Author Archives: Paul B

The Post Christmas Blitz on Lee Part 1 – 27 December 1940

Apologies if you’ve seen this before – the previous incarnation was partially deleted.
In the autumn of 2020, Running Past covered the attacks of the first night of the Blitz around Lee, Lewisham, Catford and Hither Green 80 years on. Over the next few months there were frequent attacks on the area – the worst night in the old Borough of Lewisham was probably the night of 8 to 9 December 1940. The Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Service Logs (an example of the log is shown below for 29 December 1940) noted for the night of 8-9 December

  • 126 high explosive bombs dropped;
  • 206 incendiary bombs – the number of both incendiary and high explosive bombs was almost certainly understated as the locations rather than numbers were often recorded;
  • 176 fires started – no doubt stretching the Fire Brigade to beyond breaking point;
  • 5 deaths; and
  • 175 injured – this was almost certainly a big understatement as at many locations injuries were ticked rather than having numbers.

However, around Lee some of the worst nights were at the end of December 1940 in two posts we’ll look at the nights 27/28 and 29/30 December where there were two nights of very heavy bombing.

There had been two quiet nights on Christmas Day and Boxing Day 1940, it was the lull before the storm with the night of 27/28 December being one of the heaviest nights of the blitz in Lewisham.

While there were attacks earlier in evening in Brockley, the first attacks on Lee was a series of incendiary bombs which hit at 19:51; one was at 33 Burnt Ash Road – a large house demolished after the war in the large scale demolitions of houses at the end of leases by the Crown Estate. There was no note of damage, but in the LCC Bomb Damage map the house ended the war with general, not structural, blast damage (1).

The other was at Reeds of Lee Green, a long standing drapers and furnishers that dominated the south east quadrant of Lee Green, straddling both Burnt Ash Road and Eltham Road – it was around 50 metres from 33 Burnt Ash Road. There was no damage marked there on the LCC Bomb Damage maps (2).

The final one of trio was at 57 Leyland Road (opposite the present day Alanthus Close) which was dealt with by officers from Lee police station.

Soon after at 20:05, another incendiary bomb was dropped close by in Burnt Ash Road between Southbrook and Micheldever Roads – there was a small fire which was quickly put out though.

There were several attacks on just after 9:00 pm on the then new homes on Upwood Road, (above) 34 and 22 were specifically mentioned but a couple of other incendiaries were reported as well. A hundred metres of so away 73 Leyland Road was hit by another incendiary. The was another dropped on Leyland Road between Dorville and Osberton Road – presumably somewhere around the current Carsten Close. With all of these the fires seem to have been put out by ARP fire wardens.

At around 9:12 pm, 41 Dorville Road and 36 Cambridge Drive were hit by incendiaries – as with the others in neighbouring streets they were put out by ARP wardens who had a busy night. The latter is a large surviving Victorian house, the former lost to the large scale redevelopment of Crown Estate land in the 1960s, but will have looked similar to the very different street scene from a few decades before.

At around 9:40 at least five bombs were dropped around Aislibie Road. One was in Manor House Gardens, which was home to three air road shelters. Fortunately the high explosive bomb hit a shrubbery between the shelters with only limited damage. Had there been a direct hit the loss of life could have been considerable as happened at Albion Way in Lewisham town centre on 11 September 1940 where 41 died.

A hundred metres or so away, 14-20 Lampmead Road (between Aislibie and Lenham Roads) were hit. Presumably the impact was in the road as none of the houses was destroyed although the ARP log noted that walls on all of them were cracked. Numbers 18 and 20 have survived but 14 and 16 were destroyed by a V1 flying bomb later in the war – the circle on the map.

More serious damage was around the corner in Aislibie Road with number 50 being hit directly and largely demolished and the houses either side rendered uninhabitable. The shading on the LCC bomb damage maps is incorrect here – the Ordnance Survey map of 1949 notes ‘ruins.’

Another bomb hit a few doors up, damaging 38 Aislibie Road- it wasn’t one of the houses destroyed during the war and was marked as blast damage – minor in nature on the LCC bomb damage maps. (3). If there was any serious damage it may have been made good by the end of the war.

In the same attack there was serious damage to the odd side of the road too, 17 to 23 had their chimney stacks knocked of; but 25 to 29 were left in ruins. The site had been cleared by the time the Ordnanace Survey cartographers mapped the area in 1949, but unlike similar small sites, such as Fernbrook Road, wasn’t used for prefabs. Again there were no reports on casualties here.

At around 9:45 there were at least four high explosive bombs dropped in the area around Winn Road area between Guibal Road and Senlac Raod.  The one at 87 Guibal Road failed to explode and the houshold had to be evacuated temporarily while it was made safe. The one at 105 Guibal damaged water, gas and electricity services, with the others not seeming to do much damage other than to gardens.

At 9:55 another high explosive bomb was reported as hitting Manor Lane – 50 was described as being ‘demolished’ and 48 and 52 rendered uninhabitable. Unless these were rebuilt in in exactly the same style as the W J Scudamore originals, it may be that the report was overstated. While there has clearly been some patching of walls, original features seem to remain.

Around 10:00 pm a small explosive bomb hit the old St Margaret’s Churchyard (pictured above) leaving a small crater and several damaged tombstones. A few minutes later there were a couple of incendiary bombs dropped on Lee High Road close to the current Mercator estate – an area that was to be devastated later in the war.

Overall, that night in the old Borough of Lewisham 

  • 97 high explosive were dropped;
  • 112 incendiary bombs fell;
  • 91 fires were started;
  • 3 died;
  • 12 were injured, this is almost certainly an understatement as some just ticked the box rather than entering a number; and
  • 12 were trapped by debris having to be rescued by emergency services.

It wasn’t just Lewisham that was attacked that night, The Times for the following day noted that ‘the raid equaled in intensity, but not duration, some of the heaviest attacks on the capital….from widespread areas came the same report of enemy aircraft flying over almost continuously dropping incendiaries followed by high explosive bombs.’ (4)

Whilst the following night seems to have seen another lull with defence guns silent (5), the Sunday evening of 29/30 saw the bombers return with in what was described in central London as the Second Great Fire of London but also saw numerous bombs dropped on Lee; we’ll return to this is the second part of the post.

Notes

  1. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 p116
  2. ibid p116
  3. ibid p185
  4. The Times Saturday December 28 1940
  5. The Times Monday December 30 1940

Credits

  • Most of the information for this post comes from the Lewisham ARP Log – it is a fascinating document, which is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives. It isn’t a complete record – some incidents were reported to the Fire Brigade rather than the APR and some incendiaries were dealt with by residents or Fire Wardens without ever reaching the ARP service – this is particularly the case on busy nights such as this.
  • The map is from the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, 1939-1945 – permission has been given by the London Metropolitan Archives, the copyright owners of the map, the to use the image here.
  • The photograph of Lee Green and the page of the ARP Log are both from the collection of Lewisham Archives, both are used with permission and remain their copyright.
  • The postcard of Dorville Road is via eBay in December 2019

The Post Christmas Blitz on Lee Part 2 – 29 December 1940

In the first part of this post we looked at the post-Christmas Luftwaffe attacks on 27 December 1940 on Lee which saw numerous bombs dropped and homes destroyed on Aislibie Road, the misspelled road, named after Benjamin Aislabie – slave owner, awful cricketer and tenant of Lee Place.

While there was a lull the following evening, it seems that the Luftwaffe were just gearing up for an even bigger raid on 29 December, the aim of which seems to have been to put the fire services under a level of pressure that they would be unable to cope with and see London burning.

The attacks were much more concentrated in a small number of streets between Lee High Road and and Manor House Gardens. Most were incendiaries, and along with a few high explosive bombs, were dropped in a few minutes around 8:15 pm.

As we found with the post on the first night of the Blitz, it is worth remembering that not every incident was reported to the Air Raid Precautions (ARP), some being just reported to the Fire Brigade but others never going through official channels. One of the pages of incidents for the night of 29/30 December 1940 is show below.

The first attacks of the night in Lee started at around 7:25 pm in Blessingham Road, when a high explosive bomb hit the back garden of number 38. Elsewhere on the street another high explosive bomb injured two people. The street was to be decimated by a series of V-1 flying bombs later in the war and was developed, initially as prefabs, and in the early 1960s, as the Mercator Estate.

Fifty minutes later, Lee was on fire, the ARP logs note several dozen incendiaries being dropped at the same time, so we’ll look at the attack on a street by street basis. Aislibie Road (pictured below) which had suffered badly two nights before, was again hit. It was different houses this evening with 5, 13, 26, 30 and 39 all being bombed with roofs and upper floors damaged by the incendiary bombs, none were destroyed though.

Parallel to Aislibie Road, and the location of a devastating V-1 flying bomb three and a half years later, is Lenham Road which saw 5, 7, 10 and 28 all hit by incendiaries. The fires were successfully dealt with by local ARP and Fire Wardens.

Incendiary bombs rained down on neighbouring Brightfield Road with 32, 34, 42, 43, 49, 63 and 83 all hit by them (some are pictured below) – the fires were put out by wardens and the inhabitants, but many of the roofs were damaged.

Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, the roof and upper floors of 24 Lampmead Road were damaged, as was 4 Hedgley Street. Taunton Road saw at least two attacks – number 60 was slightly damaged and 2 Thornhill Cottages saw its roof damamged. Thornhill Cottages was a terrace at the eastern end of Taunton Road between Burnt Ash Road and Hedgley Street seemingly on the present Sainsbury’s site.

At the opposite end of Manor House Gardens, 2, 44 and 61 Old Road plus Pentland House (pictured below) were all hit but Fire Wardens managed to deal with all four fires.

A little further along Lee High Road, number 345 was hit by another incendiary; ironically it had been a fire station up until 1906 when the one on Eltham Road opened, it is now a solicitors. The roof seems to have been damaged, and assuming that there was no damage on other occasions during the war, a central turret there was destroyed (there is a pre-damage photograph in the post on the fire station).

There was an explosive and incendiary combination dropped on Dacre Park at the same time and there were ‘several .. casualties in the road’ as a result.

Around fifteen minutes later at 8:30, a high explosive bomb hit Lee High Road between Old Road and Lochaber Road – there 5 casualties, including an ARP warden, with shrapnel damage to almshouses’ boundary wall that is still visible (along with a fading direction sign to an air raid shelter). The ARP warden was Henry Cottell of 41 Manor Lane Terrace who was to die later that evening in Lewisham Hospital – it was a house that seems to have been lost to the construction of Wolfram Close. Henry left behind two adult daughters and his wife Ann, who were there when the 1939 Register was collected.

