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Imperial Picture Palace – A Lee Green Cinema

Running Past has already covered a couple of Lee and Hither Green cinemas – the Globe in Staplehurst Road and the Lee Picture Palace which was on the corner of Bankwell and Lee High Roads.  Both were short lived – part of the reason for this was almost certainly the more successful Imperial Picture Theatre (sometimes referred to as Palace) which was at 404 to 408 High Road, close to Lee Green. (Map surveyed in 1915 – on a Creative Commons via National Library of Scotland).

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It opened on 6 December 1913 (1), a week after The Globe (2) but a good three years after its nearest neighbour 400 metres down Lee High Road. The picture below is from its latter years and is on a Creative Commons, courtesy of Ken Roe.

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It was designed by H. Wakefield & Sons, and the Cinema Treasures website describes it as having had a ‘stone and brick facade, with columns and an elaborate pediment.’  As the map shows, it was quite a deep building which seated 750.  It tried to encourage the wealthy of Edwardian Lee to come by separating them from the masses – offering boxes at 5/- and 7/6d – with those with less disposable income being able to get in for thruppence (3).

ipp-dtThe opening afternoon was an invitation only event which saw a series of ‘shorts’ including the French film ‘The Duke’s Talisman’ (4) – described as ‘full of action and intensely exciting situations’ (picture via eBay November 2016).

The cinema seems to have changed hands early in its life and by its second winter it was offering special shows for children – with a Christmas morning show for 400 and a gift for each child supplied by Chiesmans department store (5).

 

broadway_melody_posterThe cinema had a small orchestra to accompany the silent films, with frequent adverts in the press for musicians – ‘relief’ pianists seemed particularly hard to come by (6).  By the end of the war it had seen off its local competitor, Lee Picture Palace, which had been requisitioned as a munitions factory and never re-opened.  It changed with the times too, both in terms of name – it was to become the Savoy under new management in 1928 (it had been known just as the Imperial since 1916 (7)) – but also in terms of the pictures it showed – sound equipment for ‘talkies’ was installed in 1929.  The first  talking picture was ‘The Broadway Melody’ (8) (Picture on a Creative Commons), the first sound film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture.  Whether the owners showed the version with one of the first Technicolor sequences is not clear though.

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The cinema survived World War Two unscathed and was sold again in the early 1950s (9) with the new owners changing it to its final name – The Pullman.   It only lasted another four years with the final closure on 27 June 1959 with a performance of “Tarzan and the Lost Safari”.

 

The building survived in a number other guises for another 27 years, initially as a motor spare-parts shop and then a shopfitters  – there is a photograph of it from this era, sadly without any usage rights.  It was demolished  before in October 1986 to make way for the Lee Green Sainsbury’s.

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Notes

  1. Ken George (1986) ‘Two Sixpennies Please’ – Lewisham’s Early Cinemas p41
  2. ibid p40
  3. ibid p41
  4. ibid p41
  5. ibid p41
  6. one example – The Era 7 May 1919
  7. George op cit p81
  8. ibid p42
  9. The Stage 3 June 1954

 

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The London Irish at Perry Hill – Edwardian Rugby in Catford

A while back, Running Past covered the short lived Perry Hill Stadium, also known as Dog Field – which saw the racing of both greyhounds and midget cars in the 1930s.  While researching that post, it became clear that one of the former users of what became known as Dog Field was London Irish Rugby Club – they were there when the cartographers ‘called’ in 1913 – although the Ordnance Survey didn’t seem to publish the map for another 20 years, by which time the Irish’s nomadic existence had seen them move an several times and they had obtained their first permanent home in Sunbury-on-Thames.

It seemed strange to see a reference in Catford to a rugby club that had been in the Premiership for a dozen years until their relegation in May 2016 (although at the time of writing they are topping the Championship).  The roots of the Irish go back to 1898 and their first match was against the long since defunct Hammersmith but they had moved from ground to ground and from one part of the capital to another.  Their first home was in Herne Hill, where they moved in 1900, but it was then on to Stamford Bridge (then known as the London Athletic Ground), followed by a brief sojourn at Wandsworth Common and a couple of seasons in Walthamstow before they ended up at Perry Hill, Catford (1).

The ground was known as Laurel Brook (2) which was the name of a large house adjacent to the ground (see map above).  The first game after the move from Walthamstow was a heavy home defeat to United Services in front of a ‘large crowd’ in early October 1907 (3)

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There were brief mentions of further defeats by Guy’s Hospital (4) and Old Merchant Taylor’s (5) before Rosslyn Park were beaten in mid-December (6).  In the New Year, a grim sounding dismal 0-0 draw was played out with near neighbours Catford Bridge (7).  The crowds declined quickly though, as the initial excitement of rugby in Catford waned, a cursory report in The Scotsman for the third game noted (8)

OLD MERCHANT TAYLORS, three goals and two tries; LONDON IRISH, nothing. At Catford. Attendance small.

