A while ago Running Past covered the Lee Working Men’s Institution which was initially on Boone Street but later at 87 Old Road. There were several questions on Facebook threads about whether the Institute was in some way linked to the Lee Working Men’s Club that used to be at 113 -115 Lee Road. The short answer was ‘no’, and those that set up the Institution on Boone Street would probably have been appalled by the thought – it had strong links with the Victorian temperance movement noting that ‘their great rival’ was the public house (1)
So what of their near namesake on Lee Road? The Lee Working Men’s Club & Institute (I’ll drop the & Institute to avoid confusion) first appeared in Kelly’s Directories in the late 1920s – over 30 years after its near neighbour at 119, the Lee Constitutional Club, Conservative was added later; maybe something on that another day. It could well have been a little earlier than this as Kelly’s Directories were sometimes a year or two behind changes in business on the ground and there was no entry for the address in the 1920s.
The houses had been built well before the Ordnance Survey cartographers arrived in the mid-1860s (see buildings highlighted above) – it was probably constructed soon after the railway arrived in Blackheath in 1849. However, as just post war maps make clear – while current site numbering is 111 to 115, it hasn’t always have been this. 111 was originally part of a pair of Victorian semi-detached villas next door to the site and what was the Working Men’s Club was 113-115. So not to confuse matters the numbers used will be the current ones.
In 1896 111, the building at the side, was used by John Walls to carry on a Dairy business, he’d been previously listed as a ‘cow keeper’ in Kelly’s since an early one in 1884 – presumably keeping his small herd in the still rural land toward Eltham. 113-115 was the private dwelling of Charles Valentine Game – Game was appropriately a butcher, who had lived in Burnt Ash Lane in the 1860s. 115 was then referred to as ‘Holland House.’ Game seemed to live there until his death in 1894.
In the first decade of the 20th century John Walls departed and presumably the outbuilding at the side was incorporated into the main house. It became home to a private school, initially run by Valentine Johnson and then Warwick Wyatt Crouch. The school had closed its doors by the time the 1911 Kelly’s Directory was compiled and the house was home to Major Ernest Edward Bruno.
The next occupant was the Working Men’s Club at some stage during the 1920s. There were some early recollections of the Club in some local memoirs. Regular readers will recall that a while ago Running Past covered the ‘Sunday Constitutional’ that the Noble family’s men used to have in the late 1920s and early 1930s Lee, starting from a house in Lampmead Road. It was something covered in the memoirs of their daughter who was to become Phyllis Willmott, a noted Social Work and Social Policy academic. In that post the menfolk, with children in tow, went to various hostelries in Lee and Blackheath whilst the women stayed at home to cook the Sunday dinner.
Evenings had been spent downstairs (Phyllis and her immediate family had most of the 1st floor at 49 Lampmead Road) around her gran’s piano. However, as the children got older, it seems as though this was replaced with drinking outside the home, to which both the children and their mother were allowed to come too. The destination was Lee Working Men’s Club (2).
It was clear that this was something that Phyllis wanted to do but wasn’t allowed to come every week – her prayers at Boone’s Chapel often included requests to be allowed to the Working Men’s Club (3). (This is what is now Emmanuel Pentecostal Church, rather than the Grade II listed 17th century one further down Lee High Road).
When Phyllis and her family started going to Lee Working Men’s Club there was strict demarcation inside. Women and children were generally only allowed in the Hall at the side, what is now 111 (4). There was a regular dance night at the Club some Sunday’s in the Hall. The beer befuddled men would make a late appearance for the last waltz, generally poor dancers they would be guided around the dance floor by their more sober wives and girlfriends (5).
When it was warm enough the dances and events were held in the garden which had a ramshackle external bar, and a couple of sheds selling – jellied eels, horseradish and the like at one and saveloys and sandwiches at the other. The horseradish was locally grown – harvested from the side of the railway close to Hither Green station (6).
Perhaps surprisingly, there are few on-line memories of the Club – a Facebook thread from earlier in 2019, had positive memories of being a Club that seemed child friendly, with several generations of the same family having almost grown up there. There were recollections too of bands and being in bands that played there.
While its doors were still open when the StreetView car passed by in June 2008 (see above), ‘sale agreed’ signs were outside when the next drive past occurred in the autumn of 2009.
So what went wrong? Apart from the more general changes in drinking patterns, the most likely explanations are both local and national. The haemorrhaging of office businesses from Lee Green (Osborne Terrace and Leegate) along with the closure of the Police Station a little further down Lee High Road meant that the clientele for lunchtime or post work drinks was considerably reduced. There was competition too in the cheap beer market with Wetherspoons opening the Sir Edmund Halley in Leegate. The factors were importnant too in the closure of two Lee Green pubs – the Prince Arthur and the New Tiger’s Head. Nationally, the smoking ban introduced in 2007 may well have sounded the death knell for the Club. It is obvious though from comments on a Facebook thread that the closure caused some bitterness and disagreement amongst members.
By 2012 the site was split the hall, formerly 113, now 111, was (and still is) a Pilates studio and the main building is a nursery – part of a chain – Zoom, itself part of a larger chain Bright Horizons.
- Kentish Mercury 09 March 1867
- Phyllis Willmott (1979) Growing Up in a London Village p124
- ibid p125
- ibid p126
- ibid p127
- ibid p128
Credits and Thanks
- The photograph of the Club when it was still operating is via StreetView in 2008
- Kelly’s Directory information comes via Southwark Local History Library and Archive
- The photograph of the garden is copyright of Lewisham Archives and is used here with their permission
- Census and related data come via Find My Past