Also at 8:30, Chiesman’s store repository at 87 Old Road was hit by a high explosive and incendiary combination – the ARP log noted that the repository was on fire. We’ll return to this incident later in the post.

One of the ARP Fire wardens for that part of Lee that night was Phyllis Noble (later Willmott), who lived at 49 Lampmead Road with her parents and grandparents. In the aftermath of the incendiaries being dropped, she and her brothers, who were also ARP Wardens, grabbed stirrup pumps, buckets and sandbags. ‘Incendiaries seemed to be everywhere, but so too were numerous fire watchers like ourselves.’ (1)

The first fire they dealt with was at the almshouses that stood at the corner Lampmead and Lee High Roads (pictured above) where a room had caught fire. They put out that and another in the neighbouring Methodist church, now the New Testament Church of God. Phyllis and her brothers spent the next few hours putting out fires in locations that didn’t even get a mention in the ARP log chasing ‘up and down stairs in the tall Victorian houses in the High Road.’ They reached Old Road and Chiesman’s Store depository by around midnight (2)

“As the red glow in the sky told us, there were still plenty of fires raging, including one in the furniture depository nearby. We went along to see if there was anything we could do there; giant tongues of red and gold flames were shooting skywards from the glowing building and clearly this was not work for us, in any case the firemen had already arrived.”

Had the Fire Brigade arrived earlier they may have been able to save 87 Old Road but it was largely destroyed.

Lee was probably only a stopping off place for the Luftwaffe as they headed towards the centre of the city. Later in the evening incendiaries rained down on central London in what was described as the Second Great Fire of London, the iconic picture of St Paul’s Cathedral amidst the smoke was from that night as 160 died and hundreds of buildings were destroyed in the capital.

Notes

  1. Phyllis Willmott (1988) Coming of Age in Wartime p50
  2. ibid

Credits

  • Most of the information for this post comes from the Lewisham ARP Log – it is a fascinating document, which is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives. It isn’t a complete record – some incidents were reported to the Fire Brigade rather than the APR and some incendiaries were dealt with by residents or Fire Wardens without ever reaching the ARP service – this is particularly the case on busy nights such as this.
  • The photograph of St Paul’s is via a Wikipedia Commons
  • The photograph of the Boone’s Almshouses and the page of the ARP Log are both from the collection of Lewisham Archives, both are used with permission and remain their copyright.

1-19 Burnt Ash Road – Shopping Before the Leegate Centre, Part 2

In the first part of this post we looked at the shopping parade of 1-19 Burnt Ash Road, following its evolution from housing built on the site of Lee Green Farm until the outbreak of World War One. As had been the case with the shops opposite, it seemed to be a thriving parade at this stage – empty shops something of a rarity, certainly when compared with Manor Park Parade, closer to Lewisham. We continue the story, taking it to the the end of the parade when the bulldozers arrived, ahead of the building of the Leegate Centre.

Bank House

The Bank had opened around 1906 as a branch of the London and Provincial Bank; there was a name change in 1918 following a merger with the London and South Western Bank, who had a branch that we’ve already covered at the junction of Lee High and Brightfield Roads. The combined name was the snappily titled London, Provincial and South Western Bank.  Probably by the time the sign writers had finished the new title, it had become redundant as it was taken over by Barclays later in 1918.  It seems to have stayed a bank until the parade was demolished, although the address changed to Eltham Road in the mid-1930s.

Clock House

The watchmaker and jeweller Robert Fielding who had been at the Clock House from around 1906, remained there until the late 1920s.  Fielding would have been 80 in 1930 and presumably retired to Bromley where he died that year. 

There was a new business, a chemist that was there until at least the beginning of World War 2, run by W George, latterly trading as George’s Chemist.   It was bought out by the national chain Bannister and Thatcher, who eventually became part of Lloyds Chemists.  Oddly, at around the same time they opened another shop on the opposite side of the road in what was originally called Burnt Ash Parade – the late 1930s development in the southwestern quadrant of Lee Green.  They remained at the Clock House, latterly referred to as no 1, until the end of the parade.

1a Burnt Ash Road

1a was referred to before and after World War 1, but it seems likely that either the numbering changed or there were errors in the recording as it was referred to as being the premises of  CH Reed & Co and then Griffiths & Co House Furnishers.  They generally seem to have been at No 1 so we’ll refer to them there.

However, by 1925 there was some clarity and the firm John Lovibond was trading out of 1a. Their managers seemed to live on site; in 1939, it was Harold McLuskie who lived there with wife Constance, a lodger and three others, probably children.

John Lovibond & Sons were the owners of the Greenwich Brewery at 177 Greenwich High Road, almost next to the station, although it was a firm which originated in Somerset.  They stopped brewing in 1959 to concentrated on selling wines and spirits through a chain of shops, including the one in Burnt Ash Road.  They continued there until the demolition of the shops in the mid-1960s; the remaining shops were sold to Wine Ways in 1968, and many subsequently on to Victoria Wines. 

1 & 3 Burnt Ash Road

We’d left 1 and 3, along with a big chunk of the shops around the corner in Eltham Road under the stewardship of Griffiths & Co.  They had bought out the drapery, furnishing and ironmongery empire of C H Reed from Charles Reed’s son William around 1905.

By 1920 the shops had been sold back to the Reeds – initially  trading as William Reed and then known as Reeds (Lee) by 1925.  The second name change reflected the death of William in 1924.  He was succeeded by his brother Ernest, who seems to have run the business until the 1950s.  It appears likely that the site was redeveloped at around the time of the re-acquisition to allow for a single premises straddling the corner of Burnt Ash and Eltham Roads, although the Bank remained.

By 1960, the shop front was home to Barker Clark Estate Development Company, perhaps a firm related to the creation of the Leegate Centre

5 Burnt Ash Road

We’d left the shop front being run by a firm of builders’ merchants called Barnes Brothers as World War 1 approached.  By 1916 though the premises were being used by a firm of ironmongers – a trade that was to continue until the bulldozers demolished the parade in the early 1960s. 

Initially, it was run by Holeman and Hyland. The Holeman was Charles Herbert Holeman.  Charles was born in Peckham in 1878 and had been living in East Dulwich, working as an electrical engineer in 1911.   In 1939 he was living ‘over-the-shop’ with wife Janet plus two adult daughters, one of whom was a clerk at a draper’s shop, perhaps for Reeds next door – it was just Charles name over the door by the outbreak of World War 2 and it probably remained there until his death in 1957. 

The business continued as Godfreys until the parade’s demise.

7 Burnt Ash Road

Before the outbreak of World War 1, number 7 was a florist – Harriet Walton had taken over the shop after the death of her husband James in 1913.  It was a well-established business that had previously traded round the corner in Eltham Road’s Eastbourne Terrace.  By 1930 their son Walter was running the business.

The Waltons sold up by 1935 – they remained in Lewisham for the rest of their lives, Walter was a typist living in Heather Road off Baring Road with his mother in 1939.  The new name over the door was that of Francis Blake a fruiterer; there was little longevity in the ownership though as by 1939 there was a new name– Lee Green Fruit Stores.  The proprietor was Thomas Jamison, or Jameson, (aged 58 in 1939) along with his wife Beatrice (38) and 6 children, 4 of school age and a son who worked in the shop, Alfred.  Thomas died in 1944 but the business carried on until the parade was demolished – if it stayed in the family, it may well have been Alfred running it until the early 1960s.

9 Burnt Ash Road

In the first part of the story of the parade it was noted that number 9 was one of those retail rarities, a shop that stayed in the same trade throughout its life – that of a butcher.  Frederick Head from Christchurch in Surrey had been there since around 1900, he remained there throughout the First World War and beyond.

By around 1925, Frederick sold up to Grace Mary Plummer. Grace Mary Plummer probably lived in Beckenham as there was someone there of that name in 1939, although listed as carrying out unpaid domestic duties rather than being in the meat trade.  She died in 1976 with an estate of around £70k.  This may not even be the same person, but nothing else is obvious from online searches.  However, it was her name above the window until the wrecking ball destroyed the terrace.

11 Burnt Ash Road

Like its next-door neighbour at number 9, 11 remained in the same trade for the entire period after World War 1, a fishmonger.

While Sparks Bros. had been running the business before World War 1, by 1920 Thomas Butler was selling fish, replaced by James Delliston in the early 1930s.  Delliston seems to have sold up to Mac Fisheries before the war and was still a fishmonger living in Tressillian Road in the 1939 Register.

Mac Fisheries started as a vanity project of Lord Leverhulme of detergents fame, who bought initially the Scottish Isle of Lewis and then part of Harris after a boat trip in the Western Islands.  His plan was to develop a fish-based industry and as part of this he started buying up independent fishmongers throughout Britain, rebranding them Mac Fisheries from just before World War 1. Lever Brothers got rid of the fish processing elements of the business after Lord Leverhulme’s death in the 1920s.  The chain, and no doubt the shop on Burnt Ash Road, benefited during the World War 2 when fish, unlike meat, wasn’t rationed.  Elsewhere Mac Fisheries expanded into other aspects of food sales but the small footprint of the shop at Lee Green probably prevented this.  They were to remain at No 11 until the parade was demolished though.

13 Burnt Ash Road

Before World War 1, the chain Hudson Brothers was running a grocery and provisions business.  They remained there until the early 1920s when name over the grocery changed to William Cullen, who also had a shop close to the railway bridge near Lee Station where he combined a grocers with a Post Office.

The expansion by William Cullen was a short term one as he’d retreated back to the Post Office by 1935 and the shop appears to have been empty during much of the 1930s, something of a rarity on the parade, as was the case over the road.

No one was living there when the 1939 Register was collected as World War 2 started, although a draper Mrs Fenn had opened a shop by 1940.  It was a business didn’t last the war out, as Morgan Brushes, a brush manufacturer had their name painted over the window by VE Day – hopefully using one of their brushes, they lasted into the 1950s.  Robert Lyas, a fruiterer, seems to have been the last business to operate before the parade was lost to the Leegate Centre development.

