Judge Sycamore and the Friends of Durning Library’s hellish Tree of Heaven 

tree of heaven durning library
tree of heaven durning library

Photo from Tradescant Road and South Lambeth blog. Copyright unknown.

There hasn’t been such a to-do about trees around here since the national press caught on to the Friends of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens support of Lambeth Council’s chopping down  of mulberry trees on the historic  site to make way for £300,000-worth of black concrete columns. The tangled tale of the Friends of Durning Library and their logjam over a Tree of Heaven has nothing to do with such vandalism. As with all that black concrete, however it has everything to do with Lambeth’s wastefulness. 

Now it’s probably fair to say that to a man and woman, the Friends of Durning Library are also friends of trees, usually, that is. But not of the species Tree of Heaven, or at least the one that Lambeth Council says ‘is located in the grounds of Durning Library’.  That’s putting it mildly, for this particular Ailanthus altissima (a fast growing breed) is ‘located’ around, beneath and above the English Heritage-listed Victorian library building itself. ‘Woodperson, don’t spare that tree!’might sum up the Durning Friends’ position. The Durning tree already projects well above the rear of the building. Roots and suckers, already strongly established beneath and beyond the structure, are reaching for adjoining properties. To hear the Friends of Durning Library talk, their infernal Tree of Heaven could soon be coming up through the library floor.

Lambeth councillors might from time to time wish that Trees of Heaven would throttle all the borough’s public libraries, so saving the council money and even more bad Press. For all that, there’s an expensive council consultation under way, ending Monday 23 February. This Tree of Heaven should be sent to meet its maker forthwith, the Friends of the Durning say. A Chinese immigrant, Ailanthus altissima has yet to make it onto the banned invasive species list, the garden-centre industry being no less vigorous in defence of this fast-grower than the Tree of Heaven is in self-defence.

Lambeth Council is terrified that its insurers will no longer cover the Durning if the tree stays. There is already ‘trespass’ of branches and roots onto neighbouring properties and if someone’s badly hurt, Lambeth’s consultants say, the personal liability could go all the way up the Lambeth Council tree to the new Chief Executive, Sean Harriss. If the council’s lawyers are good enough, the claims might not also cite Harriss’s predecessor Derrick Anderson, who left at the end of 2014, or  the Council Leader, currently Lib Peck.

The question of lop-or-leave has been in out of court for two years and may soon be back there. When Lambeth decided to lop in 2012, it did so without doing its homework. There was protest from a local resident or residents, one of whom is reputed to have said that the tree does a valuable good job in blotting out the view towards nearby council homes.

In 2013, the opposition secured an injunction giving tree a stay of execution, followed by permission to put the council’s decision to judicial review. In June last year, the exquisitely-named Judge Phillip Sycamore quashed the council’s decision because it failed to take account of the tree’s being in a Conservation Area. On the other hand, the Durning tree ‘belongs’ to Lambeth Council (as does the library), and is not subject to a Tree Preservation Order.  Lambeth might be free to reach for the chainsaw if the council can show that the current consultation does cover the Conservation issues, and that the Tree of Heaven is doing more harm than good to the Kennington Conservation Area. That’s assuming there’s no fresh legal challenge to the tree’s removal. Meanwhile, around the Durning Library ‘a number’ of other Trees of Heaven are now reaching for the celestial sky.

Had Lambeth Council done its homework before having a go at this Tree of Heaven, it could have saved many thousands of pounds of public money. But at least the lawyers are happy.

‘Tree of Hell threatens native plants’: www.independent.co.uk

Official report: www.lambeth.gov.uk

The stay of execution:


Friends of Durning Library: www.durninglibraryfriends.org.uk

Does the way Lambeth’s handling our libraries suit your book?

minet library lambeth archives

What the blue blazes are Lambeth councillors up to with our libraries? Lambeth people were asked to give their views by 26 January on where Lambeth Archives, presently crammed into Myatt’s Fields’ Minet Library, should be rehoused.  The Vauxhall Society’s response was to recommend Vauxhall Cross or Kennington. A second Lambeth consultation, on selling off the Minet and Waterloo libraries, was announced four days later, 30 January, seeking your views by midnight on Friday, 24 April. On 30 January, however, a Brixton blogger was saying that the Archives move was a done deal and that Archives are off to Brixton. The same blog also infers that the second consultation is a waste of your time and Council Tax money. Lambeth councillors, it is alleged, have already decided not only to flog off the Minet and the Waterloo – they’re going to stop funding Kennington’s Durning Library, the Upper Norwood and Herne Hill’s Carnegie as well. If true, so much for the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s 1906 bequest, half a century before Lambeth Borough Council was itself was spawned and became the library’s owner. Lambeth says the money it nets for the Minet and Waterloo libraries will go into a £10 million endowment fund for ‘culture and library services. That kind of money, Lambeth adds, ‘could’ be enough to fund ‘five town centre’ and four ‘community ‘libraries’. What the council doesn’t say whether that’s new libraries or the present lot, whose budgets Lambeth bleeds with heavy ‘management charges’. An interesting note in the Lambeth ‘culture’ announcement is that over the next ten years the council expects the  population of this 3 by 7-mile  borough to rise by ‘more than 30,000’ (nearly a tenth) from its present 266,000 or so.

