Our Future's Orange: Forest Hill

This is part five of our regular series looking at stops along the new East London Line. Sure, Forest Hill was never difficult to get to from Brockley pre-ELL, but it's a good excuse to do a round-up of what's going on just down the track.

Forest Hill was originally the name given to an area of forest on top of Sydenham Hill, part of the Great North Woods. Initial development took place in the early to mid 1800s, close to the railway station (originally named Dartmouth Arms after the pub there, still open today). Over the years it has sprawled, merging with East Dulwich to the west, Honor Oak Park to the north, and Sydenham & Catford to the south east. Politically, Forest Hill ward is exclusively Lib Dem, and the Perry Vale ward to the south east side of the station is Labour.

Transport-wise, the station is served by the same trains as Brockley, but also hosts the odd fast train into London Bridge, and has the distinct advantage that being two stops further out in the morning rush hour can sometimes secure you a seat. Yes, a seat.

Forest Hill station and the footbridgeImprovements under Transport For London have included the obligatory plastic hanging baskets, but also a brand new footbridge - the structure for which appeared almost overnight sometime last year, but was only completed last week.

The area boasts a well developed 'high street', even if it does quite literally revolve around the ever-busy A205 South Circular. The shops include chains such as Boots, WH Smith and of course Sainsbury's, plus a couple of independent places like popular gift shop & boutique Bunka. There are several restaurants, and a couple of key pubs help to provide more decent eateries, the Dartmouth Arms and the All Inn One Foresters. The Dartmouth Arms is the more adventurous of the two for food, but both serve as greet gastro boozers in their own right.

The Hob pub, opposite the station, is probably the closest thing to an evening 'destination', regularly hosting music and comedy nights, along with a well-organised 'celebrity' pub quiz every week. That's not a quiz about celebs, but rather a quiz hosted by one!

The recession has taken its toll on Forest Hill, and sadly a number of shops and restaurants have closed in the last year or so. Lewisham Council have recognised something needs to be done to encourage new businesses, and have negotiated longer free parking in the car park to the back of Sainsbury's (from half an hour to two hours). They are also working closely with shop-keepers to enhance the appearance of the shopping parades, with one idea being to install artwork in empty shop windows suggestive of what the shop might become.

There are already two glimmers of hope. An old shop opposite the station recently re-opened as From The Forest, a small but stylish cafe. We spoke to the owner, Kollier, about his plans. He was inspired by the 'cooler' coffee houses in East London, and wanted to create a place where people would feel comfortable spending time. Hence, coffee is only a small part of Kollier's plan. He's already serving fresh breads and pastries from Flour Power at Borough Market, along with locally supplied cakes. There are plans to stock other ranges in the future, and he's hinted at organic wines and beers.

Kollier at From The Forest
Kollier, manager of From The Forest, with his preferred method of transport, a 3G Stepper

From The Forest will soon have a new competitor on London Road. Called The Teapot, the poster in the window promises a cafe and, you guessed it, deli - something curiously lacking in Forest Hill, considering Brockley's relative abundance of them. We wish them good luck.

Up the hill, towards East Dulwich, sits the Horniman Museum, tea merchant Frederick John Horniman's gift to the area in 1901, built on the plot where his own house once stood. Aside from operating as a brilliant museum, it plays a key role in the community, hosting regular public events in the gardens, school holiday activities for the kids and evening classes for adults.

The Horniman collection is soon to be commemorated in a wall mural by Artmongers (they of Feed the Cows and Brockley Key fame). Funded by Sainsbury's, as agreed with the council as part of their planning consent, it will celebrate the Horniman's cultural artifacts collection and should cheer up a pretty dreary alleyway between the supermarket car park and London Road.

Not far from the Horniman sits a plot that we can't talk about Forest Hill without mentioning. Two once stunning and now derelict houses at 15 & 17A Tyson Road provide the gateway to a largely untouched meadow which developer Loromah Estate propose to turn into 9 blocks of luxury flats. It's an ongoing saga, and the results of an appeal are due any time now. The brilliant Forest Hill Society blog has all the recent news, and you can read more on the inquiry at the Lib Dem blog Up In Forest Hill.

Forest Hill PoolsPossibly the second most talked about development in the area is London's oldest swimming pool, Forest Hill Pools, a grand Victorian bath that for years has had an uncertain future, not unlike Ladywell Pools. Happily, plans to renovate and extend the pools have been preliminarily approved and are under public consultation. The plans keep the grand exterior, with a large modern extension to the right-hand side. We'll bring you updates on this project, and other changes happening in Forest Hill, as and when we hear about them.

More East London Line destinations:

Crystal Palace
Rotherhithe, Canada Water, Surrey Quays
Shoreditch High Street