There is a large house in Lewisham which for all the world looks like a cake smothered in brightly coloured icing.
Originally written in 2016, I have since updated this article as more has come to light about the history of the house, and its enigmatic owner.
The house belonged to Brenton Samuel Pink a retired refuse collector who bought it for £4800 in the 1960s and then spent many years lovingly painting it bright colours to evoke the light and colours of his birthplace, Jamaica.
Brenton Samuel Pink came to Britain aged 31 or 32 in 1957. Very much part of ‘the Windrush generation’, Mr Pink often referred to how he and his generation were brought up to believe that England was, as he described it in Helena Appio’s documentary, “our mother country”: You can see the documentary here.
Born and brought up with a strong work ethic, Mr Pink got a job and worked hard; “no scrounge”, as he put it.
Within a few years, he had saved enough to buy the house – a significant achievement at a time when people like Mr Pink were denied mortgages.
Mr Pink immediately set to work, painting the house and planting gardens to evoke the coffee plantations of his childhood. Often, as he worked, or sat on his rocking chair in the Porch, he wore a hat decorated with flowers, leaves, tinsel and twigs, which local children referred to as ‘crowns’ – in their minds, his house was a fairy tale castle, and Mr Pink a prince among men. And in a way, he was.
Mr Pink created his dream of Jamaica against a backdrop of racism towards Black and Brown people.
In 1977, the racist National Front (NF) march from Lewisham High Street went past his house, before being confronted by the Anti-Nazi League and several hundreds of local people at Clifton Rise, New Cross: The Battle of Lewisham.
In 1978, returning from what he described as a “fantastic” holiday in Jamaica, Mr Pink was detained for some hours at Heathrow airport. As he says in the film:
“It made me feel very sick, very dirty, very nasty, very ugly, not a pretty, happy person at the time at all … ”
He never went abroad again.
Much has changed, in Lewisham and across the UK. A lot of it for the better.
Yet for people of the Windrush generation like Mr Pink, and for many of their descendants, it seems that much has either stayed the same or, perhaps more ominously, is returning to those troubled times.
Mr Pink’s story is his own, but also one which encapsulates so much of the area and the city’s history and its continued evolution.
Lewisham was once a suburb with villas set in their own grounds, much like Mr Pink’s home is.
Following WW1, decline and de-population took hold. People moved to the fringes of the capital to new suburbs. There, the houses were larger and came with all the modern conveniences. This hollowed out areas in what we now think of as Zone 2 on the tube map; the former suburbs of London became an abandoned inner city.
From the 1980s Lewisham and areas like it once again become popular places to live. A wealth of cheap housing attracted students, artists, squatters and migrant populations through the post-war period; each putting down roots.
Brenton Samuel Pink’s story is an intrinsic part of the rich history of the area that’s too often overlooked.
I had the honour to meet Mr Pink in around 1995/96. At that time I had returned to education, studying for a degree at Goldsmiths just down the road from his home. We had tea and chatted. He was warm, a treasure trove of stories and reminiscence about the area, and gently but defiantly his unique self.
Brenton Samuel Pink died 8 June 2017.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the National Trust was to save and restore Mr Pink’s house?
A colourful Life, Lewisham Ledger, September 2018
Exploring ‘community’, April 2016