Wood Burning, Farming & Dairy Crest – The Story of Burnt Ash Farm

Burnt Ash Farm, stood at what is now a busy road junction – that of Baring Road and St Mildred’s Road.  The site has an interesting history – it moved from medieval settlement to being a farm, to a dairy in the 1920s, being taken over by United Dairies, before being sold to Dairy Crest in the 1990s.  It survived attempts to turn it into a Big Yellow Storage facility before being developed for social housing around 2013.

The farm wasn’t always on Baring Road, until the beginning of the 20th century it was known as Burnt Ash Lane (it still is on the Bromley side of the border) – the Barings (Northbrooks) were the local landowners who owned the Manor House and whose wealth had its roots in slavery.  It wasn’t always in that location either, it was originally located in Old Road, Lee, almost certainly situated at what is now the Lee Manor House and was known as Lee Farm; it seems to have moved around 1727 (1).  It was farmed by Thomas Butler, who is buried at St Margaret’s Lee, having died in 1733.

It was a substantial farm at this stage, its land running from around what is now Lee High Road to the current Grove Park (2).  The farm seems to have been split after Thomas Butler’s death between two of his sons with the dividing line being drawn around St Mildred’s Road (3) – Matthew who stayed at Burnt Ash Farm and James who set up a new farm, Lee Manor Farm, around the junction of Manor Lane and Manor Lane Terrace (4).   Running Past will return to Lee Manor Farm in the future.

The farm buildings at Burnt Ash were clearly marked on John Roque’s 1746 map (on a Creative Commons via Wikipedia).

It wasn’t the first settlement to have been found on the Burnt Ash site, during archaeological investigation works in 2012 on the site was found to have had a

series of pits, postholes and ditches indicating that people were living and probably working on the site in the 12th century. The majority of the finds are shards of pottery from serving and cooking vessels that were manufactured in Surrey. This indicates that trade routes may be focussed to the southwest rather than the City of London.

Whether this early settlement was abandoned soon after this, or perhaps as a result of the Black Death is unclear – an early incarnation of Hither Green, Rumbergh, disappeared at this point.  Certainly woodland covered the area from the 14th century until the early 18th century.

The name, Burnt Ash, comes from coppicing of wood for charcoal manufacture and was first mentioned in Assize Rents in 1384 and in a 1607 description of Lee Farm, with a section of Woodland called Crabland Spring. Certainly by the time Rocque surveyed the area, the woodland was gone.

Returning to Burnt Ash Farm, the farm was further subdivided in the early part of the 19th century (5), presumably after the Barings bought both the Manor House and the land portfolio that had been put together for and by Thomas Lucas.  The history of the farm during the first half of the century seems a little sketchy – but it was still a substantial operation of 367 acres in the 1839 tithe schedule, when the farmer was Richard Norman.

While the location of most of the fields is unclear, Josephine Birchenough with John King identified the locations of some of the fields – Grass Buntins was broadly where Northbrook Park now is (6), Red Robin was on the western side of Baring Road (7); Ivory Down and Buntins were roughly where the Hither Green Cemetery is now (8).  Ivory Down lives on in a road name on the Downham estate.

Norman had certainly been at the farm for at least a couple of years before the Tithe schedule was compiled, as he had been the farmer when the ‘unfortunate Mr Cocking’ was to become the first parachute death when his own design failed to work and he hurtled to his death on the farm – the sad story was covered in Running Past a couple of years ago.

Richard Norman was move on from the farm in 1844 – there was a farm sale of some of the livestock and equipment – oddly advertised as ‘Live and dead farming stock’ (9).

It isn’t clear who was farming there in the 1851 census as records are a little confused, however, by 1861 census two farmers are listed at the start of Burnt Ash Lane in the census records – the Adams and the Uptons.  Thomas Adams, born in 1806 was listed as a ‘farmer of Farmer of 72 Acres employing 3 Men’ (the acreage is probably incorrectly recorded – it may have been 272) and his family including Edward (1837) who was also working on the farm.  The three employed may have included some of the Uptons – this included John who was 69 ‘Farmer No Occupation at Place’ and his son Stephen 45 who was listed as a farmer and dairyman.  The Upton left during the 1860s – they were to move onto Durham Farm at Grove Park – where they stayed until at least 1901.

The Adams too moved on soon after the census, as by the mid-1860s Zephaniah Seal seemed to be the tenant farmer as there were several cases involving the theft of a horse, embezzlement and theft of hay in the mid-1860s when he was listed as farmer or master. Seal’s father, John, had earlier been a dairyman on the farm.  Seal had been previously living with his parents in Lee Church Street.

