Ardmere Road – A Portrait of What Was Once Hither Green’s Poorest Street (Part 2)

Last week’s post left explored the early years of Ardmere Road, looking at who lived there, the poverty and low-level crime.  We return to the street just before World War Two when the 1939 Register, a mini census for rationing and related purposes, was collected in September of that year.

When we had ‘visited’ for the 1901 Census, a small majority of the small three bedroom houses were home to two households sharing with an average of almost 8 people per home in the street.   By 1939, the number of households sharing  was down to 1 in 5 and the average number of people living in each house had almost halved to 4.3 – the reason for this lies almost certainly lies with the evacuation of children from London which had happened a month earlier.  In 1901 there were 108 children, in 1939 just 7.

Employment on the street although it was less dominated by the building trade than it had been at the beginning of the 20th century, it was still dominated by largely unskilled manual work with lots of general labourers, several dustmen.  There was some semi-skilled and skilled manual work – such as the husband of one of the shopkeepers who was a telephone engineer and a couple of bricklayers; however, these were real exceptions.

A much more obvious change was the role of women – nearly 40 years before a majority of Ardmere Road’s women worked.   Now they were the exception, most were listed as carrying out ‘unpaid domestic duties’ (something that wasn’t recorded in 1901). Of those women who worked, if was like the men, entirely manual, and almost entirely adult children.  There was only one exception to this where another adult woman carried out the ‘unpaid domestic duties.’

Because the 1939 Register was done for rationing purposes – a significant number of the men had the suffix or prefix to their trade of ‘Heavy Work’ which entitled them to extra rations. Such as ‘Builder’s Labourer – Heavy Work,’ slightly under half of the workers fell into this category.

World War 2 saw changes to the physical structure of the street – much of this damage was caused by a V1 attack on 29 June 1944 (which will be returned to at some point in Running Past), as well as a high explosive bomb that was dropped during the Blitz.  The map below (1)  shows the combined extent of the damage – as the key shows the darker the colour, the worse the damage.

Key: black=total destruction, purple=damaged beyond repair, dark red=seriously damaged (doubt if repairable), light red=seriously damaged (repairable at cost), orange=general blast damage (non-structural), yellow=blast damage (minor), green=clearance area

The position was slightly worse than the LCC map showed as when the Ordnance Survey cartographers visited around 1950 numbers 20 and 21 were showing as ‘ruins’ (2).

This site was redeveloped by the old Borough of Lewisham after the war as Council housing.

In the end, while 10 to 14 were left standing, they too ended up being demolished.  In this case it was Beaver Housing Society rather than council that built the new homes which were of a style that was closer to the original homes that those built by the Council.   They had certainly been built by the early 1950s.

Beaver was a Lewisham-based housing association that managed about 3000 homes, mainly in Lewisham and Greenwich. It ran its operations from Lewisham High Street – next to the former location of Kings Hall cinema – before moving to behind to Kings Hall Mews during the 1990s.  They ran into serious problems with their governance in the early 2000s and merged with London & Quadrant Housing Trust, generally known as L&Q, in 2004.  Their name disappeared soon after.

They inserted the small glazed tile into many of their developments, there is another just around the corner in Nightingale Grove which was developed at the same time – along with one on an impressive Grade II listed building on Croom’s Hill in Greenwich.

In the first part of the story we noted that there had been an attempt by William Barrett to turn 17 from an off licence to a pub.  The plans for creating up pub seem to have dried up, but William Barrett was certainly running the off-licence well into the 1920s based on Kelly’s Directories (3).  William died in 1929 and his wife, Fanny, in 1933.

By this stage, the licence was taken over by one of their daughters Winifred (“Winnie”) Amy Agnes Barrett.  Winnie was born in 1903 when the family had already been running the off licence at 17 for 6 years.  She was born into the trade and in all likelihood working in it from the age of 16 – certainly that was the legal age for consumption of alcohol in 1919.  She was listed in the 1939 Register as a Licensed Victualler, which she ran with her cousin, Grace Baker, and later Kelly’s Post Office Directories have her running the off licence until 1979 – with some input from another cousin, Jack Brown.  She was described as (see comment from Christine below)

a sweet woman with refined manners and a rather ‘posh’ voice, always well-dressed, who would have seemed completely out of place to anyone who did not know about the family’s long connection to the licenced victualling trade.

The business seems to have been taken over by W Inkin in 1982, but didn’t last more than a couple of years longer (4).   It is difficult to imagine now a small corner shop off-licence remaining in the hands of the same family for 82 years. There were memories of Winnie and being sent to the off licence to buy rolling tobacco and cigarette papers on a Facebook thread on the first post.

17 has now been converted into a pair of flats.

Next door at number 18, the numbering on Ardmere Road is consecutive, was another shop that lasted a long time in the same family – Edith May’s grocers.  She seems to have started as an assistant to & servant for Mary Law who was running the shop by 1911, taking over from Thomas Dixon who had been there since around 1905.  Edith, then Coles, was 18 then having been born in late 1892.  Edith married William May in Whitechapel in 1920.

Mary Law ran the grocers until around 1924 when the Mays took over (5).  In the Kelly’s Directories Edward May is listed as the proprietor from the mid-1920s until around 1941 (6).  Given that he was listed as a Telephone Engineer in the 1939 Register the reality was that it was probably Edith’s business.  During the war the grocers was where lots of local homes were registered to for their rations.

