Catford has lost many sports venues over the years – notably the Greyhound Stadium, but also a velodrome, The Mount which was once home to Charlton Athletic, a former ground of London Irish, another smaller greyhound and midget car racing track as well as a significant cricket ground in Penerley Road. Another of these lost sporting venues was Bellingham Lido which opened in July 1922, it was one of the first in inner London and was apparently, at the time, the longest pool in London. It was to open its doors during summer months for hardy swimmers for almost 60 years. We’ll look at its development and demise, putting it in the context of other London lidos and open-air swimming facilities.
The backdrop to the development was the conversion of Bellingham from farmland to homes in the early 1920s. Interestingly at the time, it was referred to as a ‘garden city’ a ‘new town of ten thousand’ – based on principles adopted in the building of Letchworth twenty years before (1).
While Bellingham was a London County Council (LCC) estate, some of the facilities in surrounding areas were provided the Borough Council, Lewisham. The site, for those not familiar with it, was a slightly awkward one between the Ravensbourne and the railway – about a hundred metres south of Bellingham station, access was over the river – the map below shows the location and layout, just post World War 2.
What was initially referred to as either an open-air swimming pool or an air pool, cost between £8,000 and £9,000 over a period of about 9 months. In addition to providing swimming and bathing facilities for Bellingham ‘garden city’ and Catford it was used as a means of reducing local unemployment. The work was carried out in-house by the Borough Council with 38 unemployed local men being used to build the pool (2).
The Mayor, Cllr C H Dodd (of the still trading Blackheath solicitors, who started life in Eltham Road), opened the pool describing it as ‘the largest and finest’ in London (3). Kathleen Dodd, his niece, and the Lady Mayoress, was the first to take the plunge into the cold water accompanied by the King sisters from Forest Hill Swimming Club (4)– she is pictured below (5); a swimming gala followed.
It seems that the LCC watched its building with interest as around the time of its opening were asking for expressions of interest for building open air swimming pools form other Borough Councils (6).
While there is no evidence that she swam here it would be good to think that Hilda ‘Laddie’ Sharp, Hither Green’s pioneering Channel swimmer might have at least done some training here – she swam the Channel in 1928.
Water initially drained into the Ravensbourne and there was no filtration plant initially built as part of the lido – water was drained late on Sunday mornings into the Ravensbourne and then refilled. Presumably the quality of water was poor by the end of Sunday morning’s session. A new filtration plant was agreed in late 1929. Around £9000 was borrowed from the Ministry of Health for this along with increasing the ‘number of first and second class slipper baths’ from 31 to 57 at Ladywell and 12 to 25 at Bell Green. The inspector noted ‘you will be quite clean in Lewisham.’ (7).
Whilst Bellingham may have been the first lido in what was then the old London County Council area it was by no means the first open water swimming in what we would now regard as London. Several ponds that had been used for years for swimming, notably those on Hampstead Heath whose usage dates from around 1800 and the as well as the Serpentine soon after (8). Outside what was the LCC area were already several open-air swimming pools in South London including Erith (built in 1906), Croydon (1909), Wimbledon (1913) along with Tooting Bec (1906) (9).
At their peak in 1939, the leader of the LCC Herbert Morrison described London as a ‘City of Lidos’ – there were a staggering 67 lidos open that year (10). In neighbouring areas this included Brockwell, Danson Park, Eltham Park, Charlton, Bromley Southlands, Peckham Rye, St Mary Cray and Southwark Park (11).
In addition to issues around filtration there were serious problems with leakages – having to be refurbished over the winter of 1959/60 and opening a little late for the summer of 1960. (12). Fond memories of the lido from this era and a bit later often appear in Facebook threads in the various Lewisham reminiscence groups.
The lido closed in 1980 (13) – presumably as a result of the public expenditure cuts that most councils had to make in the early years of the Conservative Government led by Margaret Thatcher.
It was a similar fate that beset most of the local lidos – Danson Park and Bromley both closed in 1980 too, although Bromley re-opened for a while in the mid-1980s, the last length was swum in 1987; Peckham Rye also closed in 1987, Southwark Park in 1989 and Eltham Park in 1990 (14) – its outline is still fairly clear though.
Whilst now having no lido, Lewisham does now have open water swimming in Beckenham Place Park (pictured below) – it’s part of the conversion from an underused golf course to a well-used public park. There was £440k grant funding from the Greater London Authority (a successor of the LCC) for both the pool and large scale tree planting, it opened in 2018. It is open year-round although booking is required.
As for the Bellingham Lido site, it was eventually replaced with the social housing of Orford Road, let from around 1990.
Sydenham, Forest Hill & Penge Gazette 28 July 1922
Brockley News, New Cross and Hatcham Review 4 August 1922
from Bromley & West Kent Mercury 4 August 1922
Forest Hill & Sydenham Examiner 4 August 1922
Forest Hill & Sydenham Examiner 27 December 1929
Simon Inglis (2014) Played in London (Swindon, English Heritage) p155
ibid pp 158-159
ibid pp 158-159
Sydenham, Forest Hill & Penge Gazette – 24 June 1960
We’ll take the same approach to the narrative as we did in the first post, generally looking at shops eastwards from Lee Green.
2-4 Eltham Road
We had left this pair of shops as a grocer which was part of a south east London chain of around 15 branches – Webb and Ellen. They remained until around 1906 when number 2 was acquired by London and Provincial Bank – it straddled the corner of Burnt Ash and Eltham Roads and had addresses in both roads at various stages – it was covered in part on the post on Burnt Ash Road shops too. It seems likely that the building was partially rebuilt on the Burnt Ash Road side but on Eltham Road side, if any building work was undertaken it was done to match existing properties.
The Bank went through through two name changes in quick succession – firstly, in 1918 when it became the snappily titled London, Provincial and South Western Bank. following a merger with the London and South Western Bank. The latter also had a branch that we’ve already covered at the junction of Lee High and Brightfield Roads which was origianlly a temperance coffee tavern. 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 Barclays branch until the parade was demolished in the 1960s.
Initially, 2 and 4 were let separately, in 1905, number 4 was an off licence run by John Lovibond & Sons. They 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. In 1911 it was being run by Harry Beney who lived over the shop. It seems that they may have done a deal with Barclays in the early 1920s as around they moved from one side of the bank to 1a Burnt Ash Road around 1925, where they remained until that parade was demolished.
In its early days, the bank manager was Harry Kitto who lived over the bank; but from the late 1930s the rooms above the Bank were let out to solicitors Page, Moore and Page who remained there until around 1960, although there was no Moore towards the end. From around 1950 they were joined by accountants Levett and Co.
6 Eltham Road
We’d left number 6 with Frank Sanders running a bakers and confectioners; it had been in the same trade for at least 30 years and was to continue in that trade until the bulldozers moved in during the 1960s. Frank Sanders was from Hounslow and had arrived with his large family from Reigate. Given where his children were born, he may have been commuting from Reigate to start with, but by 1911 Frank, his wife Alice and 9 children were living above the shop.
The Sanders name continued until around 1935, when Frank presumably retired – he died in Lewisham in 1938. The new name over the window was Ernest John Hall, it was a surname that continue until the end of the parade. Little is known about him other than the marriage to Annie who seems to have taken over the busines around 1950. The Halls didn’t seem to live above the shop, in 1939 it was home to Frederick Dundas who worked as a fitter at RAF Kidbrooke, there with wife and probably 5 children, most were redacted though.
8 Eltham Road
Tanner and Hook had taken over the business in the early 1890s, they had one other shop at 287 Brockley Road. The ‘Tanner’ was Arthur Tanner was from Banbury in Oxfordshire, it was a family business with a sister and shop assistant living with his over the ‘Fancy Draper’s’ shop in 1911. Their shop from this era is at the right of the postcard below.
The name stayed on until around Arthur’s death in 1926 and then became a tobacconist which changed hands several times before Alan John Martin took over during World War 2. He was to stay until the end of the parade in although it wasn’t possible to find any more about him.
During the 1930s and during the war, it was a building that was home to several other businesses – a house agent run by Thomas Jones and a series of hairdressers. Part of the upper floors were also let as a flat in 1939. In the early 1960s Perry’s Restaurant was also there but it sems like a short-lived enterprise.
10 Eltham Road
The greengrocer and fruiterer which had been run by Walter William Wood of Horn Park Farm, since the 1890s continued into the 1930s, although run by Sydney after Walter’s death in 1924. They moved to 34 Eltham Road around 1935. The shop in Walter’s time is towards the right of the postcard above.
The shop became a butcher; initially the name over the window was Herbert J Jackman, but it may well have actually been run by John Dennis. Dennis had been living in Cambridge Drive since 1901 and seems to have come from the same part of Cornwall as the draper Charles Reed. Certainly, Dennis’ name was over the window in the early 1940s, presumably until his death in 1946. It remained a butcher until the end with the last name that of John Manson.
Like much of the rest of the parade, by 1939, the rooms above the shop were being let out – to a ship and house painter.
