The Three Fire Stations of Lee

Running Past has covered several of the current and past buildings around Lee Green, notably Lee Green Farm and the closed pubs, the Prince Arthur and the New Tigers Head as well as a little on its more ancient version, the Old Tiger’s Head, in connection with the Lee Races of the first half of the 19th century.

In the north eastern quadrant is one of the most impressive bits of municipal architecture in the area, the Grade II listed fire station. We will return to that building later; however, it seems to have been at least the third Fire Station in the area. There had been one in Weardale Road by the late 1870s (1), presumably close to the Rose of Lee based on what else had been built at that stage in the road.  Weardale Road had still been known as Hocum Pocum Lane little more than a decade before.

The next one opened by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1895 was on the Lewisham side of Lee Green in the same group of buildings as the Old Tigers Head (see above). It was in an attractive group of four storey properties which have very distinctive Dutch gables. There used to be a tower in the middle of them but this appears to have been damaged in World War 2.

The site had originally been the stables for the ‘old’ Old Tiger’s Head and these seem to have been used for a while by Thomas Tilling for stabling the horses for their buses (like at 36 Old Road) – that was certainly the case in the 1888 edition of Kelly’s Directory. The courtyard entrance to the pub and stables remain with an alley with a ‘garage’ ghost sign above it.

The terrace  predates the ‘new’ Old Tiger’s Head pub by a few years – whose rebuilding was completed around 1896 (the façade is dated). The earlier building of the terrace allowed the pub to temporarily move to what became the fire station. The pub had previously had an address of 345 Lee High Road, but while it kept its number after the temporary move; by 1895 it was flanked at 343 by a hosier Alfred Trusson and at 347 to 349, a long lost type of retail outlet – a mantle warehouse, run by Alexander Aitken.

The fire station opened by 1896 once the pub had moved back to its newly rebuilt old home. In the 1900 Kelly’s Directory its neighbours were the grocers and related shop, the London and Counties Stores (see photograph above). Alexander Aitken was still selling mantles and the pub was numbered 351. By 1905 the mantle trade had moved on, 347 was empty and 349 was a chemist. After the Fire Station’s move to what would have been described at the time as ‘more commodious premises’ 345 seems to have remained empty until the late 1920s (see note below). The former fire station (and pub) is now home to Mandy Peters Solicitors.

The new fire station was designed by the Fire Brigade Branch of the London County Council Architects Department and opened in 1906 and was Grade II listed in 1973. The architectural team within the LCC had originally worked in housing and included Owen Fleming, who was better known for his work on the Boundary Estate in Shoreditch.

The listing notes for Lee Green Fire Station remark that it is ‘notable for having two elevations of architectural quality in the Arts and Crafts-style to the south, with a cross-gable, and to the east.’

The Arts and Crafts style probably reflected that it was a Fire Station built in then suburbia and while Lee Green Farm had been lost as the Crown Estate sold off parcels of land for development from the 1860s, the neighbouring Horn Park Farm was to survive until the 1930s.

The materials used at the fire station are described as

Red brick with lower courses of russet glazed brick, steeply pitched slate roof and tall brick chimneys. Rendering to twin gables and glazed brick at ground floor on side elevation. Stone canted bay to front.

There was accommodation for firefighters included within the station itself, as was common at the time of building, and in a couple of houses behind the Fire Station in Meadowcourt Road (pictured above) as well as in an early to mid 19th century detached, yellow brick house, 7 Eltham Road (see main photograph of Fire Station). Royal Greenwich locally listed 7 Eltham Road in 2019, describing it as

Good quality and rare surviving domestic building of its date with a frontage which has largely remained in its original form

I& Eltham Road may have been acquired by the Fire Brigade after the station was built and it was noted in Kelly’s Directories of 1905 and 1911 as being home to a William Issott. Any earlier detail has proved difficult to unpick due to changes in names and numbering of the houses in the late 19th century.

The new station seems to have been one of the first to have been entirely motorised with two petrol engines and a steam powered one – the fire engines pictured outside at the time of the opening in December 1906.

While many of the local fire stations of the era have closed, such as Forest Hill in Perry Vale, and Lewisham’s, towards the southern end of the High Street, which was replaced 150 metres away, Lee Green has survived both rebuilding and closure programmes over the years; long may that continue!

Notes

  1. Kentish Mercury 17 January 1880
  2. The Graphic 15 December 1906

Picture & Other Credits

The photograph of the original fire station is from the collection of the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath, it is used with their permission.

The Kelly’s Directory information comes from Southwark Archives, I have copied data from every 5th year – so a few short term stays may be missed.

Woodlands Street – A Hither Green Street

Woodlands Street is a Hither Green road that has been touched on a couple of times before – notably in relation to its builders, WJ Scudamore who completed work on this and the neighbouring streets of Benin and Blashford at the end of the 19th century.  This post looks at what was there before the the street was developed, Hope Cottage, the early residents along with the impact of the war on the street along with recent changes.

Hope Cottage was built on farmland in around 1840; it was described initially as Wood Cottage in the 1841 census. While it was called a ‘cottage’ it was anything but and was located on what is now the forecourt of the shops of 272/274 Hither Green Lane (1). Unlike many of the large houses in Hither Green and Lee, there was no complicated history of ownership and tenants to unravel, Hope Cottage was built for, and inhabited by, the same family throughout its life. The Ordnance Survey cartographers got to name wrong when they surveyed the area in the mid-1860s – describeing it as Oak Cottage.  The real Oak Cottage was further south off what is now Verdant Lane.

It was built for William and Eleanor Butler (both born around 1785), the former was a wealthy grocer and property owner who hailed from St Pancras. It was an area they seem to have stayed in as all the children were born there.

In the 1861 census, what was then referred to as Hope Cottage was described as being in ‘Brightside’ – a lane down the side of the property to a property of that name, it is a name which lives on in the relatively nearby Brightside Road.  Hope Cottage was home to the now retired Butlers, William and Eleanor along with their adult children Charles (42, born in 1819) and William (56, 1805) who were both fund holders and Eleanor (45, 1816) who didn’t work.

Eleanor (Snr) probably died in 1870; but everyone else had remained at Hope Cottage, with Richard, born in 1819 having moved back to the house. William (Snr) died in 1876.  By 1881, all the younger Butlers were still there and had been joined by their younger sister Elizabeth who was widowed, all were described as having an income derived from houses and dividends.

By 1891 there was just Charles, Eleanor and Elizabeth remaining, all described as ‘living on their own means.’  In the latter years of the three siblings, the city was rapidly encroaching on what had been originally a country house:

By this stage Charles was the only remaining Butler, Elizabeth had died in 1893 and Eleanor in 1896. Charles sold up to W J Scudamore soon after Eleanor’s death and seems to have moved in with a nephew in one of the large houses on Brownhill Road – he was there in the 1901 census.

This was one of the earlier sites in the area that family building firm W J Scudamore developed in the area; the work was started in the late 1890s with payments for the connection of the sewers into Hither Green Lane made in 1899. However, the building was probably over several years. In the 1901 Census,  21 – 27 at the south western end (away from Hither Green Lane) were not recorded, with 19 and 20 (the numbering is consecutive) appeared not to be fully occupied and may have only just been let.

Unlike some of the bigger houses on Hither Green Lane along with the bigger Corbett Estate houses, Woodlands Street was a working class street.  Virtually all the houses were subdivided into flats, 3 room flats 6/- (30p) a week with the 4 room variants 7/6d (38p) in 1904 (2) with the homes managed from the Scudamore’s estate office at 1 Benin Street.   It was only the southern side of the street that was built on – the edge of the Park Fever Hospital formed the northern side of the street.

A few houses seemed have singles families, including the Ives at 2 and the Lees at 6, although with each of these it may be that part of the house was empty at the time the enumerators called in 1901.  Some were significantly overcrowded – there were 14 people living at number 4.  That said there were slightly fewer people living there on average than in the smaller houses in Ardmere Road in 1901 – the average there was 7.4 per house, with 6.9 in Woodlands Street with a median (mid-point) of 8 and 7 respectively.

The trades were all manual work, a lot linked to the building industry – it will be remembered that the Corbett Estate was still being built and while the Archibald Cameron Corbett used some of the smaller houses in streets such as Sandhurst Road to house workers, the demand for housing will have spilled out into estates such as this.  Some of the tenants may also have been employees of the Scudamores. There were several bricklayers, a pair of plumbers, a house painter and a trio of carpenters.  Several worked on the railway, perhaps based at Hither Green.

