The Camberwell Society

Society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell

Ruskin Tree Walk film

In this movie short version of the Ruskin Tree Walk, launched by the Camberwell Society in conjunction with the SE5 Forum in early March, a group of volunteer presenters cast from across the Camberwell community provide compelling insights from leading experts about the Victorian influencer John Ruskin.

Ruskin – who lived in Herne Hill and Camberwell – was known for his views on nature and loved trees. Each segment of the walk is tied to a remarkable tree or interesting view within Ruskin Park. The film also features new illustrations by local artists and showcases a much-loved South London green space.

The film is available at this YouTube link:

More information: Ruskin Tree Walk materials, including the fully illustrated essays about John Ruskin and a map of the walk’s route through Ruskin Park, can be found on the Camberwell Society’s website here:

Thank you to the financial supporters of the film: The Friends of Ruskin Park, The Herne Hill Society, The Campaign to Protect Rural England (London), The Guild of St George and The Camberwell Society. Our thanks also go to The Cambria for supporting the community and providing the generous food discount.

​Time’s Witness


Angela Penrose reviews Times witness: History in the Age of Romanticism by Rosemary Hill (Allen Lane £25)

In the summer of 1789, as revolutionary fervour swept through France, across the channel the eminent architect James Wyatt was commissioned to improve Salisbury cathedral. With neo-Classical Georgian good taste Wyatt removed medieval screens and stained glass, dismantled tombs, demolished a medieval bell tower and the fifteenth century chantry. The thirteenth century ceiling paintings in the choir were painted over to fulfil Wyatt’s desire for a uniform interior without the ‘wretched daubings’. Alarmed Richard Gough, a Director of the Society of Antiquarians, dispatched the draughtsman Schnebbelie to see what was going on; unable to prevent the ‘improvements’ he managed to sketch the ceilings before the ‘uncouth, disproportioned figures’ disappeared for ever.

Gough wrote to The Gentleman’s Magazine, the hub of antiquarian debate, attacking Wyatt’s actions in a letter which ‘marked the beginning of a revolution in attitudes to the material past’. In arguing for the preservation of ‘monuments of antiquity’ Gough was ahead of public opinion; antiquarians were then regarded as eccentric collectors.

These antiquarians, networked across Europe, inspired a transformation in attitudes to the past between the French Revolution and the Great Exhibition of 1851, as illustrated by the rebuilding of St Giles Church in Camberwell. On 7 February 1841 a devastating fire virtually destroyed the medieval church, melting the stained glass, crumbling the stone to powder. The new St Giles became the first major Gothic building by George Gilbert Scott, best known as architect of St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial, examples of the Gothic Revival which had its roots in ‘medievalism’ and antiquarian concerns with tangible remains and curiosities.

Through bringing to life an idiosyncratic selection of antiquarians who extended the study of history across architecture, stone circles, pottery, costume, armour, and manuscripts, Rosemary Hill explores how our concept of heritage took root. Sir Walter Scott was the embodiment of the Romantic antiquary but Hill introduces us to many others, mainly men but a few women including Anna Gurney, who published the first English translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Though hugely different they shared an insistence on the direct inspection of primary sources and, an ability to combine sensitivity and imagination in order to interpret the past. Through her intensively researched study of these enthusiasts, Hill uncovers a fascinating story of the history of history.

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The Camberwell Society was formed in 1970 and is the recognised amenity society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell.

The Society’s objectives, as defined by our constitution, are: to stimulate public interest in Camberwell, to promote high standards of planning and architecture in Camberwell, and to secure the preservation, protection, development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in Camberwell.

We are a charity and raise money for local charities. In the past we have raised money for Southside Rehabilitation Association, St Giles Trust, Cambridge House, the CamberwellCommunity Choir, the HollingtonYouth Centre and the Camberwell Arts Festival