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Local history

A history of Perry Vale fire station

An application to redevelop Perry Vale fire station into flats has just been received by Lewisham Planning Department.

Local historian, Steve Grindlay,  tells the history of this distinctive building:

Before the opening of Perry Vale Fire Station on 22 March 1902 fire defence in Sydenham and Forest Hill was fairly haphazard.

From the 1860s there was a horse drawn pump based at the Crystal Palace. Beside the Bricklayers Arms there was a fixed hose, attached to a water pipe, by which “any person may direct water in abundance”. There was also a fire escape (a cart with a ladder fixed to it to rescue people from burning buildings) next to the Woodman. In 1872 a volunteer fire service was formed in Forest Hill, but it was severely constrained and constantly in debt because it depended entirely on voluntary contributions.

After its creation in 1889 the London County Council began building fire stations across London. The earlier buildings were Victorian Gothic but by 1900 the Arts and Crafts style predominated. Building began on the Perry Vale fire station in 1901; the foundation stone was laid on 4 July 1901. The architect was most probably Charles Canning Winmill, the LCC Fire Brigade Department’s principal architect. The building is considered a particularly fine example of an early arts and crafts fire station.

From the Times 24 March 1902

The building was designed to house 12 firemen and their families. The 1911 census has 10 firemen, 2 coachmen (who drove the appliances and cared for the horses) and their families, a total of 50 people living in the station. The reason the accommodation was provided was because the firemen were on call 24 hours a day. This system ended in the early 1920s when shift work was introduced and the firemen had a fixed working week.

At the time the Perry Vale station opened there were two basic types of fire appliance: the pump, for extinguishing fires, and the escape with a ladder for rescuing people. The familiar dual-purpose fire engine, with both a pump and ladder, was introduced in 1934, partly for greater efficiency, and partly as an economy (reducing staff numbers).

Perry Vale fire station circa 1906

When the new Forest Hill Fire Station on Stanstead Road opened in 1972 the Perry Vale Fire Station closed. In March 1973, within a year of closure, it was listed Grade II. Since the building closed as a fire station it has been used by the Council as a housing office and for temporary accommodation. In 2008 the Council decided that the building was surplus to its requirements, and put it up for sale.

Nikolaus Pevsner described the Perry Vale Fire Station as “an especially picturesque example of its type”. Recent surveys make it clear that although there have been internal changes, some original features do survive. We must hope that any plans for the future of the building respect its past.

Steve Grindlay

Perry Vale fire station to become a church?

A planning application lodged with Lewisham council appears to open the way for the former fire station building in Perry Vale to be used as a church.

The application is to turn the upper floors of the building into 13 flats (nine x 1 bedroom; two x 2 bedroom and two x 3 bedroom). The planning forms state that  “a further application will be made for the change of use of the ground floor to create a church and ancillary spaces”.  Local gossip that a  Tesco Metro was moving onto the site turned out to be nothing more than an unfounded rumour – and  the listed status of the building would make it very difficult for any retailer to make a success of the site.

Full details of the aplication can be found here:

Louise House – a journey into Forest Hill’s Victorian past

What was life like for destitute girls in the late nineteenth century? How did Louise House inspire a visiting paediatrician from Poland? Could the building find a new community use in the 21st century?

Louise House used to be a Girls’ Industrial Home providing care for destitute girls whilst they learnt skills (there is a laundry block to the rear of the building.) The foundation stone was laid by Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s daughter, in 1890. Built in the domestic revival style, it is highly decorated externally but it has a utilitarian interior retaining the original floor plan.

It also has links with Janusz Korczak, the Polish/German/Jewish paediatrician, children’s author and martyr whose visit to Louise House in 1911 inspired him to devote his life to the enlightened care of children.

He founded an orphanage in Warsaw, implementing many of the ideas he’d seen in practice at Louise House. On the morning of 6 August 1942, German soldiers herded the orphanage staff and 192 children towards the railway station with Korczak at their head. The group was forced onto a train bound for Treblinka extermination camp. That is the last that was heard of them.

The pdf below looks at the history of Louise House and plans for its future. Research by Steve Grindlay; documentation by Tim Walder; design and recent photography by Hilary Satchwell

Louise House exhibition boards

August Manns – the driving force behind music at Crystal Palace

Crystal Clear – Music at Crystal Palace – the story of Sir August Manns 


Local historian Steve Grindlay gives a review of the life of this key local musical figure.  For more  local history go to Steve’s blog (see link, right)

As Musical Director of the Crystal Palace from 1855 to 1901, August Manns made two very important contributions to English music. The Dictionary of National Biography describes him as “unrivalled in England as an orchestral conductor” and an article in The Musical Times (1st March 1898) explains this:

“The orchestral conductor plays an important part in modern musical life… but it should not be forgotten that the permanent introduction into England of even the baton itself, as a time-beating stick, is within living memory. When Spohr temporarily used it in 1820, the gentlemen of the orchestra revolted [the author said “mis-conducted” themselves]. It was not until 1832 that conductors began to use the baton… It might be supposed that the modern orchestral conductor [in England] began with Hans Richter when he conducted his first orchestral concert in 1879. But for nearly a quarter of a century previously there had been working at the Crystal Palace a conductor who has had a great influence upon orchestral music in England. For more than forty-two years Mr Manns has zealously discharged his conducting duties with singular ability.”