It was an old fashioned shop, unlike the off-licence which seems to have had a refit after World War 2, Edith’s grocery was

….frozen in time. Old marble counters, wooden single drawer for a till, flagstone floor, shelves with doilies and a huge brass scales.

Edith May ran the shop until about 1980, having been involved with the shop for around 70 years.  The shop was taken over by Bob and Linda Martin, who called the shop Boblins around 1982, but like Winnie Barrett’s off-licence, it didn’t last long as a shop in new ownership (7).  The shop front has gone and converted into a house by the Martins, and unlike next door there is little evidence from the outside of retail past (see below).

So what about the street now?  Census data remains confidential for about a century although some anonymised data is made available to researchers much sooner. However, it is possible to look at summary data on a variety of questions for quite small areas known as Output Areas.  Data for Ardmere Road is available together with the neighbouring Brightside and Elthruda Roads.  As would be expected, employment patterns have changed a lot since 1939.  The big areas of employment in Ardmere Road’s Output Area are retail and wholesale (18%); education (11%); health and social work (10%), information and communication (10%) and construction (8%).   These are relatively similar to Lewisham as a whole although more work in retail, manufacturing, construction and information, with slightly less in most other areas.

As for housing, of the 274 homes in the Output Area, 123 are owner occupied with 151 rented or shared ownership.  The average number of people per home were 2.55 – while lower than in 1939, this reflects as much that houses have been subdivided into flats.

Rent levels will vary depending on the type of landlord – with the suggested private rents in the region of £1250 a month, but the social housing owned by Lewisham Council and L&Q considerably cheaper but still a lot more expensive.  This is somewhat more that the 45p a week charged in 1907, even taking account of inflation.

As for sold house prices , two houses albeit tenanted were sold for just £140 in 1908 (8).  The most recent house sold was for £480,000 in September 2015, and a valuation now would probably be around £517,000.  The two bedroom houses (where the third bedroom is turned into a bathroom) are a bit cheaper.

As for the ‘shoddy building’ described by Charles Booth’s researcher,  other than the World War 2 damage, the houses (from the outside at least) seem to have stood the test of time better than many in the area.


  1. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 – permission has been given by the copyright owners of the map, the London Metropolitan Archives to use the image here
  2. On a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland
  3. 1925 Lewisham Brockley and Catford Kelly’s Directory (via Lewisham Archives)
  4. Various London Kelly’s Post Office Directories from 1965 to 1983 (via Lewisham Archives)
  5. 1925 Lewisham Brockley and Catford Kelly’s Directory (via Lewisham Archives)
  6. London Kelly’s Post Office Directories various years to rom 1965 to 1983 (via Lewisham Archives)
  7. ibid
  8. 20 November 1908 – Kentish Mercury – London, London, England

Data from the 1939 Register comes via Find My Past

The 2011 Census Data comes via the Office for National Statistics

Thank you to Julie Robinson at Lewisham Archives help on the later Directories, to Helen Holland for her memories of Mrs May’s grocers shop and Lewis Martin (see comments below) about his parents’ shop at no 189.


19 thoughts on “Ardmere Road – A Portrait of What Was Once Hither Green’s Poorest Street (Part 2)

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  2. Helen Holland

    Thanks for another really well researched article. I really enjoyed learning about the past residents, and I was glad to be of help. Incidentally, there was another shop on the corner of Brightside Road and Nightingale Grove – it was back to back with the off licence. It had quite a mixture of uses, post war, as a builder’s office, a bric a brac shop and a place where someone stored their local history finds and archives(!) In the 70s it was closed, and then it was converted into a house in the early 80s. I do have more details and names of some of the people that ran the shop (gleaned from my mum!) if you are interested. I for one would be fascinated to learn more about the shop, as I don’t have any info as to what its early use was.
    Thanks again, for a great blog.

    1. Paul B Post author

      Thank you – most kind 😊 I had largely ignored Edith May’s shop because the on line Kelly’s Directories for London had wrongly indicated that it was a chandlers shop. Your comments were really helpful as without them I wouldn’t have had a dig around in local Directories.
      I may well return to Brightside at some point – I would guess that it’s early days were quite different to Ardmere despite the proximity – although when Booth’s researcher visited in 1899 there was still a costermonger living in a tin hut on the undeveloped bit of the street.

    2. Susan Toft

      I lived in Brightside Road and I believe when I was there in the 50’s the shop you refer to on the corner of Brightside Road and Nightingale Grove if I remember rightly was owned by the Stocking family (?) did you Mother live in Brightside Road between 1948 & 1958?

      1. Helen Holland


        Sorry for the late reply. Yes she did. And she knew of the Stocking family, who built the detached house at the top of Brightside Road, and members of the family that lived in other properties in the street. They used the shop for that time as a builders office/yard to work from.

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  8. Lewis Martin

    The shop, number 18, was purchased by my parents in 1982. Bob and Linda, hence Boblins as the new shop name, it was ran a shop for a couple of years before being converted into the house as you see to day, My father, did the work and built the garden wall also. Many happy memories as a child in that street. Always kids to play with. We still have some of the shop items in our possession today.

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  10. Ray Deacon

    I lived at no 28 from 0-12 years old 1949-61 I remember Barrett’s and Mrs Mays shop.nice to read history of the street.

      1. Ray Deacon.

        Yes graham think his nickname was chick ,I think he had a couple of brothers ,one we called Buzzer.

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