Dairy Farming in Lee – College Farm

Running Past has covered several of the farms of Lee that predated the gradual encroachment of the city – Lee Green Farm, Horn Park Farm, Woodman’s Farm and the slightly smaller operation of Butterfield Dairy.  College Farm is a farm that the blog has mentioned a few times before in passing and was to be the final home of the large scale Lee farmer, William Morris (sometimes called Morriss) who ran both Lee Green and Horn Park Farms for many years. College Farm was a largely dairy farm which stood on the western side of Burnt Ash Hill, located roughly where Farmcote Road now meets Burnt Ash Hill.


Before continuing, College Farm should not be confused with a farm of the same name on Lewisham High Street which was farmed latterly by the Clarks who end up at the close by Butterfield Dairy..

The land for the farm has its roots in the early 17th century, it was bought by Henry Howard, the Earl of Northampton to help provide income for Trinity Hospital in Greenwich which was founded in 1613 (there was a post on the blog in 2015 on Trinity Hospital) (1).  The land was initially woodland, but like most of the woodland in Lee it was probably felled for farmland during the 17th century.  It was managed on behalf of Trinity Hospital by the Mercers Company (2).

The farm was referred to, although not by name, in the 1839 tithe schedule.  While the land is noted in the tithe schedule as being owned by the Mercers Company, this is probably a mistake (3).

In 1839, College Farm was being farmed at part of the large portfolio of land which William Morris leased in the area – Running Past has covered Morris in some detail in a post on Lee Green Farm.  It was listed in the 1839 Lee Tithe schedule as being of 61 acres – it was mainly set to pasture as part of Morris’ extensive dairy operation.  Some fields had some rather attractive names such as Little Climbrooks (see below – source).

College Farm 3

In his latter years Morris was to make College Farm his home, passing away there in early 1851.  His second wife, Susannah, continued to hold the farm for another 4 years – she surrendered the lease in 1855 to William Brown (4).  It appears that by 1893 Brown was the freeholder, but it may have been much earlier than this.

College Farm 4

There was an attempt to let the farm house separate to the farm, presumably by William Brown in 1862 (5).  Whether this was successful or not is unclear, but by 1871 the Bowditchs were listed in the  census as living at College Farm, Kerslake Terrace. The father of the family was away on business on census night and doesn’t appear in subsequent censuses.  Charles Edward Bowditch was living there with his mother, Anne, his cousin and a Dutch visitor.  The family seems to have been around Lee since at least the Morris’ time, as Charles was born there in 1851.

There were three other households in Kerslake Terrace in 1871 which appears to have been the name of the workers cottages on or adjacent to the farm, they were given the similar ‘Karslake’ name in 1881.

It seems that the farm was run for a while as a joint enterprise between Charles and, presumably, his brother Stephen (born 1852) but this was ended in 1879.  Stephen carried on as a dairy farmer, based at 2, The Limes, Lee in 1881.  Charles stayed on at College Farm, having married Caroline from Cambridgeshire in 1878.

Like many modern farms, College Farm tried to diversify – it offered ‘board and residence’ in The Standard a couple of times in October 1881 – interestingly Lee was still regarded as ‘very pretty country’ at that stage (6).

College Farm 5

The Bowditches remained at the farm during the latter part of the 19th century – in 1891 there was Charles, Caroline, four daughters along with Ann(e). By the 1911 census Charles seems to have retired he and had moved to Wisteria Road in Lewisham, his occupation is listed both as ‘none’ and ‘dairy farmer’ so it is probably reasonable to assume that the 60 year old Charles had retired.  He passed away in 1915.

College Farm 1

The presumably shrinking farm was taken over by the Edwards Family – Public Health Reports listed them having 36 cows in 1913 along with 56 at Burnt Ash Farm – they were being farmed together, along with a few other local farms.  It seems likely that by this stage that the College Farm was just being used for milking and storage (7) – there is a photo above of some rather dilapidated looking buildings on the farm from that era (see notes for source).  The Edwards and Sons were a relatively large scale dairy enterprise with 60 shops around SE London – the family name continued to be used for a while after it was taken over by United Dairies (8) in 1927.  The photo below is a field from the farm from around this time  (see notes for source).

