Until around 1960, or perhaps a bit later, there was an attractive building on the corner of Lee High Road and Brightfield Road, which looked like a suburban bank building. Indeed, for most of its life that is exactly what it was, although it was built for an entirely different purpose – a temperance coffee house.
The Victorian temperance movement was quite active locally and had a base in the Lee Working Men’s Institution, initially in Boone Street and then in Old Road. There was a hall, a lending and reference library and reading room with books and newspapers. By the 1880s if offered concerts and entertainments, although nothing like the music hall operation of the Lee Public Halls near Lee Station.
A number of temperance groups attempted to recreate the Georgian coffee house scene, often near or adjacent to an existing public house. They were an attempt to
lure the working men from their pubs and the perils of demon drink …. (and attempted to show) there are beverages as comforting (and cheap) as beer.
The coffee taverns provided a range of games including billiards and pool along with newspapers in the hope that men would seek their entertainment (soberly) there.
The foundation for the Lee one was laid on 25 February 1888, although planning for it had started during Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee the year before, hence the name given to it. Those involved included the local vicar and a Congregational Church minister from Blackheath (1).
At their peak around the mid-1890s, there were over sixty coffee taverns listed in Kelly’s across south London.
The building was designed by a William Rickwood and was erected ‘regardless of cost’ (2); Rickwood had designed many shops, other properties and another Coffee Tavern in Woolwich.
Like the other halls around it became a venue for various clubs and societies, including Lee Chess Club (3), but they needed somewhere more ‘commodious’ and moved to what became the Lee Centre in 1891. Lee Rovers Cycling Club occasionally met there for social events (4) – although they too later moved on, perhaps the draw of alcohol at the Rose of Lee (picured below from around this era) was too great (5).
There were, of course, several temperance societies that met there including the very long winded Invicta Lodge of the United Order of the Total Abstinent Sons of the Phoenix (6); this one sounds as though it was linked to a Masonic lodge – certainly other Masonic lodges, such as The Champion Lodge (No 318) met there (7).
Initially it seems to have been managed by Thomas and Alice Plumb (that’s the transcription of the census, but it is probably something else) who came from Norfolk. They had gone by around 1894 and the ‘Tavern’ was being managed was Henry Bailey, who hailed from Portsmouth. In 1891 he managed the Coffee Tavern in Beresford Square in Woolwich. He can only have been there a few years as his son was born in 1886 in Hampshire.
By 1901 the working class area of Lee had not forsaken the local hostelries in any number and while the two Tigers Heads, the Prince Arthur and the Duke of Edinburgh thrived, the company behind the Jubilee Coffee Tavern had gone into voluntary liquidation. The lease was up for the ‘expensively appointed’ building, noting that it could be used for a public office or converted into shops. The 30 year lease was put up for sale in September 1901 (8).
The new owners were the London and South Western Bank, which had been set up in the 1860s to ‘link London with modest account holders in the main towns of the South West.’ It was a strategy that failed and the bank turned its attention to the expanding London suburbs, like Lee. It merged with the London and Provincial Bank in 1918, to become the snappily titled London, Provincial and South Western Bank in 1918. It didn’t last long, becoming part of Barclays the same year.
The Bank was trading as Barclays in 1920; but by 1925 Barclays had presumably decided to rationalise their branches and didn’t need two within a hundred metres or so of each other – the other was at Lee Green and had been a London and Provincial Bank branch (pictured above). The new occupant of 398 Lee High Road was another bank, Midland – a forerunner of the current HSBC. It continued to operate there until around 1960. It is pictured at the back left of the VE Day street party below.
It isn’t clear what happened to it after that, but 398 Lee High Road never again appeared in Kelly’s Directories, although the terrace with shops on it that was adjacent to is listed for another decade or so, and the Co–op next door until around 1975 (pictured in the first picture as Campions, clothiers who were featured a while ago) . The site is now part of Sainsburys – to the right of the photograph below.
Returning to the original use, perhaps it was the wrong time period. The last couple of decades have seen a return to coffee shops with several in Blackheath and Lewisham along with a couple of local parks such as Manor House Gardens and Manor Park (although there is currently a vacancy there after the Arts Cafe departed). About 50 metres away at 386 Lee High Road there was a coffee shop for around 15 years, initially trading as With Jam and Bread (linked to art studios that also used the building) and latterly as Arlo and Moe, although that ceased trading around 2018.
- 2 March 1888 – Kentish Mercury
- 6 September 1901 – Kentish Mercury
- 25 September 1891 – Kentish Mercury
- 16 February 1894 – Kentish Mercury
- 12 February 1897 – Kentish Mercury
- 13 June 1890 – Kentish Mercury
- 21 February 1890 – Kentish Mercury
- 6 September 1901 – Kentish Mercury
- The black and white photographs are via Lewisham Archives, they remain their copyright and are used with their permission, the only exception to this is the postcard of the Rose of Lee, which is credited in the post.
- The Kelly’s Directories were accessed via Lewisham and Southwark Archives
Is it just me or is it the case that both the coffee house and the bank on the corner of Lee High Road are far more attractive than the buildings which have replaced them?
No it’s not just you; the coffee tavern had been built ‘regardless of cost’ whereas I suspect that cost was much more of an issue for Sainsbury’s
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