The Dulwich Society Journal for Autumn 2012.
Who Travels Down This Narrow Road by Henry Pluckrose
Reviewed by Caroline Vero
This third collection of poetry from local poet Henry Pluckrose brings a clear picture of the simplicity of life he treasured away from the academic world of his teaching, lecturing and prolific book-writing career. With his ‘relaxed verse’ it seems he has left a legacy that is designed to continue to teach his own philosophy of learning through the natural experiences of life to yet another generation. Henry had a huge respect for words and in ‘Words of Time’ notes that the manner of their delivery also tells something of the speaker.
His poems reveal his love of nature and in ‘Star-Talk’ shows us a village ‘wrapped in a violet shawl of night’ and he seems to be invigorated by thunder and lightning, telling us we have ‘nature’s final movement, the symphony of storm’ . Taking us through the seasons noting the changes, he sees that ‘the river steals the colour to itself’ and that birds have ‘Gentle Confrontation’ in ‘spontaneous dance’.
Whilst this book is divided into sections, when Henry Pluckrose chooses to talk about ‘Place’ his poems are more his response to place, always looking behind the façade to history and imagination. In ‘Corfe’ he entreats us to imagine the castle’s past ‘look up and free your mind’, and in ‘Hook’ he is almost convinced ‘the stones moved…..seawards’. Here is a man who never left behind the childhood imagination that would leave him seeing ‘serpents….writhe and wrestle’ in the dim moonlight, where most of us would see simply tree roots.
In some of these poems we have a juxtaposition of the ideas of evolution and nature with religious belief, never set against each other but often expressed together, and it seems for him there is no dilemma in appreciating each ‘marvel of evolution’ yet still waiting for sunrise as ‘a sign of an Eternal Pulse’. He talks of ‘spirits of Llangwm long gone’ in the shadow of the Baptist Chapel, but I rather think he prefers the church he imagines whilst looking down from Bradbury Rings where
‘Two lines of tall beech trees unite’ – their branches –
‘resembling towering vaults of medieval church,
No plainsong echoes through this aisle
Only the raucous cry of wheeling evening rooks
Henry Pluckrose spent a boyhood steeped in ‘nature’s lore’ which in his later years appear to have imprinted itself within him. Indeed the memories stirred by a visit to a boyhood haunt return him ‘to a pleasured boyhood’, and he seemed to enjoy the idea of spirits who travel from ‘the vibrant land of the quick into the shadowlands of memory’.
Who Travels Down This Narrow Road – Henry Pluckrose Matador 2012 £7.99
In the 1850's Herne Hill was still a very rural community, with a handful of large country houses surrounded by farms. In 1860 the London, Chatham and Dover Railway obtained the right to build two inner London lines: one from Beckenham Junction to Victoria via Herne Hill; and another, a 4.5 mile extension known as the City Branch, from Herne Hill to Farringdon.
Herne Hill station and the first line section to be completed, from Victoria to Herne Hill via Stewarts Lane and Brixton, opened on 25 August 1862, so Herne Hill Station celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.
The station was designed by architect John Taylor and railway engineers Joseph Cubitt and J.T. Turner. As an important junction station the building was quite impressive; it had tea rooms offering buffets, decorative brickwork and a tower (which also served the practical function of concealing the water tank for steam locomotives). There were initially two platforms at the station: Up was accessed from the upper floor of the station building via a stairway outside the building and down from an island platform. The station's original signal box, elevated above the railway viaduct at the junction between Norwood Road and Half Moon Lane, was a prominent feature in Herne Hill for many years.
On 6 October 1863, the City Branch opened from Herne Hill as far as Elephant & Castle, via Camberwell and Walworth Road (the platforms at Loughborough Junction, now the closest station to Herne Hill, opened in 1872) The line from Beckenham Junction reached Herne Hill from the south in July 1863 connecting the station to the LCDR's lines in Kent, By June 1864, the City Branch had been extended to Blackfriars Bridge railway station (on the south bank of the River Thames) via Borough Road. Blackfriars Railway Bridge was then built across the Thames and a terminus for trains from the south opened at Ludgate Hill on 1 June 1865. The opening of Snow Hill tunnel in January 1866, enabled trains from Herne Hill to reach Farringdon and complete the Metropolitan Extension. The junction was completed in 1868 when a spur was built to connect with the LBSCR line from London Bridge to Sutton at Tulse Hill.