15 Burnt Ash Road

At the outbreak of World War 1, we’d left number 15 split – 15 was a confectioner’s and 15a was a dyers and cleaners trading as Chambers and Co. – that was still the case in 1920.  The confectioner’s remained too but it was now Amelia Fairburn in charge.

By 1930 Amelia Fairburn had moved on replaced by a Mrs Monk at the confectioners; by 1935 Alice Watkins was there, but her tenure was a short one as Daisy Gadd was running the shop by the outbreak of World War 2. She lived there with her Lighterman husband George (42) and a couple of lodgers.  

Despite the difficulties that wartime rationing will have caused her business, she continued until the 1950s when John Cawthorne took over the business until the end of the parade.

In the mid-1920s and early 1930s, 15a was briefly home to a blouse maker, Madame Iris. It then saw an extension from 17 of Walter Taylor’s photographic business.  After this it returned to being a dyers and cleaners – initially named after the Georgian dandy and socialite, Beau Brummell, who had no obvious links to Lee.  By the end of the war it had taken the name Zip French Cleaners, which it retained until the demolition of the parade.

17 Burnt Ash Road

Like several shops at this end of the parade, 17 was split into two. By the middle of World War 1 and into the interwar years John Allibone, a boot repairer from Northampton was trading at 17a, he’d been based on the Old Kent Road in the 1911 census.  It was a business that lasted there until the late 1920s. 

The partial shop front at 17a was taken over by a Corn Merchant’s business trading as William George Sweet, which was to stay at 17a until the wrecking ball arrived. It seems William George Sweet grew up in Prospect Terrace in the north eastern quadrant of Lee Green and had a long standing Corn Merchant’s shop in Brightfield Road from around 1881.  He died in 1915 so it can be assumed that the family business was continued in his name from around 1930 at 17a. What is slightly odd about this business is that Corn Dealers were a business type that had generally died out during the inter-war period with the switch from horse to the increased horse-power of the internal combustion engine.

After being empty during World War One, the other half of the shop, 17, was taken over by Photographic dealer Walter Taylor by 1925, who expanded into 15a by 1930.  He’d gone by 1935, with the tenure on the shop front taken over by a hairdresser trading as ‘Lydia’ which was to remain on the parade until its end. The person behind the name in 1939, at least, was Gladys Hardine, later Horton.  She lived until 2004, so may well have had the business for 40 years.  

19 Burnt Ash Road

At the beginning of World War 1, George Neal had been running a saddler’s at 19, the business seems to have continued until around his death in 1921. After that, the business carried on at 19 reverted to a previous one, cycle sales and repairs run by Reginald George Littlewood  However, there was competition from F A Lycett in Lee Road, who eventually moved to 30 Burnt Ash Road, this may have caused Reginald to change business to wireless supplies by 1935 (pictured on the sign in the photograph above). By 1940 the shop was empty through.

Post-World War Two, the name over the window was Sentinel Products, what the products sold were isn’t clear though, possibly it was a locksmith.  They had been replaced by Frank Sutherland by 1950, but it isn’t clear what he was a purveyor of though – it was listed in Kelly’s Directory as a ‘Miscellaneous Dealer.’ Frank was there when the parade closed in the early 1960s.

_

We’ll cover the Leegate Centre (pictured above in 2016) at some stage in the future – although we’ll look at the shops on Eltham Road before we do that. However, what is interesting at 1-19 Burnt Ash Road is that after World War 1, while there were significant changes going on over the road there was much more stability here – while some names changed, the traditional shops remained – the fishmonger, butcher, fruiterer, wine and spirit merchant, confectioner and women’s hairdresser. 

The ‘story’ of the parade has been pieced together using Kelly’s Directories held by Southwark and Lewisham Archives – generally looking at every 5th year since the parade opened for business from 1896.

Pictures and Other Credits

  • All the census and related data came via Find My Past (subscription required)
  • The Kelly’s Directory data was accessed via Lewisham and Southwark Archives
  • The black and white postcards and photographs of the parade are from the collection of Lewisham Archives, they are used with their permission and remain their copyright

1-19 Burnt Ash Road – Shopping Before the Leegate Centre, Part 1

A while ago we looked at the shopping parade of 2-30 Burnt Ash Road, from its development in the late 19th century, to its loss to Penfolds and later Sainsburys.  We now cross over the road to look at the shops on the other side of the road, that were eventually lost to Leegate Centre (pictured from 2016).

While the 1863 surveyed Ordnance Survey map still showed Lee Green Farm (pictured below), its days were numbered – its last farmer, Richard Morris, had, or was about to move, on to Blackfen. His father, William, had leased land from the Crown Estate for several decades, before moving on to College Farm at the highest point on Burnt Ash Hill where he died in 1851.

The developer of the south eastern quadrant of Lee Green, where the farm buildings still sat in 1863, was a name that will be familiar – John Pound, who developed much of Grove Park and south Lee. Work seems to have been completed around 1866 – there were shops at Orchard Terrace on Eltham Road and houses in Crown Terrace on Burnt Ash Road (then called Lane). The Orchard relating to the previous land use and the Crown, the landowner. Burnt Ash Lane/Road was the boundary between the lands of the Crown to the east, which had been part of the estates of Eltham Palace, and the Northbrook estate to the west

The houses were terraced and much smaller than those opposite which were built a few years earlier and were also to become shops.  In the 1871 census, the lower numbers near Lee Green tended to be working class and manual occupations, slightly wealthier further south included articled clerk, solicitor’s clerk but nothing that grand – certainly compared with original occupants over the road.  Little had changed a decade later although there had been a gradual shift to multiple households living in the houses – for example there were four households at 2 Crown Terrace. 

The conversion from houses to shops started to happen in the 1890s.  In the 1891 census all the buildings seem to have been residential but by 1894 well over half the group now had shop fronts and a couple of years later all of them were retail outlets.  We’ll look at them in turn – focussing on, in this first part of the story, on the period up to World War One.

The numbering changed a little in that the building on the corner was originally part of Eltham Road, but that changed with the building of a bank around 1911.  To avoid confusion, as far as possible the numbering referred to will be that from the Edwardian era onwards.

Bank House

While the rest of the Parade dated from the 1860s the Bank was much later – probably built around 1906. It seems that what was once 2 and 4 Eltham Road was redeveloped at that point, it was a building  listed in both Eltham Road and Burnt Ash Roads in Kelly’s Directories, its manager in 1911 was Harry Kitto.

Clock House

Like Bank Buildings, the part of the parade known as the Clock House dates from around 1906, presumably part of a redevelopment of that south eastern corner of Lee Green.  It was so called because of the clock that its first occupant advertising his trade – Robert Fielding, a watchmaker. Fielding was 61 and in 1911 was living in one of the larger houses on Lee High Road with his wife, Georgina, a servant and two adult daughters, one of whom assisted in the shop.  Before his move to Clock House, he had been at 141 Lee Road, next but one to Osborn Terrace for around a decade before.

It was a business that had run in the family – his father had been a jeweller and watchmaker but had died young and the business was taken over by his mother in Montpelier Vale in Blackheath, probably from the late 1850s.  

The Clock House seems to have been shared with Horace L Murray Shirreff’s Electron Cycle Co (see 7 below) until around 1916 but no one else is mentioned after then so presumably Robert Fielding used the whole shopfront.

1a Burnt Ash Road

This seems to have remained a house much longer than the rest, possibly also acting as a base for a business.  From 1871 it is listed at the home of G Bush and Sons Builders, run by George Bush – it may have been the case that he had been the builder of Crown Terrace for John Pound.  There were 6 children there with George in 1871, and a decade later he is noted as ‘employing about 35 men.’ His daughter was a drapers’ assistant, perhaps from George Gooding over the road. George Bush died in 1902 and the business was continued by his son who lived in Elswick Road in 1891, listed as a stone mason.  The business continued during the decade of George’s (Senior) death, but the shop front was empty by 1911.

1a was referred to before and after World War 1 but it seems likely that either the numbering changed or there were errors in the recording as it was referred to as being the premises of  CH Reed & Co and then Griffiths & Co House Furnishers.  They generally seem to have been at No 1 so we’ll refer to them there.

1 & 3 Burnt Ash Road

Number one was first mentioned in 1896 with a name that this corner of Burnt Ash Road and Eltham Road became synonymous with – Reeds, for years it was often referred to as ‘Reed’s Corner.’  The ‘Reed’ initially referred to C H Reed & Co and the C H Reed was Charles Henry Reed.  He has been born in 1839 in North Cornwall, having moved to Lee Green in 1866

By 1871 Charles Henry, was living at the next parade along, Eastbourne Terrace, with his wife Maria (probably nee Nichols), also from Cornwall; there was also a niece and 12 employees. Whether all employees these actually lived on the premises was debatable, a decade later, there were two different nieces and 49 staff. By 1881 he had a trio of shops on trading as a draper, furnisher and ironmonger. 

No longer there in 1881 though was Charles wife, Maria, she was living in Forest Hill with Charles William, born in 1873, sometimes referred to as William, along with a daughter Maria (seemingly later referred to as Beatrice, 1875) and Ernest (1881). Whether they were separated or not it wasn’t clear, but the position was the same in 1891, with 63 listed as living at Eastbourne Terrace, and Maria in Brockley.

The inclusion of 1 and 3 Burnt Ash Road into Charles Reed’s empire came in the mid-1890s – it was the furnishing element of the business that was moved around the corner from Eltham Road.  Charles died in July 1895 shortly after the expansion.  The net effects of his will were £28,117 – a very significant amount of money in 1895, both his son Charles William Reed and an Alfred John Reed (given other recording errors this may well be Ernest) seem to have been the main beneficiaries.  There was no mention of Maria, although a two-year-old Thomas Battyll Hodson, a two-year-old with no obvious connection to the Reeds was though.

(Charles) William continued to run the shops for a decade after his father’s death but sold them to Griffiths & Co.  around 1905, it was a name that dominated the south east quadrant of Lee Green for the next 20 years or so.

5 Burnt Ash Road

The first shop-front type of business operating out of 5 was the boot and shoemaker Josiah Tylor who was there from the mid-1890s.  The shop was doing well enough by 1901 to have a manager Thomas Wisdom, who was there with his wife Maude and a young son and sister in law.  Nothing is known of the owner whose name stayed over the door until around 1905.

It seems to have been very briefly an auctioneer around 1907 (1), a firm called Bell and Rainer trading as Lee Green Auction Rooms.  However, other than a few press reports that year they didn’t leave much of a trace.   It was the base of Barnes Brothers who were builders’ merchants by 1911 although it no one was living there when the census enumerators called that year.

