shows a new Sports Centre as a single structure within the re-created landscape of the Victorian park located over the footprint of the archaeological remains of the Crystal Palace above the surviving terrace. The new building would respect and protect the archaeological remains of the Palace and is capable of providing financial subsidy to the other sports facilities in the park. The National Sports Centre would be refurbished and turned into a pavilion whose great hall could either be retained as existing with a new pool, or alternatively converted to non-swimming sports use.

The demolition of the peripheral less significant buildings and much of the surrounding tarmac will enhance the natural elements of the park. Besides the re-created Victorian landscape the park will also incorporate several layers of sports history like the memory of the former football pitch or the reinstatement of the former motor racing circuit as an access armature.

The scheme demonstrates that a range of more imaginative plans for the country's most important municipal park are long overdue and that the LDA should reconsider its current proposals and be encouraged to take a more holistic approach both to future sports provision and this important historic landscape.

So dear reader, you can see that this long running 'Soap' has still plenty of mileage in it yet!

Modified Bacchanalian Rapture - Bill Higman writes

Some of us local backwoods-folk have expressed ourselves a mite apprehensive about recent expansive government commitments to encourage unrestricted alcoholic bliss all about us. Not all of us embrace with enthusiasm the vision of extended weekend rave-ups throughout our leafy areas, or even the prospect of re-enacting picturesque Hogarthian scenes of Gin Lane in Dulwich Village.

To help neighbourhood revellers and their convenors to add more iced-water to their more high-octane plans the Society has drawn up, with professional guidance, the following statement of our intended response to applications for extended licensing hours in Dulwich. This we shall make available to applicants, to the local authorities and to residents or residents' associations who may wish to know what our response to an individual application is likely to be.

Applications for extended licensing hours in Dulwich

The Dulwich Society has a role to preserve the local amenity. We have adopted the following criteria for supporting or opposing applications to extend alcohol licensing hours in this area and to set these out in order that they may assist applicants.

Dulwich is an attractive residential neighbourhood, most of which is within conservation areas, and it follows from this that we consider any proposals to change or extend the use of residential or commercial premises should not have the effect of detracting from residents' quiet enjoyment of their properties.

This area also attracts a considerable number of visitors and it is right that appropriate provision should be made to cater for them. We accept that it can positively help to maintain neighbourhood security, especially in the evenings, that well-managed licensed premises should be popular and fully patronized, particularly those which serve meals. Consequently we are glad to support applications by establishments catering to the public for moderate extensions of their licensing hours, provided these extensions do not result in creating any nuisance and if applicants can demonstrate their ability and willingness to stop any arising.

Applicants are less likely to encounter objections from the Society or local residents if they have consulted locally before making their application, and if they demonstrate clearly in their operating schedule the measures which they propose to prevent nuisance or crime and disorder resulting from extended hours. Such measures may include acoustic lobbies, double glazing, use of noise limitation devices and other sound proofing, preventing use of outdoor areas after 11 p.m., earlier closing on week-nights, dispersal policies, use of door staff, formal liaison with residents, publishing the telephone number of the designated premises supervisor, preventing glasses and bottles leaving the premises, avoiding irresponsible drinks promotions etc.

We shall oppose blanket applications for extended licensing hours and for 24-hour licenses because we believe that the effect of these is more likely to disturb residents and to attract more people from further afield, whose activities and noise of departure may be more difficult to control. Our opposition applies both to the greatly extended licensing of regularly-frequented premises and to greatly extended licenses for special events in local parks, sports grounds, and other premises or open spaces.

The factors which adversely affect local residents most are:

  1. noise, particularly from those leaving alcohol-led premises late at night, from those returning to cars parked in residential streets, and from amplified announcements and music during special events;
  2. vehicle parking, particularly where this causes road congestion, depends on occupying private roads, or obstructs entrances to private residences;
  3. intrusive lighting;
  4. litter creation;
  5. vandalism.