This article credits Manns with establishing the role of the orchestral conductor in English music. His other major contribution was to introduce the works of Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak, Schubert, Sir Arthur Sullivan and many others to sometimes sceptical English audiences.

On 10th June 1854 Queen Victoria opened the rebuilt Crystal Palace on Sydenham Hill. Earlier that year Henry Schallehn, a German ex-military bandmaster, was appointed Musical Director and charged with forming a brass band to entertain visitors to the Crystal Palace. On 1st May 1854 Schallehn appointed August Manns as assistant-conductor and clarinettist. The band, with Manns playing clarinet, gave its first public performance at the opening ceremony in front of the Queen.

The next major event at the Palace was a Grand Fete, to raise money to aid the widows and orphans of the troops fighting in the Crimea. Schallehn wanted something special for the orchestra to play, and asked Manns to compose it. Manns was happy to do this and devoted much time and effort to it. When shown the proofs Manns realised that not only did Schallehn claim that he composed the music he but also received £50 for it. Manns challenged this. He didn’t mind Schallehn being credited but surely, as the actual composer, he should have received some payment. Manns also pointed out that while Schallehn was paid £600 a year, he only received £156. Schallehn claimed he was the “proprietor” of anything that his assistant might compose and that attaching “Schallehn” to a piece of music would sell it better than “Manns”. He offered Manns £1 for his efforts; Manns refused this, and was dismissed.

Matters did not rest there. Manns wrote to “The Musical World”, appealing to the English for justice, “which I am denied by a countryman of my own”. The editor of the periodical vigorously took up Manns’ cause, claiming that “every Englishman will burn with indignation at such an injustice” and demanding that Manns be reinstated and Schallehn dismissed. Within a year that is what happened. Largely through the influence of the Secretary of the Crystal Palace, Sir George Grove, Schallehn was dismissed and on 14th October 1855 Manns was appointed conductor and musical director.

manns in 1900

August Manns grew up in a family that cared about music. He was born on 12th March 1825 in Stolzenburg, Pomerania, Prussia. Stolzenburg is now Biskupia Górka, part of the city of Gdańsk, on the Baltic coast of Poland. August was the fifth of ten children of Gottfried Manns, foreman at a local glass factory. When Gottfried returned from work he would take his fiddle from the wall and “make music to his children”. His children, self-taught, would join in with violoncello, horn and flute.

Manns married for the first time in 1850. We know little about his life at this time and less about his wife, although he told a friend that within a year she died “in great pain in bitterly cold weather”.

On 30th July 1857 August married a second time, to Sarah Ann Williams. The wedding took place in St Pancras Old Church. While Manns’ address was given simply as “St Pancras”, Sarah’s father (Frederick, a tobacco broker) was living at Norwood. Soon after their marriage August and Sarah moved to 12 Eden Villas (now 135 Knights Hill), West Norwood where their only child, Augusta Kate Frederica, was born on 18th October 1858.

Handelfest at Crystal Palace

August and his family moved several times, mostly keeping close to the Crystal Palace. By 1864 they were at Athol Lodge, 174 Kirkdale, Sydenham. They were still there in March 1871 but, according to one source, in 1872 they were living in Balham High Road, near the station. Apparently, even then, this was “an inconvenient train service” to the Crystal Palace. By 1880 the family were at Larkbeare, 4 Dulwich Wood Park, where they stayed until about 1889.

After a brief sojourn at 56 Central Hill in 1891 August and his family finally settled at Gleadale, 4 Harold Road, Upper Norwood. It was here that August was widowed for the second time, when Sarah died on 7th January 1893.

On 7th January 1897, the 4th anniversary of Sarah’s death, August married Katherine Emily Wilhemina Thellusson, great-grand daughter of the 1st Baron Rendlesham.

In 1903, August was both knighted and made an honorary Doctor of Music in recognition of his service to music.

In Summer 1906, in failing health, Sir August and Lady Manns made a final move to White Lodge, Biggin Hill at the junction with Beulah Hill. It was here, on 1st March 1907, that Sir August Manns died. He was buried in West Norwood cemetery on 6th March. Lady Manns continued living at White Lodge until her own death on 25th February 1921.

Two years after Manns’ death the first biography appeared, written by a personal friend and music writer. The author ended by saying that in England Manns was survived by a nephew, son of his youngest brother Otto, and a grandchild so “his stock was not likely to die out soon” in this country. The grandchild, Louisa Bonten, died unmarried in Hastings in 1984 while the nephew had one child, a son called Frederick, who died aged 15 when he fell under a passing train. Sadly, August’s “stock” does not seem to have survived in England.

Yet we do have a tangible link with August Manns, apart from his musical legacy, as two of the houses he lived in still survive: 12 Eden Villas, 135 Knights Hill where he lived from 1858 until about 1861 and Athol Lodge, 174 Kirkdale, Sydenham, his home from about 1864 until 1871.

