There is a large house in Lewisham which for all the world looks like a cake – 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 that generation referred to as ‘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 himself in Helena Appio’s documentary short, “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 the time given that people like Mr Pink were often denied mortgages.
Mr Pink immediately set to work, painting the house and planting he gardens to evoke the 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 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.
Lewisham was once a suburb with villas set in their own grounds, like Mr Pink’s.
Following WW1, a shabby decline and de-population took hold. People moved to the fringes of the capital hollowing out what were now becoming inner city suburbs.
It was only from the 1980s that Lewisham once again become a popular place to live, with a wealth of cheap housing which attracted students, artists, squatters and migrant populations through the post-war period.
Brenton Samuel Pink’s story is an intrinsic part of the rich history of the area that’s too often overlooked.
I was honoured to have met 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.
I’m getting in touch with the National Trust to see if there is any way that Mr Pink’s home can be saved and restored. It’s a work-in-progress, much like his home.