12 Eltham Road
We’d left number 12 in 1905 as a stationers and bookseller under the stewardship of Alfred Wilson. Wilson lived two doors away in Cambridge Drive from his parade next door neighbour, John Dennis. By 1911 though there were new names over the window, cousins (Percy) Jennings and (Stewart) Hill, they were aged 25 and 32 respectively – they lived above the shop. Also above the shop in 1911, but not for long, was solicitor Charles Henry Dodd, a firm that still exists in Blackheath – he was later to become Major of Lewisham on three occasions.
It was just Percy listed in Kelly’s in 1916, but he had left by the time the Directory was published. He had signed up with the London Regiment in November 1915. He never returned to Eltham Road – as he was killed in action in West Flanders on 23 January 1917. Percy’s sister, Lillian Jennings, seems to have run the the business after he enlisted in the army and it was her name over the window in 1920. Harold Tibbles took over the business which continued until the early 1930s when Reed’s expanded again.
18 Eltham Road
In 1905 18 Eltham Road was part of the Reed, soon to become Griffith, empire. John Grffith soon expanded into the shop fronts at the other side of Carston Mews and knocked through into the shops on Burnt Ash Road. They seem to have moved out of 18-26 Eltham Road around the beginning of the war and the empty shop, along with its neighbours, was requisitioned by the army.
The shop front seems to have remained empty until 1925 South East Premier Garage, Motor Engineers moved in, they may well have been using some of Carston Mews behind too. They’d gone by 1935 though, when Show Card Makers, Cut Out Press were there but they had gone by the time war broke out again when both shop and the floors above were empty.
The shop remained empty until around 1950 when Crystal Chemical Co (Lee Green) were there and the final years saw the shop front split between two odd bedfellows – Juno Fashionwear and coopers Robert Tyson.
20 Eltham Road
Like 18, 20 went from being part of the Reed ‘empire’ in 1905 to Griffith & Co., to empty, to being requisitioned by the army. It was to remain empty until around 1930 when it became home to a small manufacturing unit run by John Barber who was listed in Kelly’s as a Leather Goods Manufacturer. Like the garage at 18, this was a move away from the retail uses. As we’ll return to in a future post, history is repeating itself with some of the non-retail uses of the declining Leegate Centre.
John Barber would have been in his late 30s when he moved to the parade – he didn’t live over the shop – he was at 50 Effingham Road in 1939, with his wife Lilian. He seems to have come from a family who worked in the leather trade; born in Camberwell, his father was listed in various censuses as a leather cutter (1901) and harness maker (1911). It is a business that remained until the end of the parade in the early 1960s.
The floors above the shop seem to have been let briefly to a Wireless Supplies dealer around 1935, but had been turned over to unlinked flats in 1939 and presumably was the same in the years after.
22 Eltham Road
Prior to World War 1, this had always been part of the Reed empire, it had been one of the shops where they started. After the drapers moved along the road the shop was then requisitioned. The first retail use after World War One was around 1930 when Stanley Pooles opened a Grocer’s. He was gone by 1935 as Victor Webling was plying the same trade – he’d been around the area since around 1925 when he married Kathleen in Lewisham, they were living in Grove Park in 1939. Victor stayed until the end of the parade and remained in Lewisham until his death in 1978.
24 Eltham Road
Like the near neighbours, 24 remained empty after Griffith & Co moved out and the army moved in and then on – it was to stay this way until 1930. It was probably symptomatic of the decline of the area – which had gone from very large houses which were homes to single families with several servants to the houses becoming subdivided into flats – we saw this in the post on the houses that were on the Eltham Road frontage of what is now Leybridge Court, along with one the nearby St Peter’s Church. The wealth disappeared as the houses were subdivided.
Around 1930 Davis and Carter, who were wholesale stationers, moved into 24 – they were to be a feature on the parade until its demise. The rooms that once acted as a workers’ hostel for Reed’s were subdivided into four flats by 1939.
26 Eltham Road
This had been the last of the Reed/Griffith shops before they shuffled along the parade around the outbreak of World War 1. Like the others, it was requisitioned by the Army but emerged as another non-retail use by 1925 – Lee Green Temperance Billiard Hall. There were several such premises in south east London at this stage – the best known at the junction of Courthill Road and Lewisham High Street (which was later Riley’s).
The Billiard Hall was to last much longer than the decade of the temperance Jubilee Coffee Tavern a couple of hundred metre away at the corner of Lee High and Brightfield Roads. At the outbreak of World War 2, it was managed by Edward Fuller who lived above the green baize tables with his daughter, May. He survived World War 2 by a few days. It may have been a one-man operation as it was soon taken over by the British Legion (Lee Green) Club in whose stewardship the premises remained until the bulldozers moved in.
28 Eltham Road
We’d left 28 with the name of Charles Henry Lenn over the window of a shop selling china and glass. It had probably been there since the parade opened; Charles had died in 1898 but the business carried on in his name, in 1911 run by daughters Susannah, Emma and Caroline who were still living over the shop along with their sister in law Lilian. They moved on within a few years and the sisters were living in Somerset by 1921. The shop is on the left of the postcard below.
By 1916 there was a new name to the parade, although not to Lee Green. Frederick Lear had moved from 118 Lee Road where he’d been trading as an antique furniture dealer in 1911. He was born in 1859 and was from Cheltenham, his wife Laura from Jersey helped with the business. It was a business that they’d moved several times before it had been in Deptford in 1891 and Lewisham High Street in 1901. Frederick died soon after they moved in and the shop was empty in 1920.
Herbert Lindley was running a confectioner in 1925, one of a series of different trades he’d tried – it was different in every census. This one didn’t seem to last either as Walter J Mercer was running a café, referred to as ‘refreshment rooms’ in the 1930 Kelly’s. Mercer didn’t stay that long as by 1935 Robert Flett was there running what was still a café. His wife Alexandra was a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force driver, presumably based at Kidbrooke. Robert also was an agent for coach bookings. In a separate household above the shop were the retired Smiths.
We’d left Frederick Miller undertaking boot and shoe making duties on the parade in 1905, but he was living elsewhere – in Clarendon Road (now Rise) in the 1901 census. The name over the window stayed until around the outbreak of World War 1 when it had changed to Samuel Gilbert who continued with the same trade.
It may well be that like neighbouring properties it was requisitioned by the military – there was no business there in 1920. By the mid-1920s Rosie Coombs was running a milliner’s shop which remained the case for a decade, it was a property shared initially with auctioneer Thomas Jones (who moved to number 8) and then the hairdressers Miss A P Measures.
Around the time World War 2 broke out Vera Boore had taken over the milliner’s shop, she lived around the corner in Leyland Road. There was no obvious sign of bomb damage on the property, but it wasn’t a business that survived the war, maybe it was the rationing of clothes that saw the business close.
Another non-retail activity started in 1950 – a Christian Science Reading Room which remained until the demolition company moved in.
32 Eltham Road
In 1905 number 32 was an outpost of Griffith and Co. This had changed by1911 when it became a tobacconist turn by George Harry Buttler, he was there wife Sarah and daughter Ruby who was a shop assistant in the shop along with a young servant. Like 18 to 28, the shop is not listed as having a business in 1920 – it may well have been with the Army in those years.
For around a decade it was an extended part of Howard Perceval’s Outfitters (see 34) but by 1935 was a stationer run by Constance Tibbles – she’d given up by the time war broke out again though and was listed as a typist living in Blackheath in 1939. The supply of stationery had been taken over by David Evans who lived in the newly built Woodyates Road. It didn’t survive the war though.
The shop was empty for most of the rest of its history apart from a period when the Woods extended from 34.
34 Eltham Road
We’d left the shop and the nursery on the land next door in 1905 with both managed by James Walton. James had been there since at least 1871, probably a few years before. By this stage James was in his early 70s – whether the land became too much for hm isn’t clear but by 1911 the family business was trading around the corner at 7 Burnt Ash Road.
From 1911, the land and shop were split. The nursery was cultivated by Walter Wood from Horn Park Farm (immediately above) who also traded at 10 Eltham Road (see earlier in the post). The shop was an outfitter’s run by Howard Percival, little was able to be found out about him – although he is also listed as having a similar business from around 1915 close to Blackheath Station at 3 Lee Road and his wife (Mrs H) having a confectioner close to Lee Green at 129 Lee Road. He expanded into 32 by 1925 but had gone from the parade within the decade.
By 1935 the Woods had taken over 34 (having moved from number 10) – it isn’t clear whether the was still farming, the land for Horn Park Farm was rapidly being sold for housing development by the Crown – notably the Horn Park Lane area for private sector houses and the area around the original farm for council homes. Sydney was made bankrupt in 1935/36 but was still listed as a ‘farmer etc.’ in the 1939 Register, living at 3 Guibal Road. The farming may just have been the small holding at 34 – by 1948 it had lost the greenhouses that had been there in the Vicorian period. The current location is the paved area of Leegate and the units behind.
There was expansion into 32 by 1950 and the shop and presumably the land seem to have been run by Sydney until around 1960, when he would have been 67. Walter Burvill took on the shop for is last few years.
It is clear that the parade struggled towards the end. Certainly, elsewhere in neighbouring streets such as Osberton and Leyland Roads, along with along Eltham Road itself, the Crown Estate was letting the 99 year leases granted in in the mid-1860s run down and the area seems to have become quite neglected.
