Horn Park Farm – Lee’s Last Big Farm

Over the years Running Past has looked at a number of the farms around Lee and Hither Green notbably Burnt Ash,at College, Lee Manor, North Park and of course Lee Green Farm  which stood where its name suggests and its farmer – William Morris (no obvious relation to the eponymous textile designer, poet and socialist activist).  Morris, soemtimes spelled Morriss was also the tenant of the neighbouring and slightly bigger Horn Park Farm from 1838.

Horn Park Farm, like Lee Green Farm, was owned by the Crown and in 1838 it consisted of around 221 acres of a mixture of arable and pasture. It seems to have stretched from around Winn Avenue to Eltham Road and probably further northwards to the Quaggy – certainly the land what is now Courtlands Avenue was orginally part of the Crown Estate.  At the Winn Avenue end  it bordered College Farm, and from around 1914 Melrose Farm (sometimes known as Woodman’s Farm), a largely market gardening enterprise that was probably carved out of Horn Park Farm. .

An area nearly twice the size, 345 acres, known then as West Horne, had been enclosed in the 15th century and was one of three parks that belonged to Eltham Palace.  The Royal family stopped using the Palace early in the reign of Charles I and the Palace was badly damaged during the Civil War and the Commonwealth – John Evelyn noting in 1658 that “both the palace and chapel (were) in miserable ruins, the noble wood and park destroyed by Rich the rebel (Nathaniel Rich)”.

After the Restoration of the monarchy, Horn Park was converted into to a mixture of arable land and pasture with the Crown Estate retaining ownership.

The first subsequent on-line mention was in relation to a dispute in 1816 between the Lee and Eltham parishes in relation to the boundary between the two, it oddly went through the bed of the ill farm worker who was claiming poor relief. He got out of bed on the Eltham side so they ended up paying.  The farmer at that stage was a Richard Stames.

While Morris seems to have lived at Lee Green Farm, there were farm buildings at Horn Park marked from the earliest Ordnance Survey Maps up until the 1930s when the area was developed as Horn Park estate, a development not completed until the 1950s due to the intervention of WW2. The farm is pictured above (see credits below).

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Maps source – Ordnance Survey 6″ via National Library of Scotland – surveys from 1862, 1930 and 1938.

The farm buildings were roughly where the grassed area on Alnwick Road, opposite Horncastle Road – close to where Westhorne Avenue now is.

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It seems likely that when Morris’ lease ended around 1860, that the silk merchant Thomas Blenkiron, son of the racehorse trainer William leased Horn Park and used the farm for grazing racehorses.   It is possible that William, while more generally associated with Middle Park, also had some interest in Horn Park as it was one of the addresses listed in bankruptcy proceedings in 1884.

The next significant tenants were the Wood family who seem to have moved to Horn Park in the 1880s, presumably after the bankruptcy proceedings of Blenkiron.  The first tenant would have been Walter William Wood – his son Walter Thomas Wood was born there in 1888.

It was the Wood family’s second farm, Walter (William) seems to have started farming at Crockenhill in Kent – a farm they retained an interest in up until the 1930s.

The farming changed under the Woods – while it was predominantly grazing under both Morris and Blenkiron – cows and horses respectively, by 1912 the farm was described as having ‘well cultivated fields.’ (5). There were also orchards at the southern end of the farm – clear on the later Ordnance Survey maps above.

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The Woods seem to have moved the farm towards market gardening – certainly they were advertising for a ‘man well up in growing tomatoes, cucumbers and mushrooms for market’ in 1895

They also grew flowers for the market too – there was a court case involving theft of lilacs the same year in the short-lived Blackheath Gazette .  They later diversified into growing bulbs, they were subject to legal action (6) at Greenwich County Court in 1920 relating to a dispute with a Dutch firm of bulb sellers, which they lost.

They sold produce locally too, opening a shop at what was latterly referred to as 10 Eltham Road at Lee Green around 1896. While its location changed and they it moved to 34 Eltham Road in the early 1930s. This was next to another bit of land, on the corner of Leyland and Eltham Roads which they had greenhouses on – its now the Leegate ‘piazza.’

