Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Lavender Hill Mob Rule

The history of south London may stretch back to pre-Roman times, but it was during the Victorian period that London, and significantly the city south of the Thames, expanded, with the development of the railways and the unprecedented building boom. Today this part of town can be architecturally defined by rows of terraced houses constructed in soft yellow London stock or warm red brick dating from the 1860s to the 1910s.  South London has its more “choice” areas, but what saves it, in my opinion, is the stylish and well-built Victorian architecture.

An important area south of the river is Clapham Junction. This is the busiest railway station in the UK. It is also surrounded by 19th and early 20th century developments that consequently grew up around this strategic location. Clunking great railway stations may not be your idea of beauty, but I have to admit I love our industrial built heritage.

The station is on one corner of a cross roads linking the bustling Lavender Hill and St John’s Hill with St John’s and Falcon Roads. These streets are full of shops, pubs and restaurants interspersed with residential flats and houses and virtually all the buildings are Victorian.

So I watched the news on Monday evening through my fingers, seeing this area under attack from the looters and arsonists. At the time I prayed that the Debenhams department store – otherwise known as the Arding and Hobbs building (built by James Gibson in 1910) would not be torched. It is an iconic building in the area and one that ironically replaced an earlier building that had burned down. My prayers were heard but I forgot to also ask for the range of buildings across the road to be saved from the mob on Lavender Hill.

"Arding & Hobbs" Lavender Hill

242-272 Lavender Hill

242-272 Lavender Hill is a striking range of mainly of 4 storey Victorian Gothic buildings that scale the incline of Lavender Hill. There is a similar range reflected on nearby St John’s Road. The first and second floors unusually are three windows across. Most pleasing on the first floor are the decorative stone tympana above the glazing. Look above the modern shop fronts and you can see their beauty.

I hope 270 Lavender Hill, the building that was set alight can be returned to some semblance of former glory. I know we have the skills and craftsmen in this country to do so. Whether the money is there to do so is another matter.

But as a final thought, I find it ironic that these buildings stood through two world wars, IRA bombs and urban wear and tear relatively unscathed …. until this week.