There has probably never been a single sale of land around Hither Green and Lee that has been more significant than the sale of North Park Farm by the Earl of St Germans in 1895 as it allowed for the development of was was initially known as the St Germans estate, now generally known as the Corbett estate. We will return to the development sometime later, but for now we will look at the farm itself.
The name of North Park Farm goes back to at least the mid 16th century (1); while it is possible that the location changed over the next century it was clear on John Roque’s 1745 map – the easterly buildings in ‘Hether Green.’
It was situated on what is now Duncrievie Road – it remained in that area until the sale. Initially it was a relatively small farm, around 65 – 75 acres (2). For a while it seems to have been known as Plum Farm – there is a reference to it as this on at least one map.
There had been a South Park Farm too – a small farm of around 70 acres centred around Dowanhill and Hazelbank Roads, which later ‘moved’ to somewhere around the Torridon and Brownhill Roads junction (3). The South Park name lives on in a street, South Park Crescent to the east of Verdant Lane. The farm was renamed ‘Longmisery’ in the early 19th century but seems to have been merged with North Park Farm by the middle of that century (4) along with part of Rushey Green Farm by 1838 and a former nursery, Butlers Gardens, around 1860 (5). The latter nursery of around 43 acres was run by Willmot and Co, later Willmot and Chaundy – referred to in relation to Hocum Pocum Lane.
By this stage the farm was being had been run by the Owens for a generation and a half; there is reference to Abraham Owen in the 1843 Tithe Awards farming 201 acres, including around 38 acres of pasture and the remaining arable. He also farmed another 40 acres, elsewhere in Lewisham from landowners other than the St Germans, including church lands.
Owen also ran a butcher’s shop which was located at what is now 304 Lewisham High Street, almost opposite the current fire station. The family also had another shop a little further north, at Lee Bridge (the bottom of Lee High Road) – Abraham’s son is reported as having rescued a boy who fell into a flooded River Quaggy in 1844.
While a tenant farmer, Owen seems to have been a man of influence – his name appears in the 1838 list of Land Tax Commissioners for Lewisham – generally ‘commissioners were drawn from the gentry, but also included members of the peerage and of the professions, such as doctors. They were not paid for the work they did.’
In addition to the farming and the butchers, Owen (and his father Edward before him) acted as an auctioneer – amongst many other farm sales, he undertook the sale of the lease of Horn Park Farm in 1822, which William Morris(s) seems to have been the successful bidder for (6).
Abraham Owen died in 1845 which probably triggered the disposal of the lease to the farm, his will described him as a farmer and butcher.
The last farmers of North Park were the Sheppards – brothers Edward and Samuel. The family had an early mention in 1823 when they were farming land that was in the line of the railway, presumably close to St Johns Station. The Samuel referred to would have been their father, as the two brothers would have been children then, Samuel was born in 1819 and Edward in 1814, both in Deptford. According to the 1841 census, the farm was Ravensbourne Farm – Samuel (Senior) had been born in 1781 and there were four adult children living on the farm. The oldest brother, Henry took over Ravensbourne Farm, after his father had died – Edward was still there in 1851.
While the brothers took over the farm in 1849 (7) they didn’t move in until later. The farm was managed for them by William Fry, who may have worked for the Owens just before the Sheppards took over, as his three youngest children in the 1851 census were born in Lewisham – the oldest of them born in 1848. Fry originated from Brasted in Kent, but had been working for a decade in Erith. Fry was to continue working for the Sheppards – he was still on the farm, in The Cottage, probably the original farm in 1861 – one of the buildings at the eastern side of the farm on the upper map below. His wife, Sarah, had 10 children by then.
By 1861, Edward had married Jemima and they were living at the new farm house which had been built in the mid 1850s, and was located about half way up Duncrievie Road (just to the west of the farm buildings on the upper map). The the census says he had ‘250 acres, 16 men and 4 boys’ – several of these would have been William Fry and his family members. Jemima died in 1876 (8), there seems to be not reference to them in the 1871 census, but the farm and employment had shrunk to 200 acres and 10 men in 1881. By 1891, he was listed as a retired farmer although still living on the farm, he suffered from mental health problems in his later years and needed an ‘attendant’ to help him cope; Edward died in 1892, before the farm was sold.
Fry was still there in 1871 at what was described as North Park Farm in the census. By 1881 though, he was living with his son who was a ‘fly proprietor’ on Lewisham High Street. A ‘fly’ was a one horse, two wheeled carriage, in case you wondered… Fry’s wife Sarah had died in 1871, with William passing away in 1888.
As for Samuel, he had married Emma in 1849 although there is no census record for them in 1851 – they may have been at Burnt Ash Farm which he had a brief interest in. In 1861 he was working as a market gardener, still around Deptford – their address was 7 Market Garden. Samuel and his family moved to the North Park farm in the 1860s, Eliot House (sometimes called Lodge) was built around 1867 for him. It still remains on the corner of Duncrievie Road and Hither Green Lane (the westerly of the highlights on the lower map).
The 1871 census shows that Samuel and Emma had six children who had all been born in Deptford, the eldest son also Samuel, was to take over Bellingham Farm. By 1881, little had changed other than the eldest daughter, also Emma, had moved out. Samuel (1819) was to live until 1904, remaining at Eliot House.
A lot of wheat was grown on the farm, a newspaper report noted in 1868 that there were much higher yields at North Park Farm than in neighbouring farms (9). Latterly though, with the growth of London the wheat will have almost certainly given way to market gardening.
Small parcels of land on the edge of the farm had been sold off to speculative builders almost two decades before the final sale of the farm, they were hoping for Hither Green junction to become a station – these were to become Brightside (developed from 1878), Elthruda (1882) and Mallet Roads (1882) (10). Mallet was the author of a masque about Alfred the Great which contained ‘Rule, Britannia!’ It was written in 1740 but there is no obvious link with Lewisham.
Other than the farm house, the only other obvious remains of the farm are a trio of farm workers cottages which are now 387 and 389 Hither Green Lane, at the junction with Springbank Road (11). They were referred to as Sheppard’s Cottages, for around a decade after the sale of the farm in Kellys Directories.
1 Godfrey Smith (1997) ‘Hither Green: The Forgotten Hamlet’ p10
2 ibid p11
3 ibid p 12
4 ibid p12
5 ibid p11
6 The Morning Post (London, England), Saturday, June 01, 1822 p1
7 Smith op cit p11
8 Daily News (London, England), Monday, August 28, 1876; Issue 9469.
9 The Times (London, England), Thursday, Aug 13, 1868; pg. 9; Issue 26202
10 All the development dates come from Joan Read (1990) ‘Lewisham Street Names & Their Origins (Before 1965)’
11 Smith op cit p11
Census and related data comes from Find My Past, references to Kelly’s Directories come from Leicester University and the Ordnance Survey maps are from the National Library of Scotland on a creative commons