7 Burnt Ash Road

In its early years it went through several names on the shop front – in 1894 it was W J Tournour, a house furnisher, followed in 1896 by George Lewis, a draper, and then Walter Woolverton, another draper in 1900.  All will have had competition from shops opposite, in Eltham Road and further down the parade which may explain their lack of longevity.   George Lewis seems to have suffered the ignominy of having his stock sold at ‘prices considerably below cost’ by Reed’s, still in Eltham Road at that point, in September 1897 (2). 

By 1898 the name above the door was the Electron Cycle company who manufactured bicycles.  The name behind the branding was Horace L Murray-Shirreff. Along with his wife Mahala, the family came from Uxbridge where their son was born in 1896.   They had moved to Lee Green by the spring of 1898 as his machines were twice ridden to victory at the Sportsbank Street Velodrome in Catford  (pictured below) over the Easter Bank Holiday, once by Horace himself (3). Electron had moved on within the parade by 1911 as they were listed within the Clock House (see above) in the Kelly’s Directory.  The sojourn at the Clock House was probably a short one as in the 1911 he’d moved to Staines and was listed as an inn keeper in the 1911 census.

By 1911 James Walton was trading at number 7 as a florist; he had had a business just around the corner in Eltham Road’s Eastbourne Terrace in previous censuses, listed variously as a florist and nurseryman.  In 1911 he was there with his second wife, Harriet and three children, two of whom helped in the shop.  James died in 1913 aged around 79, but the business stayed in the family initially in the name of Harriet running it as war broke out. 

9 Burnt Ash Road

Number nine was a rarity in that throughout its life as a shop it was to stay in the same trade – a butchers, there were also only three different names over the window in its 65-year life.  The first of these was the shortest lived, Colonial Meat Stores, who operated there in the mid-1890s, which seemed to be a single shop rather than any form of chain. 

Frederick Head was there by the turn of the century and in 1901 was 47, he hailed from Christchurch in Surrey, and was there with his wife, Martha 47 and 5 children of mixture of ages who were all born in Kings Lynn there as was a servant employed by them. The two eldest sons were both helping in the shop.  By 1911 the rest of the family had moved on, but Frederick and Martha were still running the business.

11 Burnt Ash Road

Like its next door neighbour at number 9, 11 was almost a single trade, a fishmonger, although there were a few more names over the window.  The ‘almost’ is because the initial traders, Green and Co, started life as a fruiterer around 1896 but by 1900 was trading as a fishmonger.  Perhaps they couldn’t cope with the competition from the already established M J Martin over the road who was a fruiterer and florist. There was though a lack of fishmonger though, on both sides of Burnt Ash Road, so Green and Co adapted to meet a gap in the market.

Who Green & Co were isn’t clear, certainly in 1901 the shop was managed by Surrey man E M Mankleton along his wife, mother, four children and a lodger who worked in the shop.

There was a new name over the window by 1911, Sparks Bros. In the census that year Frank Sparks was the fishmonger, the fishmonger’s wife was Sarah and Henry, the brother in the ‘Bros.’ were also there. 

13 Burnt Ash Road

Hudson Brothers were a chain of provisions dealers, that existed from the 1870s, they were based in Ludgate Hill and had a dozen or so stores in and around central London, many close to stations.  They also had a few in the then suburbs like Lee Green by the mid-1890s, where the shop opened around 1894.  They were to remain on the parade until the early 1920s. They refurbished the shop in 1908 as the advert to the left shows (4).

15 Burnt Ash Road

This was another shop that started life as a draper’s shop, initially Thomas & Co from around 1896, but by the turn of the century W Sanders Pepper (40), along with his wife Ella (37) who both hailed from Northamptonshire, they had arrived via Battersea where two of their children born.  A shop assistant and a servant were also part of the household in 1901.

Around the end of the first decade of the century the Peppers moved on, possibly struggling with competition from drapers shops opposite, in Eltham Road and further up the parade.  

The new name at the front by 1911 was Ethel Higgins who was a confectioner; there had been one next door, but it had closed a year or two before.  Ethel was a widow from Greenwich and lived there with her daughter.  Whilst names changed periodically it was a business type that remained until the end of the parade, by 1916 Elizbeth Stevens was running the confectioner’s shop.

Around 1911 the shop front seems to have been ‘split’ and 15a appeared – the dyers and cleaners, Chambers and Co.

17 Burnt Ash Road

17 started its life as a shop around 1896 as a stationer’s run by Thomas James Watts; it wasn’t a business to last long though.  By 1900 Annie Palmer had taken over the shop but changed the business to a confectioner, she was a widow who a decade before had been living in nearby Wantage Road. By 1905 her husband Samuel Evans Palmer was running the business, she died in 1908, and Samuel had gone by 1911 and was a Peckham based ‘Coffee House Keeper’ by then – whether this was a temperance one like one in Lee High Road isn’t clear.

By the census in 1911 Flora May Phillips, a tailoress from Bromley was there on her own, although the name over the window was Frederick May. 

Like number 15, the arrival of a confectioner saw the shop split into two – dressmakers Mabel and Eleanor Harkness, there in 1900.  Empty in 1905, Florence Wood, a milliner, was trading from there in 1911. 

19 Burnt Ash Road

The first shop at 19 opened around 1896, a Wine and Spirit merchants run by Cockle & Sons.  It didn’t last long and neither did the next tenant the Electron Cycle Co.; as we’ve seen Horace L Murray Shirreff’s business popped up in three locations on the parade in little more than a decade.

The next name over the window was that of Neal and Son, who were there by 1905.  It was a trade that reflected the era, saddlers, and will have complemented William Brown’s corn dealers over the road who sold the feed for the horses.  George Neal had been born in 1871 to a family in the same business and operated in Prospect Terrace next to the New Tiger’s Head, like William Sweet at 17a.  George was in ‘Son’ in Sons.  George was operating in Turner Road (now Dacre Park) in 1901 and moved back to Lee Green by 1911 where he was to continue at the southern end of the parade until around his death in 1921.

The parade will be returned to after World War One, when the second part of the story will take it to the stage that the bulldozers moved in ahead of the construction of the Leegate Centre. 

The ‘story’ of the parade has been pieced together using Kelly’s Directories held by Southwark Archives – generally looking at every 5th year since the parade opened for business from 1896 along with census records before that.

Notes

  1. Kentish Mercury 29 November 1907
  2. Kentish Mercury 24 September 1897
  3. West Middlesex Gazette 16 April 1898
  4. Kentish Mercury 2 October 1908

Pictures and Other Credits

  • All the census and related data came via Find My Past (subscription required)
  • The Kelly’s Directory data was accessed via Southwark Archives
  • The black and white postcards and photographs of the parade are from the collection of Lewisham Archives, they are used with their permission and remain their copyright
  • The photograph of the Velodrome is via eBay in February 2016
  • The picture of the farm is from the information board at Lee Green

Beating the Bounds of Lee, Part 8 – Blackheath to Lee Green

We’d started our circuit of Lee at Lee Green during the first 2020 Coronavirus lockdown and the last leg from Blackheath to Lee Green was under the not dissimilar conditions of lockdown 2.0 in the late autumn of 2020. In the intervening months, Running Past followed the long thin boundary of Victorian Lee just before it was subsumed into Lewisham in 1900. The navigation was aided by an 1893 surveyed Ordnance Survey map.

This circuit has been in seven stages up to this point, from Lee Green to Winn Road, passing a street whose residents probably now wish it had a different name – Corona Road; the next stage was through Grove Park; then on through Marvels and Elmstead Woods; the circuit skirted Chinbrook Meadows and followed the appropriately named stream Border Ditch; then another Ditch, Hither Green Ditch, more or less parallel to Verdant Lane and Manor Lane before following the Quaggy from Longhurst Road into Lewisham, then in the penultimate part following a Quaggy tributary, Upper Kid Brook to Blackheath.

We’d left the boundary at a T junction of borders, Lee – Lewisham – Charlton with a replacement of a 1903 boundary marker of a similar style to those seen in several places around the border.

Source – eBay (Sept 2016)

The stone is next to the railway bridge and it is worth a quick turnaround by the first turning on the left, or would have been in 1893. A large Methodist chapel had been built in the mid-1860s and dominated the Blackheath Village skyline and was to do so for another 52 years until a V-2 rocket attack hit it in March 1945.

The turning is Bennett Park, which has one of biggest concentrations of blue plaques in south east London – the Physicist, Sir Arthur Eddington lived at number 4 – he was listed as a boarder there in the 1911 census, whilst working at the Royal Observatory. The cartoonist Donald McGill, lived at 5 Bennett Park – he was there when the 1939 Register was compiled. But, perhaps, the most significant is one at the far end for the GPO Film Unit, whose output included the wonderful film adaptation of W H Auden’s Night Mail, which featured a score by Benjamin Britten. The Film Unit also produced some World War Two propaganda films. The building had been partially funded by one the main benefactors of late Victorian Blackheath, William Webster, son of the eponymous main contractor of Joseph Bazlegette, as Blackheath Art Club.

Onwards and southwards, the boundary goes upwards and out of the valley of Upper Kid Brook towards the watershed with the adjacent Brook in the trio of Kid Brooks, Mid Kid Brook. Straddling the catchments is a pair of elegant buildings at the top of the hill – the Conservatoire of Music and Blackheath Concert Halls, again in part the paid for built by William Webster. Both were a few years away in 1893 though, there was a terrace of houses there at that stage. The Concert Halls, resplendent with some lovely pargeting, were to be the location of a badly disrupted suffragette meeting in 1909.

Lee Road, which we follow to Lee Green and the end of our circuit, had been farmland on the western side until 1835 (1) – this was a little later at the Lee Green end which in some years was the home to the annual horse racing of Lee Races. The eastern side, part of the Cator Estate, had seen some development from a couple of decades earlier. We won’t look at much of the housing here in any detail as Neil Rhind’s meticulously researched Blackheath Village and Environs Volumes 2 &3 cover this.

By 1893 though, this was wealthy suburbia and there was still farmland to the west. In the period since, the mix of housing has changed considerably – the area around corner of the Lee Road and Blackheath Park (pictured above from early in the 20th century) is perhaps, typical of them – with Victorian housing replaced by Span housing of which there are lots examples dotted around the Cator Estate (pictured from a similar location in 2020).

