James Elroy Flecker & the College Park Estate

There are several poets with a link to Lewisham – Running Past has already covered Thomas Dermody and Robert Browning, and will no doubt return to Ernest Dowson and, perhaps David Jones and Spike Milligan.  Another on that illustrious list is James Elroy Flecker, like Dermody, his link with the Borough was a fleeting one, although unlike Dermody it was at the beginning rather than end of his life.

Flecker was born at 9 Gilmore Road (above) on 5 November 1884.  His family’s time in Lewisham was limited though, in the spring of 1881 when the census enumerators called, his father, William Herman Flecker, was teaching at New College in Eastbourne.  However by the summer of the same year he married Sarah Ducat, a musician who was daughter of Polish emigres and lived in New Cross.  By 1888, at the latest, the Fleckers had moved on – James’ sister was born in Cheltenham in 1888 – William was teaching at Dean’s Close School.

His father may have continued teaching whilst in Lewisham; although there seems to be no record of where he taught.  It is certain though that he entered the church by the time James was born.  William was a curate, not at the church that they would have been able to see from the front of the house, St Mark’s on Clarendon Road, but at Holy Trinity on Glenton Road, where James was baptised.  It was a church was lost in World War Two and was covered a while ago in Running Past – see below (source Wikipedia Commons – originally from Illustrated London News)

Before looking at the life and career of James Elroy Flecker, it is worth pausing in Gilmore Road. The house had been developed in the late 1860s or early 1870s as part of the College Park estate on the land of a farm, College Farm, owned by the Mercer’s Company.  This should not be confused with the eponymous farm in Lee, although the land for that was also owned by the Mercers Company, which was covered by Running Past earlier in 2017.

 

The College Farm house, above (on a creative commons), was roughly at the corner of Lewisham High Street and Albion Way – it is probably one of the buildings set back from the road marked on the map on the opposite side of the road to Avenue Road (lost to the Shopping Centre).  The fields (all numbered on the map – on a creative commons via the National Library of Scotland) are now covered by Clarendon Rise (formerly Road), Bonfield Road, Albion Way (formerly Road) and, of course, the road with the elegant villa that was briefly home to the Fleckers – Gilmore Road. The development was ‘one of the most significant additions to the number of middle class houses in Lewisham during that building boom.’

Returning to James Elroy Flecker ….While he was born Herman Elroy, he became known as James Elroy; he was the eldest of four children born to William and Sarah Flecker, he had a well to do education, initially attending his father’s school before moving to Uppingham and then Trinity College, Oxford. After teaching for a while he entered the Consular service – being sent to Constantinople in 1910.  He became ill there from consumption which was to blight the rest of his life.  He had met Helle Skiadaressi on his first posting and they married in what is now Izmir in Turkey.  He had a series of postings around the Middle East interspersed by illness before moving to Switzerland for the final 18 months of his life on the advice of doctors. He died there in January 1915.

220px-james_elroy_flecker_at_cambridgeFlecker (left, via Creative Commons) He had begun to write poetry whilst at Uppingham , the rhythm and language have been described as ‘Tennysonian’ although much of his early work was adaptions of Greek and Roman poets.  His first book of poems, ‘Bridge of Fire’, was published around the time he left Oxford in 1907.  He continued to adapt the work of Parnassian School – including work by Goethe and Baudelaire – it was a reaction to the sentimentality of their Romantic predecessors. His death was described in the 1920s as “unquestionably the greatest premature loss that English literature has suffered since the death of Keats”.

Any post on a poet, needs some poetry – while most of his work to a 21st century audience is, perhaps, not that accessible, there are a several poems with a London theme that still seem to resonate, even if the trams he wrote about are long gone.  The first a tale of cross river love, the second the first few stanzas of a poem seemingly about nights out in the city:

Ballad Of The Londoner

Evening falls on the smoky walls,

And the railings drip with rain,

And I will cross the old river

To see my girl again.

 

The great and solemn-gliding tram,

Love’s still-mysterious car,

Has many a light of gold and white,

And a single dark red star.

 

I know a garden in a street

Which no one ever knew;

I know a rose beyond the Thames,

Where flowers are pale and few.

 

The Ballad of Hampstead Heath

From Heaven’s Gate to Hampstead Heath

Young Bacchus and his crew

Came tumbling down, and o’er the town

Their bursting trumpets blew.

 

The silver night was wildly bright,

And madly shone the Moon

To hear a song so clear and strong,

With such a lovely tune

 

From London’s houses, huts and flats,

Came busmen, snobs, and Earls,

And ugly men in bowler hats

With charming little girls…..

Beyond the poetry, Flecker had, from his Oxford days, the reputation of the being a good speaker, a raconteur and was capable of what might now be referred to as ‘sound bites’ – two of which include

“What is life without jam?”

“The poet’s business is not to save the soul of man but to make it worth saving.”

Note

Census and related data comes via Find My Past 

 

Elsa Lanchester – Catford’s Bride of Frankenstein

48 Farley Road is an ordinary looking Victorian terraced house in Catford; it has a brief, but important, place in British cinematographic history – in the early 20th century it was the birthplace in 1902 and home to Elsa Lanchester, who was to become the Bride of Frankenstein (Picture on Creative Commons via James Vaughan on Flickr)

Her parents were Edith (“Biddy”) Lanchester and James (“Shamus”) Sullivan; to suggest that their lifestyle was ‘different’ would be something of an understatement.  They were members of the Social Democratic Federation and challenged late Victorian and Edwardian mores in relation to marriage by living together outside marriage.  After telling her family that she was going to move in with Shamus, her family had her sectioned for several days. Biddy later became secretary to Eleanor Marx, a role she retained until Marx’s death.  She stayed with Marx in Sydenham after the birth of her first child, Waldo Lanchester who was to become a famous puppeteer.

