Lee High Road’s Lost Baptist Chapel

Over the years Running Past has covered many of the places of worship around Lee, Hither Green and Blackheath that have been lost, mostly due to World War Two damage.  These include Christ Church on Lee Park, Holy Trinity on Glenton Road, the Methodist Chapel on Hither Green Lane, the original Church of the Good Shepherd on Handen Road, as well as the Methodist Chapel in Blackheath Village and St Andrew’s in Vanburgh Park. We turn our attention to another of these, a Baptist Chapel that stood on the corner of Lee High Road and Eastdown Park

It was probably the first building on the site, while the Chapel predated the first Ordnance Survey maps by a decade, it was fields when John Rocque surveyed the 10 miles around London for his 1746 published map.

The area was rapidly developing following the arrival of the railway in Lewisham in 1849, large houses had already been developed in the narrow band between the Quaggy and Lee High Road from the second decade of the century; roads such as Marlborough (now Mercator) and Blessington were developed in the 1850s with other developments to the north of Lee High Road closer to Blackheath station.

The burgeoning population needed places of worship, St Margaret’s at the Belmont Hill/Brandram Road junction had been rebuilt in the 1840s and Christ Church on Lee Park had been carved out of the St Margaret’s in 1854.  It is not surprising then that other denominations wanted to ensure that those who had moved to the new suburbia had churches and chapels that met their spiritual needs.

The Baptist chapel at the corner of Lee High Road and Eastdown Park was probably the first in the area, predating the one built on the College Park Estate on Clarendon Rise by over a decade and the ‘tin’ tabernacle on what is now Baring Road by over 20 years.  It was completed in November 1854 (1).

The most important name in its early history was Robert Humphrey Marten who was the Minister there for almost 30 years – not quite as long as the 44 years of James Waite Davies at Baring Road, but an impressive tenure nonetheless.  Marten was born in London but prior to his arrival in Lee had been a Minister in Abingdon in Oxfordshire, where he was in 1851.

Despite being based in Abingdon, it appears that Marten seems to have been involved in the initial setting up of the chapel, including the provision of a pulpit before being persuaded to become Minister, starting his ministry there in November 1855 (2).

For most of his time in what was then referred to as Lee, he lived with his family at 53 Blessington Road.  He is listed on the Electoral Register there from 1859.  In the 1881 census he was there with his wife Rachel, two adult daughters who were both described as being a ‘gentlewoman’, plus two servants.   The house was destroyed in one of the V-1 attacks on what is now the Mercator Estate.  He was to die there in October 1885, aged 65 (3), leaving an estate of £6055, which was substantial for the time.

His successor was probably Tom Foston, who was appointed minister by 1885 and lived at 41 Blessington Road when the census enumerators called in 1891; he didn’t stay as long as he predecessor, he resigned in August 1893 (4) and was conducting his ministry in Derbyshire by the 1901 census.  The chapel is pictured from this era from slightly higher up Lee High Road with the Rose of Lee (now Dirty South) on the left and Manor Park Parade on the right, from around that time.

There is nothing obvious on-line about the history of the chapel in the early part of the 20th century.  The chapel was hit in 1941 during the Blitz and while not completely destroyed, the London County Council bomb damage maps coloured it purple – ‘damaged beyond repair’ (5).  The Sunday School building behind, previously referred to as a lecture room, seems to have been left intact.

Brick shortages after World War Two meant that, in terms of priorities, the secular needs of housing came before religious buildings. The only one of the churches destroyed locally that was rebuilt was the Church of the Good Shepherd on Handen Road, but work there wasn’t completed until 1957, when the church was re-consecrated.

It isn’t clear what happened to the congregation, there was still the Sunday School at the rear that they could have used, but in all likelihood the congregation probably dissipated, perhaps some joined the Baptist Church on Clarendon Rise with others heading to the South Lee Tabernacle. In any case, non-conformist groups, such as Baptists, were suffering a steady decline in numbers nationally in the 20th century from 2 million to 1.7 million in 1949, so maybe some contraction in the number of chapels was inevitable anyway.

As for the site, it seems to have remained empty until the early 1960s when it was taken over (and numbered 152a) by Fry’s presumably as the garage and ‘shop front’ for servicing and parts.  Fry’s main showrooms were a little further down Lee High Road into Lewisham – we’ll cover Fry’s at some stage in the future.

Fry’s were to remain there until around 1985 when the site was bought by Penfold’s Vauxhall dealership for their servicing and parts operation.  They had been previously been based at what is now the Sainsbury’s site on Burnt Ash Road.

Penfold’s continued to trade there until around 2015 when the business closed and was wound up, it is pictured above from 2008 via Google Streetview.  A planning application was approved in 2018 for a 5 storey building with 17 flats and commercial space below.  However, the site currently remains boarded up with no progress having been made, and For Sale boards are up.

Notes

  1. Kentish Mercury 24 November 1855
  2. ibid
  3. Kentish Mercury 30 October 1885
  4. Kentish Mercury 25 August 1893
  5. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 p119

Credits

  • The postcard of the chapel is via eBay from April 2016 and the one including Manor Park Parade from the same source in October 2019;
  • The 2008 photograph is via Google Streetview;
  • The Kelly’s Directory data was accessed via Lewisham Archives; and
  • Census, electoral register and related data comes from Find My Past (subscription required).

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