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Sunday Times Property Section

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Brian Pentecost
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Posted on Monday, 26 July, 2004 - 07:55 am:   

A very positive page in Sunday Times yesterday on SE 23.
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Posted on Monday, 26 July, 2004 - 10:15 am:   

Do you know which section?
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Posted on Monday, 26 July, 2004 - 10:20 am:   

Victoria O'Brien explains why a fashionable young design duo loves the unlikely southeast suburb of Forest Hill, where they have converted a 1960s flat into a cutting-edge home

Some people are gifted in seeing the potential of run-down houses, but few of us would give a second look to a plain-faced, two-bedroom flat in a 1960s former council block in south London.

For Rhonda Drakeford and Harry Woodrow, however, a slightly down-at-heel, unmodernised flat in a surprisingly suburban corner of Forest Hill, SE23, was just what they were after. “This place was all sold on the potential of what you can see from the flat — the garden and the view,” says Drakeford. “The estate agents tried to underplay the fact that it was a local authority 1960s building, but in fact I wouldn’t want a Victorian conversion — that sort of space just doesn’t suit all my stuff, and if a place is converted into flats is doesn’t have the same open-plan layout as somewhere like this.”

The building was constructed in 1962 on the site of a grand family house, and the garden at the back of the property is full of lush greenery with well-established parkland, including a 100-year-old oak tree. A recent attempt by developers to buy part of this green space was quashed when local residents kicked up a fuss, and it was discovered that a rare grass grew there. Now horses graze in the paddock.

Drakeford and Woodrow bought their third-floor, two-bedroom flat three years ago for £125,000. It has a 22ft open-plan lounge and dining-room space, a small balcony and original parquet flooring in the entrance hall. Luckily, the couple has a knack for seeing the potential in what could be disastrous retro interior-design details. They were brave enough to see past the floral wallpaper and undignified country-style kitchen cabinets, though not many of us would have had the courage to keep the original cork wall in the kitchen. “The neighbours still ask us, ‘What? Haven’t you got rid of that awful cork wall yet?’, but that was one of the main reasons I bought this place,” says Drakeford.

She and Woodrow run a graphic design consultancy, Multistorey, with clients as diverse as Marks & Spencer Lifestore, Burberry, the INK contemporary furniture store and their local East Dulwich Deli. They are also part of this weekend’s Victoria and Albert Museum designer’s Village Fete, with a stall recreating famous paparazzi shots with cut-outs for visitors’ heads. Until they moved to Forest Hill, they rented space in Oval, Kennington, which doubled as their office, although Drakeford admits this live-work scenario had its drawbacks: “Sometimes the only other person we’d see for days was a courier coming to deliver a package — I’d almost feel like inviting him in for a cup of tea and a quick natter.”

Drakeford and Woodrow’s office is now based in Shoreditch. Woodrow cycles the seven-mile journey in just less than half an hour. It takes about the same time for Drakeford to get into the office on her motorbike. They are five minutes’ walk from Forest Hill station, where direct trains to London Bridge take 13 minutes. A similar two-bedroom flat in the same block as Drakeford and Woodrow’s sold last month for £191,000 (a £66,000 rise over three years).

Victorian two-bed conversions in the same area, with direct access to a garden, are still available for less than £200,000.

The affordability of this area stems from the fact that — despite being next to East Dulwich and, as its name suggests, full of trees and with magnificent views — Forest Hill remains somewhat sidelined. There are a lot of double-fronted Victorian villas, most of them converted into flats, but these are poorly maintained with peeling paint and neglected front gardens. Other streets are full of manicured lawns, 1930s semis, 1960s and 1970s bungalows, with a few mock Tudor details thrown in for good measure. There are also some art deco gems. Here, on the rim of the basin of London (which is why there are such magnificent views), it really is a case of suburb meets inner city. The Horniman Museum is the tour de force of Forest Hill — a splendid turn-of-the-century building, with a Grade II-listed conservatory in 16 acres of gardens.

It’s the vistas, however, that sold the location to Drakeford. “The value that having a space with big windows adds to your life is immeasurable,” she says. “We sleep with the windows open and you can feel the sun beaming in on your face as you lie in bed. It’s fantastic.”

Drakeford tends to her tomato plants and Italian lettuces on the roof (reached by an original concertina loft ladder in the hallway). From here you have stunning views, including the flapping flags of the Houses of Parliament, the Swiss Re and NatWest towers in the City, Canary Wharf, tracts of the Kent countryside and the masts of Crystal Palace. You could see more if the leylandii in the front garden of a neighbouring semi could be cut down, but then that’s suburbia for you.
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Posted on Tuesday, 03 August, 2004 - 10:01 pm:   

I'm the new owner of one of these flats as mentioned above. I was quite surprised to find the article just a couple of weeks after I'd moved in!

I agree with the author - we are on top of the hill with superb views, it is very quiet and we sometimes think we're in deep countryside when we sit on the balcony overlooking the gardens...

We moved here from West London and think that Forest Hill has a lot going for it. People are so much more friendly and you get a lot more for your money.

