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History of Forest Hill Pools

Written by Steve Grindlay

Forest Hill Pools are, almost certainly, the oldest substantially intact working baths to survive in the London area. Although they nearly didn’t make it, they have survived to celebrate their 120th anniversary this year. The Earl of Dartmouth opened them on Saturday 2nd May 1885.

The foundation stone was laid a year earlier, in a tent erected on the site. For this ceremony 1700 school children marched along Dartmouth Road to the tent, where they were each given a bun and an orange.

The pool’s origins can be traced back to 1846, when the Baths and Wash-Houses Act empowered local authorities to raise money for such buildings. The Lewisham Vestry was slow to respond, for it was not until 1882 that they decided to use these powers, and appointed seven commissioners to obtain funds and land, and to build two swimming pools with public baths. The commissioners found their two sites; one in Ladywell and one Forest Hill. From 1819 the large plot of land on which the Swimming Pools, Louise House, Forest Hill Library and Holy Trinity School now stand had been glebe land, used to provide income for the vicars of Lewisham. Fortunately, in 1882, the vicar of Lewisham was Hon Canon Augustus Legge, one of the pools commissioners, and he made part of this plot available “at a price much lower than other land about”.

The architects appointed for both the Ladywell and Forest Hill pools were Wilson and Aldwinckle. Thomas Aldwinckle (1845-1920) lived in Dacres Road (co-incidentally, on the site of Hennel Close, named after Alexander Hennell, who designed Forest Hill Library) from the mid-1880s for about twenty years. In addition to the pools Aldwinckle designed Louise House, the Boys’ Industrial Home in Perry Rise (demolished a few years ago) and the Brook Hospital and Water Tower at Shooters Hill.

Today, with Ladywell Pools derelict and Louise House empty and under threat, Forest Hill Pools takes on an added significance as the only surviving, functioning building in the borough, by this local architect.
Two men, of very different temperament, did more than any others to bring about the creation of the pools: Theophilus William Williams and Augustus Legge. Williams was of modest origins, working his way up from messenger to bank manager (of what was later Barclays, now ACTS Credit Union in Kirkdale). He then entered local politics, where again he was successful, becoming Lewisham’s first mayor in 1900. He fell from grace, committing suicide on the day he was due to face charges of fraud and embezzlement. The Hon Augustus Legge, on the other hand, was a younger son of the Earl of Dartmouth. He was vicar of St Bartholomew’s 1867-1879 then became vicar of Lewisham until 1891 when he was appointed Bishop of Litchfield. Williams or Legge was involved in almost every major local project (Mayow Park, Wells Park, Children’s Hospital, Industrial Homes, libraries) undertaken during the last quarter of the 19th century.

Not everyone was enthusiastic about the pools. There were those who considered spending ratepayers’ money on such a project an unjustified extravagance. The Commissioners were keen to point out to that, at £9,000, the building was remarkable value for money. The pools were described as “the cheapest for the accommodation afforded, as well as the handsomest, in the United Kingdom” and The Builder said, “Unnecessary expense and all extraneous ornament have been most carefully avoided … the architects have succeeded very well in giving a certain degree of picturesque effect to buildings of a generally plain and practical character”. In today’s terms, the building would have cost about £600,000.

The pools provide a vivid illustration of the rigid class system in Victorian England. One of the commissioners said that the baths would promote “the comfort and health of the people” reducing “poverty, crime and many evils. The more they promoted healthy exercise the more virtuous the people would become”.

The architects’ plans show that there were two entrances to the building. To the left of the present ticket office was the entrance for “1st class males”, who had their own waiting room and their own pool (the left-hand pool). This was mirrored on the right side, where “2nd class males” had their own ticket office, waiting room and pool. Even today, filtered water, using the original filters, flows first to the left-hand pool before flowing into the right! Women seemed to have been an afterthought, not able to use the main entrance but having their own, on the right side of the building, where the “females ticket office” still survives. There was very definitely no mixed bathing; men could use the pools morning and evening, while women used them during the day. Later, Tuesdays and Fridays were set aside for women. There were also private baths (called slipper baths, for washing), 10 for 1st class customers and 20 2nd class. The 2nd class baths were in the room now used by the fitness centre.