There is a very grainy picture of the team from the Penny Illustrated that season (9).

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The mentions in The Times of the matches at Laurel Brook remained little more than scores in the 1908/09 season – they were, in the main, defeats, with the Irish getting heavily beaten by visiting teams.  The Bedford Mercury did a more in depth report of a ‘poor’ match in late February 1909, where the home side again lost.  Crowds were still sparse and the reporter noted ‘they want and deserve more encouragement, and now that they have a nicely appointed ground on a lease for a few years it is hoped that they will get it.’ (10). They may well have done better away from Laurel Brook that season, as, from the 28 matches there were 15 wins and 13 defeats (11)

The 1909/10 season began with a rout as the United Services were again the visitors – the Irish were no match and failed to trouble the scorers whilst the opposite scored seven goals, one dropped goal and three tries (12) – it was a score that would not have been out of place on the neighbouring cricket fields.  It was only marginally better when Old Merchant Taylors visited a few weeks later, and again the Irish failed to score (13).  All the home matches that campaign seemed to ended in disappointment for the faithful at Perry Hill.

Whether there were changes in the summer, it wasn’t clear, but there was at least an improvement in the opening fixture of the new campaign but there wasn’t excitement for the paying public as neither Barts nor The Irish forced the scorer to get out of their chair (14).

The Times bravely sent one of their reporters to a match at Perry Hill early in the 1911/12 season against London Hospital – s/he clearly wasn’t impressed by the fayre on offer from the men (presumably) in green who again lost heavily – the Irish forwards ‘deteriorated hopelessly .. a series of promiscuous kicks….’ (15)

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A 28-0 win against London French provided a brief respite for the home faithful (16) but defeats at Perry Hill started again against London Scottish (17).

January 1913 saw a rare home win against Streatham (18), however, it was probably to be London Irish’s last match at Perry Hill – future home matches that season, in what was to prove to be a more successful campaign, were in Wandsworth, probably ground sharing with London Welsh until war broke out in 1914 and the club was mothballed until hostilities ceased (19).

Presumably the lease ‘for a few years’ had come to an end and they either decided to try their luck elsewhere or they were forced to move.  The former seems more likely as there seemed to be no development pressures on the ground until the 1930s and poor crowds noted in the early years are probably unlikely to have picked up with the poor performances on the pitch.

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Today, part of the ground is still there – it is a pleasant piece of open grassland, generally quiet when I pass on early morning runs past, apart from a few dog walkers – appropriate given the later name that is still used by a few ‘Dog Field.’  The western side succumbed to development – the eastern end if Datchet Road – in the 1930s presumably after the greyhounds and midget cars had left. 

 

Notes

  1. Peter Bills (1998) Passion in Exile, 100 Years of the London Irish (Mainstream, Edinburgh) p24
  2. Ibid, p24
  3. The Times (London, England), Monday, Oct 07, 1907; pg. 11; Issue 38457
  4. The Times (London, England), Monday, Nov 25, 1907; pg. 9; Issue 38499.
  5. The Times (London, England), Monday, Dec 09, 1907; pg. 7; Issue 38511.
  6. The Times (London, England), Monday, Dec 16, 1907; pg. 7; Issue 38517.
  7. The Times (London, England), Monday, Feb 03, 1908; pg. 11; Issue 38559
  8. The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland) 9 December 1907
  9. Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, March 21, 1908; pg. 182; Issue 2443
  10. Bedford Mercury 5 March 1909
  11. Bills, op cit, p26
  12. The Times (London, England), Monday, Oct 11, 1909; pg. 16; Issue 39087.
  13. The Times (London, England), Monday, Nov 15, 1909; pg. 20; Issue 39117.
  14. The Times (London, England), Monday, Oct 17, 1910; pg. 18; Issue 39405.
  15. The Times (London, England), Monday, Oct 30, 1911; pg. 14; Issue 39729.
  16. The Times (London, England), Monday, Dec 11, 1911; pg. 15; Issue 39765.
  17. The Times [London, England] 26 Feb. 1912: 12.
  18. The Times (London, England), Monday, Jan 13, 1913; pg. 13; Issue 40107.
  19. Bills op cit, p29.
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A Victorian Walk Around the Corbett Estate

A month or two ago it was noted in another post on Running Past, that there had ‘probably never been a single sale of land around Hither Green and Lee that has been more significant than the sale of North Park Farm by the Earl of St Germans in 1895 as it allowed for the development of was initially known as the St Germans estate, now generally known as the Corbett estate.’ This post picks up the story a few years after the sale after development was well under way, but far from being completed.