Road traffic was increasing too and the shops only allowed for one row of traffic in each direction with a bus stop in front of Reeds – the current road layout with 3 lanes westwards barely copes with traffic volumes at times. Had they survived longer no doubt the parade would later have come under pressure from transport planners.
At some point in the not too distant future we will turn our attention to what came after – the development (and demise) of the Leegate Centre.
Notes & Credits
The ‘story’ of the parade in this and other posts has been pieced together using census data from 1871 and Kelly’s Directories, generally looking at every 5th year from the early 1880s
All the census and related data came via Find My Past (subscription required)
The Kelly’s Directory data was accessed via Southwark and Lewisham Archives
The black and white postcards and photographs of the parade along with the painting of Horn PArk Farm are from the collection of Lewisham Archives, they are used with their permission and remain their copyright
In the previous post on this parade we looked at the origins of Eastbourne and Orchard Terraces, which were to become 2-34 Eltham Road, seeing the change from rural Lee Green from Lee Green Farm to a shopping parade for what was then suburban London. We left the parade in 1905 and will return return to those shops, but first we will turn our attention to the dominant name on this south east quadrant of Lee Green – Reeds. It was so dominant that this part of Lee Green was referred to as ‘Reed’s Corner.’
The ‘Reed’ initially referred to C H Reed & Co and the C H Reed was Charles Henry Reed who moved Lee Green in 1866. Their ‘empire’ came to dominate the Eltham Road shops (and some of those around the corner in Burnt Ash Road) often taking over empty shops when they became vacant.
Charles had been born in 1839 in North Cornwall, his wife Maria (probably nee Nichols), also came from Cornwall. Their starting point on the parade seems to have been 20 & 22 Eltham Road, then 2 and 3 Eastbourne Terrace, certainly that was the case in the 1871 census.
Charles was noted as having 10 Assistants and 6 Apprentices in 1871, as was to be the pattern for decades to come most of these lived on site, along with a cook and a housemaid.
A decade later the business had expanded into what is now 18 Eltham Road as the Galloways moved further along the parade and eastwards, Charles had taken over 24 and 26 – a total of 5 shop fronts. While listed as a drapers, it was making and selling furniture and some clothes too. The extended business required a lot more staff and the upper floors of the parade were effectively turned into a hostel – while most of the trades of those listed in the census were drapery related – there were two cabinet makers, two dressmakers, a mantle maker and a furniture sales apprentice, along with several dealing with deliveries. Most were under 30 and the majority men.
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.
Reeds were regualr advertisers in the local press and as the cutting below from 1887 expanded into supplying carpets and other floor coverings for the wealthy folks in the large houses of Lee.
By 1891 the empire had taken on its sixth shop, when Jemima Dadley moved on from 16 Eltham Road. The shop was opened as an ironmonger’s, a business type that had been absent for 20 years on the parade (and round the corner in Burnt Ash Road). Charles was still listed as living at Eltham Road. The drapery and associated trades hostel over the shop had expanded – there were now 56 people living above the shops. The postcard below is probably from around this era, with Reeds on the far left.
The business extended into Burnt Ash Road by the mid-1890s, moving the furnishing part of the business there. Charles died in 1895 although this son Charles William continued to run the shops for another decade until selling up to Griffiths and Co around 1905 (their name is on the postcard below).
While it may have initially been ‘round the corner’ at some stage around this point there had been a ‘knocking through’ from Eltham Road into Burnt Ash Road – whilst the 1893 surveyed map below, shows them as separate, this was not the case by 1914 (second map) or indeed after World War Two (final map).
The Griffith was John Griffith, born in Aberdaron around 1859 in the far north west tip of Wales. He was married to Rosina and seemed to have arrived via Reigate where their daughter was born in 1902. They continued the Reed approach to housing staff over the shops – in 1911 there were 27 with 6 live-in servants.
The number of shop fronts that Griffith & Co used declined though with 32 reverting to other trades from 1911.
They also seem to have moved out of 18-26 as there is an interesting photograph of the shop from World War 1 with the shutters down, the Griffith name still there, and soldiers billeted in the rooms above the shops. Presumably, the army had requisitioned what was probably an empty building, in the same way as they had for the Ravensbourne Athletic clubhouse (now part of Ravens Way) a few hundred metres further up Eltham Road. Griffith & Co seemed to have focussed the business on the shops on the other side of Carston Mews (the bit that refers to Thomas Tilling at the right of the photograph).
By 1916 though the Reed name was back as Charles’ son William Reed was running the business. Like John Griffith, he was only using 14-16 Eltham Road off the right of the photo (along with the Burnt Ash Road shop fronts). 18 – 26 to the east of Carsten Mews were empty until at least 1920. The building seems to have been converted back into individual shops to be let as single businesses – this is clear from the Ordnance Survey maps above for 1914 and 1948.
There was another name change around 1925. William died in 1924 and the shop was then known as Reeds (Lee).
The new Reed was William’s brother Ernest, who in the 1939 Register, was living just around the corner in Leyland Road. By this time there had been an expansion into 12, next to an existing shop. They may well also have extended the showrooms for the shop upwards as unlike most of the rest of the parade there was no private renting above the shops.
The Reed name was there until the bulldozers moved in – still listed in the 1965 Kelly’s Directory. Ernest died in 1966 in Lewisham. The family name had been there for almost all of the 100 years that the parade was there.
In the next post we’ll return to the rest of the shops in the parade to see how they fared after 1905 until the end of the parade in the 1960s.
Notes & Credits
The ‘story’ of the parade has been pieced together using census data from 1871 and Kelly’s Directories, generally looking at every 5th year from the early 1880s
All the census and related data came via Find My Past (subscription required)
The Kelly’s Directory data was accessed via Southwark and Lewisham 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 Ordnance Survey maps are on a non Commerical Licence from the National Library of Scotland (1897, 1914 and 1948)
The press cutting is from the Woolwich Gazette 4 March 1887
Running Past has covered several shopping parades over the years – they form an interesting cross section of life, including changing shopping patterns, migration into south east London, changing shop types. In late 2020 we looked at one of the parades that had been demolished to make way for the Leegate Centre – Crown Terrace that become 1 to 19 Burnt Ash Road. We move just around the corner to Eltham Road to look at what were originally called Orchard and Eastbourne Terraces.
When the first Ordnance Survey map was surveyed in1863 it still it still showed Lee Green Farm (pictured below), its days were numbered though – its last farmer, Richard Morris(s) 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 farmland was owned by the Crown – originally part of the extended estates of Eltham Palace. It was developed by a significant name in the growth of Lee, John Pound. Unlike Crown Terrace around the corner, the buildings seem to have been developed as shops – there were retail businesses there from around 1867.
The shop buildings were bigger than most of the parades that we have covered before around Lee and in the early days, at least, allowed several of the shopkeepers to have live-in staff. For the employer it meant that staff were on site and also encouraged obedience and loyalty to them. For the employee, it meant that their home was tied to the job and falling foul of the employer meant not only loss of job but loss of home too. We saw this with servant of the Lester family from Lee New Town – Charlotte Lester – who ended up in the workhouse, presumably after losing her job as a servant.
Like most of the local shopping parades, the numbering changed over time – Orchard Terrace was at the Lee Green end – its numbering was 1-8, the latter at Lee Green – it became 2 to 16 Eltham Road. At the other end was 1-9 Eastbourne Terrace, its numbering went the opposite way, it became 18 to 34. We’ll refer to them by their Eltham Road numbering to avoid confusion.
In between the two was Carston Mews, which we won’t cover, although was home for a while to one of the many local stables of Thomas Tilling’s buses.
We’ll cover the parade in three parts – this one covers the period up to around 1905 and third part follows the period until the end of the parade in the 1960s. The second part will cover the name that dominated the parade, the drapers, Reeds, which used several different shop fronts over the years.
2 & 4 Eltham Road
For the first 40 years of the shop’s life it was a grocer and for the first 30 years of that, the name over the window was Henry Frederick Cockle. He was born around 1823 in Deptford. He seems to have moved to Eltham Road as the shops opened or soon after; he was certainly there in 1871 with his wife Eady/Edith. There were two assistants living over the shop with them at No 2 when the census enumerators called – Henry was listed was an ‘Oilman and Grocer.’
He initially only ran the business from No 2 as in 1871 Mary Collins ran a ‘Fancy Repository’; she’d gone by 1881, probably several years before, as 2 & 4 was then being run as one. While the name was still Henry Cockle, he had moved out to a large house at 14 Wickham Road in Brockley. It seems that he had expanded the range of goods sold as in the census he was listed as a wine merchant. There were three sons and two servants there , along with him and Eady. Back to Eltham Road, living over the shop, was the shop manager – George Hinch (27) from Lincolnshire plus six others who worked in the shop ranging in ages of 16 to 53, plus a 15-year-old servant Emily Fox from Deptford.
By 1891 the business name was the same, but the Cockles were in a house built by W J Scudamore in Southbrook Road. The trend of retail staff living over the ‘commodious’ premises continued with – 6 grocers assistants there – all male, all under 30 plus a housekeeper.
