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Save Sydenham Library campaign hits the airwaves

A huge lobby of Lewisham Council last Thursday presented Lewisham’s Mayor with a petition signed by around 17,000 people, against possible library closures in Sydenham, Crofton Park, New Cross, Grove Park and Blackheath Village.

And protestors have been carrying the fight to radio and television as well.

The proposed closure of Sydenham Library got terrific coverage on ITV’s London Tonight programme broadcast on the 28th September. Presenter Rags Martel visited the parents and toddlers group at the library – who were there to celebrate its 106th birthday – and interviewed parent Janine Minchin and Cllr Liam Curran who put the case for saving the library. Mayor Sir Steve Bullock, standing outside the Town Hall, explained the need for cuts and the difficult choices that face Lewisham Council. The presenter then spoke to author and former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen who explained the history of libraries and their contribution to education and community well-being.

You can watch this again at:

The day before, Radio London’s Drivetime programme with Eddie Nestor included an interview with local Cllr Liam Curran and library-user Katriona Bateman. Listen to it here (starting at 1.34.15 onwards):

If you haven’t already signed the online petition, you can find it at:

What’s the best train to catch late at night?

Caught in a dilemma as to whether to catch an East London line train or a train from London Bridge?

Well puzzle no more! The Sydenham Society’s quick and easy timetable showing the best late night trains has arrived!

The timetable shows the times of late evening trains from both London Bridge and Canada Water, allowing you at glance to choose the one that’s best for you.

If you’ve left it until after the witching hour, then London Bridge is your only hope – with trains at six and 36 minutes past midnight.

When will the next bus arrive?

Good news for local bus passengers.

Transport for London (TfL) has announced that two pairs of bus stops in central Sydenham will be fitted with dot matrix countdown indicators – visual displays which show how long it is before the next bus arrives. In 2011, the stops outside Boots and outside LA Fitness (plus the bus stops on the other side of the road) will be fitted with the new indicators.

Underpass at Forest Hill

Back in January 2010 the Council and Network Rail (who own the Forest Hill underpass) agreed a programme of improvements to the underpass. These included measures such as re-surfacing the floor of the underpass, an improved water-drainage system, cladding the underpass walls with easily cleaned de-mountable panels, re-painting, and improved lighting. Network Rail planned to start the works in April 2010, once the station footbridge had been installed.

In fact nothing has happened since January, despite the footbridge works having been long completed. The Sydenham Society has once again taken up matters with the Council and in July the Sydenham Society met with Councillor Alan Smith, Deputy Mayor, to press for an early start to the long promised improvements. Councillor Smith hoped that Network Rail might start the works in September and said that he would continue to press them for progress. The Society will keep a close eye on the matter.

Proposed Library Closure Sparks Protests test

A proposal by Lewisham Council to shut Sydenham Library in Home Park next April, has been met with loud and noisy opposition by locals. Even local dogs are yelping in protest!

The library – one of five Lewisham libraries faced with closure – has over 66,000 visitors per year, despite the fact that it is open only four days per week. The library is used by four local primary schools and local community organisations plus mother and toddlers’ groups.

This Saturday’s meeting of the Sydenham Assembly – 11am, Grove Centre, Jews Walk – will discuss the closure plans.

For more details about the Save Sydenham Library Campaign contact Anthony Scully on 0750 8467 659 or email him at



Sir Steve Bullock

Mayor of Lewisham

Town Hall

London SE6 4RU

or email him at:

The Greyhound site – Work Begins!

Building is now underway on the key Greyhound site at Cobbs Corner. The work entail the refurbishment (and partial demolition to the rear) of the Greyhound public house, the construction of two apartment blocks containing 40 residential units, with commercial units on the ground floor, and the restoration of the Spring Hill building (including removal of the existing pitched roof and the addition of a second storey).

In total the amount of commercial floorspace is 9,43sq m, of which the pub comprises 2,86sq m. The former drinking corridor (which some residents may remember) is one of the elements of the pub scheduled for demolition but the tiles have been stored and will be reinstated in the refurbished pub; in addition, there will be new stone greyhounds on plinths to replace those which disappeared some years ago, together with the construction of a new public space adjacent to the pub which will include hard and soft landscaping.