In Elsa Lanchester’s autobiography there is, sadly, little reference to the Lewisham life of one of ‘Hollywood’s most delightful comediennes and the wife of one of its greatest, and most tortured, actors’ (Charles Laughton) (1). The family moved frequently around South London, in addition to Catford (see picture below), there were short-lived homes in Lewisham, Clapham and Norwood before settling in Battersea.  Part of the reason for these frequent movements was to try to prevent Elsa being vaccinated as her brother Waldo had reacted badly to his and Edith wanted to prevent government interference in the life of Elsa (2).

This fear of authority extended to what was recorded in the census – in 1901, at Farley Road,  Biddy was recorded as a visitor and Waldo her son.  Similarly in the 1911 census night Edith, Elsa and Waldo camped in Surrey woodland away from their then Clapham home to avoid being included in the returns (3). Oddly James still mentioned all but Edith to the enumerators.

The various family homes often had socialist visitors  who Elsa refers to as ‘kitchen comrades’ – this included the Pankhursts and there were regular trips to Women’s Social and Political Union rallies, one of which Biddy was arrested on (4). There were childhood memories of May Day rallies, sherbet fountains and singing the Internationale and the Lewisham written Red Flag (5).

There were trips to both the ballet, to see Pavola’s Swan Lake as well as seeing the likes of George Robey, Marie Lloyd at Clapham Grand (6).  Elsa went to classes in weaving, spinning and sandal making with Raymond Duncan (brother of Isadora) in Clapham (7).  Through him she ended up at Isadora Duncan’s dance school in Paris although there seemed to be little real talent for teaching from Duncan so little was learned other than to ‘become an autumn leaf’ (8).

After returning from Paris as war broke out, Elsa began to make a living out of short-lived dancing assignments, including a week as a snake dancer in Edmonton (9). After the war ended she worked for a charity teaching dancing called Happy Evenings, during her second summer of this she set up a school in Charlotte Street in central London (10).  She also used the premises to set up what was effectively an after-hours theatre club – the Cave of Harmony – which began to attract a famous clientele which included the likes of H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh who became a regular visitor(11). As she was with many friends and acquaintances, Lanchester was quite cutting about Waugh – describing him as ‘not at all attractive looking….pink in patches as though he had a bad cold.’ (12) The Cave of Harmony didn’t provide enough income to fully support her, so Elsa took a range of other jobs to make ends meet including cleaning (13)  and acting as a ‘correspondent’ for couples that couldn’t get an ‘honest’ divorce (14).

She began to get parts in plays as a result of the Cave of Harmony contacts, including several through Nigel Playfair, then manager of the Lyric Hammersmith. By the time she met Charles Laughton in 1927 (pictured together left – source), she had become moderately well-established on the London stage; he was still making his way – they married in 1929. They appeared together several times on the stage, notably in ‘Payment Deferred’ – an adaptation of a novel by sometime Lewisham based CS Forester (covered a while ago in Running Past) (15).

There was an incident during the run, where police arrived at the door with a ‘boy’ who was trying to get money out of Laughton who then confessed to Elsa about his homosexuality – Elsa’s response of ‘It’s perfectly alright ,it doesn’t matter…’ The latter remark seems to have upset Laughton greatly (16).  Laughton played William Marble and Elsa his daughter in Payment Deferred, the play lasted for 3 months in the West End (17) before transferring to Broadway and then Chicago for short runs with both of them appearing.

It was the critically acclaimed performance by Laughton in Payment Deferred that was to mark the beginning of his film career – he was to keep the role in the film version of the play and had several other parts in Hollywood films. Elsa though was overlooked for the daughter – the studio wanting the more bankable, in box office terms, Maureen O’Sullivan (18).

Her own movie debut was to come in a film that her husband starred in, playing Anne of Cleves in the Private Life of Henry VIII in 1933 (Picture on a Creative Commons via Wikipedia).

Her breakthrough was two years later as the Bride of Frankenstein.  Oddly, her autobiography, ‘Elsa Lanchester – Herself’ spends little time on the film; she includes no photographs, and the four pages of narrative is little more than a description of the time spent in makeup creating both her hair and the bandages that were wrapped around her.  She did note some of the reviews though, including this one from the subsequent ‘An Illustrated History of the Horror Film’ (19)

Elsa Lanchester in her white shroud and Nerifertiti hairdo is a truly fantastic apparition  …. a delicate suggestion of both the wedding bed and the grave

The film had good reviews on release and, unlike many of the era, has stood the test of time; at the time of writing in 2017 it had a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. It did well at the box office too – by 1943 it had made a profit of $2 million. (Picture below on a creative commons via Wikipedia)

 

Lanchester had a successful career after the Bride of Frankenstein, although you’d be hard pressed to work this out from her autobiography; her own accomplishments only seem worth mentioning in passing, whereas the trials and tribulations of Laughton’s various roles and his angst in preparing for them, as he became one of Hollywood’s ‘leading men,’ are dealt with in great detail.  While Elsa, was only once the ‘leading lady,’ in Passport to Destiny, she had a good career as a supporting actress – winning a Golden Globe for Agatha Christie’s ‘Witness for the Prosecution’, along with and Oscar nomination for the same film and another Oscar nomination for ‘Come to the Stable’.