There were different names over the window by 1900 – Webb and Ellen – a small chain of grocers with around 15 branches around Greenwich, Woolwich and Lewisham that year. In 1901 George Pedley was the store manager, living over the shop with his wife, a young child and 6 live-in staff, including several who made deliveries to the residents. While the nature of the ordering and the delivery transport may have been different – much grocery shopping has reverted to this model in the 21st century.
6 Eltham Road
No 6 was initially an ironmonger run by Middlesex man John Aldous; in the 1871 census along with his wife Mary; they had probably been on the parade since it was first let, one of their six children had been born in Lee in 1865. Oddly, there was a seemingly unrelated John Aldous, also an ironmonger, also with a wife called Mary, a little further down Lee High Road.
By 1881, probably a few years before, a business type was to take over that would remain in the shop until it was knocked down in the 1960s – a baker and confectioner. The name listed in Kelly’s Directories for years was James Galloway although he was almost certainly William James Galloway who had been plying the same trade at number 18 a decade earlier (we won’t cover him separately there as it was a shop that quickly became part of the Reed empire).
Galloway would have been 57 in 1881 and was born in Marylebone, probably arriving on the parade around 1868. It isn’t clear where the Galloways lived in 1881, but managing the business for them was Hannah Hayman who lived over the shop with two assistants in both 1881 and 1891, the name over the window remained the same despite William’s death in 1889.
Hannah had gone by 1901 and it was one of James’s sons, Archibald, who was baking, along with 3 assistants. By 1905 Frank Sanders name was listed in Kelly’s Directory.
8 Eltham Road
John Cole was probably the first occupant of the shop, born around 1831 in Rochester, he ran a draper’s shop with his wife Jane, who hailed form Stowmarket in Suffolk. Also living over the shop in 1871 were 7 staff, mainly in their teens and early 20s – a mixture of shop assistants and apprentices. Jane’s sister Sarah also lived there and was employed as a housekeeper.
By 1881, John Cole still owned the shop but seemed to be living over the road above another shop – then referred to as St Peters Court, named after the local church. In St Peters Court were John and Jane plus 5 children plus a saleswoman in the shop, a mantle maker, a milliner plus an apprentice plus three servants. The business seemed to be doing well. Back over at No 8 were three Drapers’ Assistants and a dressmaker.
The Coles had gone from by the late 1880s from both sides of the road. By this stage the name over the door was ‘Howes Bros.’, run by Norfolk man Albert Howes. In the 1891 census, there was no evidence of the ‘Bros’ (although it was 100 years too early to ask ‘When Will I Be Famous?’). There with him were two female assistants in their 20s along with a housekeeper.
The business was taken over by Tanner and Hook in the early 1890s, they had one other shop at 287 Brockley Road. The ‘Tanner’ was Arthur Tanner who in 1901 who was from Banbury in Oxfordshire, it was a family business with two sisters running the business with him in 1901. Who the Hook was isn’t clear, s/he certainly wasn’t running the shop in Brockley.
10 Eltham Road
The first business at number 10 was Thomas Green, a Cheesemonger. Born around 1839 in Hackney, he and his wife Priscilla from Stoke Newington had arrived via Sydenham where their 3 children had been born. There were no servants or assistants living above the shop with them in 1871. A decade later little had changed, the census noted that he employed two men and a boy, the boy was probably his son Edward (17).
By 1891 Thomas Green was still selling cheese, no doubt ably assisted by daughters Mabel and Ada who worked in the shop. By 1894 they were gone, and a different business was there – fruiterer and greengrocer, Walter William Wood.
The food miles of much of the produce sold would have been very small indeed. The Woods had been running Horn Park Farm, at what is now the junction of Alnwick and Horncastle Roads, since the 1880s on land owned by the Crown Estate. Under their stewardship, Horn Park Farm became a largely market gardening operation – growing tomatoes, mushrooms and cucumbers as well as a lot of flowers. The shop was run by Walter’s cousin Arthur Russell in 1901 who lived with the family at Horn Park Farm. Around 120 years later, the would have been towards the right of the photograph.
12 Eltham Road
For much of its life, and all of this section of the post, 12 was a stationer’s. In the 1871 census William Martin (46) from Brighton was meeting the writing and reading needs of Lee. He was there with Jane (38) from Eastbourne. Their journey to Lee Green was a circuitous one via Rochester, a daughter of 14 was born there, and Blackheath. He had been the other side of Lee Green in Osborn Place, off Lee Road, trading as a librarian and music seller in 1861. A couple of servants and an assistant in the shop were also there in 1871. William seems to be unrelated to the Martin Martin who was also a stationer and ran the post office around the corner in Burnt Ash Road.
By 1879, possibly a little earlier, the Martins were plying their trade elsewhere and Ebenezer Wilmshurst’s name was over the window of number 12. Ebenezer was born around 1849 in Cranbrook in Kent, he was married to Ellen from Greenwich and had previously lived in Blackheath and Lee since 1879 where a daughter was born. With them were two stationer’s assistants, a domestic help and a ‘mother’s help’ who was just 13 – a cousin of Ebenezer. A decade earlier he was an Assistant Stationer in a shop in Osborn Place (not Willian Martin’s though).
The Wilmshursts were to stay until the late 1890s, although were living in Blackheath rather than over the shop in 1891. The new owner was Alfred Wilson, like his predecessor he lived elsewhere, a couple of hundred metres away at 1 Cambridge Road (now Drive) in 1901. There was the beginning of something different happening above the shop though – it seems to have been the first letting to people not associated with the businesses below. Above the shop was the household of Henry Russell who worked as an ‘Explosives Operator’, presumably plying his trade at Woolwich Arsenal rather than above the shop!
Wilson was still running the business there in the 1905 Kelly’s Directory.
14 Eltham Road
This started life as a butcher run by John Page, he was from Suffolk and in 1871 was 28 and running the shop with his mother, widowed sister-in-law, plus two butchers assistants. Page had moved on by 1881, probably by 1877. The name Randall was over the window, but it is listed as Albert Frank in Kelly’s Directory and Alfred Frederick in the 1881 Census. The latter was from Sussex, and was there with Devonian wife Annie, several children, two servants but no shop staff.
A F Randall had departed by 1888 as Walter William Cook was supplying meat to the neighbourhood, or at least some of it. A decade before he’d been working in his mother’s butcher’s business 50 metres away on the Lee High Road side of Lee Green – it was more or less next door to the Police Station, an early version on the same site as the early 20th century one. That business was still operating at this stage, so whether there had been some family feud or whether it was an expansion isn’t clear. Oddly he and his family were listed in the census as living both other the shop and at 13 Brandram Road in 1891.
Whatever happened, it wasn’t a business that lasted long – the shop had become part of Charles Reed’s expanding empire by 1896.
16 Eltham Road
George Dadley a cabinet maker from Northamptonshire who had been in Eltham Road since around 1868, possibly a little earlier. In the 1871 census he was listed as employing 4 men and 2 boys, none of whom lived over the shop. With him was his wife Jemima from Lincolnshire and two children under 3, both born in Lee along with a teenage servant from Devon. George died in in 1873, but Jemima continued running the business as an upholsterer – the 1881 census listed two children George (17) and Herbert (11) who were working as upholsterers – the latter was probably an error in recording rather than child labour going on at Lee Green.
The Reeds had taken over the shop by 1891, probably earlier, but Jemima stayed in the area, working from 43 Taunton Road until at least 1901, probably later. She had retired by 1911 seems to have lived out the rest of her life in Boone’s Almshouses on Lee High Road (pictured below), until her death in 1922, aged around 85.
24 Eltham Road
John Michael Sears was a stationer and ‘fancy goods’ seller who plied his trade there in the late 1860s and early part of the 1870s. He had competition in the former trade from William Martin at no 12. The shadow of his next-door neighbour, C H Reed, was visible in his trade adverts before Christmas 1869. The shop succumbed to the Reeds in the 1870s.
26 Eltham Road
26 was another short-lived business, in 1871 it was home to William Wheeler (29) a watchmaker from Thame in Oxfordshire, he had a young daughter who had been born in Lee. He was gone before the census enumerators arrived again, with the shop becoming another part of CH Reed’s burgeoning draper’s business, probably before the decade was out.
28 Eltham Road
Charles Henry Lenn may well have been the first trader at 28 but was certainly there by 1870 selling china and glass ware to the locals of Lee. He was from Okehampton in Devon, he and Stepney born wife Caroline had moved around London a lot over the previous 2 decades. What retail experience he had before arriving at Lee Green isn’t clear, he’d been a carpenter and builder a decade before.
It was a name that was to last at least 40 years on the parade though. Caroline died in 1893 and Charles 5 years later, both were buried at what is now Hither Green Cemetery. The business carried on in Charles’ name run by daughters Susannah, Emma and Caroline . The shop was to the left of the photograph below.