The 1st class baths were on the left side of the entrance, and still retain a couple of the cubicles, although without the baths. Surprisingly, the private baths were not segregated. This was so that all who wanted could have a bath every day of the week.

It was intended that during the quiet winter months from November to April the pools would close for swimming. The 1st class pool would be boarded over, and used as a public hall for meetings, concerts and bazaars.

This continued until the 1950s or later. Indeed, in 1951 Clement Atlee used a political meeting at the pools to announce that Britain needed to re-arm in order to meet the threat to our way of life from the Soviet Union.

We have at least one famous swimmer associated with the pools. Linda Ludgrove, who lived in Eddisbury House, Sydenham Hill and went to Sydenham School, trained in the pools in the evenings, after they were closed to the public. She won several Commonwealth Games gold medals, and broke five world records between 1962 and 1967.

The future of the building is not secure. We have been assured that there will be a public consultation exercise in June, to find out what users and other residents would like for the pools. It is vital that all those who care about them either as a valuable resource, an important part of our townscape or even for what they tell us about the social history of the area, make their feelings known.

A renewed high street for Sydenham

Text of Sydenham Society response to Lewisham proposals, sent 29th May, 2008

I write to provide the comments of the Sydenham Society on the Council’s plans to enhance Sydenham Road and Kirkdale, as set out in its document “A renewed high street for Sydenham”.

The Society very much welcomes the Council’s scheme and we strongly support its aims of enhancing the street environment, creating a greater sense of place, and providing a more pedestrian-friendly environment. In particular we welcome the attempts to “green” the high street via the creation of pocket parks. However, we would ask the Council to look again at the possibility of “greening” the Cobbs Corner roundabout. As a reminder, the Sydenham Road proposals were worked up following the Sydenham Society’s urban design proposals dating from 2005 entitled “The Sydenham Gateway”. One of the main intentions of this proposal was to make the high street a more attractive place, and there seems to us to be no reason why this greening cannot extend to the roundabout particularly when neighbouring boroughs (eg Bromley and Southwark) have planted roundabouts and even roundabouts containing mature trees and public art.

A second, general point concerns the fact that both Sydenham Road and Cobbs Corner now fall within two recently designated conservation areas – the Cobbs Corner CA and the southern extension to the Thorpes. Within conservation areas it is usual to insist upon high quality street furniture, paving etc, and materials which complement the surrounding buildings and urban form. For this reason we would suggest that the type of paving suggested (overwhelmingly concrete) and the lampposts (a rather stark design) are replaced with styles and materials more sympathetic to the Victorian/Edwardian streetscape. We are encouraged to hear that the owners of the Greyhound are discussing with the planning officers ways to link their suggestion for a public space in front of the pub with the plans for Cobbs Corner; if this is done successfully then the Council and the developers will truly have created a fitting “Gateway for Sydenham”.

The following are our detailed comments:

The roundabout at Cobbs Corner
We do not object to the retention of a roundabout at the junction of Westwood Hill and Kirkdale. We are concerned however that the Council proposes simply to rebuild, in granite this time, the present drab and brutalist structure.

The current review of the high street provides a critical opportunity for the Council to create a roundabout which is landscaped or is in some other way transformed into an eye-catching feature, eg by the introduction of a sculpture (and the obvious candidate for this is Ernest Shackleton), which contributes to the aim of creating a “sense of place” for Sydenham. We urge the Council to consider means by which the rebuilt roundabout can function not only at a practical level but also as a landmark feature at the principal gateway to Sydenham town centre.