She also found success returning to her roots at the Turnabout Theatre off Sunset Boulevard.  The theatre was a bizarre mixture of a puppetry stage at one end of the theatre and one for actors at the other end with reversible seats. Lanchester performed a similar solo vaudeville act to the one she had done in the past at the Cave of Harmonies at the Turnabout Theatre (20).

She had a number of early television presenting roles in the USA, including hosting ‘Words about Music’ on US TV every Saturday night for a year in the late 1950s .  Elsa played various small parts in American TV shows including ‘Burkes’s Law’ pictured below in 1964 (On a Creative Commons via Wikipedia)

She toured an autobiographical one woman show –‘Elsa Lanchester – Herself’ which Laughton had directed. He was to die of cancer in late 1961 but Lanchester continued to work into her late 70s, her final film was in 1980.  She published her autobiography in 1983 but suffered from a stroke soon after and passed away in late 1986 aged 84.

But it is as The Bride of Frankenstein that she is best remembered – hopefully, one day this might include a plaque at 48 Farley Road.

 

Notes

  1. Quoted on rear cover of Elsa Lanchester – Herself, 1983.
  2. ibid p7
  3. ibid pp7-8
  4. ibid p17
  5. ibid pp6-7
  6. ibid p19
  7. ibid p19
  8. ibid p28
  9. ibid p45
  10. ibid p50
  11. ibid p 56
  12. ibid p57
  13. ibid p58
  14. ibid p59
  15. ibid p97
  16. ibid p97
  17. ibid p100
  18. ibid p107
  19. ibid p138
  20. ibid p171

Census and related data comes via Find My Past 

Emily Davison and her Blackheath Home

One of the best known ‘daughters’ of Blackheath was the suffragette Emily Davison, who was born at Roxburgh House, 13 Vanbrugh Park West. She was to die on 8 June 1913 following serious injuries at Tattenham Corner on Epsom Downs four days earlier.  Roxburgh House was the middle house on the eastern side of the street on the Ordnance Survey map below (on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland).

She was born on 11 October 1872 to Margaret and Charles Davison who were both from the north east.  Charles seems to have been a retired stock broker. Little is known about her early life but it seems that the family didn’t stay that long in Blackheath, while there are rumours of some time in Brockley, there next definitive location was Fulham where her father died in 1893 and the family were recorded in there in the 1891 census.  As is covered below, they had certainly moved from Blackheath by the time the 1881 census enumerators called at Roxburgh and she was at school in Kensington by the mid 1880s.

After an education that included periods at Royal Holloway College, Oxford and the University of London she taught privately for several years.  Emily joined the the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906 and was working for them full time by 1909.   She was imprisoned eight times for a variety of offices including arson and stone throwing, force fed and had her cell deliberately flooded (Picture below on a Creative Commons via Wikipedia).

On Wednesday 4th June 1913, Davison attended the Derby at Epsom positioning herself on the inside of the track at Tattenham Corner, she ducked under the track,ran out on the course and attempted to grab the bridle of Anmer, a horse owned by King George V. The horse hit Emily and the impact fractured her skull, she never regained consciousness and died on 8th June.  There has been much debate as to whether Emily Davison intended to kill herself in the century since her death – a new analysis done around the centenary of her death suggests that she may have intended to put a sash around the neck of the King’s horse.

As for the house, Roxburgh has an interesting story beyond that of being the first home of Emily Davison and the details of those living there tell much of the decline of the area during the 20th century before its more recent emergence as a highly desirable place to live. Roxburgh was built around 1872 and the Davison family seem to have been the first occupants.  It was the middle house on the eastern side of Vanbrugh Park West (1).  While there appear to be no photographs of the house – there are several postcards of the neighbouring Vanbrugh Park (below eBay September 2016) – whose houses were very similar. The church in the background was St Andrews – which was covered a while ago in Running Past in relation to a painting by Elwin Hawthorne.

‘The housing was substantial, provided for a prosperous middle-class who could afford space for servants, gardeners, coaches and horses.’ (2)

The first time the census enumerators called in 1881, Roxburgh House was home to the Matthews – Marmaduke and Martha Ann, their 7 children and five servants. They had moved there from Sutton in Surrey where they lived in 1871. Marmaduke was a solicitor.  A decade later the parents weren’t mentioned, but may have been away when the enumerators called as the relationships to head of household were son, daughter etc.

The Matthews had moved out by the mid 1890s to Essex, they seem to have been replaced by Alfred Blechynden a respected marine draughtsman and engineer who had moved from Barrow to manage John Penn and Sons, Greenwich shipbuilders and marine engineers, a firm he had worked for for three years a decade and a half earlier. The Blechyndens were used to a comfortable lifestyle – Alfred and Elizabeth had three servants ‘living in’ in their substantial home in Barrow in 1891.  Sadly, Alfred Blechynden died from a heart attack just over a year after moving back to south east London. How long Elizabeth remained at Roxburgh is unclear, but she was eventually to return to her native north east (photo below of Vanbrugh Park – eBay June 2017).