30 Eltham Road
The first occupant of 30 Eltham Road seems to have been hairdresser, George Lambley from Bristol; he’d gone by the time census enumerators called in 1881 though as Lincolnshire born, Robert Johnson was trading as a shoe and bootmaker. Johnson and his wife Ellen from Gosport were to remain there until around 1895, in the middle of their time at 30, the name Stubbs & Co was over the window, but the Johnsons were always living there. Robert seems to have turned his hand to sales after leaving – he was living in Hither Green in 1901 and listed as a ‘boot traveller.’
Frederick Miller took over boot and shoe making duties on the parade, but was living in Clarendon Road (now Rise) in 1901. Miller was to stay until around the outbreak of World War 1.
32 Eltham Road
While empty in 1871, by 1881 32 was home to a trade no longer seen on shopping parades – a brush maker. Brixton born George James White was the man behind the brooms. Along with his wife, Margaret there were four children, the eldest who worked in the shop. They were there in the 1891 census but moved on by 1894 as the Reed empire closed in. The Whites presumably plied their trade elsewhere and presumably successfully, in 1901 George was still making brushes but living in Micheldever Road. He died a few years later though. The shop, pictured a few years later, is towards the left of the photograph below.
34 Eltham Road
This was a corner plot that seems to have been let with a market garden – this covered what elsewhere would be described as the ‘Piazza’ of the current Leegate Centre at the corner of Leyland Road (pictured below). The first occupant was James Walton who in the 1871 census was described a nurseryman who came from Jersey with his wife Jenny. They had been in Lee since at least 1863, when their daughter Annie was born – this was before the parade was built. Annie died in the 1880s and it was just James and daughter Annie there in 1891.
James married Harriet and in 1901 was still living above the shop at 34 with four children, the eldest were children from Harriet’s previous relationship. There were also two of their own, along with a shop assistant and a servant. By this stage Kelly’s Directory had a suffix of FRHS after the name – James was now a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society. They were to stay on there until at least 1905.
We will pick up the story of most of these shops in a couple of posts time; the next one though will look at the drapery empire of Charles Henry Reed which dominated the parade.
Picture & Other Credits
The press cutting is from the Woolwich Gazette 11 December 1869
The picture of Lee Green Farm is from the infomration board at Lee Green
The three pictures of the parade, along with that of the almshouses are from the collection of Lewisham Archives – they are used with their permission and remain their copyright
Kelly’s Directory data comes from both Lewisham and Southwark Archives
Census and related data comes from Find My Past (subscription required)
A few months ago, Running Past covered migration to one of the working-class streets in Lee, Robertson Street, which was renamed in the 1880s and is now Brightfield Road. It was always the intention to look at look at some of the wealthier streets of Lee to see what the differences were. The homes we’ll look at this time are in Southbrook Road which were featured in an Edwardian postcard and, in 1881, would have been London suburbia.
The development of Southbrook Road had started at around the same time as the railway came to Lee – the station opened on 1 September 1866. The houses at the Burnt Ash Road end of the street seem to have been built just ahead of this. 8 Southbrook Road was sold at auction with a lease of 74 years in 1889 – on the assumption that it was on a 99-year lease, it presumably had been built around 1864. As an aside, the rent was just £35 a year (1).
Like many Lee street names, the naming relates to the Baring family, who were Lords of the Manor; in 1866 the ‘Lord’ would just have been Francis Baring, the 1st Baron Northbrook. Southbrook, like Northbrook and Micheldever, they were parts of the family estate in Hampshire (2).
The houses in the postcard seem to be on the ‘even’ side to the west of Wantage Road, with Manor Lane in the background. If this assumption is correct, in the 1881 census, the houses pictured had relatively recently been sold and/or let, those at the Manor Lane end were still under construction. In the 1881 census on the ‘even’ side while 32 to 48 had been let, 50 to 52 were noted as being ‘unoccupied.’ On the opposite side of the road 33 – 45 had been completed and, apart from 41 which was unoccupied all let or bought. One of the houses in this group was sold for £710 in 1879.
The houses had been built by John Pound, who we’ve covered several times before. It seems that they were finished off by John Urquhart Allan, an Aberdonian builder who was living at 26 Taunton Road In 1881. He’d arrived via Croydon, where he’d married Harriet from Dorset. However, Allen wasn’t to emulate John Pound in terms of creating a large building empire, although the reason for his professional demise was the same – bankruptcy (3). Allan moved to north west London and restarted in his original trade, a carpenter; he stayed there until his death in 1915.
In the main, these were homes for young professionals – only two homes were ‘headed’ by someone over 37. Interestingly, two thirds of this group of households had extended families living with them. This is not a pattern noticed to any significant extent when looking at Victorian census data in the larger houses of Lee for other posts. Indeed, a decade later in the same houses it was quite uncommon.
The same style of houses had already been built to the east of Wantage Road – from electoral registers that are available on-line, it appears that there may have been sold and/or let let from around 1875. In these earlier houses there were fewer extended households and heads of household slightly older. One of those residents of the slightly older houses was someone we have come across before, William Marks, one of the founders of Northbrook Cricket Club.
This post will look at numbers 24-48 evens and 23-45 odds. For the purposes of tracking the ‘immigration’ to Lee we’ll look at the Head of household and their partner as one group (44 people), their children (32) as another group and their servants (26) as a third group. Disappointingly, some of the detail is absent with a small number of birthplaces – for example, details on the Swifts at 36 were reduced to England and a couple of others just London, such as the Mathams at 33 – although other data for them suggests they came from the City of London.
Looking first at the household heads and their partners; there are some significant differences to the working-class households of Robertson Street, later Brightfield Road. As can be seen from the map above, none of the Southbrook Road residents had been born in Lee or Lewisham (it had been 16% in Robertson Street), while there were a fair number from the rest of London – in total 40% were Londoners, this was around 9% less than in the nearby working-class housing. A slightly smaller proportion came from the neighbouring counties of Kent and Surrey than in Robertson Street.
Here the similarities end. With Robertson Street many had come from rural communities in East Anglia; in Southbrook Road the none came from those areas. Instead, the roots of 14% were in the south west of England, particularly Devon. Another major different was the number with birthplaces in the Empire (14%); these included County Down and Dublin in Ireland, one from what is now Cape Town and two who were born in Jamaica (these are excluded from the map). It is, of course, possible that the latter group may have been Black Caribbean, rather than there with trade or the colonial service, but this is much less likely but difficult to be certain about as ethnicity wasn’t recorded until the 1991 census.
There were 32 children in the homes, this excludes three boarders and another child that was being looked after for a relative. The data is somewhat skewed by one large household that had seven children all born in what is now Cape Town. Of the other 25, 10 were born in Lee and 12 elsewhere in London – mainly in neighbouring areas such as Eltham, Camberwell and New Cross – indicating the stopping off points in the journey to Lee.
William Marks was a silk merchant and his journey to 1881 Lee was shorter than many of the household heads – born in 1822 in Sheerness, his wife Jane came from Gravesend. Their children had all ‘flown the nest’ by 1881 but they’d been in Stepney in 1852 and Charlton by 1859 where they remained until a move to Lee around 1875 – he was on the electoral register in Lee then.
Martha Pollard was 34 in 1881 and was one of the more locally born residents, hailing from Woolwich. She was married to John Pollard who was 52 in 1881 and came from Devonport, now part of Plymouth. There is nothing obvious between his birth and the 1871 Census when the couple were living in Camberwell, he was working as a clerk at Somerset House. They seem to have had several children when living in Camberwell, at least two of which weren’t on the census in 1881 (they could have been away from the property on census night). They’d moved to Lee around 1876 as a daughter was born there.
As was common in the larger houses of the area, most of the houses had servants – the patterns of migration were much more similar to the working-class housing of Robertson Street, most were from London and the southeast, with a handful from the south west and Wales.
While not that much can be drawn into a small number of households in a couple of Lee streets, it certainly appears that the wealthier in Lee typically came from further away than their working-class counterparts.
And finally …. the view from about the same location as the postcard is not that different in early 2022 to that of over a hundred years before – the horse and cart has been replaced by a car but much else is similar due to the availability of off-street parking in the large front gardens.
Kentish Mercury 19 July 1889
Joan Read (1990) Lewisham Street Names and their Origins p50
Kentish Mercury 11 December 1885
The postcard is from eBay in May 2020
The census and related data come via Find My Past (subscription required)
The maps are created using census data over Google Maps
The confirmation of the builders and the 1879 purchase price comes from the deeds of one of the houses.
Last year Running Past looked at two of the most intense nights of World War Two bombing in Lee on the 27 and 29 December 1940. We turn our attention to a night earlier in December 1940 when Lee, Hither Green and parts of the Corbett Estate were again hit – the night of 8-9 December 1940 – most of the bombs fell in a short period around 11:00 pm on the Sunday evening.
As was the case with the raids almost three weeks later, Lee wasn’t the real target and was a stopping off point on a major raid on London during which German bombers dropped over 380 tons of high explosive bombs and at least 115,000 incendiaries. 250 Londoners were killed on 8 December and 600 more seriously injured. Several streets in Lee, such as Brightfield Road (below), were hit in both raids.
As we have found with other posts on the Blitz, including the first night and the raids on 27 December and 29 December 1940, it is worth remembering that not every incident was reported to the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) HQ at Lewisham Town Hall, some being just reported to the Fire Brigade but others never going through official channels. This is particularly the case with incendiary bombs which residents were often able to put out themselves.