You can read the article on-line at,,2080-13649-1192344-13649,00.html (but they don't have all the photos from the original article).
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Posted on Wednesday, 04 August, 2004 - 11:20 am:   

Hi Jonty
I am a bit puzzled which block this is.? I cannot recall seeing horses grazing anywhere 5 mins walk from FH Station
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Posted on Wednesday, 04 August, 2004 - 12:49 pm:   

top of Canonbie Road so a bit more than a 5 minute walk (especially with the killer hill to climb!) I've seen the horses many times. Only real inaccuracy about the article is that the building was never local authority - it just loooks from the outside like it was.
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Posted on Wednesday, 04 August, 2004 - 01:23 pm:   

Hi Bosco
I agree 5 mins to FH station a bit tight but double the time back. Nice location though
Hilltop General
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Posted on Wednesday, 04 August, 2004 - 02:41 pm:   

Presumably this is Barr Beacon? Never realised it had horses behind mind?

Not a bad location but there's a few really scruffy houses up there that the owners really need to get a grip on - eg whose is that garage woth all the rubbixh pouring out?!

I can see how they might have thought it was LA but ex-LA would have cost less than £125000 back then so I was a bit puzzled too when I read it. I thought it must be one of the blocks on the N End of HO Road / Wood Vale
Hilltop General
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Posted on Wednesday, 04 August, 2004 - 02:43 pm:   

On the other hand their neighbours were lucky to get £191 - seems to have gone a bit flat recently? Don't know why I care though as not planning to move any time shortly.
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Posted on Wednesday, 04 August, 2004 - 10:02 pm:   

Well, I always said there would be a price crash just a soon as I bought! Seriously I'm not sure I paid too much, since if you look at, there are plenty others for the same sort of price, in less nice areas of FH, including many quite small conversions (I think I looked around most of them).

Interesting that people concur that the property was never LA. Some residents in the block have been private owners for a long time and I've heard that it was originally destined as a luxury development - until the money ran out!

These sort of articles are great for the area. I should know as it was one of the Evening Standard articles back in April that first introduced me to FH. Like most people on this site, I can see the area starting to rejuvenate. Perhaps it will be the next East Dulwich? Whatever, I don't intend to sell up for a while yet...
R & H
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Posted on Monday, 20 September, 2004 - 04:16 pm:   

I am the person interviewed by the Times for this feature, and to confirm, it is Barr Beacon at the top of Canonbie Road. It was never Local Authority [The journalist was mistaken on this]. There is an old Covered Victorian Reservoir to the back of the property that Liphook Crescent also backs onto. This is quite a large patch of land that has never been built on. As I was quoted in the article, there was plans to build on this land which was highly opposed by local residents and members of the Tewksbury Lodge Estate Residents Association. The plans were denied due mainly to the rare grasses being found there. However as the owner has let the land to Horse grazing, we are worried that the grasses will be destroyed, leaving us with less of an arguement to the next planning application. The owner of this land also owns a property on Canonbie Road which mysteriously burnt down a few years back, leaving a perfect road width space for access to the land behind. hhmmm... watch this space.
Hilltop General
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Posted on Monday, 20 September, 2004 - 04:33 pm:   

Always wondered why that gap...was waiting to find a hitherto-unknown rich aunt had died so as to buy the site with the inheritance and put up a house.

Would be a shame if it got built on. Those mysterious pockets of space define the area's character. There is a load more space behind the flats on Honor Oak Road. Unfortunately the bit behind Dunoon has now got a load of overpriced houses on.

Need to keep an eye on these dodgy types. Don't think they should be allowed to leave unsightly bombsites like on Canonbie in the interim either. Anyone know where we can get a load of rare newts or something to establish on the site?!
Steve Grindlay
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Posted on Monday, 20 September, 2004 - 06:25 pm:   

As an old man, Walter de la Mare wrote a poem, Times's Chariot, based largely on distant memories of his childhood. He describes an underground reservoir: "...those steps of stone - in the green paddock where I played alone... there ... in brooding darkness lay the waters of a reservoir" and so on.

As a child, between about 1877 and 1887, de la Mare lived at what is now 61 Bovill Road, directly across the railway line from the reservoir, so it is highly likely that this is the reservoir he was describing.

His description is evocative, and captures the atmosphere of the reservoir entrance and area around it.

Incidentally, as he refers to the "green paddock" the presence of horses might not be recent.
Hilltop General
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Posted on Monday, 20 September, 2004 - 10:37 pm:   

..or it could have been Nunhead or somewhere a little further afield? But let's stick that one in the book for when we need some arguments for them leaving it alone.

Any more creative strategies for making the site unusable?
Steve Grindlay
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Posted on Tuesday, 21 September, 2004 - 09:17 am:   

You are right, HT, it could be one of several reservoirs, but I still think it is "highly likely" that it is this one. The Beachcroft reservoir (under the golf course) wasn't opened until 1907 and those near Nunhead cemetery were, I believe (and I'm happy to be corrected on this), uncovered. The poet is describing a building in a paddock, with stone steps leading to a door guarding the entrance to the waters. Does any other reservoir fit that description? My main difficulty is that the Honor Oak Road reservoir was completed in the year the de la Mares left Bovill Road, 1887. Over sixty years later he described the door as "old". Poetic licence, perhaps.

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