In the early years there were a few cases of crime – several of these involved neighbour disputes and included one of tenants of 24 being convicted for throwing a flower pot at child of the other tenant of 24, while it missed, the court fined her 5/- (25p) (3).

There were a fair number of cases of drunkenness; George Fowler of 10 was convicted of being drunk and disorderly, using abusive language towards the police and fined £1 or 2 weeks in prison (4). His neighbour at 11, Andrew Smith,  was arrested for being drunk and disorderly at the Black Horse in Catford in 1905 and was fined as a result (5).

Richard Sancto of no 7 was charged with being drunk and disorderly and assaulting Joesph Gibbs of Ardmere Road and a police Constable who tried to break up a fight in Courthill Road. Sancto was sentenced to two months hard labour in the summer of 1907 (6).

There were thefts too, some local, some a little further afield – Fanny Gotts of 13 was charged with the theft of two pairs of trousers in Greenwich – pleaded guilty and sentenced to 21 days hard labour (7).

By the time the 1939 Register was collected just after the outbreak of World War Two, the nature of employment on the street had changed markedly.  As was the case in Ardmere Road, the number employed in the building industry had dropped sharply – this was not surprising as, other than a few small infill sites, there wasn’t much new housing being built in the area.  Work was almost entirely manual amongst the men, with around 1/3 being given the ‘heavy work’ suffix which attracted additional rations during the war.  There were lots of labourers, a few lorry drivers, and several working on the railways.  Other than those who were unmarried, very few women worked – amongst those who weren’t married there were several cleaners, a couple of telephonists, a typist, a tie packer and a knitting machinist.

In the 28 houses (48 households) six were working on war preparations with the navy in Deptford, RAF Kidbrooke and the Royal Arsenal.  In addition three of the residents on the street had already been recruited to Air Raid Precaution work – Albert Chambers at 15 and Albert Hudson at 18 were part time ARP Wardens with Frederick Cook at No 2 recruited on a full-time basis.

There were more children in the street than perhaps expected – eleven with ages and another 22 redacted cases (anyone who may still be alive is blacked out on the Register).  Most children had been evacuated, including from the school site that many of the boys will have received their education at Catford Central Boys School, Brownhill Road Boys School which was split into infants and juniors.

One other point that has already been alluded too was that these were still shared houses.  The levels of overcrowding were not as great as in 1901, although this is probably largely explained by evacuation.

Key: black=total destruction, purple=damaged beyond repair, dark red=seriously damaged (doubt if repairable), light red=seriously damaged (repairable at cost), orange=general blast damage (non-structural), yellow=blast damage (minor), green=clearance area

There was some damage to the street as a result of World War 2 attacks – Woodlands Street is around the centre of the map above; it is coloured red which means that the homes were ‘seriously damaged (repairable at cost)’ – given that the Park Hospital next door was a one of the two specific targets of the Luftwaffe, along with the railway marshalling yards behind Springbank Road (8), it is perhaps surprising that there wasn’t more collateral damage during the Blitz.

In fact, the main damage came in an awful day time raid on 20 January 1943 when a number of FW190 planes got through defences with indiscriminate shooting  at numerous civilians, killing 6 people and injuring 14 others.  Each plane had a 500 kg bombs; one of these was dropped at Sandhurst Road School at 12:31 killing 38 children and 6 teachers.  Another landed in Woodlands Street 4 minutes later– the impact must have been in the street itself as none of the houses were destroyed, and just 2 injured.  The ARP Log notes that the road was closed due the scale of debris and that 66 houses were severely damaged – this included houses in neighbouring streets too.

In some locations where World War 2 damage is easy to spot with replacement houses in a different style or large areas of different bricks used – there were brick shortages post World War Two and it was often to get exact matches. The tell-tale signs are less clear here – in a few houses bricks the red brick detail around square bays of the yellow London Brick Co ‘Stocks’ is missing.  But the only really obvious signs are on one house above with different window styles and a missing pointed roof to a bay window.  That said, a lot of houses on the street are  rendered or have painted brickwork which hides what happened underneath.

The street outlasted the hospital next door which closed in 1997.  The hospital site was redeveloped over the next decade or so mainly by Bellway – ‘badged’ as Meridian South (the Prime Meridian passes through the end of Woodlands Street).  The Woodlands Street part seems to have been one of the later phases and was developed for a housing association.

Notes

  1. Godfrey Smith (1997) Hither Green, The Forgotten Hamlet p35
  2. Kentish Mercury 05 February 1904
  3. Woolwich Gazette 15 July 1904
  4. Kentish Independent 11 September 1903
  5. Kentish Mercury 06 October 1905
  6. Kentish Mercury 09 August 1907
  7. Kentish Independent 13 March 1903
  8. Smith op cit p63

Credits

  • The Ordnance Survey map is on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland.
  • Census, 1939 Register and related data is via Find My Past (subscription required)
  • The ARP Log was accessed via the under-resourced, but always helpful, Lewisham Archives
  • The bomb damage mape is via Laurence Ward’s ‘The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945’ published in 2015 – permission has been given by the copyright owners of the map, the London Metropolitan Archives, to use the image here

Manor Park Parade – Late Victorian Shopping, Part 2

Last week’s post looked at the history of Manor Park Parade focusing on both how it initially developed as well as numbers 1 to 9.  Logically, we should start where we left off, but as the middle of the Parade has been dominated by a chemist’s shop which started at 11 but has expanded into the premises either side that seems like a sensible place to start.

11 Manor Park Parade had been empty in 1896 when first mentioned in Kelly’s Directories,, but its first tenant seems to have been the ‘surgeon’ George Bryce who was there by the time the 1900 Directory was compiled, presumably it was more of a GP’s practice rather than carrying out significant surgery. In 1901 he was living there with his wife Sarah.  The Bryce’s had moved on by 1905 and the name over the window was Charles Fairman, a chemist – a business that has continued in that shop for 115 years at the time of writing.  Unlike most of the other shopkeepers of the era on the Parade, the Fairmans seemed relatively well to do being able to afford to employ a servant in 1911. The Fairmans stayed there more than a decade.

The tenancy was taken over around 1920 by a dispensing chemist called Victor Reed who would have been in his early 30s; Victor and his wife Ethel were to stay at Manor Parade until around 1950.  Victor seems to have stayed in Lewisham until his death in the mid-1960s.

The new owner of the business was Charles Latimer from around 1950, he almost immediately expanded into 10.  The Latimers stayed at Manor Park Parade until the mid-1960s when the Baum’s took over – they expanded into 12 by the mid-1980s.  It was probably the only shop on the Parade that I used with any regularity – often dropping off prescriptions on the way into Lewisham knowing that they’d be ready when I walked back, it felt like a more personal service than Boots in the town centre.   It was a mixture of pretty standard pharmacy fayre along with a large range of ‘gifts’ with a friendly couple running it. The Baums were fondly remembered by several on a Facebook thread in 2019 – one person described them as ‘the nicest, kindest couple I have ever met.’  They have probably retired although whoever is running the business now has retained the family name, no doubt like Wallace Pring in Bromley.

Returning to 10 Manor Park Parade, it was one of the shops that often seemed to be empty.  The first occupant from the late 1890s was George Venning a cycle dealer, who lived behind the shop with his wife Nellie.  The Vennings had gone by 1905 and the shop was vacant.  Reginald Wade, a house agent, had a brief sojourn there but the shop was empty again until Frederick Dunk opened a Spice Merchant around 1925.  The shop had closed by 1930 when a Valet Service, presumably some form of laundrette, was there.

As noted in relation to No 2, during World War 2 Frank Feltham was living at 10 Manor Park Parade, letting out the top floor of the maisonette behind. Douglas Feltham was running the shop as a Florist in 1945, but as noted above the expanding chemists, initially Charles Latimer, had moved in by 1950.

On the other side of the chemists, 12 Manor Park Parade started life as a watchmaker run by John Perse – he was there when Kelly’s Directory of 1896 was compiled.  In 1901 he was 55 and lived above the shop with his wife Emily and 4 grown up children. A decade later he was widowed but also there were adult sons Harry, Arthur and Herbert 37, 34 and 28 respectively.  Like Charles Fairman next door, he had a servant.  John died in 1912 and it seems that none of the family took on the business; the shop was empty in 1916.