We return on 15 November 1899 in the company of one of Charles Booth’s investigators, Ernest Aves (there is a biography of Aves here)and PC Lloyds from Ladywell Police Station, who lived locally in Harvard Road.  The walk gives a fascinating insight into the early days of the estate.120px-charles_booth_by_george_frederic_watts  Charles Booth (picture Creative Commons), the centenary of whose death is on November 23, 2016, conducted an ‘Inquiry into Life and Labour in London’ between 1886 and 1903 – for much of the city he produced wonderfully detailed maps coloured on the basis of income and the social class of its inhabitants.  His assessment was based on walks carried out either himself or through a team of social investigators, often with clergymen or the police, listening, observing what he saw and talking to people he met on the road.  Sadly, no map seems to be available for most of the walk but below is an extract which includes the most southerly part of Hither Green that seems to have been mapped – available from London School of Economics as a Creative Commons.

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Albert Lloyds was about 35 and has been in the police for 11 years all of which has been in Lewisham, Booth feels that he is unlikely to get promotion due to his lack of education, he had five children in 1899.  By the 1901 census Albert Lloyds, from Newchurch in Kent, was still living at 35 Harvard Road, with his wife Ellen and 7 children in a two bedroom house.

Corbett was described as ‘speculator in chief’ but was subletting much of the work, the contractors included James Watt, whom Running Past has already covered.  The estate is described as being mainly for the ‘lower middle class’ and two styles predominated – ‘a small single fronted house letting at about £25 and a somewhat larger double-fronted house letting at £36 to £38.‘  The larger houses in Brownhill Road attracted a rent of £60.  These were presumably monthly rentals.  But there were lower, weekly, rents around ‘working class’ Sandhurst Road.

Aves seemed almost surprised that ‘many of the houses throughout the estate are said to be owned by their occupiers‘. Sale prices, on a leasehold basis a year earlier in 1898 had been £379 to £470 for the largest six bedroom homes; £298 – £353 for four bedroom homes and £215 to £252 for the 3/4 bedroom homes.  The smallest 3 bedroom homes on the estate were not offered for sales until 1903 (1).  The biggest of these are now fetching over £1 million, as was noted in a recent post in Clare’s Diary.

Duncrievie Road
His starting point was where we had left the estate a few years earlier in a post about the farm that came before the estate – North Park.  The original farm, occupied for years by William Fry, had gone, but houses occupied by the Sheppards were still there.  Eliot Lodge (below), at the corner of Hither Green Lane, was still occupied by Samuel Sheppard and the other, the former house of Edward Sheppard, was occupied by the Chief Agent for the estate, Robert Pettigrew who was from Edinburgh – it was referred to as North Park House in the 1901 census.  Both were given the second highest rating by Aves/Booth – red – ‘Middle class.  Well to do.’  Oddly Pettigrew wasn’t always in this trade, he’d been a storekeeper in 1881, but may have come across Corbett whilst the latter was developing in Ilford – he returned to Essex after he retired.

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Springbank Road
While some of the shops had been built, but certainly not all and only two or three let – this was perhaps not surprising, while the road was laid out, the houses were yet to be built.  The bustling parade of a decade later (see below – source eBay September 2016) was yet to come.

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The only houses were the other remnants of North Park farm, the ‘pink’ (Fairly comfortable.  Good ordinary earnings) former farm cottages at the corner of Hither Green Lane.
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Wellmeadow and Broadfield Roads
The northern parts of the road, closer to the station, had already been built as had the ‘large Weslyan Chapel building’ (covered a while ago in Running Past) but south of Brownhill Road it was still under construction.

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Source – eBay February 2016

The pattern was the same with Broadfield Road (wrongly mentioned at Brookfield). Aves referred to the streets as a ‘pink barred’, this is a slight variant on some of his earlier definitions – in correspondence, this seems to mean ‘high class labour – fairly comfortable good ordinary earnings’

Brownhill Road
This was oddly described as ‘the swell road of the estate’ – many of the larger houses had already been built and were ‘red’ with a few of the pink barred blocks of houses constructed.

Ardgowan, Torridon, Arngask and Fordel Roads
Ardgowan Road, north of Brownhill Road, had been completed by the time Lloyds showed the estate to Aves, but to the south, construction was still ongoing; the opposite seemed to be the case with Torridon Road. Arngask and Fordel Roads were both completed, but Aves merely seemed to pass by noting the same pink barred colouring of the other two streets.

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Torridon Road from a decade or so later via Lewisham Archives on a Creative Commons

Glenfarg and Sandhurst Roads
These were described as ‘the two working class streets’  the former (and maybe the latter) was built by Frederick Taylor, to whom we will return in a later post.  These and the other streets to the west of Torridon, had largely been built  – unlike much of the rest of the burgeoning estate it was possible to rent these weekly and these were the slightly lower graded pink (without barred element).

Aves with his interest in poverty lingered here longer, seemingly mainly on Sandhurst  Road –

‘most occupied by a decent class, but many on the down-grade.  Two families (per house) frequent, and even in passing many signs of deterioration observable.’

Many living in these streets were employed on the estate and would be expected to leave when the work was finished.  Given the estates position in then suburbia, Corbett presumably felt that to get the workers, he needed to build houses for them first – there seemed to be no philanthropy here, just business necessities.  Certainly, Smith noted that these houses were much later coming onto the market (2).