By 1901, Roxburgh was home to Robert Watson, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army who was 55, his largely grown up children and three servants.  In 1911 the house was vacant, although an elderly caretaker and his wife, Hugh and Caroline McLean were living there.  This was perhaps the shape of things to come, after World War 1 most of the houses around Vanbrugh Park leases were subdivided into flats or used for boarding houses for naval students at the Royal Naval College (3).  The postcard below was from eBay June 2017 would have been from this era.

When the 1939 Register was compiled, the house had been divided into three flats – one was empty, another was home to the Gorsuch family – the 47 year old father, Frank, was an inspector for the Port of London Authority, his wife Marjorie and daughter Mabel (19) carried out ‘domestic duties’ while son Denis (23) was an engineer. The Willoughbys lived in in the other flat, they were retired but had a a lodger too. Most of the neighbouring houses had been similarly divided and the occupations were generally manual and clerical.  There were though still a few that were lived in by single households, often with older residents.

There was some bomb damage, probably from the V-2 rocket which hit neighbouring Vanburgh Park Road on 19 February 1945, with two deaths; this completely destroyed one house and seriously damaged the western side of that road.  Several of the houses along Vanburgh Park Road West were damaged beyond repair, the same was the case for all the houses in Vanbrugh Park between the two bits of Vanbrugh Park Road.  What level of damage was suffered by Roxbrugh House isn’t clear as the initial pink colouring, indicating damage beyond repair was whited out (4).

The 99 year leases were allowed to run down by the Page Estate who had retained the freehold and would have expired in 1971.  While the Page Estate opposed redevelopment they were compulsorily purchased and new local authority housing completed in 1965 – the Vanbrugh Park Estate (5). Roxbrugh House would have been just to the right of the photograph below.

It was designed by by Geoffrey Powell of Chamberlain, Powell and Bon, the firm who designed the Barbican (6). Cherry and Pevsner describe it as ‘one of the most interesting housing estates in the borough,’ an unassuming, informal grid of flat roofed terraces with ‘distressingly unappealing cheap painted breeze blocks’ (7). The savings on the building materials enabled more to be spent on landscaping.

It is housing that has stood the test of time, although much of it has been sold under Right to Buy and those living there have no doubt changed considerably since it was built.  Average values in June 2017 on the estate were suggested to be just shy of £500k.

Notes

1 Neil Rhind (1981) Blackheath and its Environs, Vol 2 p291

2 ibid p287

3 ibid p288

4 Laurence Ward (2015) London County Council Bomb Damage Maps p163

5 Rhind, op cit p288

6 Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner (1983) ‘The Buildings of England – London 2: South’ p274

7 ibid

Census, 1939 Register and related data comes via Find My Past 

The Roebuck – A ‘Lost’ Lewisham Town Centre Pub

The Roebuck was a Lewisham pub that dated back until at least the 1740s, possibly earlier.  In recent times its address was in Rennell Street but originally it was located on the High Street next to one of the two arms of the Quaggy as it joined the Ravensbourne.  The other ‘arm’ had a pub too, the Plough, which Running Past covered a while ago.

In between the two pubs was Plough Green, named after the Plough, and before the Enclosure Acts which allowed the wealthy and powerful to ‘enclose’ common land, there was an area of grass “Plough Green” roughly around the area of the old town centre roundabout; it was home a St Thomas Day fair – the Green is shown below (source on a Creative Commons) – the building shown was an early incarnation of the Roebuck.  This area was enclosed in 1810 and built upon. (1)

The two arms of the Quaggy were obvious in early Ordnance Survey maps, the Roebuck is the realtively large building just north of Rennell Street.  It was almost opposite the Lewisham Tollgate – marked ‘Lewisham TH.’ (Image on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).

The first mention of the pub was in parish registers in 1742 (2)  It was originally at 40-42 the High Street and it seems to have had a garden or bowling green at the side of it – which was later built upon.  The garden had a chestnut tree, in the picture below, which was said to have been planted in 1683 (3).

The William Miller referred in the picture of the pub, was the landlord from around 1834, the previous landlord was a William Lance – he decided to return to his former trade as a hatmaker (4).  Miller was probably from Lewisham (his sister certainly was), he died in 1849, but his wife, Elizabeth, took over the tenancy – the owners were Roach and Hill (5) – helped by his son Robert, who was also listed as a licensed victualler in the 1851 census. Elizabeth Hall was from Westerham in Kent, although had lived in Lewisham since 1825, possibly earlier, as Robert was born there. The rate book listed the pub as having assembly rooms, garden, yard, stables and building land (4).  Elizabeth was to remain the publican until around 1863 (6).  In the 1851 census there were two relatives living at the Roebuck, one working as a barmaid, along with three servants and two paying lodgers.

Robert had moved on by 1861 but a daughter Eliza had returned to work at the pub along with her husband, George Beven who was running the stables at the Roebuck.

After the Millers left there was a steady trickle of licensees; in 1871 the landlord was Richard Wooff who was 40 – he lived there with his wife Hannah and 4 children and a neice – there were three live-in servants helping to run the Roebuck.  He seems to have later moved on to the Three Tuns in Blackheath (now O’Neill’s) with one of his sons.

At the 1881 census James Tyrell from Rainham was the ‘Licensed Victualler’, also living there was his wife Frances, three children and three servants. The beer around this time was supplied by the Nicholls brothers  from the Anchor Brewery in Lewisham, which was covered by Running Past a while ago, whose offices (below) still remain in Tesco’s car park.

