Thursday 26 May 2011

Pulhamite in Sydenham

In 2008 English Heritage published a guide to the work of Pulham & Co, who created artificial garden landscapes including grottos, temples and follys. The company developed cement that bore a striking resemblance to natural stone and called it Pulhamite.

Pulhams produced a prospectus in 1877 listing the gardens they had worked on up to that date including six in Sydenham and two in Forest Hill. Most of these gardens can be identified, and one or two Pulhamie structures have survived. In each case the site name, completion date and client is given. With the name of the client it is relatively easy to identify where these grottos and follys were built.

“Hill Wood, Sydenham Hill; 1863, 1866; Alderman Stone”
This is the folly in Sydenham Hill Woods. Alderman David Henry Stone, one time Lord Mayor of London, lived at Fairwood, 53 Sydenham Hill from 1864 (when the house was built) until about 1869. Fairwood was immediately to the south of Beechgrove.

“(Site in) Sydenham Hill, SE26 (may be Kingswood House?),London; 1870; L Clark”
This was not Kingswood, it was actually Beechmount, later Hitherwood, 19 Sydenham Hill near the lane that goes past the old reservoir to College Road (?Rock Hills). It was occupied by Latimer Clark, a civil engineer, between about 1864 and 1882.

“(Site in) Sydenham Hill, London SE26; 1874, 1875; Dr Barry”
This is the surviving Fountain House, 17 Sydenham Hill which still has an extraordinary fountain surviving the back garden. "Dr Barry" was Dr John Boyle Barry, a surgeon who lived at the house between 1871 and 1879.

“(Site in) Sydenham, London SE26; 1869; H Gover”
This was the surviving Lyncombe, 1 Crescent Wood Road, occupied by Henry Gover, a solicitor, from before 1871 until 1895. There is something that might be the remains of a folly visible from the path to Sydenham Hill station.

“(Site in) Sydenham, London SE26; 1869; W J Mace”
This was somewhere on the Lawrie Park estate,but I'm not sure where.

“(Site in) Sydenham Hill, London SE26; 1869; F Peek”
Francis Peek lived at 21 Sydenham Hill until 1869 then moved to 7 Crescent Wood Road so I suppose it could be either of those.

“(Site in) Forest Hill, London SE23; 1865; J Fielding”
This was The Grange, Honor Oak Road (between Benson and Ewelme Roads) where John Crossley Fielding lived between 1854 and 1878. He also used Owen Jones to decorate his drawing room.

“(Site in) Forest Hill, London SE23; 1869; H Moser”
Henry Moser lived at Westwood Lodge, 70 Honor Oak Road, from about 1862 until 1872. The site is now occupied by a block of flats.

History of Beechgrove, Sydenham Hill

Beechgrove was near Cox's Walk, opposite Lammas Green. A stretch of garden wall along Sydenham Hill survives. The house was built about 1862. The first occupant, William Patterson, was an East India merchant and he called his new house “Singapore”. After a couple of years he decided “Beechgrove” was more appropriate. Patterson lived there until his death in 1898.

The next two occupants have entries in the Dictionary of National Biography. By 1911 Samuel Herbert Benson had moved from London Road, Forest Hill to Beechgrove. Benson had been invited by John Lawson Johnston (another local person) to become the advertising agent for Bovril. He is regarded as the originator of modern advertising campaigns by using advertisements to engage potential buyers rather than merely informing them. His company was eventually absorbed by Ogilvy & Mather who were, allegedly, the inspiration for the advertising agency in the television series “Mad Men”.

Benson was followed at Beechgrove by Sir William Watson Cheyne who lived there from 1919 to 1921, a distinguished surgeon who was assistant to Joseph Lister and, later, President of the Royal College of Surgeons. During his time at Beechgrove he also served as an MP.

In 1922 Frederick Aubrey Norris moved into Beechgrove. He was an engineer whose firm, F A Norris & Co, made iron staircases, particularly fire escapes. In 1930 Norris moved to Eliot Lodge, Kirkdale and Miss Rose Ellis moved into Beechgrove. She had moved out by 1932 when Lionel Logue and his family moved in. In time Logue’s children left home, his wife died, the house became too large and expensive to maintain and, in April 1947, Logue moved to a flat in Knightsbridge.