Pocket squares
A number of pocket squares are proposed. We welcome these although some, such as the pocket square at Queensthorpe Road – which requires the closure of the road at its junction with the high street – we recognise as being controversial. Our view is that these squares could be successful but only if the Council can ensure that they do not become areas where drinkers congregate and that they are kept litter-free. We suggest too that the Council bear in mind the possibility of traffic seeking alternative routes (because of the Quennsthorpe Road pocket) and creating potential problems in other access roads around the Thorpes.

Regarding the proposed pocket square outside the Naborhood Centre, we suggest that the square would be greatly enhanced if the frontage of the Naborhood Centre were re-decorated. At present the Centre presents a rather grim and dirty façade, which very much detracts from the street environment. We also suggest that the Centre be re-named with a recognisable spelling (in its present form the name frequently attracts the comment that the Council can’t spell!)
Trees

As far as we can see the proposed tree planting is confined principally to the pocket squares. Whilst the planting of the pocket squares is to be welcomed we would ask the Council to look again at planting on Sydenham Road (particularly in the section from Tannsfeld to Girton Road, which is currently rather stark) and Kirkdale. Trees have the potential to change the streetscape dramatically and they are of course environmentally friendly.

We are unsure why the existence of underground services prohibits the planting of trees when so many roads in the wider area, which must also have underground services, are planted. If it really is the case that species suited to the particular environment of Sydenham Road/Kirkdale cannot be identified then we suggest that the Council considers planting in containers. If new trees and additional planters are not considered suitable then we would propose hanging baskets and flower boxes at suitable sites.

Parking spaces

We accept the Council’s assurances that parking bay spaces in Sydenham Road and the side road returns ‘will remain about the same’. Whilst we think it is very important for the vitality of the high street that the overall amount of parking is not significantly reduced, we would accept that increased pedestrian safety and the aim of creating pocket parks may result in the loss of a marginal number of parking spaces.

Station Approach
We note that a scheme encompassing this road will be the subject of a later consultation and will make comments at that stage.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Lund
Chair
Sydenham Society

The Future of Forest Hill Pools

As our last newsletter went to press in mid-February there was news that the Mayor and Cabinet had taken the decision to demolish the existing buildings and build a new two-pool facility on the site of the Pools and Louise House complex, and that they had committed to consulting with local groups and residents with regard to the design. There was also a commitment to integrate some of the features of the existing pools building into the design.

Since that time there has been one “Stakeholder meeting” on 17 March at which members of the Sydenham Society were present, along with members of the Forest Hill Society, to hear Lewisham Council officers outline the schedule of redevelopment.

A further meeting is planned for 15 May, after this newsletter deadline.

The timetable includes demolition of the whole site in July, although it is admitted this date is likely to slip as a nursery, currently using part of the rear of Louise House, will need to be relocated first.

The concerns of a large number of people about retaining the Victorian streetscape, by possibly converting the existing brick built buildings into residential property, are not included in the Council’s plans, despite the statement in Lewisham’s Supplementary Planning Guidance for Forest Hill (March 2003) which says: “The Library and Pools complex need to be addressed in terms of celebrating these important buildings, creating a special place and providing improved amenity for the local community.”

English Heritage has also stated that: “They (the Pools) make a positive contribution to the streetscape and along with Holy Trinity School, Forest Hill Library and Louise House form a distinct group of buildings which reflect the Victorian enthusiasm for education and health reform.”

Members attending the recent Sydenham Society Annual General Meeting were shown ideas for two new pools, a refurbished Louise House and Superintendent’s House (the frontage block of the swimming pool), a public square and residential housing which would help cross-subsidise the pools/leisure facility. There was an overwhelming majority in favour of these ideas which have been put to the council for consideration.

The council say that they are committed to good design for the replacement of all buildings on this important town site, a focal point for Forest Hill, and have earmarked £7.5m for the redevelopment of two pools (a 25m 6-lane pool, and a learner pool), together with a fitness suite. A cross-subsidy of £2m from sale of development land does leave a question in many minds about how much £9.5m can buy in terms of quality design.