The next incumbent, should have been contented, to paraphrase the 1960s and beyond advert -‘Happiness is a cigar (seller) called Hamlet’ – John Hamlet, to be precise, who took on the tenancy around the end of World War 1. He was to stay until 1930 when Lewis Carter took over and was to run the business for around 30 years.

It had a series of brief interludes initially as a florist run by Douglas Feltham, see number 9, a car accessories shop and an electrical appliance repairer before becoming the last bit of Baum’s chemists to be acquired around 1985.

Source eBay Oct 2019

Like the Chemist at 11, 13 Manor Park Parade was more or less the same type of business for most of its history – a Post Office.  In its early years none of the Sub Postmistresses and Sub Postmasters lasted that long – Mary Llewellin was there in 1896, Louisa & Maude Pyle (1900), Kate & Augusta Lydall (1901) and William Hurn who was there between 1905 and 1911. In the census in the latter year William was listed there with his wife, Alice, along with a couple of adult sons, one of which was working in the Post Office.

It was all change by 1916 and Oscar Lewis had arrived, at what was described as a stationer and Post Office.  The name was to be one of the longest lived on the Parade, remaining there until the early 1950s.  It was presumably a father and son, although it is unclear as to who held the Sub Postmasters role.  In 1939 Oscar Lewis (born 1914) was living there with his wife Francis (27) and an assistant in the shop Margaret Etherington; Oscar (born 1874) was to remain in the area, passing away in Woolwich in 1958.

R D Barnett had taken over by 1960 followed by ‘Andrews’ in the 1970s; it doubled up as a travel agent during this period.  Thereafter, Kelly’s Directories just referred to it as a Post Office.  It stayed like that until around the millennium when it was empty for a while and then a short-lived carpet shop before being empty again.  The only evidence of the long tradition of being a sub Post Office is the pillar box outside – as it is an Edward VII post box, it is possible that this is the one that the Lewisham suffragettes attacked on Lee High Road.

14 Manor Park Parade started its ‘life’ as a retail outlet aiming at the population of what was then a very well-to-do neighbourhood; it was a ‘Pianoforte Warehouse’ run by William Sanderson who advertised his wares in the local press too.  The business had been taken over by Sydney French by 1905, but Smart Brothers were running a furniture dealer’s business by 1911, although not living over the shop in the census.

There seems to have been a steady flow of business that struggled to build a successful trade at no 14 over the next few decades – in 1920 it was Henry Slade, a musical instrument maker; Belmont Wine Company (1925), another off-licence (1930), and Stevens Valet Services in 1940.

By the end of World War 2 a niche market was found – wireless repairs, initially Albert Allen, then, from 1950, Lee Radio Services – a name that remained over the window until the early 1980s when it caught up with technology and became Lee TV Services.   Most of this century has been spent reverted to a previous trade – an off licence, a combination of Manor Park Wines and Cost Less.

15 Manor Park Parade was empty in 1896 but then had a short-lived milliner called Madame Anita in 1900.  The owner, in 1901, at least , was the far more prosaic Susan Capon, whose husband was a sawyer.  A more exotic name was above the window in 1905, Emellie & Co, a draper.  However by 1911 the shop was empty and remained so until the mid-1920s.

The hairdresser, William Mercer, had arrived by 1925 when he would have been in his late 30s. He was to remain there until the late 1940s – there with him in the 1939 Register was his wife Annie.  The French style naming of the shop-front’s early years re-emerged with the hairdressers that took over from William Mercer around 1950, Maison Miller.   It was a name that was to continue at number 15 until the late 1970s.  The shop remains a hairdresser – Just Us in the late 1970s and as Minos for most of the present millennium.

16 Manor Park Parade went through several early iterations Water Weiss, a printer in 1896 and two hosiers, Walton Bros by 1900 but the following year Phillip Bates from Bedfordshire was carrying out the business.  While he was still there in 1905, by 1911 the Bates’ had moved on.  Like lots of the other shops on the Parade, it was empty in 1911 and remained so in 1916 and 1920 – it was a pattern repeated throughout the Parade with 7, 9 and 8 shop-fronts being empty in those years.  In terms of empty shops, other than towards the end of during World War Two it was the period that the Parade struggled most.

Arthur Emanuel Howard, from South Shields took over the shop as a grocer in more favourable times around 1925, by that stage all the shops were let again.  Arthur came from a family of seafarers; his father was a Master Mariner. He worked for the Marine Police Force, part of the ‘Met.’ before retiring early and taking over the shop – Arthur would have been 53 in 1925.  Arthur had married Elizabeth Evans at Mile End in East London in 1901; Elizabeth came from a family farm in mid-Wales.  The decision to open a grocer’s may well have been influenced by Elizabeth as several of her brothers were successfully running grocery shops in London.

The link back to the family farm was maintained with her father putting fresh farm produce on the train in Aberystwyth, and his sons collecting it at Paddington for distribution to the London groceries.  The Howards stayed at 16 until the end of the war – they had a near miss with one bomb which fell on Patterson Edwards toy factory behind although that showered the maisonette behind with shards of glass – but like the rest of the Parade it remained largely unscathed by bomb damage.

Rose Bland took over the business after the War, with the same trade continuing under Dennis Taylor in the late 1950s and early 1960s; at some point the business expanded into 17.  The Pikes continued the trade until the mid-1970s, when Kelly’s started referring to it as ‘Food Stores’ run initially by M Z Abydeen and then R W Patel from around 1980.  It had become a Sandwich Bar, split from 17 by the early 2000s, variants of which continued into the second decade of the millennium.  It is currently (early 2020) a ‘Grill’ called 2 Flames.

17 Manor Park Parade started out as a tobacconist initially run by Luigi Norchi in 1896, but had been taken over by Charles Marshall by 1900; he was still there in 1905 but the shop was being run by John Hills in the 1911 Kelly’s Directory.  The shop may have undergone a business change in 1911 as in the census Hills is listed as a butcher – this may have been due to new competition from tobacconist  Janet Wood further down the Parade at Number 3.  Alternatively, in an era when passing names down through generations was common, it could have been a father running the business and the butcher son living over and behind the shop.  Either way, it was a business that didn’t continue much longer with the shop empty in 1916 and 1920.

Like many on the Parade, there was a new name over the window in 1925 with Mrs H Conn, a hosier, who was to remain there until the late 1940s.  There were suggestions that Arthur Howard took over 17 as well before he moved on from the Parade in the late 1940s, sometimes Kelly’s Directories are a little behind what happened on the ground.  A photographer, trading as British Technishot Pictures, was listed at 17 in 1950, however, this could easily have been from the maisonette behind.

Until the early 2000s the story of 16 and 17 is merged but the shops were split and 17 became Maishia Park which still offers African and Caribbean Food (and music).

18 Manor Park Parade started life as a confectioner, initially run by a Mrs Graff (1896) then Charles Larwood (1900), but by 1905 Ellen Coombes was trading from there, although Kelly’s Directory omits her business.  Pickfords had bought Lee Lodge behind the Parade around 1896, it may even have been them that sold the land to allow the development of the Parade.   They initially used the Lodge to carry out their business but they moved their operation into 18 after the demolition of Lee Lodge just before the outbreak of World War 1, presumably when they switched to motorised transport.  Pickfords were to remain until the 1950s.

Drakes Office Supplies moved in after Pickfords departed and remained until the early 1970s.  It was home to a firm of glaziers from the mid-1980s.  For much of this century it has been home to the Ghanaian takeaway, Imma Kandey Restaurant.

19 Manor Park Parade started life as an ironmongers run by Charles Morris; Alfred Torr had taken over by 1900 but he died in early 1901 and the business was run by his widow and mother for at least a decade, although like many others the shop was empty during World War 1 and in the early 1920s. Hardware dealers C W Hughes and Sons were then from at least 1925, but like many others on the Parade struggled during the war and the shop was empty in 1945.  By 1950, the export arm of toy manufacturer Patterson Edwards had moved in – it was the shop by the entrance to their plant behind, no doubt selling their rocking horses (below) abroad. They remained until the firm’s move to Orpington in the early 1970s.

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After a long period empty at the end of the 20th century, the 21st century has seen it home to various property based businesses, including the estate agents Prime Properties and currently (2020) Element Roofing.

