As Running Past has covered before, the area close to Lewisham town centre began to be developed with the arrival of the railway in 1849 as early Victorian suburbia – houses for the wealthy with sufficient space for servants. One of these areas included Blessington and Mercator (initially Marlborough) Roads. The houses were developed by William Christoper and John Todd, on land on 99 year leases from the Merchant Taylor’s Company in the mid 1850s (1). The Company owned a lot of land in the area – including almshouses current and past on Blessington Road. The houses were built and let to ‘first class tenants’ (2). The builders didn’t last much longer – they were declared bankrupt in 1862 (3).
The Birts were at no 10 Blessington Road (probably just below the ‘A’ on the map) in 1861, Daniel a lawyer and Amelia both were in their 40s, had 6 children and 3 servants along with several visitors staying when the census enumerators called. ‘Standards’ had fallen slightly by 1871 as there were only two servants there. The Birts had moved on by 1881 – but ‘Stock and Share Dealer’ Francis Snoad, wife Annie and young daughter had returned the live-in servant complement to 3 – two housemaids and a cook. The Powers, Samuel a 67 year old Mineral Merchant, his wife Rebecca and three adult children lived at no 10 in 1891 – their needs were simper – a cook and a housemaid sufficed.
At number 53 for most of this period was Robert Humphrey Marten who was the minister at the Baptist Chapel at the corner of Lee High Road and Eastdown Park, he died in 1885 but his replacement lived at 41.
In 1901 the Scriven’s lived there – William was a Brewery Manager – perhaps a slightly lower ‘class’ of resident than their predecessors, with his wife Elizabeth, two teenage children and the same servant type and numbers as their predecessors. By 1911 the house appears to be being used as a school, there were 2 caretakers for number 10 which appears to have been the main school building but the schoolmaster was at 14, an Arthur Mason.
By the 1939 Register was complied virtually all the houses on the street had been subdivided – 10 was home to the Liffens, James was a heating engineer, the Orrs – William was a Clerical Officer for the Admiralty and the Garnetts a larger family which included 3 adult children including a Clerical Officer for the Admiralty and a ‘Hot Water Fitter.’ Unsurprisingly, there was not a servant in sight.
The area was captured on film from above in February 1939 – Mercator and Blessington Roads are in the bottom right hand corner.
The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps suggest 3 V1 flying bombs were dropped in the area, the most easterly was at 19 Blessington Road on 30 June and while recorded in the ARP log there were no deaths and it doesn’t seem to have damage consistent with a V1. Emma (80) and Henry (66) Nieass died on 8 July 1944 at 49 Blessington Road.
The most significant was an attack on 23 June 1944, an attack that destroyed most of the houses in Mercator Road. There were 10 deaths – Dorothy Clayton (40), died at number 6; Constance Bunyan (58), Ethel Castlehow (55) and Jospeh Dale (60) all died at number 8, probably in different flats; Dorothy Moir (42) perished at 10 Mercator; the victims at 12 were Robert Goodwin (67), Rhona Holmes (40), Sidney (77) and Ann (70) Mote; the youngest victim was Muriel Green, aged just 3, who lived at 14 Mercator.
There were other bombing related deaths on the estate too – the Allens, Mary and Edwin, both in their 70s, died at 45 Blessington on 8 September 1940, the second night of the Blitz. Also killed in the same house that night was Alberta Hayward (31).
In the period after the war much of the area was cleared and over 80 prefabs were built either side of Mercator Road (pictured above) and on the higher parts of Blessingham Road, although on the southern side the Victorian houses survived and can be seen behind the prefabs. They will have been one of the bigger concentrations of prefabs in the area after the Excalibur Estate, Hollyhedge Bungalows and Hillyfields.
The approval for the construction of the 14 storey, 51 flat, Rawlinson House was given by the old Borough of Lewisham in 1964; so it is reasonable to assume that the rest of the estate was approved at around the same time. As Neil Rhind notes, by this stage the 99 year leases granted by Merchant Taylor’s had ended and the land reverted to them – so Lewisham will have bought the land from them (4).
The contractors who built Rawlinson House (and probably the rest of the estate) were Tersons. They were a housing subsidiary of the major infrastructure contractor Balfour Beatty who specialised in tower block from at least the mid-1950s, when they were building police flats around their north west London base. Other similar building work included parts of the Stockwell Park estate. The redevelopment included not only the sites used for prefabs but also included the demolition on houses untouched by the war along Lee High Road as well as some badly damaged by still standing houses elsewhere on the estate.
The estate is a mixture of a terraces of houses facing onto Belmont Park at a raised level above Lee High Road (14/18 of these had been sold under Right to Buy by mid-2019) along with another 8 houses north of Saxton Close – again ¾ have been sold. There are a series of maisonette blocks, such as Chesney, Ericson and Clavering Houses, fronting onto Mercator Road and Blessington Road; along with the single tower of Rawlinson House. While some of the flats and maisonettes have been sold – the majority still seemed to be owned by the Council.
Like many of the estate of the era, the estate included several garage areas. These were designed to keep cars off estate roads and presumably allow the continuation of play in streets. As the levels of car ownership increased the estate roads became clogged with cars and as the average size of cars increased the garages became redundant. Lewisham used a couple of sites on the Mercator as a pilot for developing new homes in an era of very low grant funding for social housing so new homes for rent had to be cross subsided by sales. The rental part, Atlas Mews, is behind the houses on Belmont Park, the sale element at the Marischal Road end which also included an unused community centre. It was the first new council housing in Lewisham for 30 years.
It is a model that has continued elsewhere in the area – with a site off Lee Church Street about to be finished as new homes for rent (as of spring 2019) with a nearby site between St Margaret’s Passage and Dacre Park under construction for sale.
- Neil Rhind (2020) Blackheath and Its Environs Volume 3 p486
- ibid p486
- Leeds Times 16 August 1862
- Rhind op cit p486
Land Registry data on the sales comes via Nimbus Maps
The bomb damage map is from – 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.
The 1939 aerial photograph is via the fantastic Britain from Above, its use is allowed in non-commercial blogs such as Running Past, it remains their copyright.
The photograph of the prefabs is from the collection of Lewisham Archives, it is their copyright and is used with their permission.