Ten years ago vehicles were left half submerged and street furniture was washed away in a shocking flood that caused £2million of damage in a quiet suburb, writes Claudia Lee.
The flood ripped through 37 homes and businesses in Half Moon lane, Dulwich Road, Milkwood Road, Herne Hill and Norwood Road.
Robert Holden, who has lived in Herne Hill since 1944, recalls visiting the flooded area until the water rose to the top of his motorbike boots – and then came home.
He said: “It was a man-made disaster.
“The water rose to the height of a bicycle saddle, all the basements of shops and houses were ruined.
“The water found its way everywhere, it even raised and covered the posters on notice boards.
“I kept one of the posters that had got soaked for years until it disintegrated, to remember it.”
People living and working in the area spent two days counting the cost as they cleared up the flood.
Mr Holden said: “It took so long for people to recover, so much damage had been done.
“Some of the shops had insurance but some didn’t. Those who didn’t could apply for compensation from Thames Water but it was such a long process having to tally up all the stock and trade that shop owners had lost.
“It was very, very serious.”
Mr Holden explained that throughout the next year, shops began to reopen gradually.
He said: “The sad story was the Half Moon pub – that really suffered.
“The owner said they couldn’t let anyone in for so long and had to put humidifiers in to dry out the plaster.
“We were all wondering if it would ever reopen or if it might get turned into a Weatherspoons.
“Eventually Fullers took it over and did a really good job at restoring it.
“After about two years it reopened but it took the longest out of all the damaged properties.”
On the day of the flood, the Half Moon pub saw 60,000 litres of water removed from its basement alone using high volume pumping equipment.
Lloyds TSB’s insurance department estimated the incident had caused around £2million of damage to properties.
But much more than money was lost.
Mr Holden said: “It upsets me to this day. We have an Oxfam book shop in the shopping centre.
“One volunteer at Oxfam would look at the books and if he saw something special he would put it aside to be valued and sent to auctions.
“So all these books were so precious, and they were kept in the basement which got completely flooded.
“It was so sad, you can’t claim insurance for things like that.”
Herne Hill has a long history of flooding and is particularly at risk along the route of one of London’s lost rivers, the River Effra, which was buried underground in the 1880s.
In April 2004, 60mm of rainfall fell over two hours, flooding 200 properties in the area.
The storm caused roughly £1million of damage to council infrastructure alone.
Mr Holden is a life member of the Herne Hill Society, and currently the vice-chairperson of the Lambeth Local History Forum.
He said: “My grandfather bought a house here in 1898 and his basement flooded in 1917.
“Rain would come down the hill and cause flooding. But this was different, it was man-made. No one could have anticipated it.”
Picture: Bikes submerged by the flood Picture: Andy Thornley – Flickr
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