As a whole, the shops appear somewhat on the margin, frequent changes suggesting a precarious existence for many (although certainly not all) – this has been a pattern throughout their existence.  The need for a little tender loving care seemed more evident than at Market Terrace further up Lee High Road.  The vacant units, very noticeable in certain periods were more common here than at Market Terrace and 310 to 332 Lee High Road – perhaps the proximity of Lewisham town centre has had an impact on this.   It always lacked the full range of traditional shops though – there never seems to have been a baker, there was no butcher between 1900 and 1960 and there was a period without a grocer from around 1910 to 1925 so in the pre-supermarket age locals could never do all their shopping on the Parade.

The ‘story’ of the Manor Park Parade has been pieced together using Kelly’s Directories held by the Lewisham and Southwark Archives – generally looking at every 5th year since the Parade opened for business around 1896.  These Directories go up to the mid-1980s.  More recent jogging of memories has been via the ‘back catalogue’ of Google’s StreetView which has passed Market Terrace several times since 2008.

If you think that I have got anything wrong or have memories of any of the shops please use the comments field below or in Facebook thread or Twitter post you reached here from. I’ll include some of them when I update the post.

Picture & Other Credits

  • The Kelly’s Directory data is courtesy of a mixture of Lewisham and Southwark Archives
  • Census, 1939 Register and related data is via Find My Past (subscription required)

 

 

Manor Park Parade – Late Victorian Shopping – Part 1

Lee High Road has shops and businesses around half the way from the town centre towards Lee Green.  Manor Park Parade is the last of these, and, as its name suggests, a shopping parade named after the road opposite at its eastern end.

It was built later than the shops closer to Lewisham; it is on a narrow strip of land that had previously been the frontage onto the main road of Lee Lodge – one of a pair of large Victorian houses that stood back from Lee High Road.  The first mentions of the shops were in the 1896 Kelly’s Directory –Lee Lodge behind was to stay for another 20 years when it was demolished by Pickford’s.  More on them in Part 2.

Like the other posts on shopping in Lee and Hither Green – 1930s Market Terrace, 310 to 332 Lee High Road, and the Edwardian Staplehurst Road, the shops are something of a microcosm of changing patterns of shopping – the traditional, single product type of shop such as the draper, the tobacconist and fruiter remaining beyond World War Two, eventually making way for more modern and specialist uses.  Some shopkeepers, as we’ll see, stayed for decades but others clearly found it a struggle – some shops changed hands frequently.

Source eBay Dec 2019

Unlike other groups of shops and houses, its original name of Manor Park Parade has been retained – 318 to 332 Lee High Road was originally 1-8 Ainsley Terrace, but despite some numbering changes around 1907 the Parade’s name was kept.

1 Manor Park Parade  – Like all of the shops, there is a three storey building at the rear, with a separate entrance and a single storey shop front which declined in depth further up the parade.  In the first Kelly’s Directory that the Parade was mentioned, 1896, number 1 was vacant; but by 1901 it was a dairy being run by Mary Walker, the cobbled lane to the back, presumably to allow loading, is still there.

Mary oddly described herself as ‘he’ when offering to wait on families of Lee three times a day (1). The dairy was taken over around 1905 by Joseph and Laura Gatcombe who hailed from Berkshire; they were assisted by a bookkeeper Ada Fairman who also lived over the shop.  They seem to have shared stables with Pickfords behind at what remained of Lee Lodge – a horse and cart were stolen in 1905 (2).

The Gatcombes were to remain at No 1 until the early to mid-1920s they sold out to Edwards and Sons.  Edwards and Sons were a relatively large scale dairy enterprise with 60 shops around south east London, including  another on the current Sainsbury’s site on Burnt Ash Road.  By this stage, the family owned business ran Burnt Ash Farm which was on the corner of St Mildred’s and Baring Roads. Edwards sold out to United Dairies in 1927 and the latter were running the shop well into the 1930s.

The shop front was home to the hairdresser Albert Elliott during World War Two, but was empty in 1945.   By 1950 the name over the window was Grant & Partners, who were a building firm; they remained there until the early to mid-1980s when the shop front was used for a few years by a firm of estate agents – The House Shop.

Like the other businesses and shop fronts, there is a gap in knowledge as to who was there into the early 2000s. It was vacant when the Streetview cars passed in 2008 and 2012, but has been Wood Fires, a Caribbean takeaway for most of the period since.

2 Manor Park Parade started its life as a butcher’s shop although it was a business that clearly struggled as in the early years there were regular changes in proprietor – the first name over the window in 1896 was Henry Drew, but by 1900 it was being run by Joseph Grozzett, although when the census enumerators called in 1901 it was run by Samuel Grant who hailed from Essex.  The shop was empty by 1905 and seems to have been until just after World War 1, even the maisonette above wasn’t used when the census was conducted in 1911.

While struggling as a butcher, in the inter-war years, No. 2 seems to have thrived under the stewardship of Frank Feltham who was listed variously as a florist, fruiterer and greengrocer, first appearing in Kelly’s around 1920. Oddly, Frank seems to have largely passed under the radar in terms of official records of his life and death – he was certainly in Lewisham in 1910 when his son Douglas was born, and his was at No. 10 in 1939 (his name incorrectly recorded) – a widower aged 70.  Douglas may have been running the business as war broke out in 1939 – but more on him later when we get to No 9.

After the Felthams moved out the shop was empty for a while, but after the war it was home to some French Polishers and Furniture shop run by Ted Eden who stayed there until 1958.  During the 1960s the shopfront was used by hardware dealers, initially A & L James and then J R Dawson until around 1970.  It then became a ‘Gift Shop’ – presumably trinkets for presents, rather than souvenirs of Lewisham, for around 15 years.  In the 2000s and beyond it was the home to Mayfair (and then Tom’s) barbers. The current usage is as an ‘Asian Massage & Beauty Salon.’

3 Manor Park Parade – As was the case at No 2, No 3 went through a steady flow of traders – empty in 1896, the fruitier was being run by A E Walter & Co, William King and G F Bull in 1900, 1901 and 1905 respectively.  By 1911 Janet Wood’s name was over the window – Kelly’s lists her as a tobacconist; however, that year’s census suggests that she was a ‘Stationer and Newsagent’ – Kelly’s had caught up with this by 1925.  She was helped, in 1911 at least, by her brother and sister. While there was a new name over the window by 1930, Albert Fennell, the business was the same; Albert was there with his wife Ethel when the 1939 Register was conducted.  The business continued in his name until the 1950s.

There was a steady flow of people trying their hand at being a newsagent, no one staying more than a few years Eric Doyle (1960), TC Brush (1965), J & F Rogers (1970) and Mrs TW Grindlay (1975).  R K Patel bucked this trend and was there for some time from around 1980.  As we will see, they also had a convenience store at the other end of the Parade at 16-17.

After a brief interlude as a tattoo parlour, it became a small convenience store for about decade, Aliyah, and has been run as an off licence for the last few years – currently High Road Bottles, a purveyor of bottled craft beer.

4 Manor Park Parade – Arthur Ash was the first shopkeeper in 1900; alas, he was not a tobacconist (or tennis player for that matter) but a confectioner.  He had died by the time the census enumerators called in 1901, and the business was being run by his widow Catherine who was living above the shop with 10 mainly grown up children.  By 1905, Jane Pierce had taken over the reins of the business although her reign had ended by 1911 as James Eddows was the name over the window.  It may have been a posthumous mention as in the census listed over the shop were the Hoddinotts  – their Daughter Ella was listed as a shop assistant in a confectioners, as was Edith Eddows who was listed as a step daughter.

The shop remained a confectioner  after Edward Gilbey took over in the early 1920s and remained a sweet shop under the stewardship of the Bristows from around 1930; initially James, then briefly John and for many years Alice.  It wasn’t listed in 1945 along with most of premises at the western end of the Parade – this may have related to the rationing of sugar during the war.

Alice seems to have kept the business going until close to her death in 1967; No 4 was then home to short-lived occupants – a builders merchants and an osteopath, before becoming the base for South Eastern School of Motoring.  For at least a decade, it has been home to the gentlemen’s hairdresser Barber DJ – undergoing a refurbishment when pictured.

5 Manor Park Parade

Thomas Harris moved into the parade around 1896 and was originally an ‘oilman’ a seller of lamp oil, it was a trade  that was already on the wane at that point, and by the time the 1901 census was taken he was listed as selling china and glass.  He has gone by 1905 and the shop was empty for much of the next two decades.

