In Search of the Little Quaggy

Close to the summit of Red Post Hill, on the borders of Chislehurst and Mottingham, is some old woodland – old Ordnance Survey maps refer to it as Hangingspring Woods.  It is dense and footpaths are unclear, but there is a pronounced dip going through it, falling away towards the North East.  This is the highest ‘sighting’ of one of the Quaggy’s bigger tributary streams, the imaginatively named the Little Quaggy.


Hanging Spring Woods, towards the source, Walden Road recreation ground (clockwise from top left)

The source though isn’t possible to reach on foot, it is in closely guarded woodland – a high metal fence blocks the way from the Green Chain Walk path adjacent to Walden Road recreation ground. Not that any water would have likely to have been found – the stream bed is just damp by the time it reaches Hangingspring Woods.  There is though a small pond marked on OS maps, which is likely to be the source.

The ‘hanging’ is likely to have its derivation in the old English word ‘hangra’, steep wood slope, rather than any more grisly meaning – the Chislehurst gallows were some distance away.  The woods would have been part of Coldharbour Farm – probably from the French col d’arbre (wooded hill/pass).

Coldharbour Farm  was a largely dairy farm -the farm buildings were located at what is now the junction of William Barefoot Drive and Mottingham Lane. The farm was developed for housing by the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich from 1947 to help ease the housing problems in the northern part of the Borough; William Barefoot was a local councillor and mayor of Woolwich.

Behind the fencing used to be the grounds of Ravensbourne College. The College moved to the Greenwich Peninsula in 2010 after 34 years on the site – the likes of fashion designer Stella McCartney and film producer Gareth Unwin were alumni, although some of the more famous students, including David Bowie and Bruce Oldfield, passed through its doors when it was actually in the Ravensbourne catchment in Bromley.

Onwards and downwards…  My run takes me parallel to the remnants of the Wood dropping down Oakdene Avenue then Walden Avenue, where the side roads rise quite steeply away from the stream.  There is no sign of water, no sound of rushing water beneath the ferrous manhole covers in the road.

Wayside Green, location of Lavidge Bridge, valley on Ravensworth Road  (clockwise from top)

Wayside Green, valley on Ravensworth Road, location of Lavidge Bridge (clockwise from top)

There is a small notch in the Wayside Green that the Little Quaggy crosses, still unseen to all but the geographical eye.  Ravensworth Road follows its course, and, for a while, an obvious valley appears. The main Mottingham Road, the invisible boundary between Bromley and Greenwich, is reached and the south westerly side of the road would have been followed by the Little Quaggy for around 100 metres before crossing it at Lavidge Bridge – close to where Chapel Farm Road now is.

When the stream flowed above ground, it would have been overlooked here by the Geffrye Almshouses which were replacements for what is now the Geffrye Museum and were built in 1912 before the area was developed. They housed “ladies of restricted means”, often retired governesses.  The remaining ‘ladies’ were moved out to the more rural surroundings of Hook in Hampshire in 1972, and, since then, ownership has gone from the Greater London Council, to Bromley Council and then on to Broomleigh Housing Association in 1992.  From the plethora of estate agents’ boards outside, it would appear that many are now privately owned.  At the time of ‘passing’ the almshouses were not at their best – covered with scaffolding.

From Lavidge Bridge, the stream used to meander northwards through another farm, Chapel Farm, where it fed the farm pond.  Chapel Farm buildings were roughly where the Coldharbour Lesiure Centre is now.  Oddly for a farm, it had a cricket pitch and was the home to Eltham Cricket Club.  The club’s most famous player was W.G Grace and the ground was the location for his last ever appearance on a cricket field on 8 August 1914 – more on this later in the year.

Coldharbour Leisure Centre & the cover Little Quaggy

Coldharbour Leisure Centre & the cover Little Quaggy

The conversion of the Little Quaggy to a subterranean stream here happened during the development of the Coldharbour estate, around 1949.  The culverting though is barely below the surface and there are a series of raised red brick manholes joined together by a line of brown, almost deceased, grass edging a lush green playing field – it is parched from a lack of moisture due to the thin soils.  A few centimetres below though, the encased stream audibly gushes through its concrete pipe.

