117 Lewisham Way, The Elephant House - gone but not forgotten

As the Gallions Housing Association goes to market with their new block at 117 Lewisham Way, we look back on the building which stood in its place for 100 years before it - the imposing Victorian mansion better known as the Elephant House.

Elephant House by Fakey


Apparently, the house was built in the mid 1800s, and was notable as one of the few detached houses on Lewisham Way, with unique architectural features such as an elegant conservatory and a bell tower. Mature trees were scattered across the plot, and so the house was always quite secluded, perhaps adding to its mysterious nature. It gained it name from a giant elephant head sculpture that hung ominously from the front of it, for which we can thank some past Goldsmiths students.

Some intense Googling has turned up very little in the way of history, but we do know that the building was once a temporary Synagogue in the 1940s, and in its later years was inhabited by community charity the Metamorphosis Trust. In the years before it was demolished all we know is that it was squatted, was used as rehearsal rooms for local bands (any famous ones amongst them?) and it was home to some pretty legendary parties (the elephant's eyes became lazers). Sadly, we never plucked up courage to turn up to one. If you know more about what happened behind the doors of the Elephant House then let us know below.

The building sadly fell into major disrepair in its final years. It is said that English Heritage took a look at it, but decided it wasn't worth listing, since all the original features on the inside had been stripped out and it was structurally unsafe. No doubt this didn't help its case, and it was eventually pulled down in November, 2006. There is certainly no internet evidence of any real fight from the community, with the Lewisham Planning website stating that only 9 letters of objection were received, no petitions, and no appeals were made.

117 Lewisham WayAnd what of the new building that takes its place? It does seem quite apt that a building which was squatted for so many years is replaced by an 'affordable' shared-ownership scheme run by a housing association. Just how affordable they are, at £170k for a 1-bed, is debatable. This does seem lower than others around Brockley, but this is probably just the property market talking.

To look at, it's certainly more imposing that the original drawings implied. Although at the same level as the building next door, it is much more dominant, and the lie of the road means it's visible from far along Lewisham Way.

But, although it's box-like, it's not exactly bland, and, while it remains clean and shiny, it does bring a certain glamour to this usually messy stretch of Lewisham Way

Renovated shopsA good thing which has come out of it is the renovation of the shops next to the building (albeit for them to be converted into flats). Initial work has revealed a long forgotten historic shop front for 'Dennant & Porter, Auctioneers and Surveyors'. Hopefully the next shop along will follow soon and deliver and equally pleasing addition to the parade.




What are your views on the new development, and do you have any stories to tell about the old Elephant House?

30 comments:

tj said...

One bed on at £170,000

http://www.gallionsha.co.uk/Anewhome/Homeownership/Homesforsale/tabid/668/Default.aspx

Tressilliana said...

I suppose it's a bit unfair to comment on either the old or the new building without having seen them, to my knowledge. However, comparing the two photos, the old house is wonderfully evocative and the new building looks like the boringest box imaginable.

On Radio 4 last night there was a programme looking at alternatives to newbuild and it was pointed out that there is an enormous amount of energy and resources tied up in existing buildings. Renovation is much greener than newbuild, and except in cases where the design of a new building is really exceptional, I find older buildings are usually much more interesting to look at.

Brockley Jon said...

Link and details added to post, cheers TJ :)

tj said...

I like that they advertise a 'private communal garden' on their website. Now that would be a...communal garden then.

Do dah said...

It looks ok, quite smart, far better than that 'patchwork' naffness of the Tea Factory. If people wish to see Victorian buildings the conservation area is but a short walk.

drakefell debaser said...

Yes, there is too much 'new build' stuff going on and not enough renovation of what we already have. I am sure the Elephant House could have been made structurally safe and converted into a few flats or sold on as a massive family home. Less overall profit maybe, which was probably the deciding factor. It has so much more character than the new block even though as far as new builds go it isn't too bad. Any house with an elephant stuck on the front deserves to be kept in my opinion. I wonder if the multi coloured house further down will suffer a similar fate.

Anonymous said...

A view of the desperate state of building and architecture in this country:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/12/heritage

Brockley Kate said...

Problem is, VAT is charged on refurbs but not on new build. Just one of the financial factors which pushes developers towards demolition ...

Tamsin said...

The Elephant House looks wonderful - one of my regrets that I did not really register its presence until it had gone. Someone from the ARthouse said that this was all done very quickly - practically overnight - so no time for campaigns or resistance. It is, though, on an impossibly busy road and if the interior had been gutted could well have seemed beyond saving. Like the Arthouse itself - inadequate care at the start of the downward spiral - in the case of the ARthouse almost criminal negligence by the Council as they persued big bucks that were not, in the end and by the time the damage had been done, forthcoming.

Lewisham Wayward said...

I would have loved to see a refurb of the elephant house, but it did seem to be in a very poor way towards the end. I don't know enough about whether it would have been possible to save and refurb, but the destruction of a lovely mature garden surrounding it was little short of a crime in my opinion. The communal garden looks like a very sterile environment - not much for the bees there! As for the multi-coloured house, does anyone know if the guy who lives there owns it?

tj said...

I think he must own it - he's regularly outside shouting at the traffic. It can't be social housing because of the colours - and a landlord would have sold it or converted a while ago.

Anyway I wish him well. Long may he harangue!

Anonymous said...

How does someone who shouts at traffic maintain a mortgage or own a house?

Headhunter said...