Maybe influenced by his companion, Aves noted that

The street (Sandhurst) is not getting a good name, and disorder and drunkenness are not uncommon, in spite of the absence of licensed houses in the intermediate neighbourhood.

Booth still felt the road to be mainly pink, but, apart from the shops of Sandhurst Market, that it would be turning ‘purple’ (‘Mixed. Some comfortable others poor.’)

It took another eleven years for the the building work to be completed with homes on Verdant Lane and Duncrievie Road being finished in 1910 (3).  The difference between 1894 and 1914 is enormous as the maps below show (both maps on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).

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At some stage in the not too distant future we will pick up the story of the estate just before World War 2, to see whether the predictions of Aves and Booth proved to be correct.

Notes

  1. Godfrey Smith (1997) ‘Hither Green: the Forgotten Hamlet : Including the Corbett Estate’ p40
  2. ibid p40
  3. ibid p42

Census and related data comes from Find My Past.

Beyond a Boundary – Border Ditch, a Quaggy Tributary

Border Ditch is one of the smaller tributaries of the Quaggy – it rises in playing fields on the edge of the Downham estate, very close to a natural boundary – the watershed that marks the divide between the Quaggy and Ravensbourne catchments. Its name comes from a different boundary though – for some of its recent life it was a small part of the border between Lee, then Lewisham, and Bromley.  In addition, it would mark the limit of London until 1965 when Bromley was prised out of Kent and brought into the metropolis (although the distinctions had become a little blurred from the 1840s as the Bromley was included in the area covered by the Metropolitan Police).

While the contour lines on the map for the early part of the Ditch are clear, they would suggest a route from around the middle of the playing field then following a line slightly to the south of Welbeck Avenue to Burnt Ash Lane.  However, the boundary which predated development, and the playing fields, is slightly to the north of this, suggesting that the course may have been adjusted when the land was farmed.  There was no access to the school playing fields, so any further investigation proved impossible.  The current course seems to follow a now overgrown access road to garages and then a very clear dip in Burnt Ash Lane.

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There used to be a small bridge at this point which was captured on film around the time of the First World War, before the advance of suburbia and the Downham estate in the 1920s (source Lewisham Archives on a Creative Commons).

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The stream is no longer visible (or even audible) at this point but there is a clear valley as it squeezes between the gardens of Ridgeway Close on the Bromley side and Wydeville Manor Road on the Lewisham side.  There are tracks down to garages at the rear on the Bromley side, but as ‘danger reared its ugly head’ – with a dog starting to bark as I attempted to investigate – the urban explorer ‘turned and fled’ in the manner of Brave Sir Robin.

Fortunately, there was a dog-free access point on the Lewisham side and squeezing between some broken railings a view of the newly emergent Border Ditch was possible.  There is a noticeable valley although during a relatively dry early autumn relatively little water. From this point, it is likely that the Ditch continued downhill until it met the Quaggy; it isn’t possible to be certain though as the imposing railway embankment obliterated contour lines past.

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Railway engineers appear to have taken the Ditch on a slightly more circuitous journey in creating a new confluence with the Quaggy. The course they chose for it would have seen the Ditch empty into the Quaggy close to the bridge in the southern part of Chinbrook Meadows – source Creative Commons.

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While the line to Bromley North was later added, the course doesn’t seem to have altered – source Creative Commons, National Library of Scotland.

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The stream seems to have been slightly moved north east at a later date to hug the edge of the embankment and emptying into the Quaggy just after the latter enters the tunnel under the main line.

The re-emergence into the open  is a rather desultory one, exiting from its concrete casing into what was more reminiscent of a drain than a stream.  There was little sign of movement in the ominous looking muddy water.  It wasn’t even easy to see, hidden behind stout metal Network Rail fencing preventing any ne’er do wells having access to the embankment from the south westerly part of Chinbrook Meadows.

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The emergent Ditch trickles slightly downhill for almost a hundred metres towards its final destination – its confluence with the Quaggy.  The coming together of the flows is rather lacking in distinction too, there is a twist to force the Ditch down and almost back upon itself to meet the Quaggy with the all the force of a tap with low water pressure.  My failed attempts to photograph the junction were even less impressive than the reality.

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The good news is that there are plans afoot to try to make the last few metres of the ‘Ditch’ slightly more alluring, while the aesthetics will be improved considerably, the real reason is to install a sustainable drainage system (SuDS) which would enable water to run through a series of pools planted with native marshland plants that will naturally filter the water reducing the potential pollution impact of the ‘Ditch.’  I am no expert on gauging water quality by sight, but it didn’t look good.

While Border Ditch isn’t currently worth much of a trek, Chinbrook Meadows is a different matter, it is a lovely park – one of my Lewisham favourites.  It was the site of a small dairy farm, Chinbrook Farm – the park first opening in 1929 and being considerably extended eight years later.  The Quaggy was channelised early in the ‘Meadow’s’ existence and, from memory, large fences and hedges partially hid the river (they still do on its exit).  The river was freed into a more natural gently meandering course with more natural planting and access after works that were completed in 2002.

