The Looking Glass of Lee & a Possible Previous Course of Mid Kid Brook

The Swan is the former name of a struggling pub on the corner of Lee High Road and Lee Church Street, now known as Rambles Bar. The Swan was the second pub in Lee after the Tigers Head, when the local justices approved the licence in 1838, along with the Woodman. It’s first licensee was the former parish constable, Thomas Couchman (1).

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Whether the building is of that age is unclear though, although it could well be. The building is almost certainly Victorian, but it is not the building that is of interest rather the former name. Its name related to a small lake at its rear, known as the Looking Glass or Mirror of Lee on which the swans of the pub’s former name once lived.

The age of the ‘Looking Glass’ is uncertain although, probably goes back to the 16th century or before. There was a medieval moated farmhouse, Annesley’s house, which was roughly on the site now occupied by St Margaret’s Lee CoE school – around 100 metres behind the pub. The last days of Brian Annesley, his contested will and the subsequent link of the story to Shakespeare’s King Lear, were covered a few months ago in the blog.

Annesley’s death and the subsequent break up of his estate allowed the development of some of the other large houses in Lee – notably Lee Place, which again was covered a in the blog in late 2014.

It is clear that Lee Place had an extensive partial moat – there was a plan of it in Hastead’s ‘The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent’ (see below) although it is possible that at least some of it may be part of Annesley’s moated farm house as Edith’s Streets suggests. Certainly, the slope of what is now Lee Church Street would probably preclude a moat much higher than the school, unless extensive earthworks were involved.

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Source – Hastead (Lee High Road’s current route is just to the south of the main part of the moat/lake and North of Lee Place)

Recent archaeological work for a site four doors away from the Swan suggests that due to an early 18th century clay pipe found at the bottom that there was evidence of a

massive 18th century ditch which ran east-west roughly parallel to the line of Lee High Road… it had been supported by the addition of stout timber planking nailed to raked wooden uprights. The precise function of the ditch is at present unclear. It might have once formed a moat around a manor house or could represent a relief channel for water draining from the hillside located to the north into the River Quaggy, it may have fulfilled both these functions.

However, this does not rule out the Boones of Lee Place having deepened and strengthened an existing moat.

A picture was ‘painted’ of the area was described in FH Hart’s The History of Lee & its Neighbourhood (1882), although as this was published over 50 years after the demolition of Lee Place, there could have been a degree of writing through rose-tinted spectacles.

The whole of these beautiful views of Lady Dacre’s park and the Boone estate (Lee Place) were open to the public gaze on all sides, either by low hawhaw fences or dwarf thorn hedges. Boone’s estate was partly enclosed with a fine moat and island, well stocked with water fowl and fish. This moat was called the looking glass of Lee, and was supplied by a fine spring of beautifully clear water, rising from the high ground…… This fine piece of water ran from here southwards as far as Messrs. Bloxham and Dale’s shops, corner of Turner-Road (now Dacre Park), and from thence, westwards, to the rear of the old almshouses; a short branch ran farther south to the ancient plane tree, and under a bridge to the boat house; the overflow ran in the rear of Woodland Villas into the Quaggy river.

The source of the spring seems to have been somewhere in the area of what is now Kingswood Road and was piped to cottages on the opposite side of the road to the former pub, the Royal Oak (corner of Lee Church Street and Boone Street). It is likely that this water is now culverted along St Margaret’s Passage (between Boone Street and Kingswood Road) as below a manhole cover there (and another one on Boone Street, near the top of Lee Church Street) there is always the sound of rushing water down the hill.

Woodland Villas, where the overflow from the western end of the waterworks was to be found, was where the telephone exchange on the corner of Glenton Road and Lee High Road is now sited. Presumably the ‘overflow’ would have then followed Lee High Road before joining the Quaggy around Wearside Road and Eastdown Park.

There is certainly evidence of fluvial activity on Lee High Road with an upward pointing 10m contour line on the 1:25,000 OS Map between Boone’s Chapel and Brandram Road – this may suggest the original course of the stream starting in the area of Kingswood Road. The view down Brandram Road from the entrance to the Merchant Taylor’s almshouses shows this clearly.

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There are a couple of alternative possibilities though which would have the stream, let’s call it Annesley’s Brook, joining another watercourse on Lee High Road, certainly the size of the valley around Brandram Road, would suggest a watercourse bigger than a small field stream.

Hastead suggested in 1797 that

There is a little bourn, or rivulet, which takes its rise in this parish, and sometimes, on sudden rains, swells so much, as to rise near ten feet in height, where it crosses the high road, which made it so dangerous, or rather impassable, at those times for passengers, that within these few years there had been a bridge built over it, and a high causeway raised for a considerable length at each end of it, at the public expence. This brook, running from hence, passes along by the foot of the wall of the old seat of the Annesley’s, long since quite ruined; about the south side of which it seems to have made a kind of moat, and afterwards discharges its waters into the river Ravensborne in the adjoining parish of Lewisham.

This seems a little confused possibly mixing up the Quaggy and Mid Kid Brook, although neither rises in Lee. One reading might suggest that it was The Quaggy that originally flowed down what is now Lee High Road with an implication that is was later diverted to its current course through Manor House Gardens. The valley through Manor Park would then have to have been created by a different stream – The Quaggy, Hither Green, which given the relative lack of erosion it caused further up stream doesn’t seem that likely. In any case, why would a bridge over the High Road near Lee Green be needed if the river was to stay to the north of the road to feed the moat?

A much more likely scenario is that the watercourse was the original course of the Mid Kid Brook (there is a detailed post on the brook here) before a sink was created in Lee Road and then the Brook piped parallel to the road before emerging into the Quaggy near Lee Green. The 1:25,000 OS map contours would certainly point to this having happened. It was also the view of the sadly departed fellow river detective, Ken White, who suggested that as late as 1709, that the Brook flowed through two fields both named Conduit Field on the western side of what is now Lee Road (2).

As for the pub, it seems that the former Swan is just clinging onto a business – there seem fewer drinkers than before the name change and it can only be a matter of time before it sadly meets the same fate as the three other pubs within a hundred metres or so – The Royal Oak, The Greyhound and The Woodman – and serves its last pint.

This post forms part of a series of posts on the Quaggy and its tributaries, which are brought together in one page on the blog.

(1) Kincaid, D (2001) ‘Lee Races’ in Lewisham History Journal No 9
(2) White, K (1999) ‘The Quaggy & Its Catchment Area’

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5 thoughts on “The Looking Glass of Lee & a Possible Previous Course of Mid Kid Brook

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