The Charlton – Lee boundary continued, unmarked, along the centre of Lee Road in 1893; on the western side the view would probably have been dominated by the Christ Church on Lee Park. The area had once been part of the parish of St Margaret’s but the burgeoning population saw the parish split several ways, Christ Church (pictured below from Lee Park) being the first to be carved out in the 1850s. It lasted until ten days into the Blitz when Luftwaffe bombs destroyed most of it with the remaining parts demolished before the end of the war.

The church wasn’t the only part of the urban landscape to suffer during the war. There was damage of sufficient volume for there to be two small estates of prefab bungalows – Lee Road Bungalows just to the north of what is now Heathlee Road and River Close, which was opposite Manor Way. The section between them and onwards to the south was re-developed in the 1960s. The postcard below shows the street scene in that part of Lee Road in the early 20th century looking towards Blackheath – the boundary going down the middle of the road.

Just to the north of Manor Way, there was another T junction of boundaries – Lee remained constant but on the eastern side Charlton became Kidbrooke. The 1893 Ordnance Survey map noted a boundary stone, but this alas is no longer there. The Charlton – Kidbrooke boundary had followed Mid Kid Brook through the Cator Estate. The Brook’s original course would have been across Lee Road but during the 18th century it was diverted down Lee Road, it is currently culverted.

The was very little bomb damage on the eastern side of the boundary beyond Manor Way, with most of the houses that would have been there in 1893 remaining. One of the original houses was taken over as Lee Workingmen’s Club at 113 -115 Lee Road in the 1920s, the Club (pictured above) closed this century and is now a nursery . The Lee Constitutional Club was two doors down but arrived just too late to quench the thirst of the Ordnance Survey cartographers.

The 1863 and 2020 boundary continues down the middle of the road, now with Greenwich rather than Kidbrooke. Like the streetlights, bins, paving, white lines and tarmac colours that have become informal boundary markers, Lee Road has another variant – a small island in the road.

About a hundred metres on, we reach the Quaggy – another three way boundary in 1893 with Eltham replacing Kidbrooke. There is another boundary marker by the bridge over the Quaggy, its a defaced one of a similar style to that at the beginning of this section – rumour has it that the places were hacked out so as not to offer any help to German troops in the event of an invasion. There is though a better boundary marker almost below it though; by the outflow of the culverted Mid Kid Brook which as it joins the Quaggy is another Lewisham Natureman stag. This is the final one in the quartet of stags we have spotted on or close to the Lee boundary, so it seems an appropriate place to finish the circuit.

Notes

  1. Neil Rhind (forthcoming) Blackheath and Its Environs Volume 3

The Postcards are via eBay from 2016, apart from the one of Christ Church which is from a couple of years before.

Census and related data is via Find My Past (subscription required)

This, and the rest of the series of posts on the Lee boundary, would probably not have happened without Mike Horne, he was the go-to person on London’s boundary markers; he had catalogued almost all of them in a series of documents. He was always helpful, enthusiastic and patient. He died of a heart attack in March but would have loved my ‘find’ of a London County Council marker in some undergrowth on Blackheath during 2020’s lockdown, and would have patiently explained the details of several others he knew to me. A sad loss, there is a lovely series of tributes to him via this link.

Beating the Bounds of Lee, Part 7- Lewisham to Blackheath

During the first 2020 Coronavirus lockdown Running Past followed the long thin boundary of Victorian Lee before it was subsumed into Lewisham, aided only by a Second Edition Ordnance Survey map. This was in stages, from Lee Green to Winn Road, appropriately passing Corona Road en route; the next through Grove Park; then on through Marvels and Elmstead Woods and a Borough of Deptford Cemetery; the circuit skirted Chinbrook Meadows and followed the appropriately named stream Border Ditch; then another Ditch, Hither Green Ditch, more or less parallel to Verdant Lane and Manor Lane before following the Quaggy from Longhurst Road into Lewisham.

We’d left the 1893 boundary by St Stephens Church in Lewisham where the Quaggy is, or more likely was joined by Upper Kid Brook. When the stream was followed a few years back from its source around Hervey Road, on the lower slopes of Shooters Hill, there seemed no obvious evidence of flows coming into the Quaggy. The position was different in 1893 though, as we shall see.

The view looking towards St Stephens from what was captured in a postcard from slightly, although not much later; at the stage there were two confluences of the Quaggy and the Ravensbourne, the pictured Lewisham Bridge (an area a little later known as the Obelisk) and Plough Bridge by the former eponymous pub.

Even though Upper Kid Brook has disappeared from view, the course of the boundary and river is obvious from the valley. The valley though is not the shape that it had been until the 1840s as the North Kent Line, which opened in 1849 effectively stole the valley, deepening it in places.

There used to be a boundary marker on the curb on the northern side of St Stephen’s Grove, but it seems to have been lost at some stage. There is a slight dip in Lockmead Road, the remains of the fluvial erosion from the Brook, before the boundary hugs the rear fences of Cressingham Road, a boundary in terms of land ownership too. The Lee-Lewisham border comes out into 2020 public space in a relatively new development at the top of Cressingham Road. Looking towards the Brook and boundary from the railway underpass is a variation on a recurring theme from the circuit of Lee – a Lewisham Natureman stag.

In 1893, on the site of the new housing, was a small lake, the Brook was dammed to create it. The lake was at the end of the grounds of one of the large houses of Lee, Belmont, which gave its name to the Hill. it is mapped below. The house was built for the architect George Ledwell Taylor around 1830, when there would have been clear views to the dockyards of Deptford, where he worked for the Navy.

With the city encroaching and the railway passing, the large house ceased to be as desirable and was sold for the development of what turned out to be some of the most elegant Edwardian housing in Lewisham.

The Brook, and the Lewisham – Lee boundary drifted slightly to the north after he grounds of Belmont. By 1893 this was on the northern side of the railway around the end of what is now Belmont Grove. The railway is in a cutting within the valley, the pre-1849 level Brook and boundary would have been roughly at current road levels.

The railway had split the grounds of another of the large mansions of Lee, the Cedars – home in 1893 at to Ellen Penn, the widow of John Penn the eminent marine engineer. The northern portion of grounds had been laid out in the late 18th century for the then owner, Samuel Brandram, by the architect George Gwilt (1), who dammed Upper Kid Brook to form a pair of ornamental lakes, big enough for boating. Brandram was a paint and chemicals manufacturer and merchant whose large business was based in Rotherhithe.

The lakes were filled in by the next owners, Penfold’s whose carting business was to fill them with rubbish before selling the site on for housing development in the 1980s, now known as St Joseph’s Vale.

The boundary and Brook crossed Love Lane, now Heath Lane – part of an ancient path from Lee High Road to the Heath. In 1893, this area was still fields, with several boundary markers indicating on the ground the now hidden Brook. It wasn’t fields for long – within around 200 metres the fields turned to railway sidings, which extended another 600 metres up to the station, including the current car park.

The hidden street and boundary largely skirted the sidings – cutting across the late 1970s council housing of Nesbit Close and around the top of the current Perks Close. The Nesbit is E Nesbit who lived in various Lewisham locations, including a Blackheath home around half a mile away. Perks, of course, is a reference to Stationmaster of the Railway Children, played by Bernard Cribbins.

The boundary followed the edge of what is now Baizdon Road and then what is and was Collins Street. The former was named after a Blackheath miller, the latter after two mid 19th century Lee residents – Ann and Julia Collins (2). At the far end of Collins Street a boundary marker remains on a wall – the fence next to it seems to be the actual location of the Lee – Lewisham boundary.

The boundary continues following the building line to Blackheath Village; there was a three way boundary here Lee – Lewisham – Charlton. We’ll stop the circuit for now at a boundary marker, a replacement for one from 1903, when it would have been a Greenwich – Lewisham one.

Notes

  1. Neil Rhind (forthcoming) Blackheath and Its Environs Volume 3
  2. Joan Read (1990) Lewisham Street Names and Their Origins In the corner of the latter into the centre of Blackheath. – the area

The 1893 map which is used twice is via the National Library of Scotland on a non-commercial licence.

The Postcards are via eBay from 2016

This, and the rest of the series of posts on the Lee boundary, would probably not have happened without Mike Horne, he was the go-to person on London’s boundary markers; he had catalogued almost all of them in a series of documents. He was always helpful, enthusiastic and patient. He died of a heart attack in March but would have loved my ‘find’ of a London County Council marker in some undergrowth on Blackheath during 2020’s lockdown, and would have patiently explained the details of several others he knew to me. A sad loss, there is a lovely series of tributes to him via this link.

Beating the Bounds of Lee, Part 6 – Following the Quaggy

During the 2020 Coronavirus lockdown Running Past followed the long, thin boundary of Victorian Lee before it was subsumed into Lewisham in 1900, aided only by a 1893 Second Edition Ordnance Survey map. This has been in stages, from Lee Green to Winn Road, appropriately passing Corona Road en route; the second part took us through Grove Park, crossing the never built Ringway; we then passed through Marvels and Elmstead Woods and a Borough of Deptford Cemetery; the fourth part took us through Chinbrook Meadows appropriately following Border Ditch; and the last part followed the hidden stream Hither Green Ditch more or less parallel to Verdant Lane and Manor Lane.

We left the boundary at the confluence of Hither Green Ditch with the Quaggy to which we will return, following the red dots on the map.

The confluence has actually moved – in 1893 it was more or less where 49 Longhurst Road is now located; it is now around 40 metres away on a sharp corner between between Manor Park and Leahurst Road (pictured below).

In 1893 this was still, just, the land of Lee Manor Farm, although this would change dramatically over the next decade. As was the case when we followed the boundary along Hither Green Ditch, the Quaggy not only was the Lee – Lewisham boundary it was one between two farms. On the west was North Park Farm (the top of the map below) and on the east Lee Manor Farm – the sale of the former to Cameron Corbett who created what is known as the Corbett Estate and the latter by the Northbrooks in a more piecemeal fashion was to shape the urban landscape.

The boundary was within the flood plain, with the Quaggy meandering along the boundary of the farm, the Lee – Lewisham boundary of 1893. While this was acceptable in farmland it wasn’t in relation to the smaller suburban housing about to be developed the east of the railway. Memories of the devastating floods of 1878 will still have been prominent – the theory about dealing with such floods, which prevailed until the end of the following century, was to deepen and straighten the river, moving the water on as quickly as possible – this is clear from the photograph below. This approach also made development easier as had been seen with the development of Lampmead Road following the sale of Lee House in the 1880s.