College Farm 2

The numbers were the same in 1919 but reports after that don’t list the dwindling number of dairy operations – which halved between 1919 and 1924 to just six, it probably didn’t include College Farm though.

The encroachment of suburbanisation continued apace in Lee as the series of maps below from 1867, 1893 and 1914 show (all on a creative commons from the National Library of Scotland).  By the next time the cartographers visited in the 1930s to update the maps the farm was gone – 1920s and 1930s terraces and semis were to sweep away most the remaining farmland in the area – as we saw with Wates development of the neighbouring Melrose/Woodman’s Farm.  It is likely that the developer was a local builder that we have covered before, W J Scudamore and Sons, part of what was referred to as the Northbrook Estate – Farmcote Road began to be developed in 1925 (9) .




  1. Josephine Birchenough (1981) Some Farms and Fields in Lee p13
  2. ibid p13
  3. ibid p13
  4. Like much of the family detail on William Morris – this information comes via a comment to the blog on the post on William Morris and Lee Green Farm
  5. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Apr 16, 1862; pg. 6
  6. The Standard (London, England), Thursday, October 13, 1881; pg. 8; Issue 17858.
  7. Birchenough op cit p13
  8. Ibid p 11
  9. Joan Read (1990) Lewisham Street Names and Their Origins p22

The last two photographs are  produced courtesy of Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre.  The census and related information generally comes from Find My Past although some relating to William Morris comes from a comment by Mike on the Lee Green Farm post.


20 thoughts on “Dairy Farming in Lee – College Farm

  1. Chris

    Great old photos. Do you know anything about the old house that stood on the site of the garden centre at bottom of mottingham lane, they said it was a private house turned into a hospital before they knocked it down in the late 1960’s but I can’t find out any more. It’s on the old maps and there was evidence of garden structures at the back years ago?

    1. Paul B Post author

      I don’t know I am afraid. Oddly I was looking at that area on old OS maps earlier today for a post on The Quaggy only house marked in that area pre 1950 is Mottingham House which is higher up on Mottingham Lane. Would be interested to know though.

      1. Chris

        Yes I think the house higher up is the one, opposite Fairmount Nursing Home but it seems there were two entrances, the service entrance being where the garden centre is, that’s where the rubble was left in the 60’s when they eventually pulled it down, the kids from Horn Park Estate played on it, I think the WW2 bomb hit the horses fields opposite and took the wall out, which would have run along it perimeter. If it was a hospital for the first world war soldiers, which is the local story, and I’ve seen a post card on ebay of mottingham lane with a soldier on horse back, so it’s probably true, where would we look for WWI hospitals? I’ve search google. Do you think there is a record somewhere? Chris

      2. Paul B Post author

        Thanks for your comments. Since posting that, I noticed on the 25″ to mile old OS maps that the house was more clearly marked towards the top of the hill – available on line via National Library of Scotland http://maps.nls.uk/view/103675829

        I couldn’t find it in the list of Auxiliary Hospitals in a list for what what is now London (http://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/briefhistoryauxhosps.html), but it is possible that it might have been missed.

        It isn’t covered in the lovely LCC Bomb maps as, until 1965, it was still just in Kent – The Quaggy is the boundary. I don’t know whether Kent or Greenwich archives have records of bomb damage for that area.

      3. Chris

        Thanks I’ll have a look. Have you ever covered a story on the Brown’s Farm? I was apparently on the fields from Mottingham riding stables over to middle park estate. I’ve just found out about it after being told there was an old bridge running over the railway line near King Johns walk, demolished in 1971.

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  10. sjcrofts

    According to Darrell Spurgeon’s “Discover Chislehurst” of 2007, “the site [Hadlow College] was once part of the grounds of Mottingham Hall, a large house of the late 19th century. In c1919 the site became part of the grounds of Grove Park Hospital, entrance in Marvels Lane, Grove Park, now a housing estate; Mottingham Hall was demolished after a serious fi in the 1960s.” (p.149). The site has now been taken over by Capel Manor College from Hadlow College.

    This comment is some time after your original posting but I followd a link from your latest post!

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