© Derek Harper, Creative Commons

If you recognise some of the latter photos and text, that would not be surprising, I have previously attributed them to a different stream – one I referred to as Grove Park Ditch (West).  Border Ditch is referred to as that, without the locational suffix, by the Environment Agency. However, having spent an age following flows and contours on old OS Maps I am now pretty certain that the outflow is that of Border Ditch, I am in pretty good company here – my view is shared by the sadly departed fellow fluvial flâneur, Ken White.

The area is no stranger to artificial boundaries – around quarter of a mile away from the source of Border Ditch there was the infamous wall of Alexandra Crescent.  It was built by the developer of a private road in 1926 to prevent those on the Downham Estate being able to walk through the new middle class housing towards Bromley.  It never had planning permission, but the over two metre boundary, topped with broken glass was to last until 1950. (More information & picture source)

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The Ordnance Survey note boundary markers both within the Chinbrook Meadows and at the bottom of Oakbrook Close.  They seem to no longer exist – I certainly couldn’t find them and they haven’t been spotted by a follower of the blog who is tracker of boundary markers – the earliest maps note they were on trees though so even if the trees are still there the marks probably won’t be – however, nowhere did I see any arboreal girth approaching 200 year years (a substantial tree in 1860 plus the intervening time period)…

Back to the Border Ditch, it is no longer the border for much its last few metres, the Local Government Boundary Commission agreed to requests from both Bromley and Lewisham to shift the boundary to the far side  of the railway in 1991.  The dashed line is the ‘new’ boundary; the non-dashed one the pre-1991 boundary.  So it seems that the watershed is probably the only definitely fixed boundary – boroughs and counties are man-made constructs and as we have seen even streams change course, in this case diverted at least.

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Dog Field, Perry Hill – A Long Lost Catford Midget Car and Greyhound ‘Stadium’

Running Past has covered several long gone sports stadia in Catford – notably The Mount, where Charlton played for a season (and Catford Southend somewhat longer) and the velodrome in what is now Sportsbank Street.

In addition to this, there seems to have been a short-lived ‘stadium’ in Perry Hill that was home to the racing of both greyhounds and midget cars (not at the same time) in the early 1930s.  It shouldn’t be confused with the main Catford greyhound stadium, whose entrance was in Adenmore Road.  While it was referred to as ‘Perry Hill Stadium’ this implies something somewhat more grand than it actually was.  Given various references to Rubens Street iit may have been a ground-share with Forest Hill Cricket Club – what is now home to Catford and Cyphers Cricket Club.

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There is another possibility though, those with long memories of Perry Hill suggested in a Facebook discussion of this post, an area adjacent to it, next to the river as being Dog Field.

This was home for a while to London Irish RFU, although not mentioned in their on-line history, and is shown on an Ordnance Survey 25 inch map surveyed in 1913, but not published for another couple of decades. By this stage, London Irish RFC had ended their early itinerant history and had found a base in Sunbury on Thames in 1931.

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As the original access was a track from Rubens Street, this may have explained the address of the ‘Stadium’. Greyhound racing would have required some form of pavilion, which was presumably still there from the days of London Irish or the adjacent cricket club could have been used. Crucially, it would make more sense as midget car racing would have churned up the outfield of a cricket field.

The company seems to have been set up for greyhound racing – the track was initially an unlicensed one (1) – one of the Directors, a Herbert Leonard Blann was prosecuted by the RSPCA for using live rabbits fixed to a ball for the greyhounds to chase  in late 1933 (2). While it joined the British Greyhound Tracks Control Society (BGTCS), a short-lived rival to the bigger National Greyhound Racing Club (NGRC), that folded in 1935.

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The 1934 Betting Act tightened up licensing and all owners had to apply to the London County Council for a £90 licence which allowed for 104 meetings a year with betting along with a further four without it.  Presumably they were successful as there are reports of racing in October 1935, although there was further trouble with the law as the Company was fined £25 and Hubert Blann £5 for permitting betting at Sunday meetings om August 1935 (3).

Midget car racing was introduced at Perry Hill in June 1935, it was a young sport which became big in the USA and Australia, but seemingly much less so in Britain although there were tracks in the 1930s at Crystal Palace, Lea Bridge, Greenford and Dagenham.  There were attempts in 1948 to get the sport to take off with a ‘tour’ of American cars at Stamford Bridge (British Pathé video below) as well as at Charlton’s Valley and Walthamstow greyhound stadium,  but it never seems to have taken off as major sport here.

While Herbert Blann was almost certainly involved in the races at Perry Hill, there have been suggestions that one of the other promoters was Kaye Don.  Don had been a massive name in 1930s motor sport both on land and water; he had set the record on Lake Garda in February 1932 at 177.387 km/h (110.2 mph).