It had short-lived milliners, drapers and cycle shops before becoming home to W Goddard, Rubber Stamp manufacturers after World War 2. They were a fixture on the Parade until around the late 1980s. Like many businesses they suffered as a result of the 1968 Lewisham floods, when their basement was flooded.  They moved to Bromley and survived until around 2006 when the company was dissolved – no doubt a victim of changing working practices and digitisation.

More recently, the shop has been home to a series of tattoo studios – the current variant notable for the zebra being stalked by a tiger on its roof.

6 Manor Park Parade – Like Arthur Ash at No 4, Richard Macintosh at 6 Manor Park Parade was another who failed to live up to his name; in 1901 the man from Warwickshire he was running a toy shop.  It appears to have been a short-lived business though as he was working as a postman in Lambeth in 1911. The shop was empty in 1911 too; it had been since at least 1905. The toy shop wasn’t the first business as, while empty in 1896, there was a short-lived electric platers business at No 6 from around 1897, S R Bonner.

By 1916 the shop was in competition with No 4 as George McStocker was running a confectioners; the sweet shop changed hands several times with Evelyn Green running the shop by 1920 and Arthur Wheeler in 1925.  By the mid-1930s, the Jacobs, Frederick and Doris, were proprietors, they were there when the 1939 Register was compiled.

Like many of the shops on the parade the shop was empty by the end of the war, there had been no serious bomb damage to the Parade but rationing of sugar will no doubt have led to closures of confectioners.  It remained empty until the mid-1950s when the Royal Arsenal Co-operative butchers arrived – they were to be a feature on the Parade for two decades.

During the 1980s the shop front was home to initially a carpet shop, Plan Flooring, and then a walkie-talkie supplier.  Since 2000 it has been a money transfer bureau and food and a cosmetic shop, and is currently a shoe repairer.

7 Manor Park Parade – like several other shops on the Parade No 7 was empty when first listed in Kelly’s Directory.  The first name over the window seems to have been the draper, Grace Lambert, who was there by 1900; her tenure was a short one as the shop was empty when the census was carried out in 1901.  By 1905 the furniture dealer William Allen was trading from No 7, but like his predecessor he didn’t last long as the shop and maisonette behind were missing from the 1911 census and Kelly’s of the same year.

By 1916 though the cycle makers Brown and Son were there; their business evolved with changing transport and by 1925 they had become motor engineers.  It was a business taken over by Stanley Grey around 1930 – no doubt taking advantage of Lee High Road being based on one of the more accident prone streets in London.

By 1939 though boot repairer Arthur Ackerman there along with his wife, brother and sister in law.  Despite clothing, including shoes and boots being rationed, it wasn’t a business that lasted until the end of the War – the shop was empty in 1945. After a brief interlude as a builder’s merchants, W & H Supplies, in the 1950s; number 7 became home a series of purveyors of car batteries – the name over the window changing several times although was ‘Speed Batteries’ from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s and beyond. In the 2000s it has been home to hair salons – latterly called Porters.

8 Manor Park Parade – while empty when Kelly’s Directory was produced in 1896, by 1898 (see advert above (3))  John Davidson (then 58), a tailor born in Ireland was there – he was to remain there until his death, probably in 1916.  A couple of different costumiers were there in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but other than that the shop seems to have been empty for much of the time until 1960.  The maisonette behind was home to mechanic George Clark in 1939.

Around 1960 George Green opened a fishmongers shop, although he didn’t stay long as M Salih was carrying out the same trade 5 years later.  Fresh fish was turned into fried fish by D Ahmed by 1970, although the ‘churn’ rate continued and ‘George’ was running the shop in 1975.

Presumably after a deep clean to remove the smell and a refit, No 8 became Ann’s Hair Creations for at least a decade from 1980.  By the new century it was a Money Transfer bureau for a while although most recently it is a shop specialising in computer repairs.

9 Manor Park Parade started life as grocers – initially it seems to have been a partnership between Messrs Lewis and Orr, then William Lewis on his own; William died in 1907 and was succeeded by his widow, Susanna.  It was a shop that may well have been not too dissimilar to more recent convenience stores as they had a wine and spirits licence, although were refused a beer licence (4).

The shop was empty during World War 1 but by the mid-1920s James Walker, a cabinet maker was there, he was still there, living over the shop. when war broke out in 1939, married to Ethel.  He was to stay there until the late 1940s.

Douglas Feltham was mentioned earlier as possibly taking over Frank Feltham’s business at No 2 by the time war broke out; presumably Frank was Douglas’ father but could have been a different relative.  In the 1939 Register, Douglas was listed as a ‘Greengrocer, Fruiterer and Florists Shop Keeper’ – he was living in the then suburbia of Brockman Rise (behind the Green Man in Southend) with his wife Dorothy, a hairdresser – perhaps she worked for Albert Elliott who briefly ran the salon at No 1, next door to Frank’s business?  Also in the house were Dorothy’s mother and her sister, the latter who was a shop assistant for a newsagent and stationer – perhaps working for Albert Fennell at No 3?  Douglas had moved to number 10 by 1945 but before the decade was out he had moved the business next door to No 9 initially listed as a florist but from the early 1950s listed as a ‘fruiterer.’

The business was to stay there until the late 1970s as Douglas had moved on by 1980, probably retiring – he lived until 1994 and is buried at Eltham Cemetery.  The family had run businesses in three shops on the Parade for around 60 years.

After a period empty, it became No 9 became the shop front for a printing firm, Realprint before becoming a Mini Cab office in the new millennium, latterly Delta Cars.  It seems to have been empty for the last 6 or 7 years.

The ‘story’ of the Manor Park Parade has been pieced together using Kelly’s Directories held by the Lewisham and Southwark Archives – generally looking at every 5th year since the Parade opened for business around 1896.  These Directories go up to the mid-1980s.  More recent jogging of memories has been via the ‘back catalogue’ of Google’s StreetView which has passed Market Terrace several times since 2008.

If you think that I have got anything wrong or have memories of any of the shops please use the comments field below or in Facebook thread or Twitter post you reached here from. I’ll include some of them when I update the post.

Next week’s post will cover the rest of the Parade.

Notes 

  1. Kentish Mercury 16 September 1898
  2. Kentish Independent 08 September 1905
  3. Kentish Mercury 07 January 1898
  4. Woolwich Gazette 01 October 1897

Picture & Other Credits

  • The photograph of the flooded Eastdown Park and Goddards Rubber Stamps is from the collection of Lewisham Archives, it remains their copyright and it use with their consent;
  • The Kelly’s Directory data is courtesy of a mixture of Lewisham and Southwark Archives
  • Census, 1939 Register and related data is via Find My Past (subscription required)

 

 

Lee Manor Farm -‘Old’ Lee’s Last Farm

As regular readers will no doubt recall Running Past has covered many of the former farms of Lee – Lee Green Farm, College Farm, Melrose Farm, Horn Park Park and Burnt Ash Farm.

The land of Burnt Ash Farm had originally been farmed from a large house which was on the site of what is now Lee Manor House.  It was probably not an ideal location for the farm as its land was virtually all to the south – stretching away towards Grove Park.  The move to the junction of what is now St Mildred’s and Baring Roads happened in the mid-1720s (1).  The remains of the original Farm on Old Road were found underneath the library when some building work was undertaken in the early 1980s.

The shift in location to Burnt Ash was by Thomas Butler who came from Dagenham in, what was then, rural Essex (2).  Perhaps as early as 1739, and certainly after Butler’s death in 1751 (3), Burnt Ash Farm was split between two of his sons, Matthew who remained at Burnt Ash and farmed the land south of St Mildred’s Road; and James who was to farm what was to be called Lee Manor Farm.  The land was most of the area bordered by Burnt Ash Road, what is now St Mildred’s Road, the stream Hither Green Ditch until it joins the Quaggy, the river itself and Lee High Road.The initial site of the farmhouse was to the west of Pentland House (at one stage called Foclallt House) on what is now Manor Lane Terrace and included the site of Lochaber Hall (on the 1860s map above it is referred to as Manor Cottage).  It was a large three-storey house with extensive outbuildings (4).  The land was not owned by the Butlers and, as was covered in a post on the Manor House, was bought by William Coleman who sought to recreate the old Manor of Lee for his nephew Thomas Lucas – funded by the proceeds of slavery.  Lucas inherited the farms on his uncle’s death in 1771.

On James Butler’s death in 1762 it seems likely that the Farm was again managed by his brother, Matthew, from Burnt Ash (5). After Matthew’s death in 1784 the tenancy of the two farms were taken on by Baron Dacre of Dacre House, whose estates were relatively small.  (6) We will return to Dacre House at some point in the future.