A decade later, Samuel and Elizabeth Fryatt were running the Roebuck (or Roe Back as it is incorrectly transcribed in the census…). The Fryatts had six live-in staff including one with the wonderfully named role of Potman and Billiard Marker.  Around this time the pub moved to the corner of Rennell Street, its former site was later to become the Gaumont (picture below from postcard – eBay Nov 2016).   The new building didn’t stop the steady flow of publicans though, Owen Ward from Ireland was there in 1901, when the census enumerator called, but had moved on by 1905, to be replaced by EE Coley.  Charles and Beatrice Freeman had arrived by 1911, he from Brighton, she from Portsmouth.  The business was creating enough trade to support three live-in barmaids, two cooks and a domestic nurse – presumably to look after the Freemans’ children.  The Freemans certainly lasted longer than many of their predecessors; they were still there in 1921 Post Office Directory.

Leonard Jennings was the landlord by 1938 and in the 1939 Register; he was a Bermondsey boy, born in 1877 – he married Sarah Elizabeth in 1906 in Southwark.  They had moved on by the end of World War Two, Leonard passing away in Greenwich in 1947.  One of the next landlords (1956) was W H J Harris.

The pub moved again, probably in the late 1950s or early 1960s, from its impressive position on the corner of the High Street and Rennell Street to a position a little further back down Rennell Street.  There are a couple of photos courtesy of Boak and Bailey’s Beer Blog  – one each of its exterior and interior from 1961.

It had a function room (downstairs) where bands played – those performing there included the local ‘legend’ Albert Lee, who grew up in Kidbrooke Park Road in Blackheath – according to several comments on Facebook threads relating to this post he was a regular performer there.  It also nearly saw the demise of Dave from Chas ‘n’ Dave who was non-fatally electrocuted on stage there whilst playing with The Tumbleweeds.  Other famous names spotted there included Lee Brilleaux from the Feelgoods, alas this wasn’t as a performer, but to buy some cigarettes before a gig at the Gaumont around the corner.

During the 1970s the Roebuck also became a relatively well-known Country & Western venue on Tuesday nights, hosting bands in the basement.  A Facebook thread from a while ago fondly recalled a local singing postman who was renowned for his rendition of Charley Pride’s ‘The Crystal Chandelier.’ Around the same era a Shadows tribute band called Apache who played regularly at the venue.

Other Facebook reminiscences from this post included Saturday nights which frequently saw tribute acts in the basement including Jim Reeves, Roy Orbison and the Everley Brothers. After the bar closed, some went to the Gaumont on the pub’s former site for late night ‘pictures’. Kicking out from there would be after the last bus – so it would be a long walk home.

The YouTube video of Dreamstate  performing there in 1991 gives a few glimpses of what the room was like (the volume is at Spinal Tap 11, so you may want to turn down the sound on your device before opening ….)

Harry Robinson was landlord during the 1980s and also owned Lewisham firm Robinson’s Hauliers based in Thurston Road.  My own recollections are from a decade later – my memory is of a dark, dismal place with little natural light and a blurry fag smoke fug even when there were few drinkers lighting-up.

Within a year or two of my last visit, the Roebuck became a gay bar, initially retaining the Roebuck name but latterly it was known as Bar Phoenix (see above on a Wikipedia Creative Commons), which included ‘weekly drag entertainment’.  There are a few on-line reviews from that era

The Roebuck, near Lewisham Shopping Centre, is dire, but has to be seen to be believed. It attracts a strange mix of ‘fresh’ and ‘experienced’ faces.

This gay-friendly bar is a real find. I’d heard good things about The Roebuck from friends so last Saturday we trooped off to the place anticipating a good night. We simply had a ball. The service was outstanding and the atmosphere unrivalled by any bars in the area. The Roebuck has got to be seen to be believed!

It remained until around the end of the first decade of the 21st century before it was demolished – part of the early preparation work for the redevelopment of the northern end of Lewisham town centre. Rennell Street still exists; it is part of a short stretch of dual carriageway to be endured by those passing through the town centre by road with risks of high levels of pollution.

The final resting place of the pub is ‘marked’ by a pedestrian crossing (left, below) with its Victorian incarnation remembered via The Roebuck Memorial Traffic Lights (right, below).

Notes

  1. Leland Duncan (1908) History of the Borough of Lewisham p96
  2. ibid p77
  3. ibid p77
  4. Ken White The Public Houses of Lee and Lewisham 6c p233
  5. Ibid
  6. ibid

Census and related data comes via Find My Past 

Following the Quaggy – Sutcliffe Park to Lee Green

In previous posts, Running Past has followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom and then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley, through the golf courses of Sundridge Park and on to Chinbrook Meadows.  Most recently, we left he river at on the south side of Eltham Green Bridge, by an old London County Council sign, wondering about how to moor a boat there.

North of the bridge, over Eltham Road, is Sucliffe Park; until the early 20th century the area was farmland, The Quaggy meandered through the fields as the map below shows (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).  Woolwich Borough Council acquired the land just after World War 1.  It was named after the then Borough Engineer (1).

The meanders had been removed by the time that the Ordnance Surveyors cartographers visited again in 1938 and encased in concrete – as the map below shows (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland). The river was completely enclosed at some stage during the post war period, Ken White believed it to be around 1970 (2) although several on Facebook threads thought it was much earlier than this.

