C S Forester & South London

CS Forester is one of a number of authors with a strong Lewisham connection, living in Sydenham for around 7 years in the 1930s.  One of the houses in Longton Avenue was where he started the Hornblower series before moving to the USA in 1939.

I was rather put off Forester, the ‘pen name’ of Cecil Louis Troughton Smith, by being forced to ‘study’ one of the Hornblower novels at around 12 or 13. This ought to be a post about Horatio Hornblower and one of the military campaigns in the Peninsula War, or ‘The African Queen’ which he also wrote in Sydenham.  However, I have eschewed them, and, instead, I’ll go back to one of his earlier novels in a very different genre – the crime novel ‘Payment Deferred’ – which has a south London setting.

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The starting point of ‘Payment Deferred’ is a relatively simple one – William Marble is a middle-aged bank clerk with two children and an extravagant wife, and as a result the household is living way beyond its means.  Being a crime novel, well there has to be a crime, and not surprisingly this is murder.

I won’t spoil the plot, but it is well constructed by Forester, with an excellent final twist and sting in the tail/tale to the novel. What makes it an absorbing novel is the way in which, Forester ‘documents’ the murderer’s inner torments, their obsessions and their knowledge of that they are just one mistake away from the gallows – something which dominates everything they do.

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The setting of the fictional house of 53 Malcolm Road is probably an amalgamation of several locations. At the time of writing, Forester was living at 58 Underhill Road in East Dulwich, having grown up in the Peckham/Camberwell borders of Shenley Road.  Certainly the feel of the long walks up the long streets from Peckham Road appear in several passages, but the house in Malcom Road was much smaller – much more reminiscent of some of the streets of smaller houses on the Peckham and East Dulwich borders – my own mental image is of Nigel Road in Peckham..

Forester moved to 58 Underhill Road as a 16 year old, in 1915, and it was his home until 1929; English Heritage installed the blue plaque there in 1990. He moved onto Upper Sydenham in 1932 living in several homes close to Wells Park – only 7 Longton Avenue remains and this is where the first of the Hornblower novels were written.  The detached house is ‘locally listed’ – Lewisham’s listing text describing it as

Villa. Detached. Late C19. Red brick and plain clay tile with stucco dressings, two stories, three bays. Hipped roof with pyramidal element surmounting canted projecting bay to right. To left, flat arched, three light casements. Central canopied entrance surmounted by oriel that rises through eaves. Projecting bay has hung tiles. Primarily of historic interest, formerly being C.S. Forester’s house

Underhill Road (left) & Longton Avenue

Underhill Road (left) & Longton Avenue

Forester split up with his wife just before WW2 and emigrated to the United States, working for British Information Service on propaganda and continued with the Hornblower series up until his death in 1966 – the final novels being published posthumously.

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3 thoughts on “C S Forester & South London

  1. Pingback: Gobbets of the week #23 | HistoryLondon

  2. Pingback: C S Forester & South London | Running Past | First Night Design

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