The house seems to have been unoccupied until, on 17 June 1952, it opened as Beechgrove Home for the Aged Sick, run by the Red Cross to provide nursing care for patients who had been discharged from hospital but still needed medical care. When the Home closed in 1960 the house remained unoccupied again until it was demolished in 1983.

Several sources suggest that the folly in Sydenham Hill Woods was once in the grounds of Beechgrove. This was not the case. It was in the grounds of Fairwood, the house immediately to the south of Beechgrove. Fairwood was built in about 1862 and the first occupant was Alderman David Henry Stone, Lord Mayor of London. Shortly after moving to Fairwood he commissioned James Pulham & Son to build the folly. Pulhamite garden ornaments are now highly regarded and a number have been listed by English Heritage. There are at least two other surviving examples hidden away in gardens along Sydenham Hill.

Beechgrove now is little more than an overgrown pile of rubble although a section of the garden wall survives to its full height along the boundary with Fairwood and remains of the greenhouses can be seen along the boundary with Lapsewood to the north.

Sydenham & The King’s Speech

At the Academy Awards this year (2011) “The King’s Speech” won four Oscars including best film, and best leading actor for Colin Firth as George VI. The film tells the story of how speech therapist Lionel Logue helped Prince Albert, later George VI, overcome a speech defect that made public speaking difficult and embarrassing. A book, “The King’s Speech: how one man saved the British Monarchy”* has also recently been published. The man who saved the monarchy was Lionel Logue, and he lived on Sydenham Hill.

Logue was an Australian, born in Adelaide in 1880. He and his wife Myrtle paid a brief visit to England in about 1910, leaving their youngest son, Laurie Paris Logue, in the care of Myrtle’s mother. The trip was partly funded by Lionel’s uncle Paris Nesbit, a cousin of Edith Nesbit author of “The Railway Children”. While in England Lionel and Myrtle visited Edit at Well Hall, Eltham (she had previously lived in Lewisham and Grove Park).

In 1924 Lionel and his family came to live permanently in England. Shortly after they arrived Lionel leased a consulting room in Harley Street and set up in practice as a speech therapist. Apparently he charged higher fees for his wealthy patients to subsidise the poorer ones.

Lionel, Myrtle and their three sons moved to Beechgrove, 111 Sydenham Hill in 1932. The house was large and imposing; when it was put up for auction in 1921 it was described as having “10 bed and dressing rooms, two bath rooms, four reception rooms, electric light, ‘phone, 4½ acres with tennis lawn, woodland etc”. In a letter to his brother-in-law in 1941 Lionel said the house "had 25 rooms and 5 bathrooms”. The house was clearly extended during the inter-war years.

According to Myrtle, the house became “a calling point” for visiting Australians, and Australian servicemen were billeted there during the war. One recalls: “…three of us went to a doctor and Mrs Logue. She was a wonderful lady and he was a wonderful person... a speech therapist helping the King. He was quite a fellow. They lived down at Sydenham and we hopped in the tram… spent quite a few nights with them… that was when we first heard the air raid sirens go and hustled down into the basement of the house to wait till the all clear”. Logue served as an air raid warden during the war.

Although there was an oft repeated rumour that George VI visited a house on Sydenham Hill for speech therapy it seemed unlikely that a reigning monarch would deign to travel to south London for such purposes. However, from their first meeting Logue insisted that any treatment would only work if he and the future king met on equal terms. This meant that all sessions would take place either in Logue’s consulting rooms or his home. Although Lionel was highly discrete about his dealings with George VI, Myrtle was less so and on one occasion she told an interviewer that “His Majesty frequently comes to our house [in Sydenham] – he is so charming”.

During the war Beechgrove, like so many other houses, was proving difficult to maintain. Lionel wrote: “Beechgrove has been terribly hard to keep going as there is no labour”. They had to get a sheep to keep the lawn under control.

Myrtle died on 22nd June 1945. Lionel lived at Beechgrove for a further two years but the house was too large and held too many memories. He sold the Beechgrove in April 1947 and moved to a flat in Knightsbridge. He died on 12th April 1953.

Sydenham’s links with “The King’s Speech” do not end there; Michael Gambon (George V) lived in Sunderland Road during the 1970s and Timothy Spall (Winston Churchill) still lives in this area.

*“The King's Speech” by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi (Quercus, 2011)