Following the deaths of Lord Dacre in 1806 and Lady Dacre in 1808, there were some changes to Lee Manor Farm.  Part of the land bounding Lee High Road was sold to the new owner of The Firs, Christopher Godmond, who had bought the House after the death of David Papillon. (7)

The farm house had be let separately since the 1780s; so when Lee Manor Farm was again let and managed in its own right in 1808, a new farmhouse was needed for a new tenant.  The new farmhouse was built on what is now Manor Lane Terrace, between the current Northbrook and Kellerton Roads (it is shown on the map above).  The bend in Manor Lane Terrace is explained by the location of the farm.   The artists impression of the farm is by Lloyd Roberts (see credits below).

The new tenant was the butler of the new Lord of the Manor, Sir Francis Baring – Thomas Postans (8) – Postans was to stay there until 1816, when he moved on to manage the kitchen gardens of the Manor House to supply the officers mess at St James Palace.  Mr R E Brown was the tenant of the farm for this period but Postans returned to the Farm in the mid 1830s.

There is a fascinating map of the farm from towards the end of Thomas Postans tenure drawn with an east – west axis; Lee Green is in the bottom right hand corner with Burnt Ash Road providing the bottom boundary (the other side of Burnt Ash Road was Crown Estate land) and Lee High Road to the right of the map.  There is considerable overlap between the 1843 field pattern and the street pattern that emerged in the decades afterwards.

In 1845 a lease was granted to Mark Cordwell who hailed from Buckinghamshire; oddly he was listed as a seaman in the 1861 census with with his 20 year old son, Charles, born in Greenwich, noted as as the farmer.  Mark died in 1864.

By 1881, Charles had married Mary (née Peasnell) who was from Buckinghamshire, like his father, and had eight children and a servant living on the farm; the farm was listed at 150 acres in the census. They may have had a bailiff or manager running the farm for them for a while in the 1870s as three children were born in Shoreham in Kent.  In the 1871 census they were listed at Prestons Farm House  in Shoreham.

They were back in Lee in 1891; but by the 1901 Census, Charles was listed at 35 Medusa Road in Catford as a ‘retired farmer’ with his son and daughter in law.  He may have emigrated to the USA as the last record for him is sailing to New York on the Philadelphia in 1906.

While he may have moved to America, his name lives on in the 1970s council housing that was developed to replace the southern side of Northbrook Road and land behind Kellerton Road – Cordwell Road.

The end of the farm coincided with the gradual sale of of the Northbrook estate from the 1860s onwards.  One of the main builders from the mid 1890s were the family firm W J Scudamore.  Their developments included what they referred to as the Manor Park Estate (roads such as Kellerton Road, parts of Manor Lane Terrace, Redruth Road (now Manor Lane) and parts of Manor Park.  It seems that the old Manor Farm came as part of the lot; most developers would have probably demolished the buildings and built over it.  However, the Scudamores decided to retain the building as a family home – which it remained as until the 1960s – there is a little more on this in the post on W J Scudamore.

The last of the Scudamores to live in Manor Lane Terrace was Elizabeth (née Drane) who died in 1961 aged 90.  After her death, the house and the land around it were acquired for council housing – although all the homes appear to have been sold under Right to Buy.  The name Wolfram Close is presumably a reference to the last tenant of the Manor House – the slightly differently spelled Henry Wolffram.  

Notes

  1. Josephine Birchenough (1981) Some Farms and Fields in Lee p4
  2. ibid p5
  3. ibid p7
  4. ibid p7
  5. ibid p8
  6. ibid p9
  7. ibid p9
  8. ibid p10

Picture Credits

 

World War Two Food Rationing in Lewisham

Since the the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War in September 2019, Running Past has covered a number of aspects of life on the ‘Home Front’ including the evacuation of Lewisham’s children to safer areas, the shelters built to try to keep the local population safe during air raids and the role of the Air Raid Precautions  (ARP) Service.

We turn now to food rationing which was introduced on 8 January 1940; we’ll cover cover the linked issue of growing food in allotments and gardens through ‘Digging for Victory’ in a later post. Rationing didn’t completely end until 1954 and also covered clothes, petrol and various other goods.

In 1939 Britain was importing large quantities of food – including 70% of cheese, cereals and sugar, 80% of fruit and more than 50% of meat. It was fully expected that the Germans would target food supplies coming in via sea, as they had done with the U-Boat Campaign in World War 1.

The preparations for food rationing had begun soon after war started with the compilation of the 1939 Register which was used to was used to devise a carefully detailed rationing plan and issue Identity Cards. It listed everyone living at properties, although in London there were very few children mentioned due to evacuation that had happened a few weeks earlier; it also excluded any serving locally based adults serving with the armed forces.

Running Past has used the 1939 Register several times to look at specific streets, including Ardmere Road (pictured above), close to Hither Green Station. So, at 1 Ardmere Road, there was Fanny and Frederick Histed, the latter was entitled to extra rations due to his ‘Heavy Work’ as a builders labourer. Next door at No 2 (the numbering is consecutive) Amy and John Ashling lived, John was a general labourer, but not entitled to extra rations. It was the same at No 3 where Albert Tolhurst was also a general labourer. In the street as a whole just under a half of the men had the suffix or prefix to their trade of ‘Heavy Work’ which entitled them to extra rations. The differences were stark when we looked at both the Verdant Lane estate and the Arts and Crafts housing on Old Road – both had only a smattering of people entitled to extra rations for ‘Heavy Work.’

From 8 January 1940, every individual was issued with a ration book (see below, along with an Identity Card) which was registered at their local shops. Shopkeepers were then supplied with sufficient food for everyone registered. Ration books worked on a coupon based system, so people could purchase their entitlement but no more, although a good relationship with the shopkeeper might lead to more favourable treatment.

So in the terrace of shops 310 to 332 Lee High Road, locals may well have had ration coupons for the butchers RC Hamnett at 324; those close to Manor Park Parade (which will feature in posts in early 2020) would have no doubt queued up for their rations at Arthur Howard’s grocer’s shop at no. 16.

Returning the Ardmere Road, the locals from there and neighbouring streets such as Brightside Road would have taken their ration books to Edith May’s grocers at no 18 (which is pictured above), the shop closed in the 1980s and it is now a house. There are memories of the shop having (in this period and beyond)

Old marble counters, wooden single drawer for a till, flagstone floor, shelves with doilies and a huge brass scales.

So what were the foods that Lewisham residents would have found rationed during World War 2? Initially, it was just bacon, butter and sugar were rationed; but meat was rationed from 11 March 1940; cooking fats and tea in July 1940; while cheese and jam were added to the list in March and May 1941.

The amounts of each item varied a little over time

  • Bacon and ham 113 – 227 g (4 – 8 oz)
  • Sugar 227 – 454 g (8 – 16 oz)
  • Tea 57 – 113 g (2 – 4 oz)
  • Meat 5 – 6p worth (1/- to 1/2d)
  • Cheese 28 – 227 g (1 – 8 oz)
  • Preserves 227 g – 1.36 kg (8 oz – 3 lb)
  • Butter 57 – 227 g (2 – 8 oz)
  • Margarine 113 – 340 g (4 – 12 oz)
  • Lard 57-85 g (2-3 oz)
  • Sweets 227-454 g (8-16 oz) – monthly

Lewisham Market survived during the early part of the war, although fruit such as oranges and bananas which were relatively common before the War became something of a rarity with queues ‘a mile long’ when they became available (1). Tomatoes too were much less common on the market than they had been pre-war; when they were available, traders typically imposed rations of their own, limiting purchases to 8 ounces (227 grams) (2). As a result there were long queues with children often sent to take adult places in the queue, while parents got on with the rest of their shopping (3).

However, it really struggled after V-1 attacks (4) including a direct hit on the market itself in July 1944.

There is a fascinating film in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, which was aimed at American audiences which is at least partially Catford based – the Catford Bridge Tavern is clearly visible in one of the shots. Unlike many of the other propaganda films, including ‘Britain Can Take It’ this wasn’t one made at Blackheath’s GPO Film Unit, made by the smaller World Wide Pictures.

Some with longer memories than mine recognise the shop that ‘Mrs Green’ is coming out of as being Sainsburys at 58 Rushey Green (pictured below, probably just after the War), almost next door to the current Aldi Shop.