The residential mix will be:

  • 12 one-bedroom
  • 11 two-bedroom and
  • 17 three bedroom units
  • 14 of the units will be affordable housing

The ground floor will have three units and meet SEHLP standards for adaption to accommodate wheelchair occupiers, being 1 one-bedroom flat and 2 two-bedroom flats. Eleven car parking spaces will be provided; four for residents, two commercial parking spaces, one disabled parking space and four parking spaces for car club use. There will be provision of a motorcycle parking area and cycle parking facilities for a minimum of 56 bicycles.

The full planning report is on Lewisham’s web site.

Sydenham now a transport hub!

The arrival of the new East London Line has not quite placed Sydenham at the centre of the Universe (although we all know it is!). But it has produced many extra direct links to places resulting in quicker and easier journeys around the Capital.

The map shows all of the places which can now be reached directly from this area including important interchange stations such as Clapham Junction, West and East Croydon, London Bridge, Canada Water and Whitechapel.

From 2016, the situation will be improved even further when Sydenham joins Thameslink carrying passengers directly through London Bridge to Thameslink stations such as Blackfriars, Farringdon and King’s Cross.

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.

Town Centre Manager update

Julie Sutch, our Town Centre manager – and not just ours – she is responsible for three other town centres in Lewisham – has started sending weekly updates. From last Friday’s…

A regular fortnightly walkabout saw Sydenham looking very good apart from the road works, with just a couple of issues. The Somerfield alleyway has been tarmaced, with a quote from the fencing it coming in at £2,200 + VAT. However, no budget for this has been identified. The freeholders of the properties are not responsible for this area of the alleyway. Somerfield have also employed a company to remove all of the Ivy from the rear of their building, and thankfully, no cracking has occurred.

Angie’s Flower Stall is now in place and trading successfully, and as regulated by street trading. She has a proper temporary licence – which is on display – and is staying well within her pitch .
16 Sydenham Road – A PCN (Plannning and Conservation area notice) – has now been issued to the leaseholder regarding the shop front of the former Macrae’s chemist.
The freeholder of Lloyds TSB has been asked to clean up his side area.

A meeting about the problems of Earlsthorpe Mews has been organised for Tuesday 21st April @ 6.30 pm at the Narborhood Centre. Letters have been hand delivered to all of the businesses, residents of the flats above and Earlsthorpe Road and letters sent to freeholders. At least 2 officers from the Environment Department will be in attendance and I believe that Cllr Best will chair this meeting.

Sydenham Traders have been invited to a meeting on Tuesday 28th April to discuss how the Traders’ Association can be taken forward with a strengthened structure.

Sydenham Garden

Sydenham Garden is a voluntary association that is developing a community garden for people coping with significant illness in their lives. The nature reserve, situated between Queenswood Road and Wynell Road, will contain a small garden therapy centre of environmentally friendly design. The majority of the remaining land will be managed as a nature reserve. For something of its history…

The site of Sydenham Garden was, until the mid 1970s, occupied by the Wynell Road Nursery. Before this it was part of the garden of a large house, just to the south of Sydenham Garden, on a site now occupied by 23-25 Queenswood Road. The house was known as Perrymount.

Perrymount was built in the 1790s and originally called Perry Vale Farm. However, Sydenham Garden was not, at this time, part of Perry Vale Farm. In the early 17th century the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers, using a bequest to fund an educational endowment, had been acquiring land in Lower Sydenham, mostly on either side of Perry Hill. The Leathersellers’ estate included fields now occupied by Sydenham Garden, the Forest Hill Bowling Club and the Paxton Road estate.

