Them and us: Hither Green

We'd wager that, if Brockley Central's Hither Green doppelganger popped up on this site to ask readers to take part in a Q&A about SE4, they'd be inundated with people happy to wax lyrical about Brockley's many and much-discussed charms. Not so the people of Hither Green.

It took us months to track down anyone who'd talk to us about the area and we fired out so many speculative emails that (typically) when we eventually got a reply, another one swiftly followed. So here we have two different takes on Hither Green; a place divided by a railway track, famous for its conservation area and experiencing some modest regeneration but still crying out for a few more places to get a drink....

Because of these parallels, we've been particularly keen to feature Hither Green - an area that's done good things with street trees and boasts a hugely successful cafe in its park.

The first set of answers is from Hither Green blogger Bagelmouse, the second from another resident who’s happier remaining nameless, but we promise is not just a figment of our imagination. Thanks to both of them for such detailed answers.

What are the best things about living in HG?

It's an incredibly friendly, peaceful place to be. Yes, there aren't places to go out on an evening and there's far too many greasy takeaways and mini markets, but the park is gorgeous, I hear the schools are excellent and the eastern side of HG is worthy of the Brockley conservation area. Transport links are also excellent from the station, and if you live on the outskirts it's only a short walk to good bus routes. Not that the best thing about living in HG is being able to leave it!!

I think HG is a comfortable, attractive and safe area. It's relatively small and made up almost entirely of Victorian and Edwardian terraces. It's a quiet area too, with a lack of serious crime (I never see those yellow and blue Police notice boards here, plus the fast, frequent trains to Charing Cross and Cannon Street make it great for working in Central London.

How important has Friends and Users of Staplehurst Road Shops (FUSS) been to the area?

I'm not aware of their specific actions - but if they're the people responsible for the planters and general village air of Staplehurst Road, then they're the saviours of HG! The Nightingale Road side of the station is quite depressing - Staplehurst Road serves as a lovely introduction to the lovelier side of HG.

I live on the other side of the tracks, so am not too familiar with their work, but I do think they've made a very positive contribution to the Staplehurst Road side in particular, brightening up the shop frontages, winning a silver award in London in Bloom, and generally promoting the area.

What have been the most important improvements to HG's public spaces over the last few years?

Getting the planters in might sound like a small thing, but it really did make a difference.

It's also important to realise that HG is split into two very distinct sections by the railway tracks. Often, people think of HG as being the east side, towards the Lee side - but there's also the much less attractive, but more served by shops and transport, west side by Hither Green Lane. As a resident of the west side I want to stake our claim for being very much part of HG, and not a sub-section of Lewisham! Hither Green Lane has definitely been unloved, but it's also an important public space itself, and is starting to get a wash-and-brush-up.

HG has three very good parks. Manor Park, the smallest, has only just reopened after extensive renovation; Manor Park Gardens was renovated to a very high standard and won a Green Flag Award in 2006; and the largest, Mountsfield Park, has just secured funding for a cafe and toilet facilities.

Apart from parks, we have the Staplehurst Road shopping area, which FUSS has worked to improve, and a new 'piazza' around the clock tower at the Meridian South development on the old hospital site. With units free for shops and restaurants, that could become a new focal point for people living around Hither Green Lane.

How does the community support improvements to public spaces in HG?

I think one of the problems with HG is that, at the moment, there's a massive movement of incomers (of which I am one, guilty as charged). There's notice boards at the station for the community groups but they don't seem to be updated that often - I suspect it's a small group of residents who are leading the charge, and it's going to take a while for the incomers to bed down and start to take a real interest in their new surroundings. And I'm also starting to wonder about possible friction between the people who've lived in HG all their lives and the newbies... I think the reaction of the lads to the new deli (see below) says a lot. I wonder if there's going to be resistance to gentrification by people who feel pushed out.

I know that there is a group called Friends of Mountsfield Park, but am not very sure who represents the other two. A local community association has been set up and was due to meet for the second time on 30 January. I didn't make it along, but there's a summary here:

How does HG get the most out of its park?