 

Credits

 

Notes

  1. Lewis Blake (1995) How We Went to War – Deptford & Lewisham 1939 – 1945, The People’s Story p23
  2. ibid p24
  3. ibid p23
  4. ibid p23

Harry Hutchens – ‘The Greatest Sprinter The World Has Seen‘

Over the years, Running Past has covered a lot of athletes with links to Lewisham and neighbouring areas, including the late Georgian walking pedestrians, such as George Wilson, to the journeymen runners of the 1840s like Tom Cook, the Edwardian professional marathon runner, Charlie Gardiner, and Philip Kingsford, a pioneering triple jumper. Another of these is Henry Hutchins, who competed as Harry Hutchens and was probably the best sprinter in the world of the Victorian era, setting times that are still impressive now.  He lived in Catford in the latter years that he was competing and remained there for the rest of his life – he was living at 134 Brookdale Road, below,  when he died.

Henry was the youngest of the six children of James and Elizabeth Hutchins; James was a journeyman stonemason who died whilst Elizabeth was pregnant with Harry.  In 1861 Elizabeth and the children aged 16 to 4 were living at 4 Gardners Lane, Alpha Place, Putney.  The census records are unclear but it is quite likely that Elizabeth and her family were sharing the house with another charwoman and her 5 children.  Gardners Lane still exists, renamed at Felsham Road.

The story told in numerous newspaper reports was that he was working as a messenger for WH Smith’s at Putney when he discovered how fast he was able to sprint.  He turned professional when he was 18 in 1876.

The way in which professional sprinting was organised in the late 19th century was very different to now.  Races were generally handicapped, based on recent form, with the aim of all the sprinters finishing together.  So while a race may nominally be over 140 yards, the slowest may have a 30 yard handicap (so start at 110 yards) with the quickest a much smaller handicap and so have further to run.  The logic was close races which would generate more betting interest, but times and distances were usually meaningless.

There was prize money on offer, often substantial amounts for the day, but the sport was driven by gambling with the athletes no doubt receiving a cut from their backers.  There were also instructions from the backers as to the amount of effort to put in during certain races as this would impact on the handicapping in future races.  The athletes were working class men who often made relatively little out of the sport; in this respect not much had changed since the days of the late Georgian walkers like the ‘Blackheath Pedestrian’,Blackheath Pedestrian’, the sprinters, such as William Gazeley, and  the distance running ‘pedestrians’ such as the Greenwich Cowboy who were both active in the 1840s.

While races were held all over the country, there were two big venues relating to professional sprinting – Sheffield, mostly based at a pub that is now part of Sheffield United’s ground, Bramall Lane, and at Powderhall in Edinburgh – a New Year’s meeting that Lewisham’s professional marathon runner Charlie Gardiner competed at.  Harry Hutchens was to make his name in Sheffield in March 1878 as a 20 year old.  He clearly wasn’t unknown to the handicappers as they started him within 5.5 yards of the then Champion, George Wallace, but Harry held on to win by a foot (1).

He was to win again the following year in Sheffield, despite a shortened handicap in the 130 yard race – he had stormed past the rest of the field before the halfway mark to win with ease – afterwards he offered to take on any other sprinter for £500 (presumably not his own money), although he had no takers (2).

While the big money would go to his backers and those who successfully bet on his races, Harry was presumably making some money by 1881 as he had married Harriet in 1880, they’d had a child Hilda in 1880.  Harry was described a ‘pedestrian’ in the census, but the successes in Sheffield didn’t mean that he was living in any grandeur; it seems that the house in Grove Terrace in Fulham was being shared with another household, but it was a step up from the cramped conditions he grew up in.

While not winning in 1882, he ran what he regarded as his finest race in Sheffield starting from scratch, he almost overtook sprinters with 7 yard advantages on him completing the 131.25 yards in 12.2 seconds (3).  This equates to around 10.3 for 100 metres, but it needs to be remembered that this was on a grass track, in conditions that weren’t ideal for sprinting.

His most impressive time came at the start of 1884 at the New Year’s Powderhall meeting in Edinburgh; it had snowed overnight and the track for the 300 yard race was ‘sloppy’ (4).  His dietary preparation for the races was roast beef and potatoes (5).  He won his heat in 30.4 seconds and had to run the final with no one within 18 yards of him.  Yet he ‘ran through the field like a deer through a frightened flock of sheep’ – winning comfortably in 30 seconds exactly (6).  It is now not an often run distance and there is some dispute as to whether the record still stands – but the then European 200 metres Champion, Doug Walker, tried, and failed, to beat it 1999 describing Hutchens sprint as

It was an amazing run, absolutely amazing. Apparently he had his hands in the air, celebrating, from 30 yards out. Some runner.

Later in the year he headed to the United States – although it wasn’t a particularly successful visit, results wise – although he no doubt had appearance money and expenses. He was beaten over 135 yards in Pastime Park, Philadelphia, on November 1 – the winner had a 21 yard start over Hutchens who lost by half a yard.  The third placed runner ‘could have won, but did not try’ the reporter noted – presumably on instructions from those funding him who no doubt had money on the other two sprinters.  An attempt to run 200 yards in 20 seconds for an ‘imaginary $300’ failed to properly materialise two days later (7).  He was sketched wearing somewhat strange sporting attire for the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic Journal whilst he was in the States (8).

Earlier in 1884, he lost in both February and Whitsun races in Sheffield in front of crowds of over 20,000 – in both outings he struggled against hard handicapping (9).

In 1886 he undertook at provincial tour in the Spring, including 140 yard races over 2 nights in Northampton for prizes of over £8 (10).  In the autumn he headed for Australia, hoping that it would improve his rheumatism (11); it was a long voyage during which he was seasick for large amounts of the trip (12).

The hors d’oeuvre was a series of races in just outside Sydney in Parramatta where Hutchens broke the 50 yard record with a time of at 5.6 seconds (13).  The main course was a series of races Carrington Grounds in Sydney against Charlie Samuels, an Aboriginal Australian, over 136 yards for £200 and the Championship of the World (14).  The first meeting was won by Samuels in 14.9. (15), a race that Hutchens later claimed he ran slow ‘to orders’ – presumably to improve odds in future races.

Samuels again won the second meeting in 15.1 (16), with Hutchens seemingly struggling with sciatica, but as in the previous race may well have been ‘running to contract’ 17).  In the final race, Hutchens romped away, finishing in 14.5 seconds, a much quicker time than Samuels had previously managed (18).  Also on the trip he beat the Irish sprinter, Tom Malone, who seemed to be struggling with hamstring issues (19).

While Hutchens was travelling back to Britain a new kid on the block emerged, winning impressively in Sheffield – Harry Gent from Darlington.  The gamblers that effectively ran the sport set up a high profile match between the Harrys – which was to be held at Lillie Bridge Grounds in September 1887.  It was a small arena, close to the current Stamford Bridge, that hosted many sports including boxing, cricket, cycling, football and athletics – Hutchens had already appeared and trained there (20). It is pictured below via Wikimedia Commons

Hutchens decamped to Leicester whilst preparing for the race – believing he would be less likely to be recognised, although was seen training with his coach, Joe Courtney at athletics grounds at Belgrave Road and Aylestone Road (21). Rumours abounded that Hutchens was out of shape and the race would be an easy victory for Gent, there was heavy betting on this basis. The crowd was estimated at between 6,000 (22) and 15,000 (23) paying a shilling to watch the race – the crowd was already there when Hutchens appeared looking very fit.  Bookmakers who backed Gent used ‘heavies’ threatened both sprinters effectively preventing them running (24).

What The Times described as ‘The Riot at Lillie Bridge’ ensued with disgruntled spectators feeling that they had been tricked, went on the rampage burning much of the stadium down, with the police and fire brigade seemingly powerless to do anything about it (25).  The race was eventually run in at Eslington Grounds in Gateshead, with Gent the victor by a couple of feet (26).

Hutchens (pictured below via Wikimedia Commons) competed infrequently during 1888, one of his few outings was at the Sportsman Running Grounds in Plumstead, under the auspices of Kent Professional Pedestrian Association, his handicap of 20 yards in a 125 yard race seemed to fail to recognise his actual form and he struggled (27).  The Grounds, in what are now part of HMP Belmarsh had some other tenants, a football club named after one of the local employers who became much better known – Woolwich Arsenal.