Brixton blog:


Lambeth’s ‘Consultation’: Cultural Services by 2020:

www.lambeth.gov.uk/culture2020consultation (and in all Lambeth libraries, while there still are some).

When Lambeth Archives wants to show what they’ve got, they have to telephone Morley College:


Vauxhall’s library again at risk of closure as Lambeth councillors are 3½ years overdue

tate south lambeth library

Vauxhall’s Tate South Lambeth Library is again at risk, three years after a campaign supported by The Vauxhall Society averted closure by Lambeth Borough Council. Closure would be ‘particularly perverse’ say The Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library, a TVS affiliate, because local property development backed by the council ‘will generate a massive rise in population and so demand for public services’.

The Tate South Lambeth Library (TSL) ‘will be at risk’ the Friends newsletter warns, if Lambeth officials and councillors persist in their current policy of denying this library a share of the capital investment in the council’s current mantra, ‘income-generating facilities’.

TSL is has nearly doubled its 2014-2015 target for ‘income–generation’ in response to demands by ‘the Library Commission’ Lambeth set up to ‘consider the future of’ (i.e.prune) the library service. The Friends say there is good money to be made by out-of-hours rental of the library by adult education groups. But after three and half years of telling the ‘Commission’ and the library service so, verbally and in writing, the Friends have had ‘zero response’.

Meanwhile, Lambeth is pocketing existing income from TSL. The library was donated to the library service the sugar-refining magnate Henry Tate. Lambeth councillors, however, rent out the two top floors of the building as flats and the council pockets the money. Lambeth transferred the two floors, without compensation, from the library service to a council satellite company, Lambeth Living. The Friends are now asking for much or all of the rental income on the flats, to whose maintenance costs the library service still contributes.
The Friends also report that Lambeth is slow in providing them with the a copy of the overall libraries budget for April 2014-March 2015, which the Friends need to see how the proposed cut for TSL compares with that for the library service as a whole. Meanwhile TSL’s visits and borrowings for the year to March 2014 are up.

Read the newsletter

Tate South Lambeth Library is in Vauxhall’s Oval Ward, whose three councillors are listed at: www.moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk

An event a day and then some in Lambeth Heritage Festival month

Microsoft Word - LaunchInvitation.docx
Microsoft Word - LaunchInvitation.docx

Lambeth Heritage Festival: 1-28 September 2013

Lambeth Archives and Libraries have teamed up with the Lambeth Local History Forum and local groups to offer a programme of 40 events including talks, tours, exhibitions, workshops and guided walks. There’s a series of evenings with Lambeth archivists Jon Newman and Len Reilly, plus local speakers.

On Thursday 26 September, there’s a festival event at the Durning on the story of Kennington, a place where for once the waves did what King Canute told them to, and where nowadays politicians become property millionaires on expenses. Jon Newman will give tips on how to trace the history of a Kennington home, with contributions on Kennington’s own history from English Heritage’s Andrew Saint, a Kennington resident, and The Vauxhall Society’s Ross Davies.

The month will close with Lambeth Archives Open Day, ‘1913 – Edwardian Swansong,’ on Saturday 28 September with talks, exhibitions, book stalls and local society stands, whose theme will be life in South London at the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. A second edition of Edmund Bird’s ‘Lambeth’s Edwardian Splendours’ will also be launched.

Full details:

Information about the festival and open day including the full programme can be downloaded free at www.lambeth.gov.uk/heritagefestival2013

All events are free unless otherwise stated in the programme. Paper copies of the programme are also available in all Lambeth Libraries.

Lambeth Archives

Lambeth Landmark

Lambeth Archives

52 Knatchbull Road

London SE5 9QY

0207 926 6076

Tate South Lambeth Library, the good news and the bad news

First, the good news: Lambeth Libraries managed to field a couple of councillors and a brace of managers at TSL on 20 April 2013 for what promises to be the first of a quarterly meet-the-suits evening.

The audience was clearly in favour of libraries management and councillors facing the public so officialdom’s decisions and actions can be publicly challenged. The right level of management there, and the audience was lively.

And the bad news? First, The suits and the councillors have yet to say where spending cuts will fall. Jobs are likely to go at TSL, but are still being negotiated with the unions. Second, Lambeth Libraries seem to think that TSL can raise its income (currently fines, photocopying charges) by charging for functions.

But getting in the customers will require a level of initiative, skill and dynamism rarely met with in Lambeth libraries.