Don’s fall from grace though had been spectacular – he was convicted of the manslaughter of Francis Tayler, a MG mechanic, while testing a car on the Isle of Man in 1934 – the car had no lights, number plates or insurance, yet it was driven on open public roads at 10:00 pm – it was involved in an accident from which Frankie Tayler subsequently died. Don was sentenced to four months in prison.

Don was injured himself in the crash and it seems that he didn’t race again, and was out of prison by the time the races happened at Perry Hill.  Based on Blann’s flouting of the law – maybe a partner like Don would have appealed.

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The first racing on the 250 m long course seems to have been on 8 June 1935.  Little is known other that there seem to have been around three events and one of the drivers to feature was Jean Reville (see above – picture source) who enjoyed several victories in the three meetings; Reville was probably the leading light in the nascent sport – but he was to emigrate to Australia later that year.

The racing on four wheels and four legs didn’t last long though; Perry Hill Stadium Ltd was in liquidation before the end of 1935 – the action was brought by a creditor, Charles John Hull, who was the long-term licensee of the Osborne Arms in Deptford.

With hindsight it was probably a doomed venture – both sports had local competition, midget car racing was run at an established speedway track at Crystal Palace and greyhound racing in Catford – both of which had much better public transport links.  The owners of the Catford Stadium had tried midget car racing without success in 1934, so perhaps that should have been a warning.

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If the location was the cricket ground, the sport that predated the venture still continues – one of the parts of the club that now plays there – Catford and Cyphers – used to be based at Pennerley Road, the pavilion remains there but the ground has been lost to development.  Oddly, it too tried speedway once in 1932, although the details of it are ‘sketchy.

If Dog Field was the old London Irish ground, part of it was built on with the eastern edge of Datchet Road – the rest remains as open space – appropriately still used for dogs – the main users being dog walkers and their hounds.

Notes

  1. “The Training of Greyhounds.” Times [London, England] 30 Dec. 1933: 7.
  2. “Fine for Cruelty to Rabbits.” Times [London, England] 5 Jan. 1934: 14.
  3. Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligence 22 October 1935

 

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Following the Quaggy – Suburbia and Rural South East London

An earlier post followed the  Kyd Brook (the name given to the Quaggy in its first few miles) from its two main sources to the confluence – submerged beneath the edge of suburbia of the western edge of Petts Wood.  The Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1894 below, shows where we left the river, close to the former Town Court.
kydmap1The post-development Kyd Brook is submerged beneath suburban streets and, while the roads are too busy to be listening for the sounds of water beneath manhole covers, the course is clear – the miniature valley of the newly  combined Kyd Brook is obvious where Ryecroft Road meets Queensway.

The river remains submerged as it flows under the railway and then parallel to the former Green Lane, now Tudor Way – there are no obvious remnants of Elizabethan times here although perhaps a nod to the arts and crafts elements of some of the housing.

Kyd Brook emerges from its concrete casing just before being bridged by Petts Wood Road, its emergence is greeted by a dissipation of the traffic noise.  We are in the ‘high quality estate in a rural setting’ that the 1920s developer of Petts Wood, Basil Scruby intended when he secured an option to buy 400 acres of woodland and strawberry fields in 1927.  Like Cameron Corbett at Hither Green 30 years before, he recognised the importance of the railway and built the station before the homes.

The front lawns are neatly manicured in what is now expensive suburbia, but parallel to Crossway runs Kyd Brook, between the gardens – it is less constrained by expectations and providing a more natural counterpoint to the street fronts.  Of course, appearances must be kept up, and there are quaint colonnaded bridges on the side roads as the river passes.

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Oddly, for a while, one of the neighbouring streets was home to Charles de Gaulle who lived at 41 Birchwood Road for a few months after the fall of France in 1940. He may have admired Kyd Brook as it crossed Crossway, providing the boundary between two houses, a pleasant alternative to privet or chestnut fencing.

 

Kyd Brook is soon to disappear from view again – crossing Hazelmere Way it turns sharp west through the back gardens and alongside another railway line and is then buried for around 500 metres.   The follower of the Brook dips under the tracks and enters a different world, although it is still Petts Wood.  The arboreal buffer bought for the National Trust to prevent Basil Scruby’s developments extending further northwards.  Running Past has been here before when attempting to trace some of the tributaries of the about to be Quaggy

When visited almost a year ago, the Wood was a morass of mud; it was difficult to disentangle flooded paths and ditches from streams called ‘Ditch.’ At the end of September, while the two arms of the most easterly of the streams, Petts Wood Ditch, were flowing, some of the unnamed ditches were dry, even to the touch.  Petts Wood Ditch used to join Kyd Brook close to the pedestrian tunnel under the railway, but an abundance of wetland plants alongside the path for a while suggests that the confluence may have been moved by Scruby’s contractors.