The original course of the Little Quaggy is bisected by the four lanes of the Sidcup by-pass.  It then skirts the western edge of Fairy Hill Park (Fairy Hill was a former name for what is now Eltham College –more on that in a week or two when another Mottingham stream, Fairy Hall Flow, is followed). The Little Quaggy had a concrete straightjacket imposed upon it when the park was created in 1938.It is then under the railway towards the Tarn.

The course in Fairy Hill Park

The course in Fairy Hill Park

The Tarn is an ornamental lake which is in an eponymous park which was originally part of Eltham Lodge (now Royal Blackheath Golf Club) and was acquired by the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich in 1935.  The small lake was the most depressing site on the run down the course of the stream.  The park itself is a pleasant oasis, it is always a joy to run around its banks and has been improved over the years by its Friends.  The lake oozed neglect though – almost entirely covered with duckweed – a handful of wildfowl were attempting to make the best of it though, and a coot was even nesting on the still, pea-green water.  The Friends are fundraising to remove the duckweed.

Little Quaggy flows into the Tarn, the Tarn, the  outflow & the small tributary stream (clockwise from top left)

Little Quaggy flows into the Tarn, the Tarn, the outflow & the small tributary stream (clockwise from top left)

The Little Quaggy enters through a grim looking concrete channel on its course under the railway from Fairy Hill Park, it is joined in theory at least by another small tributary emerging from the golf course – but its flow did nothing to disturb the dull green surface of the Tarn.  The outflow, and continuation of the stream, is through a grille and remains enclosed again as Mottingham station and the railway line steal its natural course.

There was once another stream joining the Little Quaggy from land close to Eltham Palace – there is a distinct dip in Middle Park Avenue behind the station, with give-away upward pointing contour lines on the OS map, but the high hedges and horse riding make any further investigation difficult.

The Little Quaggy emerges into the open for the first time back across the Sidcup Bypass.  Just before its appearance, it is joined by the already mentioned Fairy Hall Flow. Its final four hundred metres are close to how the stream would probably have looked like prior to suburbanisation– a pasture covered with buttercups. It is not some semi-rural idyll though, just a narrow strip of green used by a riding school, with heavy goods vehicles from the Channel Ports thundering past, 20 metres away, towards inner London and the Blackwall Tunnel – very close by there are high average nitrogen dioxide pollution and occasional high levels of particulates – it is not a place to linger.



27 thoughts on “In Search of the Little Quaggy

  1. Christine Parry

    As a member of The Friends of the Tarn, it was very disheartening to read your comments ‘it oozed neglect’. I appreciate that your article is about the waterway, but the friends group has worked hard to repair the neglect in the rest of the park and regularly receive comments from the public about the many improvements we have endeavoured to make. The issue of the water quality of the lake (which is covered in duckweed, not algae) is complicated, but our group is now in the process of fundraising to get the lake dredged. To this end you are cordially invited to our ‘Tea in the Tarn’ events, see
    Christine Parry

    1. runner500 Post author

      I’m sorry that I have disheartened you – it certainly wasn’t my intention. I should have been more careful with the distinction between the park ‘The Tarn’ and the piece of water ‘The Tarn.’ The park itself is lovely and has certainly improved over the years that I have run through it – have edited the post to reflect this distinction. The problem is the water and that is what looks horribly neglected – I am glad to see that it is being addressed, although surprised that it is down to the Friends rather than RB Greenwich. Thank you for visiting and thanks for the information that has allowed me to correct the post.

