A few months ago, Running Past covered migration to one of the working-class streets in Lee, Robertson Street, which was renamed in the 1880s and is now Brightfield Road. It was always the intention to look at look at some of the wealthier streets of Lee to see what the differences were. The homes we’ll look at this time are in Southbrook Road which were featured in an Edwardian postcard and, in 1881, would have been London suburbia.
The development of Southbrook Road had started at around the same time as the railway came to Lee – the station opened on 1 September 1866. The houses at the Burnt Ash Road end of the street seem to have been built just ahead of this. 8 Southbrook Road was sold at auction with a lease of 74 years in 1889 – on the assumption that it was on a 99-year lease, it presumably had been built around 1864. As an aside, the rent was just £35 a year (1).
Like many Lee street names, the naming relates to the Baring family, who were Lords of the Manor; in 1866 the ‘Lord’ would just have been Francis Baring, the 1st Baron Northbrook. Southbrook, like Northbrook and Micheldever, they were parts of the family estate in Hampshire (2).
The houses in the postcard seem to be on the ‘even’ side to the west of Wantage Road, with Manor Lane in the background. If this assumption is correct, in the 1881 census, the houses pictured had relatively recently been sold and/or let, those at the Manor Lane end were still under construction. In the 1881 census on the ‘even’ side while 32 to 48 had been let, 50 to 52 were noted as being ‘unoccupied.’ On the opposite side of the road 33 – 45 had been completed and, apart from 41 which was unoccupied all let or bought. One of the houses in this group was sold for £710 in 1879.
The houses had been built by John Pound, who we’ve covered several times before. It seems that they were finished off by John Urquhart Allan, an Aberdonian builder who was living at 26 Taunton Road In 1881. He’d arrived via Croydon, where he’d married Harriet from Dorset. However, Allen wasn’t to emulate John Pound in terms of creating a large building empire, although the reason for his professional demise was the same – bankruptcy (3). Allan moved to north west London and restarted in his original trade, a carpenter; he stayed there until his death in 1915.
In the main, these were homes for young professionals – only two homes were ‘headed’ by someone over 37. Interestingly, two thirds of this group of households had extended families living with them. This is not a pattern noticed to any significant extent when looking at Victorian census data in the larger houses of Lee for other posts. Indeed, a decade later in the same houses it was quite uncommon.
The same style of houses had already been built to the east of Wantage Road – from electoral registers that are available on-line, it appears that there may have been sold and/or let let from around 1875. In these earlier houses there were fewer extended households and heads of household slightly older. One of those residents of the slightly older houses was someone we have come across before, William Marks, one of the founders of Northbrook Cricket Club.
This post will look at numbers 24-48 evens and 23-45 odds. For the purposes of tracking the ‘immigration’ to Lee we’ll look at the Head of household and their partner as one group (44 people), their children (32) as another group and their servants (26) as a third group. Disappointingly, some of the detail is absent with a small number of birthplaces – for example, details on the Swifts at 36 were reduced to England and a couple of others just London, such as the Mathams at 33 – although other data for them suggests they came from the City of London.
Looking first at the household heads and their partners; there are some significant differences to the working-class households of Robertson Street, later Brightfield Road. As can be seen from the map above, none of the Southbrook Road residents had been born in Lee or Lewisham (it had been 16% in Robertson Street), while there were a fair number from the rest of London – in total 40% were Londoners, this was around 9% less than in the nearby working-class housing. A slightly smaller proportion came from the neighbouring counties of Kent and Surrey than in Robertson Street.
Here the similarities end. With Robertson Street many had come from rural communities in East Anglia; in Southbrook Road the none came from those areas. Instead, the roots of 14% were in the south west of England, particularly Devon. Another major different was the number with birthplaces in the Empire (14%); these included County Down and Dublin in Ireland, one from what is now Cape Town and two who were born in Jamaica (these are excluded from the map). It is, of course, possible that the latter group may have been Black Caribbean, rather than there with trade or the colonial service, but this is much less likely but difficult to be certain about as ethnicity wasn’t recorded until the 1991 census.
There were 32 children in the homes, this excludes three boarders and another child that was being looked after for a relative. The data is somewhat skewed by one large household that had seven children all born in what is now Cape Town. Of the other 25, 10 were born in Lee and 12 elsewhere in London – mainly in neighbouring areas such as Eltham, Camberwell and New Cross – indicating the stopping off points in the journey to Lee.
William Marks was a silk merchant and his journey to 1881 Lee was shorter than many of the household heads – born in 1822 in Sheerness, his wife Jane came from Gravesend. Their children had all ‘flown the nest’ by 1881 but they’d been in Stepney in 1852 and Charlton by 1859 where they remained until a move to Lee around 1875 – he was on the electoral register in Lee then.
Martha Pollard was 34 in 1881 and was one of the more locally born residents, hailing from Woolwich. She was married to John Pollard who was 52 in 1881 and came from Devonport, now part of Plymouth. There is nothing obvious between his birth and the 1871 Census when the couple were living in Camberwell, he was working as a clerk at Somerset House. They seem to have had several children when living in Camberwell, at least two of which weren’t on the census in 1881 (they could have been away from the property on census night). They’d moved to Lee around 1876 as a daughter was born there.
As was common in the larger houses of the area, most of the houses had servants – the patterns of migration were much more similar to the working-class housing of Robertson Street, most were from London and the southeast, with a handful from the south west and Wales.
While not that much can be drawn into a small number of households in a couple of Lee streets, it certainly appears that the wealthier in Lee typically came from further away than their working-class counterparts.
And finally …. the view from about the same location as the postcard is not that different in early 2022 to that of over a hundred years before – the horse and cart has been replaced by a car but much else is similar due to the availability of off-street parking in the large front gardens.
- Kentish Mercury 19 July 1889
- Joan Read (1990) Lewisham Street Names and their Origins p50
- Kentish Mercury 11 December 1885
- The postcard is from eBay in May 2020
- The census and related data come via Find My Past (subscription required)
- The maps are created using census data over Google Maps
- The confirmation of the builders and the 1879 purchase price comes from the deeds of one of the houses.