These all constitute actionable nuisances for which residents are able to hold licensees accountable, and we should support them in doing so. Where there is evidence that there has been a nuisance this would affect the Society's view of further applications for the grant or extension of licenses and may prompt us to make or support applications for existing licenses to be varied or revoked.

We shall make residents aware of the importance of taking notice of all applications for extended licenses and the conditions attached to them. We regard it as essential that these conditions should be displayed clearly at the premises to which they apply.

Residents should be aware of the importance of raising representations in response to extended license applications, because as a general rule Councils are obliged to grant the application if there are no objections from interested parties, which includes residents living in the vicinity.

Train Service at West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill

Many people who use West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill stations have thought that, compared with other routes; the train service is infrequent, being basically a train every half hour in each direction. One of the main reasons for this is the number of train paths allocated to Eurostar trains. In 2007, when Eurostar goes to St.Pancras instead of Waterloo, these trains will no longer be coming through West Dulwich and it will be possible to improve the local train service. Early in 2005 a document was published inviting companies to apply for the franchise to operate the South Eastern trains, and setting out the level of service that was planned, which included the local trains serving West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill. The franchise has been awarded to Govia, and they took over on 1 April 2006.

In the Dulwich Society Transport Committee we learned that there are indeed plans to improve the local trains on this route to four trains an hour, instead of two, by running two additional trains an hour between Victoria and Beckenham Junction, alternating with the existing trains between Victoria and Orpington. However, we were dismayed to find that the intention was that the Victoria-Orpington trains would no longer stop at West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill and the Victoria-Beckenham trains were to be the only ones to serve these two stations, every half hour. This meant that for anyone going towards Victoria there would be no improvement, while for anyone going in the other direction the service would be worse, because the train would only go as far as Beckenham. We recently took this up through our MP, Tessa Jowell, with the managing director of South Eastern Trains, who replied that the timetable planners were even now at work on the train service from December 2007, and that he was optimistic that we would approve of what they will be proposing for the local trains at West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill, although he did say that the exact details would be up to the new operator.

The reason for this short note, is to let people who use these stations know what the position is. Then, if anyone is minded to write to the new train operator of this route, whose particulars should be published in the next timetable starting on 11 June 2006, they will be armed with all the facts. In a nutshell, all that is needed to provide a better service is for trains between Victoria and Orpington to continue stopping at West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill.

David Hollis

Dulwich Society Financial Statement

Year ended 31 December 2005

At the Annual General Meeting in March, the Treasurer, Russell Lloyd announced that the total assets of the Society amounted to £10,097, an increase of £4020 on 2004. The Edward Alleyn Statue Appeal had closed with a balance of £1401 outstanding which was included in the account. However, during the evening it was announced that this sum had been forthcoming and there would be no liability to the Society. A provision in the accounts of £1500 had also been made for the restoration of the postal cart purchased by the Society in 2005. 

Long serving Auditor Retires

Ken Jeffries has been the Honorary Auditor of the Dulwich Society for its entire existence - over forty years! His decision to retire was received with much regret at the AGM and a heartily endorsed Vote of Thanks was entered in the Minutes. We are delighted to announce that Ken's daughter, Sally-Anne, a partner in the accountancy firm of K.A. Jeffries & Co has agreed to accept the office of Honorary Auditor.

Planning notes

Mobile Telephone Masts

Southwark have unfortunately not continued their policy of rejecting planning applications for masts in conservation areas. An application by T Mobile for a site on the north eastern corner of Dulwich Common and College Road was recommended for approval and passed by the Community Council on March. This is very bad news and will set an unfortunate precedent for other areas in Dulwich.

On the positive side, the Society understands that discussions are continuing over the proposed locations of the mast in the Pelo sports ground and that an equitable solution may be in sight.

1 Fountain Drive

The purchaser of this old house has now submitted a planning application to extend it, convert it into ten flats, and build three new houses in the wooded garden. Southwark rejected a previous application to build two houses in the garden a couple of years ago and the current scheme, despite its apparently innovative design, is much worse - a large part of the site is used for car parking and many trees will be lost. The access to the site is also dangerous being right on the corner of Crystal Palace Parade. The Society has objected to this gross over development of the site.