  2. A Friend

    The Friends group do an A-M-A-Z-I-N-G job. Over the last five years they have reclaimed and opened up an area as a Butterfly Garden, cleared and opened up the ‘pond’ adjoining the golf course, clean the small pond, cleared and replanted bug friendly trees adjacent to the culvert, organised and blagged their way to getting the hut and toilets painted and reroofed; they weed, plant, tidy, cut and strim and pick litter on a weekly (or more frequent) basis. They have regular Teas in the Tarn (smashing home made cakes!), organise Bat watching and bird counts, put cameras in bird boxes and rescue birds and ducklings….. BUT they need help. The lake and water problem is complex; it needs some tax payers hard earned cash to put it right ONCE AND FOR ALL and the Royal Borough of Greenwich to decide that it has, what could be, a jewel in its crown that is worth investing in. It will be sad and upsetting if there are more wild fowl deaths AGAIN this summer. If you LOVE the TARN, please help by supporting the teas this summer, donate some money to the Friends Group or write to the local MP (Clive Efford), Councillors and local newspaper and DEMAND ACTION on the lake. Thank you 🐞🐝🐜🌻🍃🍁

    1. runner500 Post author

      The Tarn is a delightful little park, and the the Friends are organising teas in the park every Sunday afternoon during August 2015 along with the last one in July. Their website shows how many other excellent things that they are doing too –

      It should not be left to them to sort out the lake though, it should be an issue for RB Greenwich.

  3. Roger Hawkins

    I was always under the impression that Royal Blackheath Golf club had intercepted a source of the Little Quaggy and the only water now in the “The Tarn” was water run off from roads and . the Dartford Loop railway line.. I was unaware that there was a contributory stream parallel to Chapel Farm Road. I would suggest that stream is not reaching the Tarn..
    In Altash Gardens below William Barefoot Drive, there was an extremely wet patch that suggested that a spring was in the vicinity. It would have been a contributor to the Little Quaggy.

    1. runner500 Post author

      Thanks for visiting, some really interesting points.

      I am sure that you are right about a spring around Altash Gardens, if you look at the Environment Agency website (enter Mottingham) on surface water there is a risk from around that area. I think that there is probably another higher up Red Post Hill too, on the opposite side the the former Hangingspring Woods too.

      The stream on the golf course has probably been diverted a few times, but certainly isn’t the Little Quaggy, although pre Tarn the confluence might have been clearer, the contours would prevent this and old OS maps show a stream around there when the Little Quaggy’s course was all above ground.

      As for whether the Little Quaggy currently reaches the Tarn I am not entirely sure – the piped water in the open space above Coldharbour Leisure Centre may be diverted elsewhere, certainly there is a considerable flow there and the inflow into The Tarn looked quite limited.

      Thanks again for your comments.

    2. A Friend

      RBG council paid for a study in 2009 but did not act on it’s recommendations….so they are (slowly) going through the whole process again. You’re right. The water no longer flows from the golf course (not for years). There is evidence that water is coming from Chapel Farm area and beyond (…evidence of household and commerical waste fat, etc) and the council has tried to deal with householders and businesses who have misconnected waste pipes. There is a lot of run-off water from the A20. The lake is currently covered in duckweed; not in itself a problem but probably indicative of the state of the water (ie slow moving). The lake is full of silt (compounded by large, unsuitable trees around the edge of the lake which shed tons of leaves directly into the lake each season) and in many places there ismore silt than water. Whatever the cause, there needs to be some political will and, sorry, MONEY, to find a long term solution😤

      1. runner500 Post author

        Thank you – that’s really helpful and quite depressing at the same time. How far off are Greenwich in terms of decision making? I assume some pressure is being put on local councillors and Denise Hyland? I did tweet RBG and Clive Efford yesterday evening but wondered what else was going on.

      2. Roger Hawkins

        Dear Friend, The lack of flowing water in the Tarn suggest that Little Quaggy is being intercepted elsewhere. As the phenomena of duckweed has only occurred in the compartively recent history, (last 30 years) I would not be surprised if some over keen civil works had diverted it elsewhere. The major suspect would be the Coldharbour sports centre.
        Are there any records as to the flow of The Little Quaggy before it gets to the Coldharbour playing fields?
        regards Roger Hawkins, Greenacres school u-11 soccer 1958/9

      3. runner500 Post author

        You can certainly hear it through the manhole covers in the playing fields above Coldharbour Leisure Centre, it is very noticeable even in quite dry conditions. Based on that flow I was expecting a bit more in terms of the outflow at The Tarn and possibly sounds of it going through Fairy Hill Park. Thanks for your input.