The council say that housing on this site could be of high, medium or low density, but as yet there is no indication of what this means in terms of numbers of residential properties, nor of the type of housing, ie high or low rise, also one, two or three bedroom units.

The services are currently being decommissioned and the pools are being drained. Design and feasibility work is underway and a historical survey with a view to retaining some of the original features (the keystone and the griffins) and incorporating these into the new building is also underway. A local public consultation is planned for June at Forest Hill Library. However, there will be no designs available before the planned demolition takes place, which leaves many local residents concerned about what might eventually be planned. A design competition before the pools are demolished has been ruled out as the project is deemed to be too small to justify such a venture.

The Sydenham Society will continue to campaign for the retention of the Victorian buildings which we believe are an important part of the Forest Hill streetscape and which, converted and refurbished will, we believe, provide a sustainable use for these sound structures which have played such an important part in the social history of the area for over 120 years.

Pedestrian Improvements to Sydenham Road

Plans to improve the pedestrian environment of Sydenham Road are finally emerging and the second round of public consultation has begun. There are a number of major changes which are likely to be introduced. These are:

  1. At Cobb’s Corner. A light controlled pedestrian crossing proposed for Kirkdale (replacing the existing Zebra); at Westwood Hill junction with Lawrie Park Road a signal controlled crossing with a pedestrian phase, replacing the existing Zebra. Both Westwood Hill and Kirkdale signals are intended to help provide better control/balance of traffic flow approaching Cobbs Corner from the west.
  2. Spring Hill junction with Cobbs Corner. Raised pavement across the junction – there has also been discussion between planners and developers’ architects as to how the plans for redevelopment of Greyhound site fit in with the plans for improvement of the pedestrian environment in this area.
  3. A new roundabout will be constructed!!!!
  4. In the Kirkdale Bookshop area. New (unsignalled) road islands to aid pedestrians crossing.
  5. The zebra crossing on the railway bridge will go.
  6. Venner Road. The proposals include moving the point at which Venner Road is closed at its junction with Sydenham Road in order to create a local open space with, possibly, 3-4 longer term parking spaces for businesses at the rear of this area.
  7. Station Approach. The Council is in discussion with Network Rail and TfL London Rail regarding future improvements which will be exhibited / consulted upon outside the current consultation.
  8. Sydenham Road/Silverdale/Venner Road area. An enlarged raised pavement proposed across the width of Sydenham Road as part of a signal controlled pedestrian crossing. Short-term parking will be lost in this area.
  9. Newlands Park/Sydenham Road junction. A full pedestrian phased light controlled crossing is proposed (with straight pedestrian crossings on each arm). This means traffic will stop and pedestrians can even cross the road diagonally. A box junction is also planned.
  10. Bus stops. These are proving problematic in the emerging designs. It is suggested that the one outside Boots be moved nearer to Newlands Park. The bus stop outside the Post Office remains as at present.
  11. Queensthorpe/Sydenham Road junction. A decision about the treatment of this junction has yet to be determined – it could be closed to traffic; alternatively, there could be a raised pavement across this junction.
  12. Sydenham Road/ Mayow Park junction. A full pedestrian phased light controlled crossing (with straight pedestrian crossings on each arm) is proposed. This means that pedestrians can cross this junction in “one go”, and also diagonally.
  13. Short term parking spaces. There will be a loss of some short-term parking spaces on Sydenham Road although, as we go to press, this figure has not been made available.
  14. Mayow Road to Bell Green. During 2008/09 design work is planned for the remainder of Sydenham Road down to Bell Green. This will look to address a number of issues focussing on safety, but will include some pedestrian improvements of a simpler/minor nature compared to proposals west of Mayow Road
  15. Linked traffic signals. It is proposed to link the signals from Westwood Hill/Kirkdale to Mayow Road and extending the linking to Bell Green, enabling traffic movement to be managed more effectively and producing an average 20 mph traffic speed throughout the length of Sydenham Road.
  16. DeCeaux will accept the removal of the cylindrical advertising pillar outside the Post Office, subject to its replacement with a flat faced illuminated scrolling panel at a location of equivalent value. If other illuminated street advertising hoardings are removed the council will need to find alternative advertising sites. Removal of this pillar will enable this area to be made into a more attractive public open space.
  17. The main footway paving is grey concrete standard slabs, with parking bays and raised side road entries constructed in dark grey granite.
  18. If all goes to plan work on the new scheme could start in January 2009.

