Going with the Flow – In Search of Fairy Hall Flow

When it comes to the naming of the tributaries of the Quaggy there seems to have been a decided lack of imagination – of those the blog has already visited we have seen Upper, Middle and Lower Kid Brooks, the Hither Green Quaggy and the Little Quaggy.  Those to come, at the time of writing in July 2015, include Border Ditch, Milk Ditch and Grove Park Ditch – none are that inspiring, even the Quaggy itself, probably derives from ‘quagmire.’

However, the small stream Fairy Hall Flow more than makes up for this – its delightful title coming from an earlier appellation of Eltham College, but as that is mid-way down-stream we’ll return to that later.

The exact source isn’t entirely clear although it is possible to track the Flow to Elmstead Wood on the 1907 surveyed 25” OS map, beyond that it is a little unclear.  On the ground though there are what look like intermittent streams in that area of the Wood, one with a small plank bridge – but after the long dry spell prior to my run along the course of the stream they were distinctly water free – I do remember more water in some of these ditches before when running past on Green Chain Walk.


This is old oak woodland, although the name suggests otherwise – Elmstead, ‘the place where elm trees grow’ was first recorded in 1320 and the woods were part of the Bishop of Rochester’s estate and used to provide timber for shipbuilding.

For the most part, the Flow follows Beaconsfield Road northwards, although it diverts from the road in various places – such as at the northern end of Framlingham Crescent where there is a tell-tale dip 40 metres from Beaconsfield Road.  Until the 1930s this was farmland, and the Flow ran free.


The farmland was part of Court Farm (previously known as Crews Farm) and was one of two farms that were part of the Fairy Hall estate – the other Mottingham Farm, was on Mottingham Lane. The 244 acres of Court Farm were acquired by London County Council (LCC) in the early 1930s and around 2300 homes were planned for a projected 12,000 residents.  The first home was occupied in 1935. With an early, now replaced, school at Castlecombe Road finished in 1937 for the burgeoning population.

The homes will have presumably transferred to the London Borough of Bromley when the successor of the LCC, the Greater London Council (GLC), lost its housing powers in 1980, and those not sold under Right to Buy being subsequently transferred to Broomleigh Housing Association in 1992.

The farm itself was at a bend in the Flow, around the present location of Dorset Road Infants’ School.  Then it’s North along Court Farm Road to the place it takes its name from.

Fairy Hall was an early 18th century country mansion, initially called Fairy Hill (there is a park of this name about half a mile away, skirted by a buried Little Quaggy).  It was home to a variety of the wealthy of Georgian and Victorian England – including the Tory grandee Baron Aspley of Aspley who became 2nd Earl of Bathurst and James Hartley, a shipping magnate.  His widow, Jane, was the final private owner.

In 1889 it was taken over by the Royal Naval School, which had outgrown its original buildings in New Cross, now Goldsmiths College.  The School closed in 1910 but the building was bought by the London Missionary Society’s School for the Sons and Orphans of Missionaries in 1912. This had been based in an imposing building in Independents Road in Blackheath, their previous ‘home’ was in turn taken over by the Church Army, and more recently, by the private Blackheath Hospital.

Presumably as the number of missionaries reduced, the potential clientele needed to be changed and it has since become a fee paying school, Eltham College.

One of the school’s most famous pupils was Eric Liddell, a son of missionaries, he was one of the finest sprinters of his generation, winning the 400 metre gold in the Paris Olympics of 1924 in a World Record time of 47.6 seconds. Liddell had to pull out of the 100 metres as his religious beliefs prevented him running on a Sunday. His style was ungainly but effective – his obituary in the Guardian described him as ‘probably the ugliest runner who ever won an Olympic championship.’ His athletic career was portrayed in the film ‘Chariots of Fire.’

Like his parents, he moved to China as a missionary in 1925, remaining there until his death in a Japanese internment camp – probably from a brain tumour.  The sports centre that is at Eltham College, takes his name.

There is a fine façade to the former Fairy Hall, but it is hidden behind car parks, cricket nets, large shrubs and signage.  The picture below shows the Hall in its prime (source here).  It had a large lakes, fed by the Flow, including a boathouse – see map below which was surveyed during the 1860s.


The lakes at Eltham College were filled in years ago – the course of the Flow thereafter is relatively easy to follow the gentle rise upward of  the contours of Mottingham Lane mean that there was only one escape for the water – along what is now King Johns Walk to join the Little Quaggy.  King John’s Walk (named after the son of Edward II) is an old lane linking the royal residence of Eltham Palace with hunting estates to the south.


It seems likely that another small stream joined the Flow around here. Its source was around  to Chapel Farm and followed  Mottingham Road and behind Leysdown Road to stream junction around King John’s Walk. The stream was buried when the area was developed but still forms the boundary between Greenwich and Bromley.  As it seems nameless, and it runs close to the Porcupine pub – I would suggest Porcupine Brook. The Porcupine itself seems to have an uncertain future, bought by Lidl, although a planning permission was rejected and there were plans to set it up as a community run pub.

As with the rest of the route along the Flow there is no visual sign of the confluences – the streams are underground – the Little Quaggy emerges into meadows alongside the Sidcup bypass a hundred metres or so downstream.  Whether the Flow is actually flowing at the point it joins the Little Quaggy is a different matter, the waters of the Flow may well have been diverted elsewhere – with culverted streams there is sometimes a giveaway sound of water rushing under manholes even on a dry day.  Sadly there was none of this with the Fairy Hall Flow, it is seemingly consigned to the work of cartographers past and the Environment Agency flood planners – its name deserves more than that.