Perry Vale Farm was on the eastern edge of the Old House estate. This, the largest estate in Sydenham, was created during the 18th century. It stretched along Sydenham Road from the Greyhound to Mayow Road and extended north to Perry Vale. The extract from the Old House Estate Map of 1815 shows Perry Vale Farm house (plot 12) with a great crescent of water to the west, and the farm buildings (plot 11). Sydenham Garden (marked by a white square) is in the southwest corner of the field owned at the time by the Leathersellers’ Company. The “Footway”, an extension of Berryman’s Lane across the fields to Perry Vale, was to become Mayow Road. It was sometime during the 1820s or 1830s that the Leathersellers sold the Sydenham Garden site to the Old House estate for, by 1843, the owner of Perry Vale Farm (no. 2577 on the Tithe Map) and the Sydenham Garden site (2579 on the Tithe Map) was William Dacres Adams of the Old House.

Sydenham Garden at this time was described as an orchard. We tend to assume this means apples, but in the 19th century it referred to a garden consisting of any small, cultivated fruit trees. The only roads near Perrymount at the time were Perry Vale to the north and Perry Rise to the east and “perry”, of course, refers to pears and the drink produced by fermenting them. It is tempting to suppose that Sydenham Garden was planted with pear trees, particularly as there is at least one old pear tree surviving on the site.

On 15th December 1831 The Times published a notice of an auction at Perry Vale Farm for “Live and Dead Farming Stock and Household Furniture also dairy utensils, and numerous other effects”. This may have heralded the change of use from farmhouse to country retreat that the house underwent. By the late 1840s it was renamed Perrymount, and had been extended and enlarged.

For about 100 years, until the opening of Wynell Road Nursery in 1927, Sydenham Garden was an integral part of the garden of Perrymount probably, for much of that time, as an orchard. During those years there have been several interesting residents of the house.

Samuel Laing, barrister, politician, author and chairman of the Crystal Palace Company (1852-1855) during its re-erection and opening in Sydenham, was at Perrymount from 1847 to 1849.

Charlton James Wollaston, a civil engineer, was largely responsible for laying the first undersea telegraph line, between Dover and Cap Gris Nez, in 1850. Unfortunately it was not a success; the insulation was defective and water entered the cable. He was at Perrymount 1851-1857

In 1901 Mme Sophie Ayer and her son Jules were living at Perrymount. In 1909 Jules married Reine Citroen and moved to St John’s Wood. Their son, born in 1910, was christened Alfred Jules, but became better known as A J Ayer, the philosopher. His grandmother moved from Perrymount in 1913 but it is tempting to believe that the young Ayer played in her garden and orchard as a toddler.

The next occupant was John Quiller Rowett. He was at Dulwich College with Sir Ernest Shackleton, and they remained close friends until the latter’s death in 1922. Rowett was the principal backer of Shackleton’s last expedition to the Antarctic. It was Rowett who saved the James Caird, the small boat in which Shackleton undertook the perilous voyage across the Antarctic Ocean, to rescue the crew of the Endurance. Rowett later presented the James Caird to Dulwich College, where it can still be seen. He was at Perrymount 1915-1920.

During the 1860s Mayow Road was laid out, and Perrymount became known, rather prosaically, as 39 Mayow Road. During the late 1890s building began in Queenswood Road. Just before the World War II Perrymount was no longer able to resist the advance of progress and was demolished, to be replaced by 23-25 Queenswood Road. All that survives of the outbuildings is 16 Queenswood Road, which has a modern plaque bearing the date 1860. This is the stable block of Perrymount, and is on the site of an earlier farm building.

In the 1894 map one can see the extended house with Sydenham Garden to the north. Along the boundary with what is now the bowling green is a line of greenhouses. These greenhouses can be seen on maps as early as 1868. Although much of the present rather ruinous greenhouse probably dates from the time of the nursery, it may well be that some of the structure survives from the 1860s building.

A further survivor is the water pump. In 1975 it was “thought to be the only surviving pump connected to fresh spring water in London”, which gives it a particular distinction, and one can only hope that plans to restore it receive the support they deserve. The pump may well be quite old. Before the supply of piped water in the 1850s, a pump or well was essential for any well-appointed home.

Steve Grindlay