Public consultation has begun and continues throughout May. The scheme will also be an item discussed at the next Sydenham Assembly on Thursday 5 June. All local residents are invited to take part in the consultation and attend one of the public meetings being held at the Naborhood Centre. Questionnaires have been delivered to all residents and should be returned by 2 June.

Update on Crystal Palace Park

The Masterplan
There is still an opportunity to comment on the Masterplan and time for local park users to send in observations to Bromley Council about the proposals, favourable or otherwise. These will form part of the report to the Planning Committee in the late Autumn. Comments should be sent to Bromley Council, Civic Centre, Stockwell Close, Bromley, BR1 3UH or to planning@bromley.gov.uk quoting 07/03897/OUT.

National Sports Centre
Refurbishment works continue at the National Sports Centre (NSC). A number of new items have been discovered including additional asbestos and problems with tiles in the main pool. The cost of removing the asbestos amounts to £4.2m. These works are likely to extend the schedule a little but disruption has been minimised. Most major events planned at the NSC have been accommodated within the available facilities, or have been postponed until the building is ready. Meanwhile the relocation of the gym to another building at Crystal Palace has meant that membership of the centre has actually increased. The London Development Agency (LDA) has also made additional funds available to increase the size of the main pool to FINA Olympic standards and to carry out cosmetic work in some areas of the centre. These extra works will be completed alongside the refurbishment and are not expected to extend the schedule. The NSC is due to re-open in September.

Olympic Training Camp bid
The NSC has been included in the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games’ list of training venues for a wide variety of sports. The Pre-Games Training Camp Guide will be sent to all Olympic and Paralympic teams inviting them to base themselves at the different facilities. Sports at the NSC include: archery, athletics, swimming, diving, synchronised swimming, badminton, basketball, boxing, fencing, trampoline, handball, judo, modern pentathlon, table tennis, triathlon, indoor volleyball, weightlifting and wrestling.

Events at Crystal Place Park
Despite an offer of increased grant funding from the LDA the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has decided not to proceed with a further season of concerts as they feel the financial risk for them is too great. The Norwich Union Athletics Grand Prix will go ahead as normal and the London Youth games will also take place but some events will be transferred elsewhere due to continued asbestos removal at the NSC (see above). A Pyrotechnic Spectacular, not associated with 5 November, is also planned for later in the year.

Girl Guides Public Art Project
The Girl Guide movement began in Crystal Palace Park in 1909 and to celebrate their centenary the Girl Guide movement will be applying to Bromley Council for permission to restore the Maze by re-establishing the hedging and to introduce a permanent interaction art feature within the maze. Prior to submitting the application they will be holding public workshops with the local community as part of the consultation process.

Capel Manor College
Capel Manor Farm is open to the public from 12.00 – 4.00 weekends and between 10.30 – 2.00 and 2.00 – 4.00 during the week. It is closed on Wednesdays. Capel Manor is an educational and teaching facility and teaches animal husbandry, arboriculture and horticulture to 300 students.