17 thoughts on “Going with the Flow – In Search of Fairy Hall Flow

  1. Jenny

    What a joy to read, this has been very insightful. my mother lived in framlingham cresent and told me when she was young an underground river had flooded a few doors from her house and I’ve been searching for information on it, as I now live close to her old home. The methods used to locate the rivers are very interesting, fortunately I’m quite a few houses away from the tell tale dip in the road. I do wonder if the river may have something to do with the subsidence on the pavement along Beaconsfield road or maybe just shoddy workmaship 😉
    Many thanks

    1. runner500 Post author

      Thank you! That’s really interesting about the flooding as it suggests at that point Fairy Hall Flow is still flowing. I suspect at some point a little lower downstream it have been diverted into the drainage system for the area. With several other buried streams in SE London you can hear the sound of the water through manholes – the Little Quaggy which is quite close to you too is clearly audible in the playing fields next to Coldharbour Leisure Centre. Thanks for visiting.

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  3. Christine

    Very interesting. Could this be the source of water in a small garden stream back in the 50’/60’s running toward A20 in Sibthorpe Road Horn Park, dried up years ago?

    1. Paul B Post author

      Thanks for visiting! I think the stream you mention on Sibthorpe Road would be too far to the west to join Fairy Hall Flow, it is on the other side of the Quaggy. I can’t see anything marked in terms of former streams on old OS Maps road there or see any little indentations on the contours on the current OS maps. However, there were a couple of ponds that related to Horn Park Farm, which I did a post on six weeks or so ago. This was around the junction of Sibthorpe Road and Alnwick Road. The ponds would have probably fed by small springs so my guess, and it is a guess, is that a stream might appear in very wet weather when the water table is really high.

      1. Christine

        I’ve been looking for indentations on Google Earth for ages. Yes your theory would make sense with the rise and fall of water levels. Maybe the building works of the estate stopped the flow, elderly neighbours who had been there since the late 30’s/early 40’s mentioned the remains of a pond Sibthorpe/Alnwick corner and the tiny garden stream running on corner of Sibthorpe/Horsa toward Quaggy, a connection would make sense only it’s the other end of the road. That would been there before the Dutch Hse and rest of estate completion and presumably before the Quaggy diversion at end of Mottingham Lne. I will look up and read your article on ponds, thanks. If the spring was blocked with building works would it not find another exit route or just dry up?
        Do you know where on the site of Fairy Hall the flows went, I used to work at Eltham College and don’t remember this gem. I presume it went through playing fields to Quaggy back of Mottingham Hall? Would the tank on the old maps be in connection with that? I’ve never found a photo of Mott Hall – do you know if one exists?
        Thanks for the link to Nat Scot Library for the ordinance survey maps – new to me. It’s all fascinating – well done for all your hard work and running.

      2. Paul B Post author

        OS Maps are usually the best way of tracking old streams – contour lines point upstream but there is nothing obvious around Horsa and Sibthorpe junction. It is possible that any route could have been diverted to follow old field patterns and hence be ‘hidden’ on maps – that happened in places with Well Hall Stream. I will try to remember to have a look next time I run past – I am not sure when that will be though, I was up there a couple of weeks ago for a post I will eventually write up that involves the former Woodman’s Farm – the farm house is still there on Ashdale Road.

        The ponds/lakes at Eltham College originally seemed to have run all the way alongside Mottingham Lane the 1870 OS map shows that quite well before heading off down king John’s Walk to join the Little Quaggy. http://maps.nls.uk/view/102343456

        The NLS Maps are fantastic – have you tried the side by side option?

        Thank you so much for your interest.

      3. Christine

        Just found the side by side – Brilliant thanks! Look forward to the post on Woodman’s Farm, I didn’t know there was a farm there. Have you ever done an article of Mile Stones as there is/was a nice one in Mottingham Lane showing the miles to London, though they are probably rare nowadays.

      4. Paul B Post author

        You’ve made me curious! As the nights are drawing out a little I had a look on the ground for the intermittent stream around Sibthorpe and Horsa Roads – there is certainly a little dip there (at the edge of the grassed area – around 159, if I remember correctly). I couldn’t see/hear anything else though.

        There are still a few mile posts left on main roads my favourite is on Shooters Hill , it is probably a bit like the one on a Mottingham Lane, with markers of distance towards London and Dartford but on the 3rd side has the distance to Ypres.

        There are also quite a few parish boundary markers and old borough markers, particularly around Lee, Blackheath and Kidbrooke. I have done a few mentions in passing, but maybe they deserve a post of their own – thanks for the suggestion.

      5. Christine

        Wow, the numbers of killed and wounded are incredible.

        You found a dip, that’s interesting and would add up as the water would have run along the back gardens of 148-146 and come out between 146-144 toward that grass area. Bit of a long shot but could the water flow have come from Ravensbourne River and met with the Quaggy many many years ago? There are bodies of water Melrose Close, back of Northbrook Park, Hither Green Crematorium and picks up back of Baring Close by the railway line. Could have been a branch of Ravensbourne that became blocked or dried out or could just be my uneducated imagination. I will have a look at Sibthorpe again, I live in N.Kent now but will be around Eltham area again in May.
        Have you done anything on WW2 bombs changing the landscape of the SE, Bombsight.org is brilliant but doesn’t show Middle Pk School hit with fatalities, though some suggest it was actually a plane that came down, perhaps that’s why it’s not on the map.
        I could talk for ages about all this stuff but will get on with reading your post because there are loads to get through.
        Thank you!

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