This particular night was clearly chaotic at the ARP HQ with some incidents clearly being reported and/or written up several times – as far as possible the narrative and maps have attempted to strip out the duplicates. There were around 70 incidents reported in just Lee, Hither Green and the Corbett Estate with no doubt lots not reported and large numbers elsewhere in the old Borough of Lewisham.
There appear to have been at least three ‘breadbaskets’ dropped on Lee at around 10:50 pm– one around Wantage Road, another on Burnt Ash Road, although the numbers were smaller there and a third around Brightfield Road. There were around 70 incendiaries that the ARP logged – with most, the note on the log was ‘fire put out without significant damage to property.’ The fires in Brightfield Road were of a different class to those elsewhere though– the ARP log noted that they were ‘distinguished’ – presumably a typo. Several of the houses in the postcard above were hit, whilst the photograph was taken over 30 years before, the street scene, that much will not have changed by 1940. The locations recorded from the raid in Lee are mapped below.
There were relatively few injuries – those that there were tended to be from the aftermath and/or trying to put out fires – four were injured in Burnt Ash Road, including a child who was blinded at 90 Burnt Ash Road and an ARP warden was injured in Micheldever Road.
At around the same time as incendiaries rained down on Lee several were dropped around what was then Campshill House in Hither Green Lane, Ryecroft and Campshill Roads (at the top of the map below). A few minutes later there were a couple in the streets to the north of Brownhill Road – Ardgowan and Springbank Roads (there is a separate post on attacks on Springbank Road.) There were also incendiaries dropped in Fernbrook Road – 67 and 101 were both damaged along with another two at 127 Manor Park and Leahurst Road area (see Lee map above). No doubt a few more fell but weren’t recorded.
At about 11:05 it seems that a ‘breadbasket’ was dropped on the eastern side of the Corbett estate with several hits on Verdant Lane and a lot falling in Minard Road (pictured below) – although they mainly landed in the street. Whilst this would have destroyed cars in 2021, this presumably wasn’t much of an issue in 1940.
While in the main, it was incendiary bombs that hit Hither Green, Lee and the Corbett Estate that night, there were a few high explosive bombs dropped too. The earliest was in Nightingale Grove at the junction with Maythorne Cottages (the eastern side of the ‘tunnel’ and current main entrance to Hither Green station.) It failed to explode, but the road was closed and, presumably, residents evacuated at around 10:00 pm. Three and a half years later, more or less the same location was hit by a V-1, causing several deaths and the destruction of a lot of homes.
Around 45 minutes later another one exploded at the junction of Mount Pleasant and Fordyce Roads causing a crater in the road and damaging the water supply. Another unexploded high explosive bomb was reported at 59 St Mildred’s Road around 1:00 am, it was probably dropped earlier in the evening and the residents were evacuated.
The most destructive high explosive bomb was reported at 11:30 pm – at the junction of Dacre Park and Eton Grove, close to Lee Terrace. Two houses were demolished and several others were damaged beyond repair. Dacre Park was blocked for a while and four were reported as being injured.
One of those injured was William John Sherriff, a 21-year-old merchant seaman from Port Talbot in South Wales; William was taken to Lewisham Hospital but died there the following day.
While of a similar size to the site from the Fernbrook Road V1 and several around Boone Street, the old Brough of Lewisham did not prefabs built on it; the site was cleared and flats built on it soon after the war, pictured below.
In several locations the term ’many’ was used in the ARP log – this includes the both the eastern and western sides of Burnt Ash Road, Effingham Road (around the current Brindishe School), the eastern end of Burnt Ash. In these cases, I have assumed at least four incendiaries fell. Some also aren’t exact – one group of four were noted as being on Micheldever between Wantage and Burnt Ash Roads.
The numbers are undoubtedly an underestimate – incendiary bombs that harmlessly fell in gardens or roads probably wouldn’t have been reported.
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.
The postcard of Effingham Road is via eBay in February 2018
On the corner of Lee High Road and Lee Church Street there is a small Victorian pub that seems to be clinging onto life, it has gone through a pair of reincarnations in the recent past. For the first 160 or so years of its life it was known as the Swan, in the last decade Rambles Bar and then Elements Bar.
The pub had opened around 1837, with the licence going to a James Couchman. It transferred to Thomas Couchman, presumably James’ son, on the condition that he ran the pub (1), Thomas was previously the parish constable. He had been born around 1796 somewhere in Kent (the 1841 census only listed the county), this may well have been in Lee.
As we saw in a post on one of the Quaggy tributaries, Mid Kid Brook, the original name came from swans that lived on a small lake or moat which had been created by damming the Brook in what are currently the grounds of Merchant Taylor’s Almshouses. The lake, sometimes referred to as the Looking Glass of Lee, went back to around the bottom of Dacre Park. Initially, it was for a farm run by the Lord of the Manor, Brian Annesley, whose later years seems to have at least influenced Shakespeare’s King Lear. Later it was an ornamental lake for Lee Place, home initially to a man who profited from the slave trade, George Thomson, and later to the Boone family.
In its early days, in the absence of of public buildings, The Swan was home to jury led inquests into deaths. This seems to have been common practice as we saw with the unfortunate Robert Cocking who died in an early parachute accident. His inquest was held at the Old Tigers Head.
Of the inquests held, the most notable was that following the death of police constable, William Aldridge, from a fractured skull in Deptford. He was hit by a rock thrown by a mob who tried to resist the arrest of John Pine outside the Navy Arms in Deptford (a pub building that is still there but looks forlorn and has seemingly been converted into flats). The death wasn’t instant and Aldridge returned to his home in Lee where he declined rapidly and died – the Metropolitan Police had been formed a decade before and he was the eighth officer to die on duty.
The inquest jury recorded ‘wilful murder’ against William Calvert, John Pine, his brother William, and John Burke (2). In the end charges were reduced to manslaughter and at the end of the trial at the Old Bailey, John Pine was transported for life as was William Calvert, albeit for 15 years (3). Perhaps they ended up in the antipodean Lewisham.
Like the Old Tiger’s Head at Lee Green there were sporting events along with associated gambling at the Swan. In 1843 there was a pedestrian race between ‘Two Unknowns’ one from Greenwich, one from Lee for a £10 stake over 200 yards (4). There also seems to have been live pigeon shooting (5) possibly over the road around what is now Bankwell Road, it was a sport that was only mentioned once in the press in relation to The Swan, but was later to happen regularly at the Old Tigers Head.
Thomas Couchman had moved on by early 1846 with George Chapman’s name was on brass over the door (6). Chapman died the same year, aged just 29 (7). James Charles Tiley was landlord by 1847; he would have been about 34 at that time, he was born in Middlesex. In 1851 he was a widower and was there with Charlotte Goddard, who was listed as his daughter in law (but almost certainly wasn’t), she worked as a barmaid; also there was a lodger. By 1861 James and Charlotte were married with two young children and a couple of servants – Sarah Larking and Mathilda Newmann.
As with every pub in the area, there were fights, drunkenness and arrests – one included the drunken assault of a police officer by George Mahoney of Robertson Street (now the Lee High Road end of Brightfield Road) who was fighting with someone else outside the pub and when arrested hit the PC. He was fined 10/- or two weeks in prison (9).
The next landlord was John Fitzgerald who started pulling pints after James Tiley’s death. He had moved on before the 1881 census enumerators called as the landlord was then John Green who was then 38 and hailed from Dartford. There with him was his wife, Mary from Devon, two children, two bar staff who lived above the pub, along with a domestic servant.
The Greens had moved on by September 1884 as Walter William Scott took over the licence. One of the first things that Scott changed was to try to let stabling attached to the pub, noting that it could also be used for for manufacturing or business (10). Scott moved on by 1889 as the licence was briefly held in 1889/90 by Devonian, John Byerlee Beadle (11) who had previous been landlord at the Coopers’ Arms in Shoreditch. While listed there in the 1891 Kelly’s, he had moved on by the 1891 census as he was recorded as a retired publican living in Woolwich.
At The Swan in 1891 was Walter Haywood Cooper, born in Portsmouth in 1862, who was there with his wife Emma and two live-in staff, a potman, Thomas Mears and a barmaid, Bertha Crew.
The Coopers stay was a relatively short one, but those that followed had very brief tenures as the licence transferred to Frank Minty in August 1896 (12) soon after the death of Emma in May 1896 (13).
As we saw in the post on the Lesters of Lee New Town, there was a serious distubance in early 1897, when George Lester was charged with being ‘riotous whilst drunk’ and assaulting two Police Constables after having to be ejected from the Swan. He was found guilty and got a hefty fine of £6 or three months imprisonment with 6/- (30p) costs.
Frank Minty was gone by May 1897, as J Ellesmere asserted that the pub was under new management stressing the quality of the whiskies on offer to the discerning drinker (14). Ellesmere’s stay was even shorter, little more than 4 months, as there was new ‘new management’ by September 1897 as the adverts were in the name of John McPherson (15). He was a Scot from Argyllshire, but had moved from the Red Cross pub in North Cray, the pub is has been known as the White Cross since 1935 to avoid confusion with the British Red Cross.