The look that remained until the current Millennium was of a flat, featureless park (apart from the athletics track that is home to Cambridge Harriers, whose early history was covered a while ago.  It was reminiscent of a miniature Hackney Marshes (Photo below on a Creative Commons via Restoring Europe’s Rivers wiki)

In Facebook threads on upstream posts, there were lots of memories of playing in the Quaggy and culverts around the Park, seemingly including some of the streams that join the Quaggy – notably Well Hall Stream.

This all changed in 2002. A new meandering channel was created for the Quaggy, close to its pre-1930s course, albeit at a slightly lower level, with the park itself being remodelled to create a flood plain able to store 85,000 m³  with a series of boardwalks, viewing points and a large pond. The old channel was retained for extreme flood situations and flow can be switched to it when the storage in the park is full (above, right photograph).

The park which used to be rarely visited other than for weekend football is now a well-used focal point and reconnecting the community with the river and its natural environment – it is often held up as an excellent example of urban river management. Unlike other parts of the Quaggy’s catchment, it is beginning to be used as a place of play and discovery – children can sometimes be seen jumping across the river, there were reminiscences about doing this in Mottingham, feeding ducks on the pond along with the occasional sightings of fishing nets and buckets.

The Quaggy was originally joined by Well Hall Stream in the park, although when followed a while ago, there was little evidence of any current flow.

The river goes through some complex engineering that can shut off the flows in periods of high water, and re-emerges the other side of Kidbrooke Park Road in the playing fields of John Roan School.  Here too the river has changed, the concrete encasement had continued west of the road, I remember having to scramble down angled concrete to fish out footballs from the river during my sons’ Saturday morning football practice there. 

The Quaggy is theoretically joined by Lower Kid Brook (above) opposite a rather impressive Woolwich Borough marker (below left), or rather it isn’t any more – the flow was probably diverted into the Quaggy three hundred metres to the east in Sutcliffe Park.

Beyond John Roan playing fields, the river is sandwiched between Lyme Farm Road estate, which replaced Victorian housing, and Crofton Albion FC.  It emerges out into the public gaze again at Weigall Road where the 1903 boundary markers from Woolwich had again been busy (above right).

Over the road, to the south, there is another series of playing fields – the first is a public one, Weigall Sports Field which was once home to Ravensbourne Athletic Club’s grass running track.  It was part of a residential club and sports centre for employees of Cook, Son and Co (St Pauls) Ltd. which was a clothing wholesale company – the building faces on to Eltham Road (see above) and was completed in 1912.  Prior to then there were newspaper reports of them being based in Ladywell Fields, hence the name from a different catchment.  The building on Eltham Road was requisitioned for World War 1 billeting but returned to its former use after the War.  It continued as this until after World War Two when it was converted into flats – it is now part of Ravens Way (perhaps a shortening of the club’s name) (3).

Its next door neighbour is the Bowring Group Sports Ground (below), although its days in recreational use are probably numbered as it seems to have been acquired for  a ‘Free’ School.

The northern banks of the Quaggy also used to have playing fields, the just post war Ordnance Survey map shows cricket grounds (on a Creative Commons from National Library of Scotland.) The outlines of the fields are still there and indeed the derelict remains of one the pavilions remains.  The formerly manicured grounds have been largely abandoned and now form part of the Weigall Road flood defence and storage, although the intention has always been dual use.

It isn’t meant to be an accessible area, but fences on Weigall Road and Blackheath Park are always porous enough for the runner of a smaller stature to enter without having to resort to contortions or scaling boundaries.  It the last long section of the river where the Quaggy has a bucolic feel – it probably hasn’t changed much since the fields by the river were used as the venue for the horse racing of the Lee Races in the first half of the 19th century.

The flood defences have a second fence to prevent the fluvial flâneur but in a period of low flow they proved to be of limited deterrent.  Apparently the Weigall Road storage will hold 65,000 m³ of water.

There is/was probably a small tributary joining around here.  There is very boggy ground just south of the derelict pavilion, more standing water in wetter seasons but still pooling in a very dry Spring.  There is an occasionally running stream which forms the boundary between the fields, in recent years I have only seen water there in the very wet winter of 2013/14.

On Facebook pages relating to upstream posts, there are fond memories of playing in and on the banks of the Quaggy in these parts – there still sometime cross river swings with a ducking for those with poor grips, although none have been noticed for a year or two.

Beyond the Weigall Road flood storage area, the Quaggy briefly disappears before being bridged by Meadowcourt Road and then flowing onwards towards Osborne Terrace.  The river is then bridged by Lee Road, there was only a footbridge until as late as the 1860s, as the 1863 published 25″ Ordnance Survey shows (on a Creative Commons via National Library of Scotland). The road bridge was certainly there by the time the cartographers returned in 1893.

 

This was an area of flooding – Hastead reported depths of 10′ (3 metres) in the 18th century and FW Hart reporting similar depths after the rapid thaw following the bitterly cold 1813/14 winter, there was flooding over a wide area including a lot of Lee Park.  Hart reported flooding being a regular occurrence in the early 19th century with a Bromley farmer drowning in 1830.