The shop seems to have been run by a cousin of Walter’s Arthur Russell who lived at the farm in both the 1901 and 1911 censuses.

Walter senior died at the farm in 1924 and Walter Thomas died in 1929 in Bromley, it is not clear whether he was still on the farm at that point – he was certainly there in the 1901 and 1911 censuses though.  The younger son Sidney, born in 1892, stayed on after the deaths of his father and brother.  He married Audrey in 1920.

Sidney was made bankrupt in 1935 – possibly as a result of the shrinking size of the farm, the land around the farm house had been lost to the Horn Park Estate but development of private sector housing on roads like Horn Park Lane and Upwood Raod will have seen the acreage dwindle too. 

Despite the bankrupcy, Sidney was still listed as a ‘Farmer etc.’ in the 1939 Register, living at what was clearly not a farm house – 3 Guibal Road. There was a logic in living at 3 Guibal Road – it provided access to some orchards and a couple of fields which were the last remnants of the farm.

The open fields descent down the hill towards Mottingham Lane and the Quaggy – they were later to become the park Horn Park. The orchards to the north were used by local children for camps and tree climbing.  to become part of the council housing on the redeveloped council housing with the children scattering on the sight of Mr Wood (7)

The shop though continued though until the 1950s, the orchard and fields may have lasted into the 1960s when the prefabs were replaced by permanent housing over a wider areas and the fields became the park Horn Park.

The couple stayed in Lewisham after the break-up of the farm around the outbreak of World War 2.  Audrey died in 1968 and Sidney ten years later.

The Farm was home to a number of sporting events – this included many of the fields that the horses and riders of the Lee Races would have galloped through in the 1830s.  In 1914 it was home to the annual Lewisham Horse Show.

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There was at least one illegal prize fight between Emmanuel Bilby and Jeremiah McCarthy, both of Deptford which was spotted by a local constable who followed crowds there in early 1899. It isn’t clear whether the fight was with the Wood’s sanction or not.

Finally, one of the early ‘losses’ of land was what is now the Old Colfeans sports ground – the Old Alleynians played rugby there for at least a season around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and it seems to have been used for sport ever since.  It was sold to the Leathersellers Company as Trustees for Colfes School, then a Grammar School sometime after 1929.  The current site of the school was also part of the farm.

Notes & Credits

  1. Census and related data comes from Find My Past (subscription required)
  2. Information about the shop comes from Kelly’s Directories, accessed via Lewisham and Southwark Archives
  3. The picture of the farm is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives, it is used with their permission but remains their copyright – the date, the artist and period it depicts isn’t clear though
  4. This post was written in early 2016 but was substantially updated in February 2022
  5. This was originally sourced via an on-line book called London South of the Thames – the link was broken in early 2022 though
  6. Again this was a link that was broken by 2022 – it was to an online version of Gardeners’ Chroncile from 1920
  7. Many thanks to Susan McCarthy for her memories about this
  8. The last map is on a non commercial licence from the National Library of Scotland.

27 thoughts on “Horn Park Farm – Lee’s Last Big Farm

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  10. Robert legassick

    My grand father was Sidney basil wood of horn park farm and two of my sons went to colfes school which would of been on their great grandfathers property.

    Reply
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  18. scotthatton

    I am trying to find exactly which roads were built as part of the Horn Park Estate. I recognise that Sibthorpe Road and further south are part of the development. Your (great) article suggests it extended north of the railway too?

    Reply
    1. Paul B Post author

      It wasn’t my intention to suggest that – from memory, the only bit of social housing to the north of the railway is a small Crown Estate estate on Horn Park Lane backing onto the railway.

      Reply
      1. scotthatton

        Thanks for your reply. I think it was the inclusion of the (Old) Colfeans ground – now north of the railway – which had me intrigued but I see now that that’s simply part of the story of the farm rather than the estate.

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