Going north along Lee Road, from Lee Green towards Blackheath, the road crosses the River Quaggy and, at head height, on a building by the side of the bridge, is (or was) a ghost sign. It is an odd location and painting much of it would have presumably have involved wading through the Quaggy, carrying ladders under the bridge from Osborn Terrace, with the ladder standing in the river whilst painting the sign.
Other than the ‘F Stimpson’s’, ‘…works’ in the middle and ‘fine’ on the bottom row of lettering, it is difficult to decipher what remains – due to a combination of several layers, re-pointing and age. However, census data and Kelly’s Directories are of assistance – it is a sign for Frederick Stimpson who ran a carving and gilding business at 120 Lee Road, the side of the building on which the sign is located.
So what was gilding and carving? The carving element would relate to carving wood for furniture and picture frames; in some some cases it might also involved carving an shaping, plaster on ceilings. The gilding part was applying gold leaf. A newspaper advert for a similar business in Burnt Ash Road in the 1890s focused on the picture framing part of it (1).
Frederick Stimpson was born in Killower, in rural County Galway 15 miles north of the city of Galway in 1876. His family had moved back to London, via Sussex where his sister was born, as by 1881 he was living at 29 Horton Street, just off Loampit Vale, in Lewisham. His parents were William, was a ‘naval pensioner’ of 39 from Sheerness, and Mahala who was from Messing in Essex.
By 1891 he was living in Footscray Road in Eltham with his family and was listed as a Cabinet Maker’s apprentice aged 15, perhaps with his brother William. He married Annie (nee White), who hailed from Bexleyheath in 1900 and by 1901 he was listed in the census as living over the shop at 120 Lee Road.
He had probably only moved to Lee Road a year or two before the census – in 1896, 120 was occupied by Edward Lynch a picture frame maker . Over the next 10 years Annie and William had four sons, and the business was clearly successful as they were able to afford a live-in servant, Jessie Parsons who came from Islington.
Frederick died in 1935, still living at 120 Lee Road and was buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist at the top of Eltham Hill.
The widowed Annie was still living over the shop in 1939 – listed as a picture dealer. Also there were two sons Harold (1901) and Geoffrey (1907) along with a lodger. Both the sons were listed as married but there was no sign of their wives at Lee Road.
120 Lee Road was listed as Blackheath Galleries in 1940, whether this was a re-branded business with Annie at the helm isn’t clear either way though, it didn’t survive the war – the shop was empty in 1945. A similar business emerged in 1950 called C C Ham, a picture framer, but with no obvious link to the Stimpsons. It was a business that remained until the late 1960s since when it has been a series of takeaways. The first, perhaps not one for a speedy service was a Chinese restaurant called ‘Slowboat.’
Edward Lynch’s business in 1896 wasn’t the first (or last) business to trade from the shop. It makes for an interesting slice through retail history – hosiers Morton & Co were there in 1884, Albert Barnes a hosier and outfitter in 1888, in 1892 the short-lived Blackheath Gazette carried adverts for a W Francis who was a ‘Dyer, Cleaner, furrier and plumassier (someone who works with feathers), a Miss E Francis who had dropper the second two bits of her father’s (?) trade in 1894.
The ghost sign was still visible when this post was first written in 2014, but seems to have been boarded over by the current occupants of the shop, The Vintage Fish, who moved in around 2016. Long term. this will protect what remains of the sign which is badly faded. Those partial to painted artwork on bricks may still want to pay a visit to the site, as opposite, at river level, is one of the best examples of the Lewisham Natureman stag, ‘grazing’ by the diverted outflow of Mid Kid Brook.
- Kentish Mercury 27 January 1893
- The Kelly’s Directory data comes via Southwark Archives
- Census and related data is via Find May Past (subscription required)