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Kyd Brook emerges from an impenetrably dark tunnel under the railways and is briefly followed by a path before heading across the only really rural part of its course – the NT Tong Farm, part of the Hawkwood Estate. There are several small unnamed streams that come down the hillside from the higher parts of Chislehurst – the confluences are all unseen and all covered in an earlier post on the Estate.

There are several small visible streams emerging from the south-west following field edges before being piped under the path to emerge from pipes on the southerly bank of the still Kyd Brook.  There is plenty of bird life along the river at this point – although no kites – the Anglo-Saxon meaning of Kidbrooke and presumably Kyd Brook is “the brook where the kites were seen”.

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Back in the suburbia of Chislehurst, Kyd Brook is left behind and the river becomes the more familiar Quaggy, but is immediately ‘lost’ to view having been carefully ‘screened’ first.  It emerges briefly in a private estate – somewhat less grand than those around its westerly source upstream.

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The Quaggy is soon again unseen, but it has created an impressive valley, around 50 metres deep, presumably shaped in times when the river was more of a torrent than it now is.  Railway engineers have purloined the valley at this point and the Quaggy disappears from view under Chislehurst station.   The submerged parts seems greater than in the past – which skirted around the edge of the now demolished Bickley Hall. The stables were designed by Ernest Newton, the architect behind the Baring Hall pub, St Swithuns Church on Hither Green Lane and Lochaber Hall.

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A rather circuitous wander around the embanked railway sees the river emerge in Bickley, while it is in the open, behind the veritable mixture of architectural styles of Lower Camden, vantage points are few are far between and with several of those the greenery is in such abundance that the Quaggy is audible but barely visible.

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The Quaggy dips again under the railway’s earthworks, to emerge again alongside Sundridge Avenue, its course largely constrained by unnatural concrete banks.  After crossing Elmstead Lane, the river disappears into the grounds of the former mansion of Sundridge Park – now a golf course and conference centre.  We will return there another day.

 

 

A World War One Childhood in Hither Green

One of the more surprising literary links to Lewisham, and Hither Green in particular, is that of Dora Saint, much better known as ‘Miss Read’ who wrote about the fictional, very rural, hamlets of Thrush Green and Fairacre.  She spent some of her formative years in the then more suburban Hither Green – opposite Park Hospital.

While her gentle, observational novels about seemingly cosy, idyllic and probably idealised bucolic landscapes sold well, particularly abroad, she never featured that strongly in the British public consciousness.  In addition to her novels she wrote a series of short autobiographical volumes, the first of which related to a few years in Hither Green.

‘Miss Read’ was born as Dora Shafe in South Norwood in April 1913, her father was an insurance salesman who was conscripted during the First World War. Her mother kept on his ‘round’ of door to door collections to maintain the family income and the family moved to Hither Green around 1916, where Dora grew up surrounded by a close-knit extended family of aunts and grandparents.

imageThe family home’s location isn’t clear, there was no mention of the family in the Kelly’s Directories of the era (maybe sometime I will trawl through electoral registers…), but much of Dora’s early childhood was spent at the home of her grandmother at 267 Hither Green Lane opposite the then Park Hospital.  The house is still there and the first volume of her autobiography paints an interesting picture of life and growing up in Hither Green during World War 1.

It was relatively well-to-do home, dominated by strong women – her maternal grandmother, Sarah Read, and two unmarried aunts – Jess and Rose.  The latter seems to have lived elsewhere but spend most of her non-working time at 267, probably contributing heavily to the household income.  Dora’s own mother and her uncle who also lived at 267 rarely get a mention.  As the older Dora noted the chief attraction of the house, in retrospect, was the affection with which Dora and her sister were surrounded.’ (1)

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The House

She describes the house as a solidly built red brick house, it had a vigorous climbing red pyracantha at the front – Aunt Jess would lean out of the front bedroom to cut branches to take to school in the autumn (2);  the red brick is now painted and the pyracantha is long gone though. The house is visible between the trees on postcard above.

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Whilst it well into the 20th century Sarah Read’s ‘house in Hither Green Lane was a Victorian one, and furnished in the Victorian style, sombre and heavy.’ This was contrasted with her paternal grandmother’s home in Walton on the Naze which reflected the relative ‘gaiety’ of the Edwardian era. (3)

The ‘drawing room’ at the front was Dora’s favourite – recalling plush red upholstered furniture and carpets, conch shells on the mantelpiece, when the fire wasn’t lit there was a beaded screen with arum lilies in front of it (4). There was a piano which had china cherubs perched on top, there was a small octagonal table with a potted fern.

The dining room was reached through rarely opened double doors and was dominated by a large mahogany table and chairs, with a corner cabinet containing the best and specimen china (5).  There was a conservatory at the back where fairy lights in small, different coloured glass jars were once lit (6).

Upstairs, there was an inside toilet and a separate bath with brass taps and encased in wood (7) – having an inside WC made it at the more genteel end of London living. Dora remembered being forced to spend time there to ‘try, dear’ before heading off to school.

