Unveiling ‘The Red Post’

Around seventy people were present for the celebration of the inauguration of a replica Red Post in the grounds of Herne Hill United Church at the top of Red Post Hill on Saturday 2nd October.  The post was officially dedicated by the deputy mayor of Southwark, Councillor Lorraine Lauder and brief speeches were made by the chairmen of the Dulwich and Herne Hill Societies which had seen the project through to completion, and by Councillor Robin Crookshank -Hilton who had supported the Dulwich Society’s bid for Community Council funding.

Accompanying the Red Post is an explanatory plaque, mounted on a specially built brick plinth.  It bears the following inscription:


A red painted signpost stood here for almost a hundred years.
It was first recorded in 1768 and became an important point of
reference.  Red signposts exist in small numbers in the West Country  
but no others are known in or around London which 
made the one here so significant.  Around 1834 the road then called
Aspole (Ashpole) Lane, first mentioned in documents dating from the
Fourteenth century, was renamed Red Post Hill.

The Dulwich  Society   The Herne Hill Society

The following speech was then made by Brian Green, who as part of the Local History Group had seen the project through:

Dulwich has a relatively modest history in comparison with that of many towns and villages around England.  What separates it from most of the other suburbs of London and elsewhere, is that it might cherish its history a bit more and through its institutions of schools, Picture Gallery, and especially the Dulwich and Herne Hill Societies, it has a tradition of seeking to preserve this modest history.

Thus the unveiling today of a replica Red Post is part of that preservation of heritage. Why bother?  one might ask.  The answer is that people of this country take great satisfaction from reminders of the past.  The fact that this road is named Red Post Hill today comes from this same tradition.  Although I am bound to say that probably, if the Dulwich and Herne Hill Societies had existed in the nineteenth century, they would have fought tooth and nail to keep its former name of Aspole or Ashpole Lane!

So what is all the fuss about? A red painted sign post stood here, we know, from 1768 when on 30th May that year, Richard Randall who was the organist at the Chapel and one of the Fellows of the College took a walk as far as it and recorded it in his diary.

Actually it may have been here much earlier because in 1697 legislation was passed which enabled magistrates to order the placing of direction posts at cross highways. In  1773 the General Turnpike Act required the trustees of turnpike companies to erect signposts giving distances from nearby towns – but as I have said we know this particular Red Post was here already.

In 1789 J. Edwards surveyed the route for his Companion from London to Brighthelmstone which was actually published in 1801.  The Companion describes the route up from Camberwell and along Denmark Hill – “ On the right is the 4 mile stone from the Standard, Cornhill and 4 from the Treasury, Whitehall.  Division of roads, at a cross of direction called the Red Post – the oblique road which leads to the left is the road to Dulwich . On the right, about 60 yards distance, is a small genteel white house just built by Mr Smith.  A gradual descent begins and continues to a road on the left which leads by Ireland Green to Dulwich”  Mr Edwards obligingly supplied his Companion with a map upon which is marked, in the middle of the road -  Red Post.

Sometime around 1830 someone in what was then the Dulwich College Estates office had the bright idea of renaming Ashpole Lane ( it had long since been called Aspole, Red Post Hill ) – so perhaps by then the Red Post had gone. Or maybe it was then realised how unusual it was.  And Red Post Hill it remains to this day – perhaps until this event a source of mystery to those who use it.

In 1963 a Government commission sought to standardize all road signage and existing fingerposts were required to be replaced by a standard format, chevron armed posts.  Then some years later, of course, it was realised that a part of England’s heritage was disappearing and orders for the conservation of any remaining fingerposts were issued!  Only a handful of red posts exist – two or three in Dorset and a couple in Somerset.  There is a tradition that a Red Post marked the route of convicts’ transportation or the direction of a gibbet; neither explanation of which seems to make sense here in Dulwich.  What we do know is that the only red sign post in and around London stood here for a hundred years and why shouldn’t we commemorate this curious part of our heritage?

After the inauguration the assembled spectators adjourned to the church hall for light refreshments.