A William Winn (or Wynn) certainly acted as bailiff or manager for the Seals for a while, he was in the area and possibly at the Farm from around 1850 as his younger children were born around Lee – he was mentioned in one of the court cases and died at the Farm in 1863.  Whether he related to the William Winn who developed the area around Guibal and Winn Roads in unclear.   The farm and the newly built Lee station are shown on the map below published in 1870 (on Creative Commons from National Library of Scotland).

Zephaniah Seal’s brother, Charles Frederick (1827) was listed as the farmer in the 1871 census with William Warwick living in a cottage on the farm – there is no trace of Charles after that, although Zephaniah was back at Lee Church Street in the 1880s on electoral registers.

Charles Seal had moved on by 1874, at the latest – another Adams family were farming Burnt Ash Farm, Thomas who hailed from Leighton Buzzard, one of his children were born on the Farm in 1874. The farm was listed in the census as 274 acres and employing six men and two boys.

It is not clear how long the Adams Family stayed but by 1893, there were two registered cow houses at the farm – one run by Cordwell and Sons the other by W. H. Carter – the farm was still owned by the Northbrooks. By the early 20th century the farm was being run and probably owned by the Edwards family –  Public Health Reports listed them having 56 cows Burnt Ash Farm – they were being farmed as a joint operation with a few other local farms including College Farm – covered before in the blog.   Edwards and Sons were a relatively large scale dairy enterprise with 60 shops around SE London. Some of the fields still farmed at that stage are in the postcard below (eBay November 2016).

The Edwards tenure seems to have lasted until Burnt Ash Farm closed in the 1920s and their shop operation appears to have been taken over by United Dairies.  What happened the Farm is a little sketchy after that – the buildings seem to have been retained (they were still showing on a 1946 published Ordnance Survey map) and it was controlled by the Milk Marketing Board, probably still as a dairy.  However, during the 1950s, the milk depot was largely re-built (although a couple of the farm buildings were retained (10)) and was initially operated by United Dairies – at its peak they ran 54 rounds with milk floats going out on their rounds by 6:30, returning by early afternoon. It served a large area of south London with deliveries going as far as Waterloo Bridge, Sydenham, Bromley and Woolwich.  The milk float below is typical of United Dairies, although not specific to Lee (11).  United Dairies merged with Cow and Gate to become Unigate in 1959.

In a contracting sector there was some rationalisation and the depot was sold to and run by Dairy Crest from 1989 until its closure in September 2000. By that stage only 25 rounds were still in place when the milk float, like this one below (13) pulled out of Baring Road for the last time.

After the closure the site was demolished in 2001 and there were attempts by the Big Yellow Self Storage Company to build a warehouse on the site.   There was long running opposition to proposals which were finally defeated at Lewisham’s Planning Committee in 2006. In the end Big Yellow built on a site at the Land of Leather/Cliftons Roundabout a mile further along the road.

The site was eventually purchased by developers who developed the site on behalf of a housing association with work finished in late 2013.  It is one of the more attractive recent housing developments in the area, although the duck egg blue glazed balcony panels on will probably make it quite easy to date for future architectural historians.

A postscript to the post

One of the people who made the housing association scheme happen was my friend Martyn Brindley, Martyn was a lovely man with a great commitment to high quality social housing which both looked good and worked well for the residents.  Sadly, Martyn died a few weeks after I wrote this post – hopefully this scheme and several others in the area will be fitting and lasting tributes to him.


  1. Josephine Birchenough (1981) Some Farms and Fields in Lee p4
  2. ibid p 4
  3. ibid p6
  4. ibid p6
  5. ibid p10
  6. ibid p35
  7. ibid p25
  8. ibid p23
  9. West Kent Guardian 21 September 1844 – via Find My Past
  10. Birchenough, op cit, p11
  11. Both pictures of milk floats are copyright of and published with kind permission of a specialist milk floats site – Milk Float Corner
  12. ibid

Census and related data comes via Find My Past 




29 thoughts on “Wood Burning, Farming & Dairy Crest – The Story of Burnt Ash Farm

  1. Anthony Cross

    Dear Paul,

    Another great post. Re. Burnt Ash Farm and the unfortunate Mr Cocking (obit 24.7.37) – I’ve had an eye on him (watching his descent, you might say) for some years now. I’m very interested in tracking down the exact (ish) spot where he fell (especially as this July will mark the 180th anniversary of the event). The location is quite difficult to pinpoint, not least because the information given in the various contemporary accounts soon become garbled, what with journalists copying from each other, etc. However, one thing seems clear: it is reported that he fell in a field called “Six Acre Field” – and Mr Norman didn’t have one so-called, but Mr Morris of Lee Green Farm did (two in fact).

