Peckham Society’s 40th anniversary meeting

On Wednesday 7th October 2015 at All Saints Church Hall. Blenheim Grove, SE15 the Peckham Society celebrated its 40th anniversary. Over 70 members and friends were present.

The Chairman invited people who have had an influence on the formation of the Society since its inception in 1975 to say a few words. Chairs of neighbouring local amenity societies with whom our Chairman meets regularly were also invited to contribute, along with the editors and founders of Peckham Peculiar. There were also audio visual presentations available to view before and after the presentations. Peckham Vision brought along recent poster boards with a display of campaigns in which the group are currently active.

With the theme of Past, Present and Future it was sad that Bob Smyth, founder of the Society and its first Chairman, was unable to be with us and so the evening began with Ron Woollacott, his successor and now the Chair of Friends of Nunhead Cemetery (FONC), one of the groups that stemmed from our Society.

Then we moved on to the present with an excellent overview of the architecture of Peckham by charismatic Benny O’Looney, architect:, how special much of it is, and what has been saved. The Society Chairman Peter Frost outlined events that had occurred under his extensive stewardship; he was followed by John Beasley, editor of Peckham Society News since Spring 1987, and prolific author of books on Peckham. John enthralled us with his story of how a painting that had lain in an attic in Australia for many years turned out to be of buildings in Peckham High Street. Fortunately the excellent Local History Library had sought his counsel in querying the possible buildings and John recognised the corner of Hanover Chapel. He also shared with us the research that led to proving the address on the world’s first stamped envelope was in Peckham.

The future is based on the past. Stephen Humphrey eloquently made this point, describing the range of material available yet to be discovered, and outlined a very recent discovery he has made and is now researching further. Eileen Conn, a founder member of both our society and Peckham Vision, briefly mentioned the early days of its formation and shared with us some of the work with which she is currently involved. We were delighted to receive congratulations on attaining 40 years along, with brief tributes, from the chairs of our some of our sister societies: Ian McInnes (The Dulwich Society), Nick Holt (The Camberwell Society), Colin Leach and Diana Cochrane (Walworth Society), Colin Wight (Herne Hill Society) and Susan Crisp (Friends of Burgess Park).

The formal part of the meeting closed with the presentation of a certificate to John D. Beasley for Honorary Life Membership of the Peckham Society, our highest accolade, by Peter Frost. Guests, speakers and members mingled for a further hour sharing their personal experiences of Peckham and watching the audio-visual presentations. These included a film loop of the recreation of the iconic photograph taken in 1915 in Lyndhurst Way of the King’s Troop with their mounted gun carriages and horses. Melissa Smith was the inspiration for this project which was funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. Nick Ambrose spoke about the Peckham Coal Line which aspires to emulate the famous High Line route in New York and displayed a film on his laptop. Phil Polglaze, one time photographer for the Southwark Sparrow, took some excellent photographs, some of which accompany this article.

Bill Morris provided excellent refreshments ably assisted by Gill Frost and Christine Camplin (who also ran the bookstall) and Lucie Carayon was on the door to welcome everybody and invite them to sign the visitors’ book. Sue Hill assisted Peter Frost in putting the programme together and ensuring that it all ran smoothly.

The meeting ended informally as our satisfied audience and speakers drifted away. Finally we must thank the Revd. Jonathan Mortimer for his offer of a most atmospheric venue.

Peter Frost