More Improvements at The Grove

Following criticism by the Dulwich Society of the rundown appearance of the area at the junction of Dulwich Common/Lordship Lane opposite The Grove Tavern, readers will be aware that through the intervention of the Society and with the benefit of monies from Southwark Council (CGS grant) and the Dulwich Society itself, the fence in front of the Streatham & Marlborough CC ground has been replaced.  David Roberts, Chairman of the Society’s Planning Committee saw this initiative  to conclusion and was also instrumental in obtaining  a further CGS grant to improve pedestrian access through the gate to Cox’s Walk, especially for families with buggies.

A further initiative by David, with the assistance of Michelle Pearce, is to attempt to negotiate with the Deeper Life Christian Church which currently occupies the former St Peter’s Church to conform to the Listed Buildings requirements for this Grade 2 church hall building and wall.  At the same time they are in contact with Southwark Council conservation department regarding the enforcement of these requirements.

The Concrete House

The long-running saga of the fate of The Concrete House, 549 Lordship Lane, the forlorn and derelict Listed Victorian house opposite St Peter’s Church,  will hopefully reach a conclusion.  We reported in 2009 that Southwark Council had obtained a compulsory purchase order on the property.  This process can be challenged by the owner; however, on the first day of the Public Inquiry the owner and his representatives dropped their objection.  Southwark Council has confirmed that they are anticipating restoration work to commence on the site in the New Year.

The Concrete House, named Lyddon House, was built in 1873 by Charles Drake’s pioneering Patent Concrete Company with its walls constructed of mass concrete and is one of the earliest surviving examples of this type of construction in Britain and has been awarded Grade 2 Listed status.
(see the article Charles Drake and the Concrete House page ?)

Herne Hill Velodrome

A campaign to save the Velodrome was launched at a packed public meeting in the Great Hall of Dulwich College on October 6. Over 600 people attended, with an overflow meeting as well as many standing in the Hall.

The meeting was organised by an alliance of residents and cyclists formed to save the former Olympic stadium from closure. They were encouraged to launch the campaign by renewed interest in cycling, recent British sporting successes and the Olympics in 2012.

The Herne Hill Velodrome is the oldest cycling track in the country and was the home of the 1948 Olympic Cycling Championships. But it now faces closure due to deterioration and lack of funding. There is no alternative track in London for the hundreds of children who ride and race there. In the past, that has included Bradley Wiggins, the three-time Olympic gold medalist, who began his competitive cycling career at Herne Hill.

In recent years the Velodrome has been run by a dedicated group of mainly volunteers on a series of short term leases from the freeholder, the Dulwich Estate. The track and buildings need substantial renovation. Nevertheless, the Velodrome attracts good numbers of youngsters each week during the season, in addition to many adult users. It has the potential for much increased use by schools throughout Southwark, Lambeth and beyond and as a centre for cycling for south London.

The meeting on October 6 demonstrated overwhelming public support for the campaign. Strong statements of political support were delivered by Val Shawcross, London Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark, by Kate Hoey, the Mayor of London’s Commissioner for Sport and by our MP, Tessa Jowell. From Southwark Council support came from Peter John, the Leader, and from Veronica Ward, Cabinet Member. The Dulwich Estate confirmed their willingness to grant a long lease. Local residents’ associations added their support.

The meeting heard that there would be a funding gap, both for capital expenditure and for ongoing operation. People and businesses were invited to pledge financial support and they responded eagerly. Continuing commitments were made, adding up to over £34,000 in the first year. In addition, Southwark Council offered a capital sum of £25,000 and Lambeth Council £10,000.

Following this successful launch, the Save the Velodrome committee is now developing its plans for the establishment of a charitable trust, the construction of a viable business plan, negotiations for a long term lease from the Dulwich Estate, further fundraising and the development of the Velodrome site.

Developments will be posted on the Campaign’s website: www.savetheVelodrome.com

Alastair Hanton

Improvements at Belair

The Dulwich Society was represented amongst councillors, wildlife groups, the Dulwich Estate and other interested parties for the official opening of the new sports facility building in the park.  The long, low building whose red brick frontage will be covered in time with plant material, is providing a much needed changing and meeting space for the many teams using Belair.

Two further occasions were the opening of the refurbished and most attractive car park and the official launch of a new hedgerow.  The latter, as a contribution towards the National Year of Biodiversity, on the west side of the recreation field, is now growing vigorously and is planted with native material to encourage plant and insect life. All of these improvements have come through the interest and hard work of local groups in our area.