McPherson was there with his wife, Maud, a young child and a couple of live-in staff, barmaid Rosina Jones and a domestic servant Helen Gander in 1901. The pub is pictured at the back of the photograph below from around this era.
Around 1907 Bertie William Richard Perou took over the licence, he’d have been around 24, he’d been working as a barman at his Father’s pub, the Red Lion at 17 Greenwich High Road (the building, although not the pub is still there). His father had probably retired by 1907 and lived in Longhurst Road (16). Perou started to use the rooms for concerts – including a ‘Bohemian Concert’ in late 1907 one of several by the Lee and Lewisham Musical Society (17). Perou’s was another who had a short stay as by 1911 he was running the Hutchinson Arms in Stepney. The pub is pictured below, its sign visible at the rear of the photograph from this era.
The next name on the brass plaque over the door seems to have been Henry Bernard Drew who was certainly there by the time the 1911 Kelly’s Directory was compiled. Born in the City of London in 1869, Drew came from a family who worked on the Thames, his father was a master lighter man and in 1901 he was listed as a Barge Owner living in the then suburbia of the Corbett Estate on Arngask Road with his wife Ada, daughter Ada and a servant not called Ada. It’s not clear why he gave up life on the water but was there by 1911, probably a year or two before, perhaps living in Catford he’d already given up interest other than ownership. They still had a live in servant and no doubt employed people in the bar.
He stayed at the Swan until the mid 1930s, possibly running the pub until his death in 1937 at the Miller Hospital in Greenwich. At the time he was living in the WJ Scudamore built Thornwood Road. He was survived by Ada.
The next landlord was probably Walter Edward Mitchell, he was certainly there in the 1939 Register, when he was living at The Swan on his own; he probably took over the tenancy at around the time of Henry Drew’s death. He was born in 1895 probably in Westminster, although the family always seems to have lived around Lambeth, and living in Kennington in 1911 when he was working as a Porter. He died in 1962.
On Facebook threads there were a few memories of a DJ called Graham Edwards in the 1960s and 1970s and the regular playing of T Rex’s Ride a White Swan (released in 1970). There was a darts team and that odd fixture of many pub Sunday lunchtimes – the stripper. It seems that in that era Jim and Kath ran the pub.
Fast forward to the 1980s and 1990s the landlord was William (Bill) Whipps born in Bermondsey in 1950, and wife Mary, they’d married in Lewisham in 1969. They may have divorced then remarried as a couple of the same uncommon names married in Bexley in 2002 – both with the surname Whipps.
Around this time the name seemed to have subtly changed with both a prefix and suffix to the ‘Famous Swan of Lee.’ The source of the fame is unclear. It was very much a ‘Millwall pub’, something particularly noticeable around the Lions trips to Cardiff for the FA Cup Final (whilst Wembley was being rebuilt) in 2004 and the subsequent brief foray into Europe, along with visits to Wembley later in the decade for play-off Finals. On such occasions the pub was covered with flags of St George. The pub was probably run by a couple called Mark and Faye in this era. It is pictured below from 2009.
There are several reviews in Beer in the Evening for The Swan which deteriorated during the first decade of the 21st century. In 2003 it was described as “Cheap, honest, good jukebox, good beer. It’s doing the simple things well that makes this pub a cut above the rest nearby.”
A review four years later was equally positive, almost too good to be true “a fantastic pub, wonderful bar staff and super landlady, the entertainment is first class with Campbell’s disco every two weeks and the karaoke and bands they have on there, never any trouble!!!!”
It struggled over the next few years with several short periods closed for a variety of reasons, with reviews less gushing – ‘a very basic boozer’ was one less than enthusiastic description. It had a couple of prolonged periods of over six months closed during 2012 and 2013 before reopening with a new name, Rambles Bar, pictured below from 2014.
From the outside, at least, it was a business that seemed to struggle, while more inviting than the latter days of its previous incarnation, when passing it lacked a key element of a successful pub or bar, drinkers. There were a few party nights when the pub was rammed but these seemed to be rarities.
The current incarnation, which has straddled COVID-19 and the lockdowns that killed off the Dirty South (Rose of Lee), is known as Elements Bar. It offers food and cocktails, but much reduced hours to the traditional pub that was previously there. There seem to be similar issues of large parties but few drinkers on other nights. An almost empty bar from a November 2021 mid Saturday evening is pictured above.
The struggles of the Swan (and it’s successors) are almost certainly related to changes in the area – much of the social housing in what was once Lee New Town (the area bounded by Lee High Road, Dacre Park and Boone Street) has been sold under right to buy. The neighbouring streets on the south side of Lee High Road had been home to skilled manual workers and public sector workers before and after World War Two. However, wealthier professionals have moved in, house prices have risen and drinking patterns changed. There are lots of external factors too such as the smoking ban and cheaper supermarket booze too.
Combined, this has an impact on traditional pubs – the last 25 years have seen the demise of the Royal Oak, the Greyhound and most recently the Woodman. The former Swan is bucking the trend and hanging on in there. All four are pictured above from a few years ago.
Unlike many other closed local pubs, there haven’t been pages of memories posted on Facebook – maybe there hasn’t been a trigger to do it… So, if you worked there or drank there, tell your story, who were the characters who propped up the bar, the publicans, the staff, the atmosphere, the memorable nights, the particular celebrations that were held there, memories of the friends, the beers. Post them below (you can use your Facebook or Twitter login – or via Facebook (if you found the post via there) – if it is you first comment ‘here’, you will have to wait for it to be ‘moderated’. I will update the post with comments. Anything libellous will get deleted here & no doubt on the Facebook Group pages.
Ken White (1992) The Public Houses of Lee and Lewisham p241
5 October 1839 – Kentish Mercury
9 October 1839 – London Evening Standard
28 May 1843 – Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle
3 April 1842 – Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle
23 November 1846 – Morning Advertiser
9 January 1847 – West Kent Guardian
23 September 1871 – Kentish Mercury
25 May 1872 – Kentish Mercury
12 September 1884 – Kentish Mercury
White op cit p241
28 August 1896 – Kentish Mercury
24 April 1896 – Kentish Mercury
14 May 1897 – Woolwich Gazette
17 September 1897 Woolwich Gazette
17 May 1907 – Kentish Mercury
15 November 1907 – Kentish Mercury
Picture and Other Credits
The postcard with the pub in the background showing Oates drapers is from the author’s own ‘collection’
The postcard with the tram in from of the Woodman, is via eBay in 2017
Prior to the arrival of the railways, Hither Green and Lee were rural, a mixture of farming – such as Lee Manor Farm to the east and North Park Farm to the west of what is now Hither Green Station and the large country houses of Lee including the Manor House and The Firs. The railways directly and indirectly brought lots of new inhabitants, although the distances travelled and the modes of transport changed considerably in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Running Past has touched on Victorian migration before in numerous posts, notably those around shopping parades – such as 1 to 19 Burnt Ash Road, where the family histories of the shopkeepers have been explored. However, in the first of what will be a series of posts, we look at Victorian migration through several streets starting with what was a working class street then called Robertson Street, now Brightfield Road.
It is a street that we have looked at before in a couple of posts on its history – the period when it was Robertson Street and after it changed its name in the late 1880s. It was one of the earlier developments of smaller houses in the area, built around 1862 by the builder and developer John Pound. Its purpose seems to have been to house workers that Pound needed to build larger homes along what was then Burnt Ash Lane (now Road and Hill) towards Grove Park.
By 1881 it was an established community – as we saw in the earlier post, male employment still focused on the building industry, the women of the street were generally working too – mainly employed in washing, ironing and cleaning for the middle classes of the wealthier streets.
So where had these people come from? Census records for 21 houses, then numbered 30 – 50, have been looked at in terms of birthplaces. There were 33 households in those houses with 72 adults and 54 children. We’ll look at the adults first.
Given that the area had been developing since the early 1850s and the street since 1862, it is slightly surprising how few of the Robertson Street adults had been born in Lee, only 6 (8%), with the same number hailing from either neighbouring Lewisham or Blackheath.
21% came from established communities along the Thames from Chelsea to Woolwich via Deptford. Another half dozen (8%) from the rest of what was then London – so, in total, only just under a half were Londoners by birth.
Much of the migration though was relatively local – almost 1 in 5 (19%) came from the rural communities of Kent and Surrey, including many towns and villages now subsumed into London such as Eltham, Bromley and Chislehurst – all were separate in 1881.
The equal biggest group (21%) came from East Anglia – almost all from rural communities, many from hamlets which have now almost disappeared. They are plotted on the map below.
The rest came from either the Home Counties (4%) or from a variety of other locations around southern England plus one from Wales and one who was off map who was born in an unknown location in Scotland.
Their children were very different though – of the 54, 40 had been born in Lee and, of the rest, all but three were Londoners.