The Greyhound: good news

Closed on 13 August last, protected by Conservation Area status granted on 5 September and behind dreary grey hoardings for over 6 months, the Greyhound suffered what local residents had feared most – an arson attack on Christmas Eve. Five fire engines attended to put out the fire. The hoardings hindered the Fire Brigade who had to smash their way in; the Fire Brigade also had to break a number of windows in order to vent the smoke. A Building Control officer from Lewisham Council attended and reports that the fire in the cellar destroyed the ceiling and part of the floor in the bar area. However the building is reported as being structurally sound. But now there’s good news – the following was posted on Sydenham Town website on 20 February:

Dear Sydenham residents, I write to you as a director of Wealdfrost Ltd (the owner of the Greyhound pub and adjoining land). I thought that you should all be aware that we are making all efforts to try and keep the site (especially the pub) as secure as possible. We have been to the site last Friday and this Monday. We are also speaking to some security Companies re a monitoring service. I would also like to add that we are currently speaking to the council re a new scheme for the site, which includes the retention of the pub. We will keep you updated with our progress. I look forward to hearing from you and any comments that you may have.
Kind Regards
Antony Gerrard

Forest Hill Pools back on the agenda

Since the pools were closed on health and safety grounds in March 2006 there has been little information about what was happening inside. We were told that an “intrusive survey” was being carried out before the promised refurbishment, which was due to start in early 2008.

As we go to press a report by council officers about the future of Forest Hill Pools has been tabled and is due to go to the Mayor and Cabinet meeting on 13 February. The report indicates that both pools are severely cracked across their entire width and water leakage has been measured at 3627m3 per annum, equivalent to 10 times the water volume of the main pool. The implication is that the officers consider refurbishment of the existing building, to allow a reasonable lifecycle of 20 years, is not economic.

Other options have been put forward. One is to consider retaining the existing frontage and, behind the existing façade, build a new 25m pool and a learner pool together with a fitness suite. An alternative is to demolish the existing building together with Louise House and provide a complete new build leisure centre with 25m pool, learner pool and fitness suite and a “community facility”. The third choice is to demolish the whole complex and provide a “dry” leisure centre alongside an adult learning centre.

There has been virtually no opportunity for the local community to digest or respond to the officers’ report before it goes to the Mayor and Cabinet. However, the Sydenham Society has requested that the wider community be fully informed of the reasons for the report and kept involved in all processes from now on.

We believe that representatives of the community and user groups should be involved in the selection of architects and a “Planning for Real” exercise should be undertaken at the earliest stage to inform the designers of the hopes, dreams and fears of the community in regard to the development of Forest Hill Pools and Louise House. This, we believe, would help to achieve the best possible outcome for the provision of a great swimming pool facility that preserves the character of Forest Hill’s architectural heritage and includes the local community in the process.

Furthermore we think that public money (perhaps £5000 from the Localities Fund) should be used to employ the expertise of reputable conservation architects to prepare a report on how the much of the original architecture can be saved/integrated/ salvaged/for use in the proposals for a new/refurbished building on the pools and Louise House site.

Pools latest:
We have learned that the Mayor and Cabinet have taken the decision to demolish the existing buildings and build a new two-pool facility on the site of the Pools and Louise House. They have committed to consulting with local groups and residents with regard to the design and there is also a commitment to integrate some of the features of the existing pools building into the new design.

It is hoped that work will begin at the beginning of 2009, after the design and tender process, and that the new pool will be ready in the summer of 2010.

Crystal Palace Park masterplan

Since the plans for a 20 screen Multiplex cinema on the top site of Crystal Palace Park were withdrawn in May 2001 the future of the English Heritage Grade ll* park has been widely debated. Owned by Bromley since the demise of the Greater London Council, the park became very run down, and Bromley clearly did not have the capital or the revenue funding to repair and maintain the important features which give the park its listed designation.

In late 2003, Sport England announced that it was not prepared to renew its Lease on the 40-year old National Sports Centre (NSC) as it was no longer fit for purpose. With no money to upgrade this facility Bromley gave notice that the NSC would close for good in March 2004.

