Wandsworth is a diverse and contrasting borough where history and tradition rub shoulders with the twenty-first century. Superficially, it seems to be somewhere which is on the route to somewhere else, transected by busy roads and railways. It is known for the Common and the Prison, yet still retains the character of a village in a city.
Bordering the south bank of the Thames, it has a long and vivid history with a striking relevance to the concerns and politics of today. Directly behind the site of Signature’s latest home and ironically, adjacent to the neighbouring Catholic Church, is a historic cemetery, Mount Nod, the last resting place of citizens of the borough who were Huguenots, refugees from religious and state persecution in France in the seventeenth century. Thousands of Protestants, the Huguenots fled persecution from the French King Louis XIV and many settled in Britain, which at the time, having sorted its own religious and political Civil War was more accepting of religious diversity than France and much more concerned with exploration, trade and commerce. Many French Huguenots, came to London and were not merely tolerated, they were welcomed as bringing valuable and commercial skills, not to mention direct experience of the latest French fashions.
In Wandsworth, a village with the benefit of the pure running water of the River Wandle, the Huguenots added to the industries established by Dutch immigrants of printing, weaving and dyeing with their expertise in silk, ultimately attracting the likes of William Morris, who established his workshop here in 1881. Market gardening, was taken up enthusiastically, selling to Covent Garden and beyond; also and brewing, with the existing Young’s Brewery being currently, the oldest in Britain. The Huguenots were notable for their spirit of hard work, creativity and integration; characteristics that ensured they were assimilated into the local population. Their arrival transformed London and the attitudes of the locals and could be argued to have moulded the character of modern London and, therefore, Britain.
More recently, the cultural diversity of Wandsworth is reinforced by being the home of the Booker Prize. Even today, this prestigious award generates healthy debate and controversy and even this week, the announcement that the competition will henceforth be open to foreign writers has caused quite a stir. Signature’s East Hill Home will be the latest in a long tradition of newcomers to Wandsworth trusting to benefit from the borough’s vibrant tradition of tolerance and acceptance. We hope that the residents, who will no doubt have many personal connections to the area will form the character of the home, welcoming in the same way as in the past, those who came here to find refuge and a promising future.
The personality of this home is, therefore dedicated to diversity of culture and the warm acceptance of everyone. The environs may be hard, busy and commercial, yet we aspire to create a welcoming and warm interior with flexible and adaptable spaces that can provide a safe haven that will open its doors to all, in the same spirit that Wandsworth opened its doors to the refugees of the past. There will be eclectic and stimulating finishes and colours. There will be interesting and diverse spaces. The apartments will respect the needs of those whose choices have become limited by circumstance. There will be areas of energy and vibrancy and oases of peace and reflection. Whatever age, nationality, race or religion, whether a resident, a family member or a visitor, there will be a welcome here. There will be a space available for community involvement, in respect and recognition of Wandsworth’s tradition as a London Village. Each space will have a unique presentation to provide a variety of experience for the residents. Colour and visual stimuli will assist wayfinding without the need for institutional signage.