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?