With London preparing to launch a bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, and with a lack of sports facilities throughout London the necessity of retaining a refurbished NSC as a training facility for elite athletes was obvious. The London Development Agency (LDA), the development and regeneration arm of the Greater London Authority, stepped in to take over the operating costs of the NSC and to work towards a Masterplan for the regeneration of the park as a whole.

Since March 2004 the LDA has engaged with local residents in what has been a long and, at times, tortuous dialogue. There have been two major consultations held within the park and a major exhibition in the old booking hall at Crystal Palace station to coincide with the submission of the Masterplan proposals to Bromley, last November.

The Sydenham Society has taken part in the dialogue process and Pat Trembath, on behalf of the Society, has attended the Park Working Group which has met regularly since 2002 to discuss, originally with Bromley and then with the LDA and its team of design consultants, the future shape of the park. Regular reports on the process have been carried in the newsletter over the past five years and information about the consultations and exhibitions has been provided and members have been encouraged to see the ideas for themselves. On September 18, last year, on the eve of the proposals being submitted to Bromley, the Society held a public meeting at which the Park Project Manager for the LDA, Roger Frith, gave a presentation to interested members and answered questions.

The Masterplan, some 10,000 pages long, with environment, traffic and sustainability impact statements and Business Plan is a daunting document. It can be found on the Crystal Palace Park website. The plans are very ambitious and may not all come to fruition. To regenerate the park will cost between £40m – £67m, certainly money that Bromley cannot even contemplate affording on one park within its borough.

Members of the Executive of the Sydenham Society have yet to discuss the Society’s formal response to the Masterplan. Overall our initial feelings are to welcome the plans for the park. There are concerns which we will register particularly about the proposals for housing on the Rockhills (Caravan Club) site.

The park is Metropolitan Open Land and the surrounding area has Conservation Area status. The decision about the suitability of any and all of the proposals will need to be taken, initially by Bromley as the Planning Authority, and ultimately by the Planning Inspectorate, as it is anticipated that there is likely to be a public inquiry. The LDA has said that if planning permission is granted it will take a 125-year lease on the Park and will seek out a suitable form of park governance. If permission is not granted the park will remain the responsibility of Bromley.

The consultation period has started and officially runs for 42 days, although Bromley has stated that it will continue to take comments and objections until early summer. Individual comments about the plans can be made to Bromley Council, Civic Centre, Bromley BR1 3UH, quoting 07/03897/OUT.

The Greyhound public house campaign

A Greyhound Public House has stood at the entrance to Sydenham Town since 1719 and it is Sydenham’s oldest pub. The current building dates from 1874 and contained some fine original fittings, including glorious ceramic tiled wall panels which survived in the former hotel entrance, together with a stained glass roof, a mosaic floor and the carved wooden screen stating “The Greyhound Hotel” above what was the reception area.

A recent listed building application to English Heritage was turned down. Of the tiled lobby English Heritage state: “Surviving intact, the tiled drinking corridor might have been of sufficient interest to counterbalance the absence of original features elsewhere… however, the owners have begun to demolish the most significant element of the building”.

The Greyhound is a ‘stand alone’ building with a large car park, part of which was sold to developers about three years ago. Two planning applications for blocks of flats were submitted to Lewisham, but were not of a good enough design quality for an important town centre site.
In late March members of the Society met with the developers, the Milford Group, who advised that they had purchased the whole site and stated that they wanted to demolish the pub and build 70 flats on the site. They said they were prepared to dismantle the tiled room and give it to a tile museum. Despite protests they said that the pub had no ‘planning’ protection and they could do what they liked. Fortunately, planning officers at Lewisham turned down these first proposals before they got to public consultation stage.

Members attending the Society’s Annual General Meeting on 27 March gave the Executive Committee unanimous support for any campaign to save the Greyhound from demolition. Local councillors indicated that they, too, were in favour of retaining the building.

The Sydenham Society had to consider urgently what it could do to preserve this pub, a major part of the area’s heritage, and a strategy was developed.