Hi there all! What with global financial meltdown my job has actually prevented me from paying attention to Brockley what with pesky Lehman Brothers traders calling in weeping about the end of the world as we know it. But I'm back.

I managed to see the elephant house just before demolition just after I moved to Brockley. Seemed a shame to lose it, but it was near collapse. I don't think it would have been economically viable to rescue, refurbishment should have been done many years ago before it reached that state.

I had heard somewhere that the colourful house (you mean the one on the corner of Somerset Gdns?) was a hostel of some kind. Quite an amazing looking building though - good that it has a use at least and is not derelict.

Anonymous said...

I've checked. Elephants and coloured houses are not allowed under Conservation Area rules.

Tressilliana said...

'How does someone who shouts at traffic maintain a mortgage or own a house?'

If you go back far enough (three decades plus) you could hardly give away the big houses in this area. The more affluent, upwardly mobile families were all keen to get out to the suburbs. The big houses were snapped up by poorer people with large extended families to house. Their mortgages, if they had any, are long since paid off.

jt said...

"...someone who shouts at traffic..."

And long may he continue, eccentricity is the spice of life.

Headhunter said...

...I'm sure I heard that building was an institution/hostel of some kind, so I doubt anyone has a mortgage on it....

fabhat said...

Pretty certain it's been the same man living there for years - it's certainly looked like that for about 30 years, if not longer...

Anonymous said...

I used to go past this house everyday and it was in a real sorry state. It was an eyesore to be honest. This new building is providing more residential units (it is excellent that they are affordable too) than would have been provided by converting the original building. plus the cost of making it structurally safe and then converting to only 6 units at a stretch would have hardly been worth it. Cost has to be a factor, not just profit but whether it is actually will cost too much in the first place.

Lewisham is in desperate need of housing solutions so lets provide them

Anonymous said...

1974 - 1982 during my teenage years, i was a regular visitor to '117' as we called it. I was owned by a family and i was friends with the kids. They were a wonderful warm and loving family , dad was a solicitor, mum was an artist and they had 8 kids lots of dogs and cats and various other pets.Bought in the 60s It was a home full of books, art, music and lively conversation. I lost touch when we all took off to various unis etc. Last time i saw one of the daughters (about 4 years ago) she told me all the kids had left home, mother had sadly passed away and dad was considering selling because he was living alone in this large house (and it was large with a massive garden) but they were upset about giving up the family home. I felt upset at the news (although i knew the house was in serious disrepair) I resolved to go and visit him, but i never did...

Knowing them was an important time in my life - it was so different to my own home life (crofton park) and yet really similar - basically we had the same values.


The colorful house man IS the owner. He bought the house in the 60s aand brought up his family there. He worked as a street cleaner for lewisham council untill he retired at the end of the 80s. There is a documentary about him and his home _ i think his name is Mr Pink. All the decoration was done by him. Its not only the 'new affluent set' who can are allowed to be eccentric.

13:24 said...

As Tressilliana says, they were almost giving the houses away 30 or more years ago. To put things into perspective, the house on Adelaide of which my flat now forms a quarter, used to be owned by a college lecturer who bought it for 20 grand (1.3x salary in the early seventies!)

Shouty Man - I always assumed he was schizophrenic. Hard to keep up that level of eccentricity without a serious mental illness, I'd have thought. Used to watch and listen to him from my bedsit in Halesworth Rd 12 years back.

Anonymous said...

You can almost see the property vultures circling around that colourful house

Anonymous said...

You'd really want to give it (another) lick of paint first though, wouldn't you?

I don't see anything kooky, attractive or artistic about it - infact I find it quite depressing. It's more graffiti in a jackson pollock way than a banksy way.

Anonymous said...

the colourful house man IS Mr. Pink.
He owns it and yes, he shouts.

Anonymous said...

Yes and long may he shout

Anonymous said...

fabhat said...

Pretty certain it's been the same man living there for years - it's certainly looked like that for about 30 years, if not longer...


Yup, he's certainly been there since I used to go past the house in my childhood and I am nearly 40.

Headhunter said...

And he hasn't aged a day... He's found the elixir of immortality...

guillermo, mijael, paquito, etc etc said...

I can't believe what I am seeing...
We put that Elephant's head there! We squatted the place and took it from a Goldstmish's exhibition. It was an amazing period of my life with cafe we set up at the back garden and the months we spent in that magical house.

That house really deserves this kind of tributes.
I am deeply thankful to find this post.

Anonymous said...

The colorful house with the screaming man is a actually historic, apparently built by locally active architect Alfred Cross for himself. I think he designed all of the terraces around that bit of Lewisham Way, Somerset Gardens and across the street around Halesworth Road.

http://www.ideal-homes.org.uk/lewisham/assets/galleries/lewisham/loampit-hill-1987

This dates the house to 1850 but if it really was built by Cross it would be more like the 1880s.

Anonymous said...

I knew the family well who lived there and l was one of the few people who saw the ghost who haunted the house: it was the famous actress Lillie Langtry - I was also present when another member of the household saw her - in fact, l was in the front room when that person saw her walk into it. Not everyone in the house had seen her. Apparently, she had an affair there with the Prince of Wales - the one who was said to be Jack the Ripper. According to the wikipedia page for Brockley, langtry was a resident there. If it was the Prince of Wales carrying out the Whitechapel murders, then there was another escape route perhaps overlooked by researchers - the new East London Line, which would have taken him south of the river to . . . New Cross.

I wonder if any of the new residents of the Gallions flats have noticed anything odd - especially on the ground floor and the 1st floor flats.

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