Sunday, August 01, 2010

Save St Mary's Lodge

St Mary's Lodge is situated between twin reservoirs on Lordship Road, Stoke Newington, London. Built in 1843, this 13-room property, complete with substantial gardens, incorporates subtle architectural features such as arched windows and terracotta brickwork accents.

Of all the elegant Victorian houses which once adorned this part of the capital, St Mary's is the last one standing. Well, just about. Today, tragically, it is a wreck. Ravaged by fire in 2005, and since used as a tyre dump, it has remained neglected and uninhabitable ever since. It would still, nevertheless, be possible to restore it as a unique development for the people of Hackney Borough.

There is, of course, a good reason behind my keen interest in the Lodge's future. It was designed and constructed by my forefather, Mr John Young (1797-1877) (Figure 3.1), renowned architect and erstwhile Surveyor to the City of London. Among his other works is the Royal Marsden Hospital on London's Fulham Road (Figure 3.2).

Figure 3.1: My ancestor, the architect John Young (1797-1877)

To be exact, he was my great-great-great-grandfather. His daughter, Caroline Pettis Young (1838-1908) married my great-great-grandfather, Mr James Knight Spradbery (1841-1907) in 1865.

Figure 3.2: The Royal Marsden Hospital, London (1863)

My forebears lived in the property until 1878, when it was sold to a wealthy corn merchant, Mr William Crabb. Despite the Crabb family living there for only six years, a fascinating story about their grandson emerged in 2006, fifty years after his death. Lionel 'Buster' Crabb OBE, GM (1909-1956) had become famous, posthumously, after winning the George Cross for outstanding courage during World War Two. The acclaimed 1957 film The Silent Enemy tells of his days as a Royal Navy diver and intelligence agent. According to newly-released documents, he was eventually murdered and dismembered by a Russian frogman while attempting to attach a surveillance device to the hull of a Soviet warship. A dangerous occupation, if ever there was one.

Almost a century later, the Lodge had assumed a quite different status. In 1961, London County Council utilized the building as a charity-run hostel for single mothers. Although fondly remembered by many of its occupants, the facility closed in the mid-1990s (Figure 3.3) and was subsequently vandalized until completely derelict (Figure 3.4).

Figure 3.3: St Mary's Lodge in 1993

Copyright 2006 Charles Rohrer

Encouragingly, there now exists an energetic campaign dedicated to its restoration. However, the possibility of full renovation has been hampered by complex legal wrangling, involving not only its current owner, but also the Mayor of Hackney, various local councillors and Stoke Newington's MP, Diane Abbott.

I hope desperately that an acceptable agreement can be reached in the near future. Otherwise, an impressive facet of East London's history will be lost forever.

Figure 3.4: St Mary's Lodge in 2003

Copyright 2006 Charles Rohrer

The campaign to save St Mary's Lodge is based at:

Further information regarding John Young can be found at: Newington

National Archives files appertaining to Lionel 'Buster' Crabb can be accessed at:

A concise account of Crabb's life and work, along with further references, is available at: Crabb

I should like to thank Mr Charles 'Chuck' Rohrer, a leading campaigner, for allowing me to include his photographs in this article. He describes the Youngs and their descendants as 'an interesting bunch'.

Thanks, Chuck!

Copyright 2010 Paul Spradbery

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