A Conservation Area proposal for the Cobbs Corner area was already being worked up in order to augment the ideas being developed by the Council and Transport for London to improve the pedestrian environment of Sydenham Road and this was submitted to Lewisham in mid July.The planning officers were also alerted to the ’tiled room’ and, having inspected this, they asked the developers to retain the pub within their plans for the site.The developers refused to consider this.

On 30 July, Milford gave staff at the Greyhound two weeks notice that the pub was closing down. On August 9, members of the Society met the developers for a third time and this time Councillor Chris Best was present. At this meeting the developers again refused to give an undertaking not to demolish until planning permission was in place. After this meeting the Society’s full campaign strategy was employed and several local residents, not members, came forward to offer assistance.

The local press were alerted and were sympathetic to the cause. A Sydenham Society petition was launched in the Kirkdale Bookshop opposite the Greyhound and before long several other retailers in Sydenham Road asked to be able to collect signatures, too. The Society’s Autumn newsletter deadline was held back to let members know of the campaign.The petition (still open, and part of the Sydenham Society’s objection to any future application for demolition) collected over 1500 signatures in its first month.

Others joined our campaign. A local PR consultant alerted BBC London South-east and ITV London News, and a local resident, a member of CAMRA, requested English Heritage to consider ‘spot listing’ the Greyhound.

Three days before the pub closed both BBC and ITV local news came to Sydenham to highlight the closure of the Greyhound – the ninth pub locally to suffer this fate in six months at the hands of property developers. The fact that there was a big CAMRA gathering at Earl’s Court helped serve the cause! BBC covered the story at lunchtime and in their 6.30pm news and ITV in their 6.00pm news. Radio London and other local stations also carried the story.

Milford’s continued repetition to the press of their intentions to demolish the building assisted the campaign. It was agreed that the press should be encouraged to keep the story running as it was felt that the Milford Group would not want to carry out their demolition threats in the full glare of the media. For three weeks following the Greyhound’s closure the South London Press, the Mercury and the News Shopper carried articles and letters supporting the retention of the Greyhound.

On 5 September Lewisham Council formally considered our proposal for Conservation Area status based on the area around Cobbs Corner and to the great surprise (and delight) of the Sydenham Society agreed with our proposals. The Greyhound also received formal listing by the Council as being a building of architectural and historic interest. This was reported on ITV London News, the local press and on local radio.

The story is not over. No one knows what will happen next or what Milford will do with the site. The Sydenham Society’s Greyhound group of campaigners is ready to continue the fight…

Sydenham Road environment improvements

The first indication of how the environment and safety of Sydenham Road can be improved was described to a packed room on 20 September at the Sydenham Community Regeneration Partnership (SCRP) meeting, chaired by Cllr Chris Best.

Ian Plowright, Lewisham’s Project Manager, explained the draft designs for improving the junctions along the road from above Cobbs Corner to Mayow Road. It is anticipated that a roundabout will remain, although it will be re-designed and re-sited. The crossings at Cobbs Corner will remain where they are and a much wider ‘Puffin’ crossing, with pedestrian phased lights, will replace the existing zebra crossing on the railway bridge.

The ‘sheep-pen’ type crossings above Newlands Park and also at the Mayow Road crossroads will be removed. New light-controlled pedestrian crossings will be introduced at Sydenham Road /Newlands Park to allow for a pedestrian phase across this dangerous junction, and the bus stop will be relocated to allow for more space for traffic at this junction.

However, disappointingly, no additional bus stops further up Sydenham Road are included in the draft plan as had been hoped for at the public consultation.

At Sydenham Road/Mayow Road new crossings will also allow pedestrians to cross in one ‘go’.

The full set of draft plans, which should include the de-cluttering of our pavements, will be published during November when a further round of consultation will commence.

Ian Plowright will provide additional information at the next on 6 December as part of the public consultation process.