Walworth Society Meeting About the Old Town Hall Last Night

It was like a scene from that sweetest of films about community, Local Hero. As I made my way along Liverpool Grove, I could see people ahead of me all walking into the church, the very lovely St Peter’s Walworth, according to one book I’ve read, the only building of architectural significance in Walworth. Strangely, I don’t agree. I don’t think many at last night’s meeting would either.
There was a good turn out, a testament to how people care about our neighbourhood, including a fair few councillors, and we filled the pews. Jeremy, chair of the Walworth Society, scampered about with a mike to make sure everyone could be heard.
The biggest cheer of the night was for a local resident, fan of the library and the Cuming museum, who is also a firefighter. He urged all present to go to the London Fire Brigade website and take part in the consultation. If the current proposals to close fire stations go ahead, six of the engines and their crew who helped to put out the fire at Walworth Town Hall will be axed. There will be a public meeting we are urged to attend at the GLA 14th May from seven to nine in the evening.

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Walworth Old Town Hall Three Days After the Fire

When I hopped off the bus at lunch time today and dug my little Olympus out of my pocket to take some photos of the Old Town Hall I didn’t expect to cry, but that’s what I did. I was biting my lip, looking at the ruined roof, the sky visible through the shocked windows. How did people cope with the Blitz? Buildings like old friends burned down night after night. The accumulated sense of loss must have been almost unbearable. I suppose that “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be” mentality got them through at the time, but it is easy to see why the years following the Second World War were in some ways even harder than the war itself.
At first sight, on ground level at least, things don’t look too bad, though the sad half open door and the lingering smell of smoke don’t bode well.

Old Town Hall Main Entrance
Old Town Hall Main Entrance

Those lovely details around the capitals have survived, the brick is still a gentle red. It’s when you look up, or view the building from across the Walworth Road that the truer picture is revealed.
Mansard Roof
Mansard Roof

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The Cuming Collection

You never know what the day will bring. Just this morning I went past the newly stacked portacabins outside the soon to be demolished Heygate Estate and saw that the notices have gone up advertising the Charlie Chaplin Festival next month. Chaplin claimed that he was born in Walworth. It seems plausible, his parents were married here in St John’s Larcom Street, but no records of his birth being registered have ever been found. It’s no secret that Chaplin had a childhood that included periods of great hardship and poverty, and it is tempting to think of Walworth as an area that has always been a bit shabby, down-at-heel, a ducking and diving sort of place, yet there is more to the story.
In the eighteenth century Walworth was developing as a genteel suburb for the well off middle classes. Charles Babbage, father of the modern computer, was born in a comfortable house where the health centre now stands. Only a few examples of the houses that stretched down the Walworth Road remain. The most obvious is John Smith House, once home to the National Labour Party, now a hostel for visitors to London on a budget. Where Mcdonalds is was the site of the Cuming family home. Father and son, Richard and Henry Cuming were avid collectors. They make my own hoarding habits look minimalist. Not only do they seem never to have thrown anything away, even keeping paper bags that bread came in, they bought new collections and items to add to their own. Their interests were wide, and they had the cash to indulge their collecting passion.

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