Art trail is response to devastating 2013 flood in Herne Hill

Present day Herne Hill traders in front of the 'Flying Boot'
Present day Herne Hill traders in front of the ‘Flying Boot’

A new public art trail will be launched in Herne Hill today (11 February) as part of a drive to revive local businesses, many of which have still not fully recovered from the devastating flood of 2013.

The 2013 Herne Hill flood
The 2013 Herne Hill flood
Pic by Crispin Sugden

A burst Thames Water main caused damage of more than £6.7m and blighted local businesses for years.

The art trail is inspired by the local community and includes celebrities connected with the area, including actor Michael Crawford, poet Dylan Thomas, Tiger who Came to Tea author Judith Kerr and rock band U2, who once played the Half Moon.

The flying boot
The flying boot outside the Half Moon

Entitled “Flying Boots and Eyes on Fire”, the artwork celebrates the community’s resilience after the flood that left 58 businesses with substantial losses.

It has been created by artist Caroline McCarthy, alongside the Contemporary Art Society, and seeks to give people more reasons reason to visit, explore and shop locally.

The trail is the start of a wider and ongoing project to make Herne Hill a thriving centre for independent retailers, makers, doers and menders.

It consists of 15 steel-cut drawings that connect Herne Hill Station, Railton and Milkwood Roads and Half Moon Lane – the areas worst hit by the flood.

“Flying Boots” were thrown to drive away jewel thieves in a Half Moon Lane incident and the glint of battle in the “Eyes on Fire” recalls the campaign by local women to gain afternoon access to the walled garden in Brockwell Park.

Elaine Partleton, The Flower Lady, with the Cyril the Squirrel artwork
Elaine Partleton, The Flower Lady, with the Cyril the Squirrel artwork

Another features Cyril the Squirrel, rescued by The Flower Lady, Elaine Partleton – who has had her own problems recently.

Caroline McCarthy said: “Early on in my research I realised that there was a longstanding history in the area of determination, empathy and passion; of local people willing to stand up to authority and expressing their love for their community.

“Whether saving a pub or a squirrel, resurrecting a cinema, demanding rights, planting trees, Flying Boots and Eyes on Fireis a recognition of this spirit and the art trail is a representation of the local community’s sense of history.”

George Hornby, chair of the Herne Hill Forum, said: “We hope the art trail will intrigue locals and attract curious visitors.

“It is an additional reason to explore the large number of independent stores that trade on and around Herne Hill. An annual storytelling competition for local schools based around the artworks will bring the art trail and the tales it tells to our next generation of neighbours.”

Barrie Westwell, The Illlusioneer of Herne Hill, said: “The devastating flood was a huge setback, it took over two and a half years to fully recover and rebuild the business. Some businesses were permanently destroyed.

“The art trail is a permanent way to really bring together all of the extraordinary stories about Herne Hill and its fantastic community.

Greater London Assembly (GLA) member Leonie Cooper, deputy chair of the assembly’s environment committee, said: “It’s great to see such a positive response from local people to the devastating 2013 flood.”

Fabienne Nicholas, head of consultancy at the Contemporary Art Society, said: “Caroline McCarthy has cleverly unearthed the secrets and folklore of the area and its trading history to create something very special for local residents and visitors, vividly demonstrating how art can respond to heritage and contribute to cultural placemaking.”