Whilst perusing a well-known (well, to those ‘in the know’) urban exploration online forum, I came across a comment about a St Mary’s Lodge in North London. The name rang a bell, and I couldn’t quite work out why. A quick google search informed me that this was the name of the boarded up house which I had walked past everyday on my way to school. I hadn’t really ever considered going inside as a kid. This was mainly because, although it was boarded up, it wasn’t disused.
In fact, as I looked into it I found that there was a local campaign to save the building. The story of St Mary’s Lodge is fascinating, from its construction as a country house in 1843 by the architect John Young and its various uses, including as a hostel in the 1960s for unwed young mothers. The story concludes with a dodgy Council deal in which the property was sold, under questionable circumstances, for £400,000 below the market value of the land alone.
The buyers have disregarded local planning permission rules, as well as the implications of Lordship Park becoming a designated conservation area in 2004. Thus when I was walking past the blue hoardings as a child, the site was in fact being used as a tyre tip, and later for dumping and burning construction waste.
Its a story which highlights the unspoken, underlying tensions between the different communities living here now, and it demonstrates how one building can tell us so much – and for the residents here this is a story and a building worth saving.
So naturally I had to go and have a look for myself…