Like the previous sections, the boundary is being followed on foot, the footwear of choice has changed though because while the rest of the route has been run, this section, apart from a 300 metre covered section in central Lewisham, is by walking along the river bed so waders became the footwear of choice.

The river and boundary continue to diverge for a little, the 1893 flow of the Quaggy and consequently the boundary meandered along what is now broadly Longhurst Road. It was never any more than 50 metres away from the river’s current, very straight, deep, engineered course. The convergence of the 19th boundary and the Quaggy more or less where the 21st century bridge from the the entrance from Longhurst Road into Manor Park is now situated – just above the start line for the annual (in non-COVID-19 years) Quaggy Duck Race.

While the Quaggy and Lee – Lewisham boundary are now coterminous and the meanders are broadly similar in 2020 to 1893, much changed in the intervening period. The Quaggy was straightened and channelised through what until the 1960s was the last bit of farming in Lee – a piggery. The open space, Manor Park, was created in the mid-1960s with meanders restored to something very close to those that existed in 1893 in 2007.

At the exit of the Park, there is a bridge, it is a long-standing crossing of the Quaggy, part of an ancient path known as Hocum Pocum Lane which ran from St Mary’s Church in Lewisham to Lee High Road. Despite the work done further upstream to deepen and straighten the course it flooded badly here in 1968.

Beyond Manor Park, the river and 1893 boundary squeezes between the Victorian housing of Weardale Road and Eastdown Park. The land for the latter land had already been developed by 1893, Eastdown Park on land that had been cultivated by the market gardens of Lewisham Nursery, run by Messrs Willmott and Chaundy, until 1860.

Beyond the river’s first meander is the garden of 45 Eastdown Park, possibly very briefly home to the Ginger Baker, his father was there just before the Cream drummer was born in 1939.  A hundred metres or so further on another there is another building with a musical history – the Rose of Lee, now Dirty South, which saw the first public performance by Kate Bush.

We have already mentioned serious flooding that occurred in the spring of 1878 in relation to straightening the Quaggy upstream.  However, while the meanders and boundary of Lewisham and Lee hadn’t changed since then, the depth of the watercourse had.  It is at least half a metre lower than in the prictue showing the partial destruction of the bridge in Eastdown Park.  So whilst it is a pleasant wander down the river there is little to see beyond boundary walls and banks for much of this stretch.

In 1893 on the opposite side of the Eastdown Park bridge was a Baptist Chapel, this was largely destroyed during World War 2 and the site is a vacant garage, last home to Penfold’s.

Both sides of the river and boundary into Lewisham were lined with housing in 1893; on the Lee (High Road) side a few remain, 152 was once home to William Sidery (pictured top) part of a multi generational Lee building firm.  Grove Cottage next to the Ambulance Station dates back to 1835 and 96 is the last remaining section of Lee Place (not to be confused with the eponymous mansion off Old Road) which was built in 1813 (lower picture) (1).

The remaining houses were largely lost to Fry’s garage and showrooms, which themsleves were replaced by a large Lidl and topped by an even larger block of flats this century.

On the opposite side of the river in Lewisham in 1893 was the well established College Park estate, briefly home to the poet James Elroy Flecker.

Behind the housing the river retains a pleasant almost rural feeling idlyll – it has probably changed very little in the 127 years since the Ordnance survey map being followed was surveyed.  

Beyond Clarendon Rise bridge, on the Lee side, was the Sultan in 1893 (pictured from early in the 20th century below), replaced in the last decade by Nandos; on the Lewisham side of the bridge is now the beautiful Hindu temple although that was a yard in 1893. Penfold’s moved into the site adjacent to both, known as Clarendon Yard around 1904.

The river disappears under what was referred to as Lee Bridge in 1893 for around 300 metres.  Alas, dear reader, this part was done at street level. 

The raised area above the river was an established shopping parade in 1896 with a tea dealer (83), a pair of boot makers (75 & 81), a wool shop (79), a confectioners with an architect and auctioneers above (77), Singer’s sewing machines (73), a stationers (71), a series of household goods shopsunder George Stroud’s ownership (65-69), a chemist (63), a florist (61) and the mainstay of that part of Lewisham high Street for generations – Chiesman’s Department Store (pictured a few years into the 20th century). 

Much has changed now, rather than Chiesmans dominating the street scene it is a massive and not particularly attractive police station. 

On the side of the police station is memorial that celebrates the contribution of Asquith Gibbes to Lewisham and, in the context of of the Black Lives Matter protests of earlier in lockdown, seems an important place to pause. Such memorials to members of London’s Black community remain a rarity, although just inside the Lee border is the Desmond Tutu Peace Garden, Tutu was a curate in Grove Park.

Asquith Gibbes was born in Grenada, and arrived in Britain in the late 1950s, working in Lewisham for 40 years fighting racial inequalities in education, policing and housing. There is a fuller biography of him as part of the brief for the memorial – two examples of his work have national significance. He chaired Millwall Anti-Racist Trust and instigated the ‘Kick it Out’ programme at Millwall Football Club in 1993, a campaign that was adopted nationally. Asquith was also part of very significant work with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office on reforming ‘stop and search’ rules.

Returning to the Lee – Lewisham boundary of 1893, the Quaggy re-emerges just beyond the shops of 1893 and the police station. The boundary though takes a sharp turn to the east (right) by St Stephen’s church, at what is/was the confluence of the Quaggy and Upper Kid Brook, following the latter towards Blackheath. We’ll cover that part of the boundary at our next visit.

Picture Credits

  • The picture of Chiesmans shop in Lewisham is via e Bay in June 2016
  • The photographs of 1968 floods, the destroyed bridge in Eastdown Park and the map of Lee Manor Farm are from the collection of Lewisham Archives and remain their copyright, but are used with their permission
  • The Ordnance Survey map of 1893 is via the National Library of Scotland on a non-commercial licence
  • The photograph of the Sultan is used with the permission of Robert Crawford, the great grandson of the Craddocks, licensees there in the 1920s, it remains his family’s copyright.

Note

1 Lewisham Leisure (1990) ‘From the Tiger to the Clocktower’

This, and the rest of the series of posts on the Lee boundary, would probably not have happened without Mike Horne, he was the go-to person on London’s boundary markers; he had catalogued almost all of them in a series of documents. He was always helpful, enthusiastic and patient. He died of a heart attack in March but would have loved my ‘find’ of a London County Council marker in some undergrowth on Blackheath during 2020’s lockdown, and would have patiently explained the details of several others he knew to me. A sad loss, there is a lovely series of tributes to him via this link.

Penfold’s – A Carting and Car Firm Part 2 – World War One to 2016

The previous post on Penfolds explored their early years in Deptford and Greenwich and had seen them grow into a sizeable carting business by the beginning of World War One. The second part picks up the story when they switched from horses to motorised transport around the end the war until the last car was sold in the second decade of the 21st century.

Like many local transport businesses, including Thomas Tilling at 36 Old Road (and several other locations) and Pickfords at Lee Lodge and Manor Park Parade, Penfold’s switched from horse to motor vehicles after World War 1 and was renamed to reflect this, WH Penfold and Son, Motor Haulage Contractors. They were to remain at Clarendon Yard, where they had been since 1904, and are now the out buildings for the stunning Hindu Temple, until around 1937.

The original company was wound up that year, and a new one formed, seemingly following the death of Walter Henry Penfold (1879). He was living at 9 Heath Lane when he died.

Control of the business seems to have been with the two sons of Walter Henry Penfold, Walter Albert (1907) and Albert William (1909). In the late 1930s they were living at 14 and 12 Belmont Grove respectively – close to one part of the business that was over the railway bridge (see below). Walter was still there in the 1939 Register, married to Emily, with them was Walter H (1933), the other occupant who was redacted was probably Diana who was born in 1932. Walter was listed as a Managing Director of a Motor Garage; it was incorrectly transcribed as ‘Motor Carnage’ – although it may be appropriate given the roads from New Cross to Lee Green were some of the worst for accidents in London at the time.

Albert William had moved to Chislehurst by the time the 1939 Register was compiled and was listed as a Building & Road Material Transport Contractor (Master). There seemed to be two distinct, but interlinked, businesses – the motor sales and servicing, which we will return to later, and the transport and related activities. We’ll cover this part of the business first.

As we saw in the first part of the story – the family had its roots in carting business but also with links to refuse collection. They brought the northern part of The Cedars estate in the 1920s (1), Upper Kid Brook had flowed through this area and had been dammed to create a pair of ornamental lakes. It is possible that they had rented the area a little earlier than this (2).

Either way, the area was used for a combination of extracting sand and as a tip for building and related rubble – filling both the ornamental lakes and the pits from extraction. Initially they used the bridge from a Belmont Grove for access but their activities seem to have led to its closure (3), there is a clear difference between maps from the late 1950s and those a decade earlier. Similar activities, effectively operating as a skip hire company continued until the 1980s. The picture above is from the post war period the buildings at the back backing onto the railway. The site was sold in the 1980s for the development of St Joseph’s Vale – pictured below.

The first specific mention to the motor vehicle trade relates to 1 Lee Terrace, this was the former stables of The Cedars, a large house on Belmont Hill that still remains, just visible from the street. The stables had been sold off around 1912 to Sydney M Fry, whose business traded as Cedars Garage and was to soon move to Lee High Road – more on them another day. In the early 1920s the site was bought by the Penfold family business (4). It isn’t completely clear how long they stayed at the site (5) which remained in the motor trade until until around 2016 when Stephen James BMW sold the site for development. Originally it seemed that Stephen James were to return, but they ended up at another former Penfold’s site at 321-341 Lee High Road. The core of the stable block that Penfolds used was to remain until towards the end of the 20th century,

It may be that Penfold’s moved on around 1941, in that they appeared that year at 4a Clarendon Rise (now the Hindu temple – pictured below) noted as Penfold’s Motor Engineers. They stayed there until around 1950.

At that point Penfold’s seem to have expanded considerably taking over the shop front of 12-18 Burnt Ash Road, presumably as a showroom. The property had been the base of the drapers George Gooding for decades but had only been partially used since the beginning of World War Two – it is pictured below from the late 1970s or early 1980s.