 

There is another Woolwich marker from 1903 by the bridge, only someone has chiselled out – the borough name, perhaps they were going to return and add Greenwich, but they never did.  Next to the bridge there is a pipe with water entering the Quaggy, with a Lewisham Natureman stag ‘grazing’ next to it, this is the diverted Mid Kid Brook.  On the opposite bank, there is a ghost sign for a ‘carver and gilder’ (more here), oddly hidden by the current cafe owners.  We’ll leave the river here for another day.

Notes

  1. Ken White (1999) The Quaggy & Its Tributaries p25
  2. ibid p25
  3. John Coulter (1997) Lewisham and Deptford in Old Photographs: A Third Selection

 

A Single to Sydney – Transportation and the Two Lewishams

Lewisham has a namesake in the south western Sydney suburbs named after its south east London equivalent.  The New South Wales Lewisham, was given the name in 1834 from the estate of Jacob Josephson, which was sold after his death by his son, Joshua, in the 1850s for development.

The ‘other’ Lewisham in the 1930s (on a Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Jacob was transported for 14 years in May 1818 for having forged £1 notes in his possession.  His son Joshua and his mother made the same journey to New South Wales in 1820.   Jacob had been on the run before his arrest and running up considerable bank debts and absconding with church silver whilst working as a clerk to a parish church.  He seems to have never been charged with the theft as his punishment could have been considerably greater.  Once in Australia he set himself up in his former trade as a silversmith but again got into considerable debt and ended up in a debtors’ prison.

Once out of prison he seems to have made a large amount of money as a publican in several locations in New South Wales, it would be appear that part of this money was used to buy land, including what was to become Lewisham.

So where does the link to south east London come from?  Sadly, it isn’t clear, the church that Jacob Josephson was clerk to and ran away with the silver from was in Bethnal Green. The offence for which he was transported was tried in Oxford and at the time of the offence was living just north of Oxford.

The land in the area had been ‘granted’ by the first Governor, Arthur Phillip (who had been educated at what is now Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College) by around 1809. This was a decade or so before Josephson arrived in the colony, so one possibility might have been that an earlier owner had a link to south east London.  Sadly, nothing is obvious though – the two largest parts of the Lewisham estate were ‘granted’ to an the emancipated convicts, George Gambling, who had been convicted in Hampshire in 1797, and to John White from County Fermanagh, So, sadly, it remains something of a mystery where the link to Lewisham.

Transportation began to be used as a punishment in the early 18th century – Running Past has covered it before in relation to the Scottish Political Martyrs remembered at Nunhead Cemetery – see below.

It continued until 1857 when it was replaced by the slightly more enlightened penal servitude, which those who have been reading the blog for a while may recall was the punishment meted out to the Deptford anarchist and Post Office bomber Rolla Richards.

The Old Bailey’s on-line archives offer a fascinating insight into crime and punishments – by modern standards many of the sentences seem incredibly harsh – transportation for ten years for burglary without any aggravating factors would perhaps warrant a custodial term of 2 years now. Some of the theft cases that saw the perpetrators Australia bound may only have seen community orders.

 

The cases below all have a Lewisham (south east London) link in either the crime and/or the residence of the perpetrator, sadly with all of them it isn’t clear what became of them once they reached the Antipodes.

James Moore – Theft of Flutes from Colfe’s School

Moore was convicted of ‘burglariously breaking and entering’  the home of  Joseph Prendergast, at Lewisham, who then head of Colfe’s School off Lewisham Road, his will was to enable the founding of the Prendergast School. He and an accomplice stole two flutes, with a value of £5 and £3 and a hat valued at 2/6d (13p). Moore was transported for 15 years in 1837.

Colfe’s School from the 19th Century on a Creative Commons via https://archive.org/stream/proceedingsoflew02lewi#page/74/mode/2up

William Skilton – Bigamy

Skilton (Skelton) was convicted of bigamy in 1837; he had married Mary Ann Wyld in Newington in 1820, Anne Sarah Wilkinson in Islington in 1826 and finally Esther Pink at St Mary’s, Lewisham  (below) in 1829.  On arrest he was reported as having said “What if I have had three wives, two of them turned out bad ones, and now I have got a third I suppose you won’t let me keep her.”  Skilton was sentenced to seven years for each offence – seemingly to run consecutively.

 

George Baker, George Bassett & John Grant – Burglary

The three men were convicted of ‘burglariously breaking and entering’ the home and business of a Lewisham grocer, taking coins and notes of almost £100 along with various goods of some considerable value one night in February 1844. The trio then went on a drinking spree taking in Deptford and Poplar, before heading to the brothels and bars of the Strand area.  Baker, Bassett and Grant were sentenced for 10 years transportation.

 

Samuel Ewins – Robbery

Ewins was indicted for a robbery, with violence on Loampit Vale, close to the former Hope Tavern, stealing from a 15 year old a watch and chain, value £14 along with around 6/2d (31p) in cash.  He was transported for 10 years in 1853.

 

Henry Pickett – Burglary

Henry Pickett was found guilty of ‘burglariously breaking and entering’ and stealing two coats, a cap and a pair of boots from George Selby of Ravensbourne Park in Catford.  Based on the 1851 census, George Selby was a solicitor who lived on a farm which appears to have been managed by one of his sons.  Ravensbourne Park was to become an extremely desirable location with the arrival of the railway at Catford Bridge six years later, but already had a small number of large houses in the early 1850s.  The postcard below (eBay April 2016) was from a few decades later, but the look of the area, other than the station, would have been little different.  Pickett was apprehended after his accomplice tried to sell some of the goods in Deptford.