      4. A Friend

        Roger and Runner – thanks for your helpful comments. Let’s hope The Little Quaggy and Coldharbour can be looked at as part of the councils overall plan for The Tarn.

  4. A Friend

    Thanks for the tweets. There is no published timeline. Clive Efford and council officers visited The Tarn nearly six months ago (after lots of agitation from summer 2014). I believe consultants have been to The Tarn within the last couple of months and are writing a (another) report. I understand the Friends group are expected to try and source funding (eg from Big Lottery, environmental charities or similar) to contribute to any works. There are murmurings about a bore hole. There is no short term plan to scoop off the duckweed, this would be largely cosmetic and the costs might outway any real benefit. There is a very real risk that it will all stumble once any costs of a long term solution is revealed. Unfortunately, if you can’t put a cycle track or an outside gym in it, seems that RBG isn’t interested. No place or value for an “oasis of calm” these days 😕

    1. runner500 Post author

      Thanks for the update – I guess that scoping off the duckweed would just be a short term measure, as it would grow back quickly – I saw a photo earlier in the week from May and at that stage the coverage was only partial.

      1. A Friend

        Hi again-much of the duckweed has been pretty much in evidence over the last 2/3 years. As the weather gets warmer it will proliferate, hence more now than in May. As our winters appear to be getting warmer (no snow or ice on the lake this year), the duckweed is not naturally dying back at all. The cover of duckweed will help (a little) in stopping the water evaporating in hot weather but really, the issue is much more complex than this.

      2. Roger Hawkins

        Ordnance Survey London Sheet P (includes: Borough Of Greenwich; Borough Of Woolwich.)
        Revised: 1914
        Published: 1920

        Which appears a link from your recent article on Balloon flying at Lee, shows three streams entering the Tarn from the Golf club and the Little Quaggy entering from the south via Chapel Farm. The A20 Sidcup Road is yet to be built.

      3. laurautton

        Sadly, the stream from the golf club no longer flows and with the housing now at Chapel farm, we understand there are lots of ‘mis-connections’ which take household water into the Little Quaggy. The heavy traffic on the A 20 has contributed to lots of ‘nasties’ running into the Tarn. The Tarn is still bright green (with duck weed) and with poor water quality. Royal Greenwich commissioned (yet another) environmental study last year, and despite everyone seemingly agreeing something needs to be done, nothing has happened…yet. Sadly, The Heritage Lottery declined RBG’s grant application a few months ago. Thames Water recently spent three days aerating the water. Sadly not sure there is the political will, or the money, to improve it 🙁

      4. Paul B Post author

        I wondered whether there had been any improvement this year, suspected there hadn’t been as lots of places are struggling with it this year. Thanks for the update.

      5. Paul B Post author

        There were lots of tiny streams around there, as Laura has said, I don’t think anything has flowed from the golf course for years. While the original route of the Little Quaggy was Chapel Farm, the volumes you can hear submerged through the playing fields always seem greater than that entering The Tarn. It is interesting though looking at the old OS maps to see the former routes – have you used the side by side viewer on the NLS site? It is brilliant!

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  10. Roger Hawkins

    Having discovered what LIDAR means I discovered:

    Click to access Greenwich-SFRA_FINAL_Main_HighRes.pdf

    “Strategic Flood Risk Assessment” of the London Borough of Greenwich dated 2011,

    Intrestingly the Little Quaggy is ignored and not recognised as water course!
    No wonder there is no political will and, sorry, MONEY, to find a long term solution to the stagnant Tarn.
    regards Roger Hawkins, Greenacres school u-11 soccer 1958/9

    1. Paul B Post author

      Sorry I missed this earlier in the week, they should know better and suspect that if there is an update of this it would recognise it. Greenwich had a real expert in rivers and flooding dealing with flood and associated risk for a few years. Sadly he left a couple of years ago. I suspect the problem in 2011 was that so little of the Little Quaggy is/was above ground.


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