At around the same time they acquired the site behind – 406-14 Lee High Road, presumably for servicing and repairs – they linked the two sites at the rear. The Lee High Road site had been used by a number of garages and haulage companies, latterly Falconers Transport from the end of World War 2. However, regular readers of Running Past may recall that it was a base for the builders W J Scudamore earlier in the 20th century.

This amalgamated site was to be the base of the firm for around 35 years. For much of that time it was a Vauxhall and other General Motors companies plus the still then independent DAF Trucks. The advert below with the gifted Vauxhall Cavalier GLS was probably from 1981 and no doubt coincided with Alan Mullery’s arrival at The Valley, more interestingly it shows the spread of Penfold’s with several related operations around south east London.

They added the portfolio in the 1970s the triangular site on Lee High Road next to the Quaggy, just down from the Old Tigers Head – this was initially used for second hand car sales (pictured below from 2008). When the blog covered Burnt Ash Road site in early 2020, there were lots of fond memories of time spent working there, it seemed to be a good place to work.

It seems though that in putting together a large site at Lee Green that there were others who could see potential there and the business shut up shop there in early 1985 selling the site to Sainsbury’s. It wasn’t the end of the business though – three smaller sites were acquired, all ones that have been covered in Running Past.

The car sales was from a site at the corner of Bankwell Road and Lee High Road, it had originally been built as a cinema but had gone through a variety of motor based businesses, notably Wittals, but before Penfold’s moved in it was home to Land Carriage Co. who sold caravans.

The servicing was carried out from 152a Lee High Road, on the corner of Eastdown Park – the site had been originally a Baptist Chapel, largely destroyed in the Blitz. The site was developed by Fry’s Ford in the 1960s as the garage and ‘shop front’ for servicing and parts.  Fry’s main showrooms were a little further down Lee High Road into Lewisham.

The crash repairs were carried out from 36 Old Road, a site with a rich history that started (in that site footprint at least) as stables for Thomas Tilling’s buses.

After acquiring the trio of sites around 1985, Penfold’s continued to operate them until around 2006.  Their accounts noted that employment levels fluctuated a lot though – between 62 and almost hundred at one point.  The accounts also note that latterly the sites weren’t owned by them, rather by a separate company, Henry Walters Ltd who had the same Directors, Penfold’s paid rent for the sites from around 2001; there is nothing particularly unusual in this sort of relationship.

The first to be sold was the site on the corner of Lee High Road and Bankwell Road, a combination of red route parking in Lee High Road and one of the early Residents Parking schemes (triggered by the volume of Penfold cars that street parked) led to a decision to join the new and second hand car sales together at 321-41 Lee High Road which they had retained.  The showrooms were replaced by a block of flats.

Car sales were badly impacted by the recession that followed the banking crisis of 2008. There were some signs of recovery for Penfold’s by 2013 when their accounts noted improved trading and the firm expected to ‘maintain an impressive trend (on sales and profit) in a highly competitive market.’  The operating profit was only £90K though, with a loss of £33k the year before – not much in the context of the value of the land. Like a lot of car showrooms and associated businesses in the area, Penfold’s wound up the business in 2016, although the process started earlier. 

There seemed to have been a Vauxhall dealership of theirs that remained in Elmers End, certainly that was the final resting place of the business legally before it was wound up. That site continues as a Vauxhall Dealership.

Penfold’s were not on there own in shutting up shop – other car showrooms locally have gone the same way. The Ford dealer, Frys, latterly Trimoco, closed at around the same point and while Bellamy’s on Burnt Ash Hill survived a bit longer, it closed in 2019 after a brief attempt to trade without the, latterly, Citroen, dealership.

36 Old Road was sold to developers, Old Manor Homes, which had the same Directors as Henry Walters Ltd. and was set up in 2015. Development started around 2016 but stopped midway through the building and company went into administration in 2019. The site was bought by Purelake and the development is currently being finished off.

At the time of writing, in the autumn of 2020, Henry Walters Ltd too were being wound up. 321-41 Lee High Road was sold during 2020 and bought by DCMS Holdings, who rent the site to Stephen James BMW (previously of 1 Lee Terrace, see above); provision in the sale makes it less likely that the site will be developed until after 2028 due to a percentage of profits going back to Henry Walters Directors. 152a Lee High Road has planning permission, and is still owned Henry Walters but will be sold on the open market.

Notes

  1. Neil Rhind (forthcoming) Blackheath and Its Environs Volume 3
  2. I am sure I have seen earlier newspaper references to earlier rental, although have been unable to locate them
  3. Rhind op cit
  4. ibid
  5. More work in a post COVID era is needed on the exact timings of their stay at 1 Lee Terrace, this requires time in archives looking at Kelly’s Directories.

Other References and Credits

  • The accounts and related information for Penfolds, Henry Walters Ltd and Old Manor Homes are all in the public domain via Companies House
  • Kelly’s Directory information comes via Southwark and Lewisham Archives
  • The photograph of the pits and rubbish dumping at what is now St Joseph’s Vale is via Lewisham Archives, it is used with their permission but remains their copyright
  • I can’t remember where the press cutting of Alan Mullery came from, I must have copied at some stage from social media – if it’s yours let me know and I’ll credit you!
  • The 2008 photographs of the various sites are via Google Streetview
  • The photograph of the former showrooms is on a creative commons Ken Roe

Many thanks to Neil Rhind for sending me a pre publication draft of the Lee part of his forthcoming third volume and allowing me to quote from it here.

Finally, if there have been any errors in telling the story of the firm, they are entirely mine. My only defence is that the history of the family has been somewhat confusing as they seem to have used a very narrow range of names for male offspring – Walter, Arthur, Henry and William, although mainly the first two. Census and other data not always picking up second names and birth years amongst cousins were similar; Kelly’s Directories often only referred to initials.

Penfold’s – A Carting and Car Firm Part 1 – 1850s to World War One

We have covered Penfold’s Motors on several occasions, most recently in relation to their showroom on Burnt Ash Road. They were a family firm that evolved from Victorian carting to the sale of 21st century cars, but in the latter decades they have left an indelible mark on the Lee landscape through the development and sales of the land they had previously used.

This first part will look at the origins of the firm in Deptford, Greenwich and Lewisham up until just after the First World War; the second part focusing on the years after until the firm was finally wound up in 2016.

The family links to the haulage and carting trade seem to go back to Walter George Penfold who was born in Deptford in 1852, his father was a ‘dust collector’ in 1861 – in more modern parlance a refuse collector or bin man – a typical picture of Victorian dust collectors is below. The family was living in Knotts Terrace, a small street that once ran off Tanners Hill. Walter (1852) was the youngest of six children at home.

Walter (1852) was working as a builder’s labourer in 1871 living with his widowed mother and an older sister, still in Knotts Terrace. By 1881 though he had married Amelia (nee Gosling) were living in Charles Street in Deptford working as a coal porter, this was presumably working on the nearby Thames waterfront. They had two children, imaginatively Amelia (1878) and Walter Henry (1879). Like Knotts Place, the street is no longer there, it is at the northerly end of Margaret McMillan Park (pictured below).

A decade later, in 1891, the family was in Ffinch Street, off Deptford High Street, and Walter (1852) and Amelia now had six children, with Walter listed as a Carman – generally a driver of a horse and cart, although it could be the hire or any combination of driver, horse and cart. This was the beginning of the business that was to eventually become motor traders. It was a small house, close to the railway which survived the Blitz but not post war slum clearance, it is now a neglected bit of ground with several seemingly abandoned cars dumped on it.

By 1893 they had a yard at Greenwich Wharf (at the end of Pelton Street) and successfully tendered for providing an unspecified number of carts, horses and drivers for the local authority (1).  The Wharf was lost to housing a few years ago, having been a behind corrugated iron fencing for years before that.

By 1901 the family had moved to 64 Banning Street in Greenwich, Walter George (1852) was listed as a Cartage Contractor with Walter Henry (1879) and Arthur (1881) listed in the census as a Contractors Journeyman, Carman.

Banning Street was built in various stages during the nineteenth century and like other streets between the river and Blackwall Lane was ‘infilled with small workshops …. all sorts of “back street” industries in among the houses.’ The Penfold house and yard were towards the northern end of the street. Little changed in later decades – it was still marked as a ‘transport yard’ just after World War 2. In the last decade or so, the urban landscape of that area has completely altered – it is a block of flats, aimed at very different sorts of households than the Penfolds were in 1901 with a local supermarket below.

The younger Walter was arrested for being drunk and disorderly in late 1902 and fined 10/- or 7 days in prison (2).

The yard at 64 Banning Street wasn’t the only premises that the rapidly expanding firm was operating from. A trawl through Kelly’s Directories finds several other locations; notable amongst these was Clarendon Yard, 12a Lee High Road, which they used from around 1904. It was down a narrow alley next to the Sultan (now Nando’s), crossing a bridge over the Quaggy – it is the small gap between two buildings just before the Coal Office on the right of the photograph.

Penfolds also had depots at

  • Brayards Road railway arches in Peckham and Christchurch Street in Greenwich from 1907;
  • Creek Street (also known as Copperas Street) in Deptford from 1910; and
  • A site in Sydenham from 1911.

While William George Penfold (1852) was to remain at Banning Street in 1911; Albert had moved out and was a Wharfinger (an owner of a wharf), contractor and carman who was an employer. He was living at 4 Creek St (Copperas Street) Deptford – this may well have been the base previously used by his father’s firm or the firm had been split. The likely site was being developed when the ‘fieldwork’ was done during lockdown, the hoardings had some rather poignant artwork painted by Sam Kerridge at the time.

William Henry Penfold (1879) listed as living at 4 Clarendon Rise, just around the corner from the Clarendon Yard depot in 1911. He had married Frances Overy in Lewisham in 1906 and the census listed his trade as a Cartage Contractors son, assisting in the business. They had two sons Walter Albert (9 April 1907) and Albert William (1909). The house still stands.

One of the organisations that the now father and son business supplied horses to was the Borough of Lewisham, they had been doing this since around the time the Borough was formed in 1900. In 1918 there was a court case, heard at the Old Bailey where the father and son were accused of conspiring with a council official to overcharge the council by falsifying records to the tune of £774 (3) worth around £37,000 in 2020 terms. Had they been found guilty this would probably have been the end of the story, they weren’t though (4).