The ease with which one could reach both the City and the West End, as well as the links to other parts of South London, resulted in much building in the area and the fairly rapid replacement of the large houses and farms with rows of terraced houses as well as some more superior houses to the east of the area, along Half Moon Lane, and the surrounding roads .
Up Mainline trains, from Dover and Chatham were split at Herne Hill, giving easy access to the City and West End, and in the other direction were joined there, This gave good access to Cross Channel steamers, and was the most direct route to Paris and the rest of Europe.
Suburban services included trains to Hatfield in the north and Wimbeldon and Kingston in the south-west, as well as services to Beckenham and Bromley.
The LCDR enlarged the station in 1884 to meet growing demand and the viaduct was widened to allow for the construction of a second island platform and two lines to the east (the easternmost line was used only for freight; and the foot tunnel under the viaduct was opened. In 1885, the LCDR decided to use Blackfriars Bridge railway station solely as a goods yard but lacked the space to sort wagons at the site. It purchased 14 acres of land between Herne Hill and Loughborough Junction for this purpose. The Herne Hill Sorting Sidings had some 35 sidings, the longest of which was 940 ft In 1899 the LCDR combined with the South Eastern Railway to form the South Eastern and Chatham Railway. Services to Farringdon from Herne Hill were discontinued in 1916 with the closure of Snow Hill tunnel to passengers, and trains from the south terminated at Holborn Viaduct instead. Freight services continued until the 1950's.
The LCDR amalgamated with the LB&SCR, SER and several other railways to form the Southern Railway at the start of 1923. Electrification started in 1924 and was completed in 1925 to Orpington. Herne Hill station was extensively remodelled as part of these works; the eastern island platform was lengthened; the original island platform was demolished and replaced by one further west (allowing two tracks to be laid between the island platforms); the western sidings were removed. The distinctive signal box overlooking Norwood Road and a similar signal box at the northern end of the station were demolished in 1956 and replaced by a single signal box adjacent to the north junction.
By 1959, the pattern of commuter services at Herne Hill had taken the shape it would hold into the 21st century: all-stop trains from Victoria to Orpington and from the City of London to Wimbledon and Sutton via West Croydon.
The Herne Hill Sorting Sidings closed on 1 August 1966 . Nothing of the sidings remains: residential accommodation has been built along Shakespeare Road (on the western sidings) and commercial premises have been built along Milkwood Road (on the eastern sidings).
In 1988, Snow Hill tunnel re-opened and the former LCDR City Branch formed the basis of the new Thameslink route. There was a plan for Eurostar to come through Herne Hill on new trackage but this was plan was abandoned and although both a different route and London terminus for HS1 were eventually chosen (St Pancras via East London), Eurostar services linking London Waterloo to Brussels and Paris passed through Herne Hill without stopping from 1994 until the completion of HS1 in November 2007. This marked the end of rail services to the continent via Herne Hill, which had been started by the LCDR in 1863 when the line between Victoria and Dover via Herne Hill was completed.
The upper floor of the station, which had not been used by passengers since 1925, was converted into 3,000 sq ft of office space in 1991 and rented as 'Tower House' (after the station's distinctive tower). The disused freight line to the east of the station was partly reopened in 2009 as a siding for use by First Capital Connect trains to compensate for the loss of sidings when the Moorgate Thameslink branch was closed. The line's connection to the south junction was severed during these works. The station had become fully accessible by 2010: lifts were installed to provide step-free access to the platforms in 2008 and a unisex disabled-accessible toilet was opened on the southbound platforms in 2010.
On The Street Where You Live - Allison Grove
By Ian McInnes
Allison Grove or, more correctly Allison’s Grove, was named after Allison Castondieck (nee Marshall), whose father, Caleb Marshall, acquired the site fronting Dulwich Common in 1795. It was an ancient copyhold and the Dulwich Estate had no control over its development as the owner of a ‘copyhold’ was entitled to enfranchise it as an ‘alien’ freehold.
