Waller Road runs down hill from Kitto Road, opposite Telegraph Hill Park, to Queens Road. Most of the houses are in the familiar Telegraph Hill Victorian terrace style, and one in particular must be the best documented house in the area. Number 123 Waller Road was the home of Eileen Elias, who wrote about her childhood there in her book ‘On Sundays we wore white’ (London: WH Allen, 1978). Her time was there between 1910 to 1920, when in her view New Cross was a ‘desirable district’ whose affluent households were serviced by ‘daily girls’ and ‘an army of step-ladies’ cleaning the local door steps twice a week, not to mention ‘little street boys’ bringing round ‘buckets of horse manure’ to the tradesmen’s entrance (you can see that many of the houses have a main front door at the top of the stairs and another one at ground level) .Interestingly, while she mentions Telegraph Hill Park she does not describe where she lives as ‘Telegraph Hill’ – it is simply New Cross. This confirms one of my pet theories – that the name Telegraph Hill for this area (as opposed to just the hill as geographical feature) has come to prominence as householders and estate agents have sought to distance these streets from the rest of more down at heel New Cross. A theory which was further confirmed during this year’s Telegraph Hill Arts Festival when an old woman who came to look round the Telegraph Hill Centre was overheard saying that she’d lived round here all her life but never knew she lived in Telegraph Hill. But I digress.
As elsewhere, gaps in the Victorian housing mark WW2 bomb damage – see the more modern houses at numbers 146 to 152 and the Lydney House council block. This is also a street on hidden houses – set back from the road at the top, just behind the church on Kitto Road, is a white house which I didn’t notice for years. I wonder whether it was originally built for the minister of what was then the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel? Further down next to the school is the entrance to Coach House Mews, presumably former stables/garages which were converted to flats a few years ago. Then there’s this interesting little house at the bottom (picutred), another converted outbuilding?
Edmund Waller Primary School, as it is now called, was originally built by the London School Board in 1887 and was simply Waller Road School. Today it is the primary school of choice for many local parents, but it was not always so. Elias refers to it in her book as ‘the Council School’ – posh kids like her went to Haberdasher’s Askes instead, which in those days wasn’t just a secondary school but catered for children from kindergarten age updwards.
Waller’s most famous ex-pupil is glam rocker Steve Harley, who had hits in the 1970s including ‘Come Up and See Me, Make Me Smile’. He lived in Fairlawn Mansions in New Cross Road. Harry Price the ghosthunter also went to the school.
Tony Robbins has written about his memories of the school just before the Second World War including the arrival of refugees from Nazi Germany. Robbins was evacuated out of London, but Robert George Hatton moved to the schoil during the War, recalling that ‘During these war days we as children, especially the boys were always looking for trophies, if that what you you would call them, pieces of shrapnel bullets, fins from incendiary bombs and sometimes the bomb itself, that had failed to explode. We were now going to Waller Road School which was nearer and we did not have to cross the dangerous New Cross Road. Waller Road was not to bad because on many occasions we had no Teachers so we played and also gave us boys time to rake around for any more relics from the Air Raids, us boys did not know what danger was until it directly involved us”.
Several of the wheely bins in this street have been decorated by Artmongers. This is one of my favourites, with the flowers on the bin fitting in perfectly with the nicely planted front garden.
At the bottom of the road, on the corner of Queens Road, stands the fire station. It was built in 1894 and includes a look out tower from where fires could be spotted before other tall buildings obscured the view.