Landscapes At Risk

More Sites at Risk

Chris Sumner writes: The EH Register tells part of the story, but there are also other significant sites at risk, and I want to flag up three of them not mentioned by EH.

The Jolly Boatman Site

Hampton Court Palace (in LB Richmond upon Thames), the historic Tudor and Baroque royal palace, set in a grade-I registered historic landscape and a major international tourist attraction, has the misfortune to look across the River Thames to the Surrey Borough of Elmbridge.

The Jolly Boatman site
The sight greeting visitors leaving Hampton Court station
Photo: Chris Sumner

For the last ten years and more Elmbridge has been encouraging the construction of a four-storey hotel and flats on the site of the former Jolly Boatman (a small inconsequential modern café building destroyed by fire some years back) and the car park adjoining Hampton Court Station. The station building (unlisted but in the conservation area) is a potentially attractive building of red brick, designed in 1848 by Sir William Tite to complement the palace, to which it still delivers a steady stream of trippers.

The unwanted but regrettably approved riverside redevelopment with its dull neo-Georgian motel facing Hampton Court has not happened and seems increasingly unlikely to happen, and the developers have allowed the site to become an eyesore, cynically refusing offers from Historic Royal Palaces to landscape the site pending any development. Next year, if the predictions are to be believed, the eyes of the world will be on London and the Olympics - so what will the Japanese, Americans, Russians, whoever, who find their way from Stratford to Hampton Court think when they leave the station (after a slow, desultory and expensive journey from Waterloo) and are faced with a disgraceful rubbish tip of broken concrete and discarded food wrappers and tins and bottles? They will think that the developers deserve a boot up the backside and that the local planning authority needs to tell them to show some civic pride.

When at the beginning of the last century the adjacent downstream area had become a motley hutment known locally, and one supposes ironically, as Venice on Thames, it was seen as a reproach and acquired by the Ministry of Works and cleared of development and turned into a public park to protect the setting of the palace and its gardens. By publishing a planning brief encouraging excessive development of the sensitive Jolly Boatman site, Elmbridge Council has inflated the land's ‘hope value’ and made its public or private philanthropic acquisition as open space an unlikely if not impossible dream.

Good news on the Jolly Boatman site

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Seething Wells

A mile or so downstream from Hampton Court Station, where the benighted borough of Elmbridge segues into the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, is the site known as Seething Wells. This is the former pumping works and filter beds built from 1852 onwards by the Lambeth Waterworks Company and the Chelsea Waterworks Company (which became the Metropolitan Water Board in 1903), and constructed to extract drinking water from above the tidal limits of the Thames.

Seething Wells (Hugh Venables)
Seething Wells filter beds (Hugh Venables) / CC BY-SA 2.0

The site is of great interest and importance for a number of reasons. The major buildings, most of which are listed, lie to the south of the Portsmouth Road and have been converted to various uses including accommodation for Kingston University students. The redundant filter beds lie between the Portsmouth Road and the river and are designated as a conservation area, Metropolitan Open Land (the urban equivalent of Green Belt land), and an Area of Nature Conservation Importance.

In 1999, proposals to develop the filter beds site for blocks of flats were refused following two public inquiries. In March this year an Environmental Impact Assessment scoping report was submitted in advance of a mooted planning application for the construction of a leisure marina of up to 90 berths, up to 70 floating homes (of three storeys), 15 residential moorings, a restaurant of up to 850 square metres, 225 car parking spaces (of which about one half would be covered), a heritage/education centre, and nature reserve. A new lock would provide access to and from the river, and the water level within the basin would be below Thames level except in times of flood, when the basin would accommodate floodwaters. The scoping report is accompanied by an indicative plan only, and the outline proposals are currently under discussion with the local and national planning authorities.

The site is within the Thames Landscape Strategy - Hampton to Kew - and the Thames Special Policy areas, and also faces Hampton Court, the Home Park and Barge Walk on the opposite bank of the river, all of which are significant factors in considering the current proposals. The river channel was significantly narrowed when the filter beds and collier wharfs were built, and the retaining walls are now spectacularly covered by tall bushes of brilliant yellow broom.

Excalibur Estate, Catford

Baudwin, Ector, Meliot, Mordred, Pelinore, Persant and Wentland, Knights of the Round Table rather than characters from a Monty Python show, give their names to the streets that make up the Excalibur Estate in Catford SE6, 187 prefabs built by German and Italian prisoners of war in 1946-7 and now the largest group of such ‘palaces for the people’ or ‘Churchill villas’ remaining from the 150,000 constructed to ease the post-war housing shortage.

The Excalibur Estate (Diamond Geezer)
Photo: Diamond Geezer

Built as a short-term expedient, the Catford prefabs have nevertheless lasted 65 years, and six of the least altered were last year listed at grade II. The majority of the buildings (158) are rented from Lewisham Council, but 29 have been bought freehold, and the residents are divided over the issue of whether the estate should be refurbished or demolished and replaced.

Following a study on the economic feasibility of refurbishment and a poll last year in which 56% of the residents voted for redevelopment, Lewisham Council has decided in principle on demolition and replacement. However, that is made more difficult by the listing and by the scatter of privately-owned homes.

A very few are empty and boarded up, some look abandoned but are probably still inhabited, a large minority are apparently well kept and maintained, and many are rather shabby. Each sits in its own garden plot - some on streets, others off pedestrian paths - and the gardens too range from derelict to lovingly tended.

English Heritage, supported by the Twentieth Century Society, has said that the whole area should be designated as a conservation area, but LB Lewisham (understandably, since its plan is to redevelop) thinks otherwise, and EH considers there is no point in using its reserve powers to designate a conservation area for which it would not be the planning authority.

The estate, on a bit of a hill and with Forster Park to the west, Hither Green Cemetery to the east, the inter-war Downham Estate to the south and the rectangular grid of late-C19 Catford housing to the north, feels to the deliberate visitor (a casual passer-by would not find it) curiously isolated and inward-looking, and looking rather like a failed holiday camp or retirement village that has strayed from somewhere on the Essex or Kent coast.