Allison died in 1859 leaving the property to her nephew Mr T W Parker. In the summer of 1866 Mr Parker paid the Estate £1,192 19s 4d by way of ‘compensation’ for enfranchisement and, early in 1867, put the site up for sale. It did not sell easily - in July 1868 the Estate Solicitor was instructed to check the price with a view to purchase by the Estate, but he was just too late - the land had already been let on a 100 year lease to a builder called Philip Barret Lee. In November he secured mortgage funding from a Robert Gair-How and work began shortly afterwards on the two houses, later known as Allison Towers, on the south east corner of the site.
While Allison Towers was under construction, Mr Lee started building other houses at the far end of the site - two large bow fronted semis at Nos 23 and 25 and a short terrace of four storey houses at Nos 29-35. He then sold the building agreement on to a Mr Abram Henry Tyler who built the three houses in Allison Gardens fronting Dulwich Common on the west side of the road, and the remaining eleven smaller terrace houses behind, Nos 1-21. Work stopped in 1875 and the area of land on the east side was left undeveloped – there is no record as to why. It was known later as ‘the plantation’ and used for tennis courts or additional gardens for the other houses.
Nothing more was heard about the road until 1924 when the central London estate agent, Messrs Vigers & Co, wrote offering all the freeholds in the road to the Estate for the sum of £10,000. They represented the current owners of the freeholds, three brothers called Leach and, although the Governors were interested, they thought the suggested price too high: they offered £7500: Vigers responded with £8750 and, in December, they finally agreed on £8000. The paperwork was signed in January 1925.
The old houses had not been properly maintained and, shortly afterwards, in April, the tenants of Nos. 1, 3, 9, 13, 14 & 15 requested external decoration and repairs to be carried out. The Manager noted that most of the tenants were holding over under expired agreements and that at least seven of the rents were at the maximum allowed under the Rent Acts. Clearly there was little scope to improve rental income so the Estate decided to develop the ‘plantation’ on the other side of the road and invited interest from local builders. In October Messrs James Smith Bros., who were currently building in Lovelace Road, offered to take the land to build semi-detached houses. The original price asked was 8s per foot run but the Smiths managed to reduce it to 7s 3d and agreed to build both semi-detached and detached houses with garages, or spaces for them.
The Building Agreement was signed in January 1926 and the drawings, by local surveyors, Messrs. E O & A J Knapman, were sent to the Estate in May. The new houses were to be built of 9 inch brickwork covered with rough-cast and roofed with red tiles. C E Barry, the Estate Surveyor, was generally happy, asking only for amendments to the width and going of the stairs. In July Messrs Smith sent revised plans and work started in August. The first two houses (Nos. 2 & 4) were finished in March 1927, with the remaining six (Nos. 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 & 18) being complete by the end of June. The site at the far end was left as it was let on a long lease to No. 35 as a tennis court.
On the other side of the road, the older houses, particularly Nos 1-21, were not doing so well. In November 1934 the manager reported that Mrs Logind, the tenant of No 21, had left and returned the keys by post with no address. He added “The last quarter’s rent is owing, and I understand that it was a case of dire poverty which caused this action”. In May 1936 Nos 1 & 2 Allison Towers were put up for sale at £500 each. The Governors looked at the figures and offered £200. Only the freeholder of No 1 agreed to sell - at £225, but in July the Estate also purchased No 23 for a similar amount.
By December 1938 it appears that Nos. 3 & 5 and 11-21 were empty, leaving only Nos. 7, 9, 23, 25 and 29-35 still occupied. Austin Vernon, the new Estate Surveyor, who had taken over after C E Barry’s death in 1937, recommended that the empty houses be demolished and the vacant sited be offered for rebuilding. Nothing further happened before WWII intervened. In October 1940 a report confirmed that Nos 9, 23, and 27 - 35 had all suffered varying degrees of war damage, but the Estate still re-sprayed the road in July 1941. On 18th July 1944 a V1 exploded on the site of 37 College Road and caused further damage, particularly blast damage to the houses on the east side. In October the District Surveyor confirmed that Nos 7, 25 and 27 were scheduled for total demolition and Nos. 9, 23 & 29 were added to the list early in 1945. In reality the first three houses had already been demolished – as contemporary photographs confirm.