The only significant race he competed in during 1888 was notable only for its strangeness, a man v horse v horse and chariot race in London; Harry was the man and won comfortably over the 2 laps of a tight 150 yard course (28).

1889 seems to have been a year when he struggled with injuries – press reports of his races are few and far between, although the Sporting Life noted that he had ‘ricked’ his leg during May and would be unable to run for ‘some time’ (29). Earlier in the year he had lost in Northampton to W Roseblade, who had a 14.5 yard advantage, over 150 yards, losing out on a prize of £50 and no doubt a cut of betting profits (30).  1890 seems to have been even worse for the now 33 year old with no mentions of races in the press.

Such was his decline that he was described as ‘once famous’ in early 1891 (31).  In the short term this perhaps proved favourable to Harry as he was able to win his fourth and final Sheaf House handicap championship in Sheffield in February (32).

In 1892 there were reports of him competing much more than in the previous three years, including several at athletics grounds in Bow on an 800 yard track (33) and a second place in Battersea (34).

As was noted in one of the press reports of a race in 1893, the sport was a decline – ‘professional pedestrian matches are not so frequent these days that a contest between Harry Hutchens….and George Revell, of Newcastle, will pass unnoticed (35).’

It certainly seemed to that way  there appear to be no reports of the race which in previous years would have been newsworthy as both were former victors in Sheffield. Hutchens had a rare south east London outing during the year racing  at Browns Grounds in Nunhead (now part of Haberdashers‘ Aske’s playing fields), winning his heat but losing in the final (36).

Early in 1894 it was announced that it was to be his farewell season and that he would retire at the end of it.  A testimonial was arranged, subscribers included. venues he’d raced at and the Sporting Life. Harry was described as being ‘for sixteen years the champion sprinter of the world’ (37). He made various unsuccessful attempts during the year to beat his own records, often with pacers including ones in Paisley (38) and Stamford Bridge where ‘few were present’ (39).

The testimonial seems to have been a shambles, it’s main backer, the gambler, Sir John Astley, being left out of pocket and Hutchens getting nothing from it (40).

Probably as a result of the lack of income from the testimonial, reports of Harry Hutchens retirement ended up being premature, he was reported as having entered several races during 1895, although there were few results in the press – although he comfortably got through to the final of a race in West Bromwich in February (41), the result of the final didn’t seem to get a mention in the press though.

As we have seen, before his ‘retirement’ Hutchens had taken part in some odd races.  This continued into 1896 when Hutchens featured in several runner v cyclist sprints; track cycling was in the midst of a major boom with ‘cycling grounds’ and velodromes springing in numerous locations.  One of the these was at the newly built Catford Velodrome (pictured below, via eBay in February 2016), a long sprint from what was to be his home – where, in front of a 10,000 crowd (no doubt there in the main to see the cycling) he comfortably beat the professional cyclist Tom Osborn (42). In a similar race in Walsall he raced a cyclist over 100 yards, being only overhauled by the cyclist, Sam Vale, in the last few yards in front of 2,000 (43).

There were a few outings in 1897 including another unsuccessful race against the cyclist C F Barden in Wood Green (44) along with a heat win in a Christmas race in Leeds, although how he fared in the later rounds is not clear (45).

There were a few more traditional sprint races in 1898 – including revisiting West Bromwich where he had an easy win in the first heat, but the match being abandoned after disturbances concerning Hutchens opponent in the second round Hammond Jump (46).  Later in the year he lost to the Scot A R Downer in  Rochdale for a relatively large wager (47)

While well into his 40s Harry continued to occasionally race in 1899, he just lost to the much younger Charles Harper in Hanley over 200 metres despite having a handicap of 7 yards for a £50 prize (48). Hutchens did win one race that year when he competed in a strange 120 yard race against a woman cyclist at Putney Velodrome – he was described as ‘ungallant enough to beat’ Rosa Blackburn (49).

His last race, other than a strange race in his 50s (50), was one of his regular appearances in the West Midlands – it drew in the crowds in Bilston, but handicappers on the 120 yard race were harsh – with Hutchens on ‘scratch’ he was beaten by a lad (junior) with a 40 yard start in a ‘magnificent race.’  (51)

During most of his professional career he lived in Fulham with wife Harriet (born in 1859) and daughter, Hilda (1881) he seems to have moved to Catford and started working for the Woolwich Arsenal around 1899. How this happened isn’t clear, but certainly the Woolwich Arsenal appeared sympathetic to the career of another local professional athlete – the marathon runner,  Charlie Gardiner, who worked there in the early 1900s. By 1901 he was listed as a ‘Foreman In Royal Naval Ordnance Depot’ living with his wife Harriet, daughter Hilda (listed as a ‘Fancy Knitter’) and a lodger at 12 Bradgate Street (now Road).

While he’d had a successful career, it was no doubt others that had earned far more than Harry had through the gambling that pervaded the sport.  The failure of his benefit probably meant that he had little to show from his lengthy career.  It isn’t clear whether this contributed to Harry being arrested and found guilty of the theft of a charity box from a Northampton pub, he was sentenced to 14 days hard labour in 1903 (52).

He was still working at Woolwich Arsenal in 1911, listed as a ‘Leading Hand’ there – he’d moved down the street to locally and was now at 38 Bradgate Street– a relatively near neighbour of probably the oldest World War 1 soldier, Alfred Figes, at 79.  The household and trades were still the same though and there was a different lodger there.

Harriet died in 1930, but at the time of his death in 1939 when Harry died he was still living in the same bit of Catford, now at 134 Brookdale Road with Hilda and a different lodger.  Hilda died in Lewisham in 1952.

His death on 2 January 1939 was fifty-five years to the day after he had covered 300 yards in 30 seconds on a cold winter’s day in Edinburgh, a performance that still impresses historians of athletics.  It was to be the defining moment of his career – a time that is still impressive given the conditions, the nature of the track and the lack of modern training techniques and diet.

Notes

  1. Edward S Sears (2015) Running Through The Ages (Second Edition), McFarlane & Co, Jefferson North Carolina p76
  2. ibid p76
  3. ibid p76
  4. Edward S Sears (2008)George Seward: America’s First Great Runner, Lanham, Scarecrow Press p179
  5. 06 January 1939 – The Scotsman
  6. Sears (2008) op cit, p179
  7. 19 November 1884 – Sporting Life
  8. Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic Journal, November 22 1884
  9. 22 January 1885 – Sporting Life – London
  10. Sporting Life 2 April 1886
  11. Sears (2015) p77
  12. The Sportsman 28 October 1886
  13. 02 March 1887 – Sporting Life
  14. Sears (2015) p77
  15. ibid
  16. ibid
  17. ibid
  18. 02 March 1887 – Sporting Life
  19. Sears (2015) p78
  20. 06 January 1939 – The Scotsman
  21. 10 September 1887 – Sporting Life
  22. The Times, 21 September 1887
  23. Sears (2015) p78
  24. ibid
  25. The Times, 21 September 1887
  26. 31 October 1887 – Lancashire Evening Post
  27. 27 April 1888 – Kentish Mercury
  28. Rugby Advertiser 6 October 1888
  29. 14 May 1889 – Sporting Life – London, London, England
  30. Sporting Life 30 January 1889
  31. 03 January 1891 – The Graphic
  32. 11 February 1891 – Yorkshire Evening Post
  33. 26 December 1892 – Sporting Life – London,
  34. 30 March 1892 – Sporting Life
  35. Pall Mall Gazette 30 December 1893
  36. 23 May 1893 – The Sportsman
  37. 12 January 1894 – Sporting Life
  38. 09 January 1894 – Sporting Life
  39. Penny Illustrated Paper 31 March 1894
  40. 12 December 1927 – Athletic News – Manchester, Lancashire, England
  41. 09 February 1895 – Sporting Life – London, London, England
  42. 04 May 1896 – St James’s Gazette – London, London, England
  43. 08 August 1896 – Sporting Life – London, London, England
  44. 31 July 1897 – Rugby Advertiser
  45. 22 December 1897 – Sporting Life – London, London, England
  46. 02 March 1898 – Sporting Life
  47. 16 September 1898 – The Salisbury Times
  48. Manchester Evening News 8 August 1899
  49. Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 13 May 1899
  50. Hawick News and Birder Chronicle 9 August 1912
  51. Sporting Life 18 October 1899
  52. Bolton Evening News 1 August 1903

Census and related data is via Find My Past (subscription required)

Thank you to Mike Guilfoyle for jogging my memory about Harry