|September 2012: The last days of the Lease-Lend Cottage, Clapham.|
The Lease Lend Cottage - built on a plot of land behind the houses and flats on four converging residential streets on the borders of Clapham and Battersea in south London, was a beguiling, green oasis, overgrowing with trees and flowering shrubs and vines that seemed to stick two fingers up to the yuppie-fired property boom that was taking hold of this area in the early 1980s.
It was not just a secret garden, but a secret house as well. And now it is gone, replaced by three - or is it four - new houses for people with a million or two to spend.
Back in the summer of 1985, my mother, who lived on the Sussex Coast, still loved coming to London to see a play or a film. It was a good summer, and she liked to sit out on the roof terrace and watch the planes coming in. She especially enjoyed the Concordes, which would whistle overhead on their way down to Heathrow, twice a day. As they passed over the house the sound would change into an doom-laden roar which made the windows rattle and the walls vibrate.
But something more earthbound caught her imagination above all - it was directly beneath our flats, a quirky country-cottage style house with pitched roofing and a huge conservatory, surrounded on three sides by densely-planted gardens.
The house had an an eccentric, slightly bohemian look - each window seemed to be different, there were round porthole-style openings on the landings. It occupied an irregularly diamond-shaped space between the Victorian terraces of The Chase and Hannington Road, and the back of a large block of mansion flats on the corner of Macaulay Road. We looked down and tried to imagine what it must be like living in this strange, secret place.
A few years later I bought a car - a Citroen BX16 - which my brother-in-law had found for me in Eastbourne. I loved the car from first sight, but it was full of problems. I looked for a local Citroen garage and was pleased to find a good one very close by - the Polygon Garage in Old Town Clapham.
After two or three expensive visits to this garage I found out that its owner - Timothy Kinross - lived with his wife in the hidden cottage. He was in the process of selling the garage, and told me that from now on he'd be working on cars in the garages of his own backyard. I went round, and was given a quick tour of the house.
He was a delightful man, and often joked that he felt guilty taking so much money from me just to keep this rather ridiculous car with its crazy hydro-pneumatic suspension system on the road. He was even trying gently to consider buying a new Citroen from him.
The house was just as beautiful as my mother had imagined, a hidden paradise for a lucky family. But what I remember most is his description of how each bit of the house had been built from the bricks and slates and wood from various bomb sites, mostly local, but also from others across London.
And, as I have discovered since, the land that it was built on was itself a bomb-site (a big clue would be the block of modern flats to its west on The Chase). No wonder my flat is in such rickety condition).
I am not sure when he came to the house, or whether he'd had any role in ts building. Soon after the Citroen died, in about 1999, I bought a diffferent car and no longer had any excuse to contact the Kinrosses.
At some point in the late 1990s they left the house, and for a while it seemed to be abandoned. The garden grew and overgrew and foxes flourished.
One year, maybe in 2000, it was taken over by what seemed like a bunch of young kids, possibly squatters.
Or maybe, definitely squatters.
For a long summer they seemed to be having non-stop parties in the beautiful conservatory and garden.
I can remember lying in bed on a summer's night listening to their parties and wishing I was there with them. Some days there'd be the sounds of a band practising, a drummer and guitarist, and I loved these sounds.
To my surprise, I've found this short video on YouTube which seems to confirm these strange, half-dreamed memories:
All these years later, this short video makes me even more jealous of this riotously bohemian household, surrounded as it was by houses and flats chiefly occupied by a new influx of bonus-fuelled city types.
Then it all stopped.
The garden grew thicker and wilder. I used to see foxes walking tightrope-style along the ridges of the walls, probably looking for cats or other pets to eat.
And then I got a letter from Lambeth council's planning people. It was a planning application, inviting responses to a proposal to knock down the cottage and build four houses in its place.
As the local preservation group, the Clapham Society pointed out, this application proposed
"a rather dense scheme to redevelop the site with some large new houses, ingeniously laid out so as not to disturb neighbours, but at the expense of their own poor quality of outdoor space".
And now, it is almost finhsed - the four houses are almost complete and are about to go on the market under some ludicrous names, chosen , of course to appeal to snob-values.
But then I unearthed another nugget - in 2012 a photo taken for an American press in 1946 was sold on eBay.
The photo was of Lease-Lend Cottage, and on the back of the print, these words:
"Housing solution - This house in the London suburb of Clapham was built of 20,000 second hand bricks salvaged from bombed sites all over London. Faced by a shortage of new materials, Charles Hancock, a master builder, constructed it - and at a cost of only $425."
The house is recently been subject to a planning application which would have to its demolition."
So, I wasn't dreaming.
But I might as well have been.
I should have tied myself to the trees in that beautiful garden. Instead, I let it happen.
You can still see this photo on a site called worth point.com . It all seems terribly sad to me, especially when you see what they have done with the plot of land.