As an intrepid DeptfordFolker, I recently posed as a property developer and managed to secure a viewing of The Stone Institute (SAFA House), 28 Arklow Road. The building is currently for sale with Victor Stone for a staggering £2m and after making further enquiries I discovered the owner probably won't accept less than £1.8m. The estate agent was quite blunt and said the building should just be knocked down so that a new block of flats can be built. Not sure I agree.
The building is part of the area's notable history. It dates back to the 1890's when the Stone Foundry, the site of which is now part of the Anthology development, decided to build a space for local workers to socialise and better themselves. When originally built the building contained "a concert room and gymnasium, a reading room and library, a coffee bar and two dining rooms" (The Engineer, Feb 1892) which at the time proved very popular with the 600 - 700 workers in the foundry. As I understand by the 1930's the building became a cultural space finally closing in the 1970's.
The building is now bricked up and only accessible through the adjacent tyre garage. Once inside, I was confronted with hundreds of boxes, crates and chests stacked up to the ceiling full of imported goods including crockery, cutlery and candelabras. There are also old computers, monitors, TV's and videos. Just a lot of stuff piled up high, arranged in blocks creating corridors through which one can only gingerly navigate. This continues upstairs. The roof is wooden and has pretty much rotted away, seemingly held together by a large tarpaulin. Local residents tell tales of squatting and raves taking place here in the 1990's. That, I am sure, was a party. There is evidence remaining of those days with posters from gigs and events at The Pilot pub pasted to the walls.
In all honesty, I had hoped to find a glorious neglected example of Victorian architecture within. I had even got in touch with the Victorian Society to find out what would be required to preserve such a building. I would have needed to see outstanding features that sadly no longer exist or perhaps never did. There is plain cast iron staircase but little evidence of anything else.
But what next? It seems that developers very nearly purchased the building recently only for the owner to pull out at the last minute perhaps getting greedy. Inside information leads me to understand that the plan was to renovate the exterior of the building, add accommodation to the first floor and create a cafe/pub/social space on the ground floor. Not a bad idea given the new walking route that will be created from Arklow Road to Trundleys Road through the Anthology development.
The reason for my interest here is that it will be on the route linking green space. There will be 400 news homes in the immediate area; a huge increase in population. The building could be a great spot for a coffee, food and drink, linking Charlottenburg Park and Folkestone Gardens. It could create affordable housing, jobs and a social space that the area will need: an amenity for all to share as they meander between green spaces, saunter to the bus stop or station or a cycle stop off point along Quiet Way 1. Furthermore, it seems to represent one of the last remnants of Deptford's industrial heritage that might just be worth preserving.
What do you think? Get in touch and let us know. If enough people are interested perhaps we can look at a local joint venture with a developer to create a community space for all and a new local business with employment opportunities. Or perhaps something to locally list with Lewisham Council?
SCOTT BARKWITH is standing in the Evelyn Ward by-election being held on 13th October as an independent candidate. You can find out about the election and other candidates HERE
J Stone & Co works as once was in Deptford off Arklow Road
Josiah Stone the founder of the factory once a huge employer in Deptford.
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