A Brief History of The Site
The Ridge rises some 367ft (112m) above sea level. It is one of the highest points in London and can be seen from Parliament Hill. At one point the area formed part of The Great North Wood that stretched between Deptford, Streatham and Selhurst. The woods were managed and provided timber, firewood and charcoal for local industry. Remnants of this ancient woodland have survived, (along with many local folk stories) The largest remaining tract, stands directly across the road, just meters from the Mais House site to be developed.
The Geology of The Ridge, with its South London clays and gravels, supports a number of springs arising along its course. In the 17th century these springs were found to be medicinal and people would come from far and wide to take the waters. The presence of springs is remembered in many place names in the area, including Wells Park and Beulah Spa. Following development of the area for housing, the water courses were mainly channelled, however, following reasonable rainfall they frequently reemerge and can then cause damage. Their reemergence in less built up areas supports the diverse wildlife that is found on The Ridge.
In the 19th century, following the relocation of The Crystal Palace and the construction of the railways, Sydenham Hill became a fashionable location with a large number of substantial residential properties built along The Ridge. A few of these still remain, including Castlebar, a locally listed building and currently a care home, that sits directly adjacent to Mais House.
City of London Sydenham Hill Estate
The land on which The Estate sits was, until the early 19th Century, part of Sydenham Common. When, despite strong local resistance, Sydenham Common was Enclosed c.1816-1819 around 800 acres of common-land was lost by the people.
The parcel of land on which the City of London’s Sydenham Hill Estate now sits was awarded to the Corporation of London (formerly The Bridge House Estate).
The City initially leased the land it had been awarded as farmland, to raise money to help maintain London Bridge. There are still at least 3 boundary posts marking the corners of the site. The Estate consists of three parts; Lammas Green, Mais House and Otto Close. St Sidwell’s built in 1893, became the site where Mais House now stands and Otto Close was built in the grounds.
The design for Lammas Green is said to have been inspired by a Cornish Fisherman's village. It comprises of three rows of small, terraced cottages surrounding a village green, and two, three storey, blocks of flats along Sydenham Hill. It was built for the City of London Corporation between 1955 – 1957 by the architect, Donald McMorran (of Farquharson & McMorran.) McMorran had a proven reputation, having designed the City’s Holloway Housing Estate as well as two other landmark buildings within the City.
His designs were sympathetic to the location and in 1976, the London Borough of Lewisham included the Estate in the Sydenham Hill Conservation Area. Further recognition came in December 1998 when the Estate was given Grade II Listed status. In the official record for the Listing, it was noted that –
‘This is the smallest but finest of 4 housing schemes by McMorran, two of them for the City Corporation. The composition of 3 terraces set round a village green, with views of the North Downs, is made the more idyllic by the position of the 2 bocks of flats as a buffer to the road behind.’
‘The density of 57 dwellings per acre which is less than the permissible 70, is so as to establish conditions in which a community, with its own continuity, might be able to flourish. To judge from the estate’s condition it seems to have done so. The contrast of the flats, notable for their fine brickwork, and traditional proportion of the colour-washed cottages is particularly distinguished.’
Read how The City of london Corporation were justifiably Proud of their new estate on Sydenham Hill. Here
The Sydenham Hill Estate expanded in the 1970's on the site of the former St. Sidwells. Following on from McMorran's architectural vision of creating community, Mais House and Otto Close were constructed around a commuity green space that had formerly been an orchard. Some of the fruit trees are still standing.
Mais House was built specifically for members of the estate who had raised families here, to retire to, and yet remain part of the thriving community. It was designed with a community hall and a resident caretaker to assist elderly residents should they need it. The last residents were decanted in 2018.
Also built in the 1970's, Otto Close consists of a mixture of 30 maisonettes and flats designed, once again to create community, in an interlinking L- shape with Mais House. The buildings share a community green space that includes many trees to be felled in the plans.