Beyond the bathroom was Grandma Read’s room where Dora was meant to sleep in bed in afternoons before she was of school age and then during school holidays ‘tucked up under the eiderdown in just my vest, liberty bodice, chemise, knickers… petticoat and socks.’ (8). However,  she often just investigated the room rather than sleep – heading for the lace mat covered dressing table (9). There was a coloured glazed door from the bedroom through which the young Dora would imagine an underwater world through a blue pane, and a world of winter sun through the crimson glass (10).

Her aunt’s room was at the front of the house, looking out towards the hospital which even then had trees big enough to screen it (11) – perhaps remnants of Wilderness House that was on the site before the hospital.

The house was set up for servants with a set of bells operated by handles next to the fireplaces which rang in the kitchen (12).

Out and About in Hither Green

Grandmother Sarah regularly went to the then new Park cinema, the building is still there on the corner of George Lane, where the films were changed a couple of times a week.  Sometimes she went on her own, sometimes with friends, although there is not mention of the young Dora going too (13).

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cats-meat-man-x300-m-1482-204x300There was a ‘cats meat man’ with a raucous voice whole sold skewers threaded with cooked horse meat (14) although the young Dora misunderstood the concept and was worried that it was the meat of cats that was being sold from the back of the trap (picture source).

 

 

Church, Sunday School and Singing

Sarah, Jess, Rose as well as Dora and her sister, all seemed to go to St Swithun’s Church a little further up Hither Green Lane (15); Rose ran the Sunday school there – ‘simple hymns and prayers alternated with handwork, making Moses in Plasticine, for instance, to put into a carefully woven cradle…There was quite a bit of marching…’ (16).

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Congregation members often came back to 267 to sing around the piano in the ‘drawing room’.  Dora and more particularly her sister found this quite boring and hid behind the piano amongst the sheet music (17).

It wasn’t just church music though that was sung, Sarah clearly had been to music hall as there was lots of singing of music hall numbers as well as some of the more contemporary wartime songs (18).

Goodbye-ee, Goodbye-ee

Wipe the tea, baby dear,

From your eye-ee!

Wartime Memories

There was little recollection of the war itself other than the difficulties of getting certain foods, although as the youngest, it seems that Sarah spoiled Dora by putting her with sugar in sandwiches for her (19).

Soldiers and sailors regularly turned up at 267 for post church singing during the war (20), but apart from that the only mention was noticing a crater from a bomb one morning after a raid (21).  This was almost certainly in May 1918 when the area was attacked by aircraft, 2 bombs were dropped, one near St Swithun’s Church, where about 20 houses were damaged; the other bomb on Hither Green Lane, damaged 12 houses. No people were injured or killed, and, presumably, the second was some distance from 267, otherwise Dora would have probably recalled it.

The sisters were frightened that the Kaiser was hiding behind curtains on the landing ready to pounce! (22)

School

Their aunt, Rose, was a teacher at Ennersdale Road (now Trinity) School (23) and took both Dora and her elder sister to school with her. Dora’s first visit was the day before her fourth birthday in 1917 (24) her sister was already there.

The route to school involved walking down Ennersdale Road, the rumbling of the trains overhead terrified the young Dora (25).

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At Play

Dora played a lot in the kitchen, often with her Aunt Jess, whilst she iron or made clothes.  She modelled with plasticine – mimicking the grocer cutting and wrapping up butter from the marble slab at the Home and Colonial Stores (26), which were at 180 Hither Green Lane, between Lanier and Theodore Roads (the picture is illustrative rather than Hither Green Lane – Creative Commons source here)

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Other shopping games were played in the kitchen too, whilst most of the ‘purchases’ were imaginary, a request for ‘a farthing’s worth of currants’ would often lead to the real thing being brought down from a large metal canister on a high shelf (27).

The early books that the young Dora had read to her at 267 included many of the Beatrix Potter, which had begun to be published at the turn of the century (28).

Dora and her family moved out to the more rural Chelsfield soon after the war ended – both she and her mother were seriously ill as a result of the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 to 1921 – and they moved for the country ‘air’ whilst her father continued to work as an insurance salesman.

Notes

  1. ‘Miss Read’ (1982) A Fortunate Grandchild (Boston, Houghton Mifflin), p58
  2. Ibid p48
  3. ibid p101
  4. ibid p48
  5. ibid p50
  6. ibid p51
  7. ibid p51
  8. ibid p52
  9. ibid p53
  10. ibid p55
  11. ibid p56
  12. ibid p57
  13. ibid p15
  14. ibid p38
  15. ibid p15
  16. ibid p35
  17. ibid p16
  18. ibid p18
  19. ibid p19
  20. ibid p19
  21. ibid p40
  22. ibid p47
  23. ibid p29
  24. ibid p31
  25. ibid p39
  26. ibid p19
  27. ibid p28
  28. ibid p28

The postcards are all from eBay, downloaded during 2015 and 2016.