    You’ll forgive me if I say no more at present; I hesitate to write in indelible ink until I’ve checked my measurements. But it would be nice to think a plaque or similar memorial might be placed there one day to commemorate the man and his daring attempt.

    If you have any thoughts on the matter meanwhile, I’d be very interested to share in them.

    Best wishes – keep on running!

    Ant Cross

    1. Paul B Post author

      Now that would be an excellent idea! I’ve always felt that he needs to be remembered more effectively locally – a worn grave at St Margarets isn’t enough.

  2. chris housden

    Fantastic to know about the farm, and to see old maps/pictures of the area.thank you.
    Does anyone have any information on Guibal Manor House, Guibal rd, Lee? Would be extremely grateful as I
    I used to visit the family that lived there in the 50s-60s. I know that the land was sold and an estate was
    Built on the site but not much more than that. It would be very interesting to find out the history before the house was sold.

  3. Pingback: ‘Death by Falling from the Clouds’ in Lee | Running Past

  4. Pingback: The Woodstock Estate – The 1930s Homes of Woodyates & Pitfold Roads in Lee | Running Past

  5. Pingback: The Tin Tabernacle of Lee | Running Past

  6. Pingback: The New Tiger’s Head – A Lee Green Pub | Running Past

  7. Pingback: A Walk through Hither Green’s History | Running Past

  8. Pingback: Old Road & Beyond – A Walk Through Some of Lee’s Past | Running Past

  9. Pingback: Mountsfield – the Park, the House & the Butterflies | Running Past

  10. Pingback: Lee Manor Farm -‘Old’ Lee’s Last Farm | Running Past

  11. Pingback: Manor Park Parade – Late Victorian Shopping – Part 1 | Running Past

  12. Pingback: Corona Road – The History of a Street | Running Past

  13. Alistair Brydon

    Hi, thanks for the interesting read! I lived at 26 Baring Road (on the corner if Linchmere Road) from the very late 1960’s until 1984.
    A row of four houses, they are an architectural anomaly, until you realised similar houses were built to fill the gaps in surtounding streets, made during WW2 bombing.
    Indeed, the bomb map of London lists one as falling at the corner of Baring and Linchmere Roads.
    Who owned the land at the time the houses were built I don’t know, but they were council houses when I knew them. They are all privately owned now.
    The dairy I remember well. It was Unigate when I knew it, but being sent to fetch milk for breakfast if the delivery was late, I can say that some of the buildings were significantly older than the development you mention in the 1950’s. So, part of the farm I would guess.
    There was a raised part of the site, a mini tower of some sort, a chimney possibly, that bore the linked UD letters of the former United Dairies.
    Curiously, from the maps in your article, I can see that I was born in a house that stood either on, or very near the back of the old brickworks, what became Newstead Road.
    Thanks again, fascinating stuff.

  14. Pingback: 2 – 30 Burnt Ash Road – the Story of a Shopping Parade Part 1 | Running Past

  15. Pingback: 2 – 30 Burnt Ash Road – the Story of a Shopping Parade Part 2 | Running Past

  16. Pingback: Beating the Bounds of Lee, Part 5 – Verdant Lane and Manor Lane | Running Past

  17. Pingback: Penfold’s – A Carting and Car Firm Part 1 – 1850s to World War One | Running Past

  18. Pingback: Chinbrook Meadows in Grove Park | Enthusiastic Gardener

  19. Pingback: Burnt Ash Pond in Lewisham | Enthusiastic Gardener

  20. Pingback: Brightfield Road – the Street with Two Names (Part 1) | Running Past

  21. Pingback: Victorian Cricket and a Suffragette attack in Lee | Running Past

  22. Pingback: The Lesters of Lee New Town  | Running Past

  23. Pingback: Horn Park Farm – Lee’s Last Big Farm | Running Past

  24. Linda King

    Thank you for the excellent item on Burnt Ash Farm. My grandfather, Samuel George Warwick/Warrick was born there in 1866 to James Warwick and Ann nee Roblett.

    James’s brother, William and his wife Martha (also nee Roblett) were at the farm on the 1871census as mentioned in the article. And on the census for 1901.

    Another Warwick brother named John married Mary Roblett, a daughter from the first marriage of James and Mary Roblett.

    The Warwicks and the Robletts were from Hertfordshire.

    Samuel George went on to work at a United Dairy farm in Kidbrooke.

    Thank you and well done for the much appreciated article.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.