S G Smith Motors Ltd.

S G Smith have now submitted a revised application to take down the former petrol station canopies, refurbish the elevations of the workshop building and provide larger areas of landscaping to the frontage to Calton Avenue and Gilkes Crescent. They are not currently looking to demolish the old tyre bay building in Gilkes Place. While the scheme is an improvement on the original, the Society feels that there is still scope for additional planting along Calton Avenue to hide the car park completely.

Hard standings

The Estate's new guide lines on the design and construction of hard standings are now available.

Bella Italia, Dulwich Village

There is a current planning application to extend the building at the rear along Aysgarth Road and to change it from Bella Italia to Café Rouge. Bella Italia appears to have suffered from the increased competition from newer restaurants in the Village and a change of style and name may be just what's needed.

Sir Ernest Shackleton Public House

A revised planning application to demolish this pub on the Kingswood Estate and replace it with a block of flats has now been approved by Southwark. The design is more in keeping with the adjoining houses and Velux windows in the rear roof elevation should minimise overlooking of the properties in Little Bornes. The building is now boarded up.

Mile Post, Red Post Hill

The Estate have confirmed that they have instructed the house behind the mile post in Red Post Hill to rebuild the part of the garden wall that was recently demolished without their consent. At the same time it appears that Southwark are trying to relocate the post in a safer position. What is not clear is whether the two authorities are talking to each other.

14 Red Post Hill

Despite assurances from the Estate, it is very obvious that work has not started on the refurbishment of the dilapidated house next to North Dulwich Station. The Society feels that the arguments have gone on long enough and looks to the Estate to enforce their covenants and make sure that this eyesore is put back into good condition.

The Famous Fallen Wall of North Dulwich

Many residents, particularly those who go up to London from North Dulwich Station, will know the garden wall that surrounds the northern section of the garden of Lyndenhurst, 19 Village Way. It has gradually been deteriorating for over two years and substantial parts of it have now been taken down. Despite the apparent lack of activity the Society has discovered that some work has been going on behind the scenes without, unfortunately, much success.

The garden behind the fallen wall no longer belongs to Lyndenhurst although it used to - it was sold off separately as a development site when the house changed hands in 1990. The purchaser attempted without success to obtain planning consent for a series of different developments finally losing on appeal to the Secretary of State. He sold the site in November 2002 to the current owner, a company called Hausman Hughes. This company then submitted a series of planning applications to secure access to the site from Red Post Hill but was turned down each time by Southwark Council. It is not clear why the developer thinks that Southwark Council will change their previous policies of refusal on the site but be that as it may.

In addition both the Dulwich Estate and the residents of Pond Mead, the 1960s development to the rear, have also confirmed that they will not allow access through their site so there is an impasse. Without access there is no possibility of any development and the owner will lose money as the land only has a limited value as a garden - and ideally as the garden to Lyndenhurst.

It is alleged that the first section of wall, on the northern extremity, was knocked down by the site owner in December 2003 because it was dangerous and further sections along Red Post Hill were cut out between March and June 2004. The wall is listed Grade II so Southwark Council conservation officers were advised and served a notice on the owner to rebuild the wall. They did not enforce the notice and further sections of the wall continued to be taken down until Southwark felt bound to serve a dangerous structure notice and, when it was ignored, they organised a contractor to take down the most dangerous sections.

The owner of Lyndenhurst has attempted to persuade both Southwark Council and the Dulwich Estate to take action and, it seems while they are both happy to serve notices, lack of funds (or a concern that they will not be able to get their money back from the site owner) means that no progress has been made.

The Society's view is that both the Dulwich Estate and Southwark should come together and resolve the situation - the former is supposed to be concerned over maintaining the amenity of Dulwich while the latter is bound under listed building legislation to make sure that listed structures are kept in proper condition. It is time for action.

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