Campshill was one of the larger houses on Hither Green Lane – it was home for a few generations to some of the wealthy of Victorian society. It declined during the 20th century being demolished to make way for post-war council housing. It was built in the mid-1820s after Henry Lee had leased the land from Trinity College and built Campshill House. Henry was a brick maker and lime merchant who had previously lived with his brother, Henry, at Ellerslie House, close to their works on Loampit Vale.
The Lee family were to remain at Campshill (above – source eBay October 2016) until around 1858, after both Henry and his widow had died, the latter in 1849 (1).
One of the next inhabitants was James Allan who bought the House in 1861. He was an Aberdonian, born in 1811, he had worked for a variety of Scottish shipping based employers before moving to London with one of these which was to become the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company, later the Peninsular and Oriental Company (P & O). He was to become Secretary, then Managing Director in 1848 – a position he held until his death in 1874.
Allen’s career was described as
one of steady industry and intelligent supervision. Without marked energy either of intellect or of action, his progress was rendered sure by the wisdom of his judgments, which were singularly undisturbed by any emotion of interest or of temper, and by his amiability of character, which disarmed hostility.
While the area was predominantly rural in feel when Allan bought Campshill House – the map below was surveyed in the 1860s
The lease for the house was put up for sale in 1879, with an advertisement in The Times describing it as a ‘capital family residence’ (2)
The purchaser may have been a W. H. Smith who lived at the House in the 1880s and 1890s, he wasn’t connected to the eponymous booksellers; the son of the founder of the stationers lived in altogether more grand Grosvenor Place, but may have known Campshill’s W. H. Smith, as both were members of the London Library.
In the early inter-war years the Campshill House, was home to a glass bottle merchant and then a garage. By 1927 it was home to John Belmont Taylor; Taylor was a surveyor, he was in partnership with Horace William Langdon but their partnership was dissolved in 1927. This was probably not a good move for Taylor – the quantity surveying firm he left behind was to become internationally successful; continuing today as Langdon & Seah. Taylor seems to have become a small scale developer, with Henry Thomas Taylor, in Hayes (Kent) where the latter lived – buying land in Langley Way on the Hayes/West Wickham borders in 1929 and The Crescent, Hayes, in 1932 and 1933. The name had changed to ‘Canada House’ by 1929 – the name is thought to refer to the billeting of Canadian troops at the House during World War 1.
It seems likely that Taylor was the last occupant of the House. The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945, shades the main house as a dark blue, one step better than ‘completely destroyed’ and outbuildings in purple, ‘damaged beyond repair.’ So it is of little surprise that the site was acquired by the local authority for early post war housebuilding.
In any case the area had changed since the time of the Allans and Lees; as outlined in the post on ‘Hocum Pocum Lane’ which skirted the edge of the estate, the former market gardening area around Eastdown Park had been developed from the 1870s and the arrival of a station at Hither Green junction in 1895 saw the rest of the area developed. Victorian terraced houses and the early council housing of Romborough Way and Campshill Road surrounded it.
146 homes were built where there had been built where there had been one, on what was initially referred to as the Heather Green Estate (picture below (3)); the builder was A Roberts, a firm that seemed to specialise in medium sized public sector projects such as this.
The architect for the development was M. H. Forward, who was Lewisham’s Borough Architect, a position he held at least until 1962/63 – when he was responsible for the rather out of keeping additions to the side of Sydenham Library. In the intervening period he started the redevelopment of the old Lewisham Town Hall site which was eventually completed by his successor in 1968.
The Heather Grove Estate was opened by the Lewisham MP, Herbert Morrison in 1948 – there is video footage of the opening with the then Deputy Prime Minister unveiling a commemoration stone and going inside the flats – sadly it isn’t publicly available.
While the new homes were built to a high standard, there were issues of affordability, something that has echoes in present new social housing, which have Orwellian ‘affordable’ rents. It was noted by the Tory MP for Lewisham West, Henry Price in a Parliamentary debate in 1950
The rents here are 36/- (£1.80) a week, and for a four-bedroomed flat 39/- (£1.95) despite a subsidy of about 27/- (£1.35) per week. The result was that of the first 80 people to whom these flats were offered more than 40 had to refuse them because they could not afford to pay the rent. The flats had to be let to families a little lower down the list whose need was not so great but whose pockets were a little deeper.
Nothing remains of the former Campshill House, however, one feature escaped the post war wrecking ball – an obelisk remains on the grassed area to the east of what is now referred to as Benden House. There is no inscription other than a date, 1721, but it is thought to be a memorial to an animal. The date is a century earlier than the former house, so whether it was on the site before the House or was a family monument that was subsequently moved to the site by a previous occupant is unclear. The estate is now known as Monument Gardens.
The Campshill name lives on the street behind and the latter ‘Canada’ appellation in the newer development fronting onto Hither Green Lane (visible in the top right photograph above).
- 1 The Standard (London, England), Saturday, April 21, 1849; Issue 7703
- 2 The Times (London, England), Saturday, Jul 05, 1879; pg. 18; Issue 29612
- 3 Picture via ebay May 2016