Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Walking New Cross (1): Lausanne Road, Dennetts Road and the Somerville Estate

I am not promising to follow the Herculean efforts of those across the world who have walked every street in their town, but since I spend a lot of time with the dog up and down the streets of New Cross I am going to make a start with a street by street stroll - starting off in the Western border lands.

Lausanne Road is a double border – between SE14 (New Cross) and SE15 (Peckham/Nunhead) and between the Boroughs of Southwark and Lewisham, whose different coloured dustbins face each other across the street. The pub on the road has followed the Lausanne theme, calling itself the Swiss Tavern. Opposite, the council housing blocks (including Walter Green House) cover the site where the South East London Synagogue was based in a hut in 1890s.

There is a former jam factory at no.73, now an artists studio called Jamworks. At the tip of Evelina Road there is a row of businesses including a scrap metal dealers where Camberwell sculpture students are sometimes taken on a trip to learn where to source cheap materials; Shear Class, known locally as Mandy’s hairdressers; and of course there’s Fantasy Tattooing whose owner's American police car does indeed add an element of fantasy to this busy road. There must be people all over the world with a permanent reminder on their flesh of their visit to this part of South East London, me included courtesy of Swedish Tommy who was working there on a visit from Scandinavia when I went in one day ten years ago.

But strictly speaking this is SE15, only a small stretch of Lausanne Road near the Queens Road junction is marked as SE14. Cutting in from Lausanne Road via Mona Road, the first road fully in SE14 is Dennetts Road. The top end of Victorian terraced housing edges up to the Telegraph Hill conservation area, the bottom end is Lewisham Council’s Somerville Estate. Two former pubs seem to have served their last pints – the Rising Sun on the corner of Rutts Terrace is now housing and the Earl of Derby seems to have been being converted into something (not sure what) for a couple of years.

‘Mr Lewisham: A Life of Les Stannard’ by Helen Tomkins records that Les (1919 – 1996), a lifelong South London activist in the Communist Party, trade unions and later Lewisham Pensioners Forum, was born at 15 Rutts Terrace. The book recalls that ‘during World War 1 the Rutts Terrace residents used to gather in the Rising Sun every evening and prepare the vegetables for their evening meal while they had a drink’. Les Stannard and his brothers attended Waller Road School (now Edmund Waller Primary), the playground of which backed on their garden, and his mum would bring out cups of cocoa and leave them by the fence for them. These old houses on Rutts Terrace have long since been demolished.

The council housing includes a couple of blocks and garages with the inevitable ‘no ball games’ signs and a little maze of cul de sacs and alleyways: Swallow Close, Wild Goose Drive, Wellington Close. The (1970s?) low rise brick buildings include Somerville Sheltered Housing, presumably for older people, and a community centre – the Barnes Wallis Centre – with Errol Williams’s popular and well established Tae Kwon Do club and a children’s nursery (Stars of Hope).

Odd to have a community centre named after a weapons designer, even if it was a bomb that bounced on water – yes he was the man behind the bouncing bomb featured in the famous Second World War movie The Dambusters. There is a plaque for him elsewhere in New Cross Road.

At the bottom of the estate on Queens Road is Somerville Adventure Playground, which has struggled valiantly on shoestring funding for years since it opened in 1971. A rough and tumble playscape of rope swings and slides improvised from tyres and telegraph poles, it’s the kind of place I loved when I was a kid. Murals of cartoon characters remind me of my friend Colin Brown who painted some of them with the kids when he worked there – yes there is a corner of New Cross where the Simpsons are publicly celebrated.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just recently someone sent me a copy of a house for sale in Dennetts Roadf - abslutely staggered at the price - I was born in No. 18 - since knocked down
I have been reading your comments and it really has taken me down memory lane - lived in Dennetts Road and roamed about the streets of this area with a small (respectable) gang of friendes - around the era of 1945-50 when we were moved on to Brockley.
Sop remember the Rising Sun (or FReemans as it was called in our family) my grandmother would regularly send someone up to "Freemans" with a jug for a daily dose of Guinness ! - you for your walk around the much loved area - went to school in Waller Road School and later moved on to Askes Hatcham - now a very old layd of 79 but so many happy memories of Dennetts Road.

Jean Butt

Transpontine said...

Good to hear from you Jean, there's been a few more changes since I wrote that. The old Earl of Derby pub is now open again as 'The Telegraph at the Earl of Derby'.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Swallow close..do you know the history of the before that?