Public art trail launched to revive Herne Hill after devastating floods

Have you seen a flying boot, rabbit, hairpins, and what looks like a wig suddenly appearing across Herne Hill?  A number of metal art works have started to appear above shops, in the railway tunnel or inside the Half Moon pub.  They are part of “Flying Boots and Eyes on Fire”, a new public artwork celebrating the Herne Hill community’s resilience and revival after devastating floods in 2013, which left 58 businesses with losses in excess of £6.7m.

Trade never fully recovered, so a new public artwork “Flying Boots and Eyes on Fire”, created by artist Caroline McCarthy, alongside the Contemporary Art Society, aims to give Herne Hill and visitors alike a further reason to visit, explore and shop in Herne Hill.

The new art trail is a set of 15 steel-cut drawings connecting Herne Hill Station, Railton and Milkwood Roads and Half Moon Lane, the areas most flood-affected. From flying boots to fiery eyes, a stopped clock to Bono’s bad haircut.  The drawings are inspired by local events, stories of determination and protest, threat and survival: all collected from local archives or stories told to the artist by members of the community.

Collectively, the artworks celebrate the strength, resilience and ‘can-do’ community spirit of Herne Hill.  

‘Flying Boots’ were thrown to drive away jewel thieves in Half Moon Lane, whereas the glint of battle in the ‘Eyes on Fire’ recalls the protest by local matrons to gain afternoon access to the walled garden in Brockwell Park. The images also reference world famous poets, writers and actors with a connection to Herne Hill such as Dylan Thomas, Michael Crawford, Judith Kerr, and U2 who performed in the local Half Moon pub.

Caroline McCarthy, Artist, commented “Early on in my research I realised that there was a long-standing 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” is in recognition of this spirit and the art trail is a representation of the local community’s sense of history.”

George Hornby, Chair, Herne Hill Forum: “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. ”

Barrie Westwell, The Illlusioneer, Herne Hill: “The devastating flood was a huge set back, it took over 2.5 years to fully recover and re-build the business, with some businesses permanently destroyed.  The art trail is a permanent way to really bring together all of the extraordinary and ordinary stories about Herne Hill and its fantastic community. We hope everyone will enjoy it from children to visitors, young and old, and encourage visitors to explore everything Herne Hill has to offer, and learn more about its past and future.”

In 2013, Herne Hill became the latest neighbourhood in the capital to experience a flash flood thanks to London’s ageing sewerage and inadequate investment programme. On the morning of Wednesday 7th of August, the landlord of the Half Moon pub awoke to the sound of heavy footsteps in the bar below. He feared a burglary but the source of his anxiety proved far worse. The sound turned out to be empty barrels in the cellar bobbing up and down on the floodwater and banging into the joists and floorboards above. My mid-morning, the main road junction in front of the pub was waist deep and premises on three roads were flooded.

In all, 58 businesses were damaged and the insured losses alone amounted to £6.7m. Some businesses never reopened whereas others limped on for over a year before claims were settled. Most concerning for those that continued to trade was that the footfall the area had enjoyed previously never fully recovered. A combination of voids in the parades, the closure of the pub and a shift in customer shopping patterns away from the local precinct meant that for a period of years trading remained below pre-flood levels.

The art trail is the start of a wider ongoing project to make Herne Hill a thriving centre for the area’s independent retailers, makers, doers and menders.  Following the launch, local schools will be invited to enter a story telling competition. The challenge is to invent and illustrate a short story which includes and gives new life and meaning to the fifteen art works.  

You can follow the art trail from any point in Herne Hill, but if you want to learn more about the art trail, the stories behind each of the pieces of art work, there is a map in the station or more information can be found on   Or tweet your own local story both new and old #flyingboots @hernehillforum 

Photo credit: Amit Lennon