Walter George (1852) died in 1923, still living in Banning Street, he had a large estate of nearly £19,000 left to his widow Amelia and two former employees; presumably the ownership of the business had been transferred to Walter (1879) by this stage.

One issue worth exploring at this point was grazing – a business that uses a large number of horses needs land to graze them. Lewisham was towards the edge of the city in the early part of the 20th century – there were farms such as, Horn Park and Burnt Ash just beyond Lee Green. There was also some grazing on the Greenwich Peninsula too (see note from Mary Mills). However, it is possible that they rented land at The Cedars from around World War 2 (5) which was north of the railway, they were to buy it along with the stables in the 1920s (6).

The land bought included a pair of ornamental lakes, constructed by damming Upper Kid Brook before the railway took over its valley in 1849. A bridge connecting it to the house, from what is now Belmont Grove, was built at the same time as the railway (7). The lakes were filled in – the easterly one between the wars and the westerly one soon after the Second World War.

We’ll leave the firm at this point – returning after World War One when they switched from horses to motor vehicles. This seems to have been the same for many local transport businesses, including Thomas Tilling at 36 Old Road (and several other locations) and Pickfords at Lee Lodge and Manor Park Parade.

Notes

  1. Woolwich Gazette 07 April 1893
  2. Kentish Independent 05 December 1902
  3. Westminster Gazette 28 October 1918
  4. Pall Mall Gazette 27 November 1918
  5. As we will see later they bought parts of the Cedars estate from the late 1920s, I am sure I have seen earlier newspaper references to earlier rental, although have been unable to locate them
  6. Neil Rhind (forthcoming) Blackheath and Its Envions Volume 3
  7. John Coulter & Barry Olley (1995) Images of London – Lewisham p40

Credits

  • The picture of dust cart is from A Victorian Dictionary via the fascinating Victorian London website
  • The photograph from Lee Bridge towards Clarendon Yard Is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives and is their copyright and used with their permission
  • Kelly’s Directory data is via a combination of the University of Leicester on-line records,  Lewisham and Southwark Archives
  • Census and related data comes via Find My Past (subscription required)
  • Many thanks to Neil Rhind for sending me a pre-publication draft of the Lee part of his forthcoming third volume and allowing me to quote from it here.
    Finally, if there have been any errors in telling the story of the firm, they are entirely mine. My only defence is that the history of the family has been somewhat confusing as they seem to have used a very narrow range of names for male offspring – Walter, Arthur, Henry and William, although mainly the first two. Census and other data does not always pick up second names and birth years which amongst cousins were similar; Kelly’s Directories often only referred to
    initials.

The Ravensbourne Athletic Club Of Ladywell and Lee

On the northern side of Eltham Road, just to the east of Lee Green, there is an elegant early 20th century building that is now part of the 1950s Borough of Woolwich (now Royal Greenwich) development of Ravens Way. The neighbouring council blocks were carefully designed to blend in with the former club, so it is easy to miss.  It started its life as a residential clubhouse for Ravensbourne Athletic Club and has an interesting story.

The early mentions of the club come from the 1870s, with the club seeming to have been formed around 1871.    But to understand the Club and its building on Eltham Road, we need to understand the origins.  It was the sports club for Cook, Son & Co. which had been formed in 1819 and was one of the largest English wholesale clothing traders and drapers of the late 19th century and early 20th century.  By the 1870s they were based in St Paul’s Church Yard in the City.  It’s head by this stage was Sir Francis Cook and by the end of the century he was one of the three richest men in the country; he had large estates in both Richmond and Sintra, just outside Lisbon in Portugal.

Cook, Son and Co. concentrated on warehousing and distribution rather than manufacturing the clothing themselves.  It sold directly to the small outfitters than still predominated the sector – this may have included the Campion family who had shops near Lee Green, on Lee High Road, Catford and Forest Hill, a ghost sign for whom is still visible in Catford (see below)  Cook, Son and Co. used the railway system for commercial traveller visits.

Ravensbourne Athletic was formed in 1871, taking its name from the location.  It is one I am sure readers will immediately recognise; their fields were described as being ‘truly rural’ and in the ‘picturesque vale of Ladywell’ (1).  It never seems to have appeared on Ordnance Survey maps, but was noted as being around 3 minutes from the station (2).  The 400 yard track at the edge of their cricket pitch was described as being at the bottom of the hill (3) so it may have been around the current locations of Chudleigh Road or perhaps Marsala Road – the latter was later home to the Edwardian professional marathon champion – Charlie Gardiner.

The 1878 sports day was referred to as their 8th Annual Meeting, it had a full range of track and field events – almost all were handicapped, which was common in the era (4) as we saw with the career of Harry Hutchens who ended up living at the other end of Ladywell Fields in Catford.  He wouldn’t have been welcome here though as he was a professional sprinter, probably the finest Victorian one.  Back to the Annual Meeting, while some races were internal affairs, some were open to local clubs such as Blackheath Harriers who were then based at the Green Man in Blackheath.  Current athletic inhabitants of Ladywell Fields, Kent AC, weren’t formed until a few years later.

 In 1883 the Annual Meeting had moved to the cinder track of Stamford Bridge (lpictured above in 1909 via Wikipedia Commons) and it was noticeable that reports seemed to be dominated by several Harriers clubs all of which are still in existence Ranlegh, Highgate and South London as well as Blackheath.  The numbers watching though were reported as being down, particularly women (5).

The reasons for the move to Stamford Bridge probably lay in the development potential of the land in Ladywell, London was expanding and as was seen with the short lived velodrome in Catford, it saw lots of suburban sports facilities disappear.  Press reports noted that the club had been ‘driven out’ of Ladywell; so it may be a short lease had come to an end (6).

The move to Stamford Bridge was a temporary one though, it seems that by 1884 they were in Lee, while the massive clubhouse was almost 30 years away, their Annual Meeting was to be held on what is now Weigall Road Playing Fields.  The ‘ground’ was described as ‘prettily situated’  and had a ‘very fair turf course.’ The Club had taken a 21 year lease out and the 1884 ‘Sports’ saw the usual fayre of Club and open races (7).

The location of their new base was field next to the Quaggy, it had been home to annual horse races 50 years before, but was to become a series of cricket and sports grounds.  It happened in a similar way around the Pool and Ravensbourne flood plains in Beckenham – as covered with the Oxo Sports Ground a while ago. Being on a flood plain, in wetter winters, fixtures will have no doubt been lost to waterlogged pitches – something that happened in the winter of 2019/20 too.

The annual sports were clearly a major social event for the company.  There were several photographs from the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News for 1896, including ones of the son of the owner, F W Cook, and Sir George Pragnall who was a senior Royal servant. More interesting, perhaps, are the race start photographs which show a little more of the area – particularly the children’s race which includes the rear of houses on Eltham Road (8).

A couple of years earlier the Penny Illustrated Paper covered the event, which like many of the era included bicycle races – the ‘scratch’ race is shown in the photograph below – the start line was next to Weigall Road, with the pairs of gables of the houses clearly visible behind one of the pavilions and marquees (9).

While the Annual Sports brought out those in charge of the company, the rest of the year it was a busy club with dozens of activities going on including cricket, cycling, athletics, football, tennis, billiards, swimming, shooting and a library.  Teams and individuals representing Ravensbourne, nicknamed the Ravens, won a total of 135 championships in 1910 and it retained the Houston Challenge Trophy for Athletic preeminence in the City, which it had held  since 1894 (10).

It’s not clear why the club, which had 1,200 members, decided to both build a residential clubhouse and build such a large one with around 200 rooms, after all they had managed for 40 years without one.  The sports ground at the rear had three pavilions by 1893 but a gap on Eltham Road remained which was presumably owned or leased by the Club to provide access to the playing fields.  At some point around 1912 a decision was made to develop this gap into a clubhouse.  The the building work happened over the next two years  at a cost of around £20,000 which was donated by Sir Frederick Cook (11).

The newly constructed building was offered to the War Office at the end of July 1914 for use in the war (12) that had already started although Britain did not join until a few days later.  The offer was taken up and the building used for army billeting (13).

The block appears to have remained much the same as it was when it was built, certainly the exterior all looks original. However, a temporary structure may have been added at the back either around or during World War 2 when it also seems to have been requisitioned.

Back to the sport, the 1937 edition of the ‘Sports’ saw, perhaps, its most notable participant – the ‘Mighty Atom’, Sydney Wooderson, who comfortably won the  open mile scratch race in 4:20.6 (14). It was to be a summer of success for Wooderson, who took the mile World Record at the end of August in 4:06.6 at Motspur Park in south west London (15).

In the 1950s, the clubhouse and the houses around it were acquired by the Borough of Woolwich for council housing.  The rest of the homes were designed to merge in well with the former clubhouse which was converted into flats.  A new street was created behind, parallel to Lee High Road, which retains a subtle link to the Ravensbourne Athletic – using the club nickname, ‘Ravens’ in  Ravens Way, the former clubhouse is 130-184. The playing fields were opened up to the public, accessed from Weigall Road.

As for Cook, Son & Co., it merged with a not dissimilar firm, S & J Watts & Co, who were based in Manchester, in 1960 to form Cook & Watts.  The life of the new company was a very short one though as like many in the textile and clothing sector it was taken over by Courtaulds later in 1960.

And finally, at the front of the building is a delightful, small obelisk.  It’s history seems lost but, it bears the words ‘The shadows will lie behind you if you walk towards the light’ carved into the four faces of the obelisk.  The phrase and several variants have been attributed to a wide range of sources including Walt Whitman, another person called Whitman, along with the Victorian poet Charles Swain and a Maori proverb.  However, there  is nothing obvious to link to either the Club or its corporate owners.

 

Notes

  1. South London Chronicle 29 August 1874
  2. Cricket 03 August 1882
  3. South London Chronicle 29 August 1874
  4. The Referee 18 August 1878
  5. Sporting Gazette 25 August 1883 
  6. The Referee 20 July 1884
  7. ibid
  8. Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 04 July 1896 – the pictures linked to this are from there too
  9. Penny Illustrated Paper 14 July 1894
  10. Sporting Life 24 February 1911
  11. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 03 August 1914
  12. ibid
  13. John Coulter (1997) Britain in Old Photographs: Lewisham & Deptford, A Third Selection p116
  14. Sunday Mirror 04 July 1937
  15. Sunday Mirror 29 August 1937