While his accomplice was sent to prison for two years, Pickett was sentenced to be transported for 10 years.  However, he never made to long voyage to Botany Bay as he seems to have ended up with a lesser prison sentence and was released from Portsmouth prison in 1855.

 

Notes

Thank you to the ever helpful Julian Watson for being able to rule out the theft of the silver being from St Mary’s, Lewisham and pinpointing it to Bethnal Green.  Thank you also to Aleem Aleemullah, Local Studies Librarian at Inner West Council (which includes the ‘other’ Lewisham) in the Sydney suburbs who was very helpful in providing some Antipodean local knowledge and getting me a little further along what proved to be a dead-end in trying to work out the link Jacob Josephson or his estate had to south London’s Lewisham.

The 1851 census data comes via Find My Past.

 

Mass Observation in Blackheath and Bolton, 80 Years On

6 Grotes Buildings is an impressive looking Georgian house, it is part of an even more impressive terrace tucked away in the corner of the Heath close to the ‘village’.  In the 1930s it was home to one of the most important social research ‘movements’ of the era – Mass Observation.

Before looking at Mass Observation, it is worth covering a little about the terrace.  It was developed by Andrew Grote in the 1760s on land leased by Morden College to fund a chaplain (1). Grote was a speculative developer and banker, who had made his wealth as a ‘merchant’ trading with enslaved estates in Maryland, no doubt he traded elsewhere too. Grote lived on the opposite corner of the Heath at Point House.

 

The idea behind Mass Observation was that it was ‘no longer tolerable for the nation’s working classes to be as unknown to the middle and ruling classes as (so one of them put it) the inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands.

There were two main strands to Mass Observation, one of which was based at Grotes Buildings.  This was led by Humphrey Jennings, a film maker, and his friend Charles Madge, a poet and journalist, who was later to become a professor of sociology. They recruited hundreds of volunteers to write accounts of their daily experiences.  The first time this happened was on 12 May 1937, the day of George VI’s Coronation. Participants told their own stories of what they had done from waking up to going to sleep, the resulting diaries provided a wonderful glimpse into the everyday lives of people across Britain, and the narratives have been used as a resource for those researching aspects of the era.  Later similar work included amassing a collection of diaries by over 500 home front civilians.

The second strand, in its simplest terms, can perhaps be described as organised people watching – it was a wide ranging inquiry into the views, customs and daily routines of ordinary people. One of the researchers behind it, Tom Harrisson had made his name as an anthropologist, studying people on remote Pacific islands. Along with Jennings and Charles Madge he requested volunteers via the ‘New Statesman’ to participate in a new research project, which would be ‘anthropology at home . . . a science of ourselves’. This part of the project was based in Bolton and became known as ‘Worktown’.  Unsurprisingly, given the location of the advertisement, the volunteer researchers tended to be left-leaning middle-class students, artists, photographers and writers who were ‘watching’ northern working class people.  They observed and recorded behaviour and conversations in the shops, pubs, churches and mills of Bolton. Observation was done without the subject’s knowledge and was criticised in the local press

“an unequalled opportunity for the pettifogging, the malicious, the cranky, the interfering and the mildly dotty”

Nonetheless, many experiences were recorded often as anthropological type readings of ‘rituals’ of round-buying along with consumption rates, the presence and absence (mostly the latter) of women and what was discussed. Some of his was published in John Sommerfield’s 1943 book, ‘The Pub and The People’ and the more recent ‘Worktown’, written by David Hall, and published in 2015.

Some of the photographs became widely used, such as the one by Humphrey Spender which was used as an album cover by Everything But The Girl, for their 1985 release, Love not Money.

Artists too worked on the project including, William Coldstream, who had also worked with the East London Group of artists, and Humphrey Jennings.  Jennings painted several scenes of life in Bolton, including this one of terraces, which, like many of the images collected, is held by Bolton Museum and Art Gallery.

Jennings, Humphrey; Bolton Terraces; Bolton Library & Museum Services, Bolton Council; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/bolton-terraces-163155 (See notes below)

Jennings was much better known as a film maker and was later to work with the GPO Film Unit, which was based in Bennett Park in Blackheath, and was covered in Running Past a couple of years ago.

Mass Observation effectively finished by the end of World War 2, but was relaunched in the early 1980s at the University of Sussex, where he archives had been relocated in the previous decade.  Initially, there were requests for feedback on specific areas, the one in the autumn of 1981 asked for views on shopping, the SDP-Liberal Alliance, unemployment amongst other things. The following year participants were asked to focus on the Falklands War – part of one randomly chosen post is below (on a On a Creative Commons, via the University of Sussex) – there are lots more which make for fascinating reading.

May 12 2017 will make the 80th anniversary of the recordings of experiences of the Coronation of George VI, and as has happened for several years, Mass Observation have replicated their annual call for day diaries, capturing the everyday lives of people across the UK. The written diaries will be used by a wide range of people for research, teaching and learning. Do participate! There are details of what to do on this link.

Notes

1 Neil Rhind (1987) The Heath – A Companion Volume to Blackheath Village & Environs, p66

Painting credit

The painting is owned by Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, but has been made available on line through the wonderful on-line public art gallery – Art UK, and can be used for non-commercial research such as this.