Manns’ house in Kirkdale was a short distance from St Bartholomew’s church. His close friend and staunch supporter, Sir George Grove, spent his early years in Sydenham even closer to the church. From 1862 he was at 14 Westwood Hill (actually next to the church until the Shackletons’ house was built between them in the early 1870s) until he moved to Lower Sydenham in 1860. Although there is no evidence that Manns was involved with the church Grove certainly attended regularly and was a close friend of several of the vicars and curates. The occasion when, in 1875, Dean Stanley came to St Bartholomew’s to preach gave Grove one of his most cherished moments at the church.

In 1893 Dr Frederick Shinn, a recent graduate from the Royal College of Music, was appointed organist and choirmaster of St Bartholomew’s, a post he held until just before his death in 1950. Shortly after this appointment Dr Shinn was invited to work closely with August Manns to produce two booklets: A Catalogue of the Principal Instrumental and Choral Works Performed at the Saturday Concerts (1855-1895) and Forty seasons of Saturday concerts at the Crystal palace: a retrospect and an appeal (Crystal Palace company, 1896). There is a memorial to Dr Shinn near the organ in St Bartholomew’s.

Monument in Norwood Cemetery

In a speech to celebrate Manns’ 70th birthday in 1895 Sir George Grove paid tribute to his close friend and colleague:

“We have to express our gratitude for your efforts at the head of the Crystal Palace orchestra by which the works of many of the great composers have been introduced to England, in a manner well worthy of the fame of those great men. No Englishman could have given more encouragement to our native school than you have given by your cordial behaviour to our composers and performers, by the extraordinary pains you have bestowed upon their works, and the careful and brilliant performances by which you have introduced them to the public. As your first friend in this country, I may be permitted to acknowledge the honour and gratification which I have felt at working by your side for many years, and the pleasure which our uninterrupted friendship has given me.”

No eulogy could be more fitting for this man who had such an influence on the development music in England.

A brief history of Sydenham Library

When the Lower Sydenham Public Library (its official name) was opened on 24 September 1904 it was not only the first of five Carnegie libraries to be built in Lewisham, it was quite possibly the first Carnegie Library to be built in England. By 1904 Carnegie Libraries had been built in the USA and Scotland but of more than 100 libraries to be built in England almost all were opened between 1905 and 1909.
The disgraced Mayor of Lewisham, Theophilus Williams (bankrupt, fraudster and suicide, but that’s another story) announced proudly at a council meeting on 18th June 1902 that after two months of negotiations he had persuaded philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to donate £9,000 to build two new libraries, one at Crofton Park and one in Lower Sydenham.

Scottish born Carnegie (1835-1919) migrated to the USA in 1848, founded a steel works and eventually became one of the richest people in the world. He believed that those who acquire great wealth had a duty to return it to the community. He also believed that working people and others who wanted improve their situation should be supported and encouraged. An avid reader, Carnegie knew that books were an essential part of providing the opportunities for people to improve their situation so he chose to redistribute much of his wealth by founding libraries in those parts of towns and cities where people would most benefit.

Carnegie also believed that the community itself should contribute something towards their library. He paid for the building but the Council, using local taxes, had to find a suitable site, buy books and employ experienced staff (important, as they offered the knowledge and advice to support their readers’ needs).

Local builder Dorrells offered a site in Adamsrill Road. The Council readily accepted, but local people were unhappy; the site was not central and was too distant from the small terraces of houses at Bell Green whose occupants were expected to be its main users. A petition with 1,200 signatures was handed to the Council opposing the Adamsrill Road site. The Council responded. The Trustees of Sir George Grove, who died in 1900, were prepared to sell part of his estate and in March 1903 the Council bought the land between Grove’s house and Home Park.

They then invited six local architects to submit plans for the new library. Albert L Guy, who lived in Lewisham Park, was chosen. Of the 31 builders who submitted quotes Perry Brothers’ was the lowest, and they were appointed.

At the opening ceremony the mayor was slightly apologetic at the amount of fiction (nearly 3,000 books compared with just over 1000 on art and science and only 398 on theology). He added that a few had objected to the library because it would “help to disseminate betting news and harmful fiction” but that risk was “far outweighed by the educational and moral advantages”.

During the 1960s, following concerns about the safety of the entrance from Sydenham Road, the Council decided to build a new entrance on the Home Park side of the library. The work included opening up the ground floor and replacing the original smoked oak furnishings with new furniture and bookshelves. The Mayor opened the refurbished library, with its new side entrance, on 20th July 1963.
Of the five libraries in Lewisham that Andrew Carnegie provided one has been demolished, two are used for other purposes and two are under imminent threat of closure. In other parts of the world (particularly the USA) and other parts of this country Carnegie Libraries are cherished and protected. It is such a pity that in Lewisham, it seems, they are not.

Should Sydenham Library close the probability is that the building will be boarded up and forgotten. It will certainly not become a library again. Instead we will have a small, probably temporary, facility in an inappropriate location with few books and no staff. Sydenham will, in effect, no longer have a library.