Lambeth is already putting the financial screws on existing users such as TVS associate group, the Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library, which may have to stop showing local-interest independent films. Read about why here.

Gabriel Gbadamosi launches his novel Vauxhall on Wed 1 May

Gabriel Gbadamosi: Vauxhall

Gabriel Gbadamosi: VauxhallVauxhall Society committee member Gabriel Gbadamosi, who grew up locally and used Kennington’s Durning Library extensively, launches his first novel.

From his sister’s taunts to a series of house fires, from his parents’ crumbling marriage to police harassment and the realisation that the council intends to clear out the ‘slum’ he calls home, young Michael learns to navigate his way through an array of obstacles. Vauxhall is an edgy, moral tale from the childhood slums of 70s London.

Signed copies available.

Music by Vauxhall’s Lambeth Youth Wind Band – donations towards their sheet music will be welcomed.

Part of Lambeth’s’ Readers & Writers Festival.

Durning Library, Wednesday 1 May, 6.45 for 7pm.

Light refreshments.  Everyone welcome.  No admission charge, but a £2 donation towards costs is invited.

20 April: want some straight answers on your public library?

Here’s some straight questions.

Here’s a chance to have your say on your local library (while you still have one). It’s at a Lambeth Libraries public meeting between 2pm and 4 pm on Saturday April 20 at The Tate South Lambeth Library, 180 South Lambeth Road.

Here’s some questions the Lambeth Libraries top brass would not like to answer and would prefer you not to ask:

  1. You talk about being a ‘Co-operative Council’: does that mean that you expect we, the public, to fill the gap in services and resources? If so, how, exactly?
  2. What mechanism will there be to oversee that there is transparency in the terms, conditions and funding for any partners working with the library to provide services?
  3. Is the Council committed to maintaining The Tate South Lambeth Library (TSL) if the gap cannot be bridged?
  4. Is the Council committed to maintaining TSL if the locals opt for regular public forums as the mechanism for its involvement rather than setting up a formal group to work with the Council?
  5. When will the cut in TSL’s budget scheduled for this year (April 2013-March 2014) start?
  6. How will you go about the cuts?
  7. The consultations in the past 12 months came up local proposals by local people for improving services and resources at TSL. Do these go out the window when the cuts start?
  8. Isn’t the truth that the Council wants to sidestep being completely and exclusively accountable for the library service?
  9. What is the size of the libraries budget over the past five years, and how much is diverted to Lambeth Council overheads, and how does that compare with other local authorities?

Win Tate Modern tickets in Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library art competition vote


The 25 entries in the Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library art competition are now on display in Tate Local, the library’s gallery area.

You are invited to come along and pick your favourite – voting forms and a ballot box are at the desk. Everyone who votes will be entered into a free prize draw to win tickets to the Roy Lichtenstein exhibition at Tate Modern (donated by Tate).

Closing date for the votes is Friday 29 March, with the result announced at 11am the following day.

Monday – 1pm-6pm
Tuesday – closed
Wednesday – 10am-6pm
Thursday – 10am-8pm
Friday – 10am-6pm
Saturday – 9am-5pm
Sunday – closed

Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library
020 7622 8673

Tate South Lambeth Library
180 South Lambeth Road

London Eye architects to talk at Tate South Lambeth Library

eyeFriends of Tate South Lambeth Library are offering a unique opportunity to hear about the projects undertaken by David Marks and Julia Barfield, who have lived in Lambeth for over 30 years and have run their architectural practice from Clapham Common for more than 20.

Julia will talk about a selection of their projects, both local and global, including the London Eye, Kew Tree top Walkway, Michael Tippett School, Bayt Abdullah Children’s Hospice, Cambridge Mosque and Clapham Gateway.

Visit Friends of Tate South Lambeth website.

Tuesday 12 March, 6.30 for 7pm

Tate South Lambeth Library

Admission Free

Light refreshments available.

Suggested donation £2.

Wed 20 Feb: film screening – “Tempest”


tempestThe Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library present a screening of “TEMPEST” on Wednesday 20 February 2013 at 6.45pm (doors open 6.30pm)

“TEMPEST is both a celebration of contemporary urban youth culture, and a 21st Century re-imagining of Shakespeare’s last great play. 17 young actors from South London struggle to put on a production. Their story unfolds alongside Prospero’s as The Oval is transformed into Shakespeare’s magical island and the outcast Duke conjures the spirits in his quest to regain his kingdom. In the aftermath of the youth and student uprisings, the Jubilee celebrations and the Olympic Games, TEMPEST is also a contribution to the ongoing debate on English identity”.

Admission Free. Light refreshments available. Suggested donations £2.

Film night: “TEMPEST”
Wednesday 20 February 2013 at 6.45pm (doors open 6.30)
at Tate South Lambeth Library, 180 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1QP