Looking at Allison Grove on VE day in 1945, Allison Towers and Allison Gardens were still standing (though No. 2 in the latter was derelict) plus Nos 31-35 and all the houses on the east side. In July Austin Vernon suggested that the remaining houses on the west side should be demolished and replaced with ‘medium class flats’. He was told to come up with a scheme for both flats and houses and rough plans were produced in September and approved in principle. However, there were two problems, one was obtaining a building licence from the Council and the second was funding. Austin Vernon was keen to move forward and suggested that the Estate fund the first part of the development themselves but the Governors did not have the funds and, despite talking about setting up a Public Utility Society (small building society) to do the job, nothing was done.
In the mean time, the lack of accommodation in the Dulwich area meant that Camberwell Council were looking for properties to house people affected by bomb damage elsewhere in the borough. It requisitioned No 33 on 1st January 1946 and No 35 on the 28th January. Even the derelict No 2 Allison Towers was requisitioned on 8th December 1947, much to the Governors’ delight.
1In May 1946 Austin Vernon produced a wider master-plan showing Allison Grove as part of the Frank Dixon Way development but there was no real progress until July 1951 when he confirmed that plans and working drawings for the redevelopment of the site of Nos 3, 5, 7, 9, 23, 25, 27 and 29 with three pairs of semi-detached houses had been prepared and bills of quantities had also been sent out for tender. The new houses were to be built with red/brown facing bricks, tiled roofs, hollow walls, and steel casement windows. The winning tender was from Messrs W J Mitchell & Son Ltd and work began early in 1952, once a building licence had been obtained.
During the early 1950s there had been considerable problems in finding accommodation for assistant masters at Dulwich College and there was a suggestion that the new houses might be purchased by the College for this use. The cost was in excess of what teachers could afford and, in the end, nothing came of it. The houses were sold on the private market between December 1953 and March 1954. At least two of them were bought by journalists on night duty in Fleet Street – in the 1950s there was an all night train from Blackfriars that stopped at West Dulwich nearby.
In March 1953 Mr E D H Currie, the tenant of 1 Allison Towers, left, and the Estate offered it to the College as temporary accommodation for either assistant masters or College societies. In May the Clerk to the Governors wrote “My Governors have now had the opportunity of considering a report by Mr Russell Vernon on the condition of No 1 Allison Towers, and in view of its adverse character, have decided that it would be unwise to allow the College Scouts to use the building, They have consequently abandoned the idea of renting the premises, but I am to thank them for the kind offer which was very much appreciated.”
In October 1955 the last site on the east side, No 20, was sold and a new house built to the designs of Selwyn B Porteous, an architect who had earlier carried out a lot of war damage reconstruction in the Dulwich area. Miss J G Johnson, the yearly tenant at 31 Allison Grove, died in May 1955 and the Estate approached the Camberwell Director of Housing asking for an early release of Nos 33 and 35 from requisition in order that all three properties could be demolished and the Governors’ scheme for the redevelopment of the west side of the road completed. The Council agreed to a release at Xmas 1956, on the condition that the Governors were in a position to proceed at once. The final two houses, Nos 13 & 15 were completed in 1958.
Allison Towers was demolished in 1959 and the site acquired by Mr Pettifer of W J Mitchell & Sons as a site for his own house. Russell Vernon, Austin Vernon’s nephew and partner, designed it – the house was set back to allow for future road widening on Dulwich Common and was finished in 1961. That left only Allison Gardens. No 3 was acquired from the estate of Mrs C A Linnecar for £1600 in September 1962. No 2 was bought from Mr J A Caldicott for £1700 and finally No 1 was acquired in March 1963 for £1350. The houses were demolished shortly afterwards and the final two houses, Nos 1 and 3 - a semi detached pair, also designed by Russell Vernon and built by W J Mitchell & Sons, were finished in 1965.