The park's a very planned space, probably because it's quite compact. The divide between dog and non-dog space is great for all the families and young kids, who can picnic or play games on the non-dog area without worrying about stepping in anything nasty! The farmer's market is small but nice to browse around, and I adore the cafe. It's not somewhere you go if you don't want to be disturbed but it's an absolutely gorgeous place that's been well thought-out and maintained.

Brockley plans to plant more trees in its main streets and HG is often held up as a successful model for us to copy - what can we learn from your experiences?

That you can actually have real plums on your streets! One of the most pleasant aspects of HG is its leafiness - it adds a certain air of gentility. There are plans to plant more trees around the station and around a quite scruffy part of Hither Green Lane, an expansion of the recent arrival of the large street planters. What I worry about is that they're more cosmetic, and they're left and not looked after properly (some of the planters by the station are collecting a nice pile of rubbish).

Are you worried about the dwindling number of pubs in Lewisham - has HG been affected?

People often say there's only one pub in HG and that's The Station, but there were more around Hither Green Lane. The Spotted Cow recently closed and is being turned into flats, but... it never looked particularly appealing. I think what people mainly mean when they complain is that there are no "nice" pubs in HG! We have a specific problem in that a lot of the land has covenants on use dating back to the temperance era - I think we might end up with lots of nice cafes but something quite special will need to happen before we get a "nice" (I think people mean "gastro") pub. The Station's really not as bad as people say.

Two pubs have closed here - the Queen's Head and more recently the Spotted Cow, both very traditional, old pubs. Also the Lanier Club has closed.

I think people in HG generally want something up-to-date, and the topic of gastropub frequently appears on the local forum. From what I can see, there's no shortage of potential clientele for a smarter pub or bar.

It's good that we have a smart local cafe in You Don't Bring Me Flowers, also that a new deli is about to open up. However, we still need a decent pub or bar.

What are the most important local issues in HG?

The controlled parking zone is a burning issue. I don't drive so it's not something I seethe over, but it does seem to be something that the council have implemented as a cash cow... extensions to the CPZ have been brought in far outside the station area where there's no parking problems. I live in a CPZ street and there's always space to park, it baffles me.

The other issues are the lack of bars, restaurants and delis. There's been an air of expectancy over the area for the last couple of years, waiting for gentrification to creep in... it's overdue, but I think it's finally happening. The first 'proper' deli opened at the weekend and made many people happy (though the two teenagers who shouted "Hither Green's not posh!" through the open doorway weren't among them; and they may have a point! I've blogged about that particular incident -

And, as mentioned above, the possibility of HG splitting into two 'tribes' of residents. I keep thinking of the 'town and gown' split of university cities. There's a lot of new development and that's only going to bring in more people from outside - which will be good for new businesses and possible gentrification, but is definitely going to shift the demographic balance.

Controlled parking zones on the Staplehurst side, and attracting new businesses - eating places and bars, particularly for all the commuters who want to go out locally.

As a resident of HG, do you ever think visit Brockley or take an interest in developments there?

I do visit Brockley! I'm in awe of The Shop on the Hill, Dandelion Blue, the Broca etc etc. If nothing else, it's interesting to see what's happening because I suspect HG will be the next to be properly hit by the gentrification wave (one deli does not a Blackheath make).

Before we settled on HG 18 months ago, we also seriously considered buying in Brockley. Both are great areas, but it was HG's connections to Charing Cross and Cannon Street that basically made it the better option.

When I look at Brockley now, it's very interesting, especially in terms of the cafes, bars and restaurants springing up. There's no shortage of people in HG who want the same kind of thing. Perhaps a Brockley entrepreneur would consider expanding into HG!

What's your message for the people of Brockley on behalf of the citizens of HG?

It's funny, I've often thought that Brockley had more of a message for HG... Brockley's going where HG seems to want to go (judging by the comments on the HG forum and Facebook group) and we're watching with bated breath.

Keep up the good work - it's clearly paying off.

Click to read the Forest Hill and East Dulwich features.