One of the longer distances travelled were by a couple from North Norfolk, the Harpers. Charles Harper was a bricklayer at number 42 who came from Roydon near Kings Lynn around 110 miles from Lee. Born in 1846 he was still in Roydon in 1861, aged 14, working as a bricklayer, probably with his father who was in the same trade. A decade later he was married to Elizabeth, who was from nearby Hunstanton in Norfolk. They had moved to London and were living at 18 Summerfield Street in Lee with Charles still working as a bricklayer, the street is pictured below. Like the houses in Robertson Street, they were built and rented out by John Pound many housing the labour for his building firm.
The family was still in Lee in 1891 – living at 7 Manor Lane, possibly working for WJ Scudamore, whose base was a couple of doors away (pictured below from 2015). Beyond 1891 the trail goes cold on them though. Like most of their neighbours in Robertson Street, all of their six children were born in Lee.
A later post will look at migration to one of the wealthier streets of Victorian Lee, probably Handen Road, to see whether the patterns of migration are different there.
Census and related data comes via Find My Past, subscription required
The maps have been created via Google Maps using 1881 census data
Running Past has often covered the stories of those living in and around Lee and Hither Green, particularly in Edwardian, Victorian times and before. Because of the nature of the development of the area it has usually been the stories of the wealthy with servants, shopkeepers and publicans living in what was once suburbia and the farmers in the years before.
The histories of several working class streets have been told – notably Ardmere Road and Brightfield Road including under its previous name Robertson Street. However, there have been few family stories – this post, on a family that lived in and around Lee Church Street for four generations, begins to put this right. Some relatively recent photographs of the area are below.
Lee New Town consisted of small terraced houses, many in narrow alleys on and off the current streets of Lee Church Street, Boone Street, Boone’s Road, Fludyer Street and Dacre Park. It was built from the 1820s after the estate of Lee Place had been sold in lots. It was demolished both by the Luftwaffe and as part of a late 1950s slum clearance programme. Boone Street is pictured below, probably from the 1950s before the demolition of the houses.
The Lesters were a long standing family who lived in Lee New Town for much of four generations. It’s not an attempt to write a complete family history but to try and understand something of what life was like for an ordinary working class household in Lee from the 1850s into the 20th century. We will focus on one member of the family from each generation.
Charlotte Lester, who successive generations have taken their name from was born in Colchester around 1803. It isn’t clear whether Lester is her birth surname or if she married in Colchester – there is no obvious record of either, although a child of that name was baptised in 1810.
Charlotte had two children in Colchester, James John Lester (1834) and Mary born there around 1838.
By the 1841 census, Charlotte was listed as a servant and living in Lewisham; she had hit very hard times as Charlotte and her two young children were in the Lewisham Union Workhouse.
The Lewisham Poor Law Union was formed in 1836, serving the parishes of Lee, Charlton, Eltham, Kidbrooke, Mottingham, and Plumstead as well as Lewisham. The workhouse was on the site on the Lewisham Hospital. Victorian workhouse buildings remain on the site, complete with an eroded Lewisham Union badge over the entrance – the part to the left of the arch dates from before the Lesters’ stay, the rest was later (1). Charlotte will probably have been put to work picking oakum – unravelling strands of old rope.
There was a children’s section over the road on the edge of what is now Lewisham Park, so Charlotte was probably separated from James and Mary. Conditions were poor for the children – often suffering from rickets and anemia due to poor diet and sleeping four to a bed in what was a badly ventilated, cold building (2).
It isn’t clear how long the family was in the workhouse or where in the Union they had previously been. As a servant, losing a job could quickly lead to the loss of home, directly if they ‘lived in’ or indirectly if they were unable to find new employment very quickly. There was no welfare state safety net.
Towards the end of 1843, Charlotte married John Kiddle in Greenwich – he was a Londoner who worked as a garden labourer. Along with a new daughter, Eliza, who was born in Greenwich in 1845, they were listed as living at 9 Boone Street in 1851. James, now around 15, was working as an errand boy. Houses from elsewhere on Boone Street are pictured below.
Whether they were actually living at 9 Boone Street is debatable – many of the houses on the street weren’t numbered in the census record apart from three households who were all given number 9. Either 19 people were sharing one property or some errors made. If it was 9 it would have been close to where Boone Street now dog-legs around. What is now the dog-leg was then Dacre Street. What is probably more likely is that it was an incorrectly transcribed Boone’s Place where Charlotte was living in 1861.
It seems that John died around 1856, aged around 35.
In the 1861 census, Charlotte and Eliza were living in Boone’s Place, Charlotte working as a charwoman and Eliza, now 16, was still at school. Boone’s Place was a small terrace facing north about 100 metres from the High Road off Boone Street, opposite the Smithy on the map below from 1893.
The census record isn’t completely clear, but it looks as though Charlotte was the head of the household at number 9 and it was a house that she shared with George and Mary Martin and their young son. George Martin’s parents and seven siblings lived next door at number 8.
In 1871, Charlotte was still living at 9 Boone’s Place – listed as being the head of household, there was no occupation listed in the census. With her daughter Eliza and her husband Charles Robert Hoy, a baker, who she had married in Deptford in 1870. It isn’t immediately obvious what happened to the Hoys after the 1871 census.
Charlotte despite her hard life lived to around 74, a decent age given life expectancy in Victorian England – she died in Lewisham in 1877.
Back to Charlotte’s son James; by 1861 he was living in George Square, one of the small ‘courts’ in Lee New Town. He had married Maria (née Wells) in Bromley in 1858. They had two children James (1859) and Henry (1861) they were all listed as labourers in the census, but even in tough Victorian times, babies and toddlers weren’t sent out to work.
The small house that the Lesters lived in was almost certainly off Dacre Street and was shared with another family, the Smiths – there were 9 of them living there.
Infant mortality rates were high, and Henry had died before 1861 was out. Over the next decade the Lesters had several more children – Maria (born 1863), Eliza (1864), George (1866), Emily (1869) and Samuel just before the census enumerators called again in 1871. They had moved by 1871, by about 100 metres and were living at 10 Union Place – this was a small turning off the western side of Lee Church Street between the ‘Church’ and ‘Street’ on the map.
George, who will focus on in terms of this generation, was 5 and listed as a scholar, probably going to the National Schools over the road on the opposite side of Lee Church Street – pictured above just before demolition in the late 1950s alongside its current version. A classroom is pictured below from the same era, but it had probably not changed markedly since George’s time there.
James and family were still living at 10 Union Place in 1881, James, now 46, was listed as a labourer. There were 10 children there ranging in age from 21 to 1.
In 1881 George was 15 and living with his parents, he was working as a ‘cow boy’ – presumably a young assistant in a dairy rather than riding horseback through Lee wearing a Stetson. There were still several farms in the district which George could easily have walked to from Lee – Burnt Ash, Lee Manor, College, North Park and Horn Park would fit the bill as would dairies, such as the one in Butterfield Street.
A decade later James, Maria and the family that remained ‘at home’ had moved out of Lee and were living in Victoria Terrace, part of Ennersdale Road. The house is still there although it is now 11 Leahurst Road – it is much bigger than the houses in Lee New Town. They were probably able to afford the no doubt higher rent as a lot of the family was now working – James was still a painter, Maria was working as a laundress, Henry (1871) a butcher, Alfred (1873) a servant, Charles (1875) and Ernest (1877) were both shop boys, with Annie (1878) and Alice (1880) both still at school. James died a few weeks after the census aged 57.
Maria stayed in the area – living in Molesworth Street in 1901, still working as a laundress at (63), with Charles (1875), a granddaughter and a couple of lodgers. She was still there a decade later with Alfred (1873) now a bank messenger, along with 2 boarders. What happened to her beyond that isn’t clear.
We return to George (born around 1866). He married Sarah Elizabeth Reffin from Brighton in the summer of 1887; she seems to have been also known as Elizabeth – that is how she is referred to in later censuses. He was no longer a cow boy, by 1891 he was working as a bricklayers labourer. In the early years of the marriage, the family moved around a little – they had three children born in 1889 (Catford), 1890 (Lee) and 1891 (Lewisham) and by the time of the census were back in Lee, living at 6 Dacre Square. Dacre Square was a tiny area of 12 houses accessed off the southern side of Dacre Street via an alley – below the ’R’ of street on the map. Dacre Square is just visible between properties on Dacre Street below (probably from the 1930s) as well as above.
George had a run in with the law in 1897 when he was was charged with being ‘riotous whilst drunk’ and assaulting two Police Constables after having to be ejected from the Swan. He was found guilty and got a hefty fine of £6 or three months imprisonment with 6/- (30p) costs (3). In 2021 terms, the fine would have been around £800.
By the time of his conviction he was a bricklayer and living at 59 Dacre Street. He and Elizabeth had 7 children living with them. 59 Dacre Street would have been almost opposite the entrance to Dacre Square – it may well be (just) pictured from the 1930s from Dacre Square below.
George and family were still in Lee New Town in 1911, living at 7 Royal Oak Place in 1911 – it isn’t clear exactly where this is, but logic would suggest it was close to the Royal Oak pub – at the top of Lee Church Street. There were eleven of them in the household ranging in age from 20 to 5.
It isn’t immediately clear what happened to George after 1911. However, a couple of George and Elizabeth’s children were still living in the area as war broke out in 1939 – the fourth generation of the family in Lee New Town. Most of the oth ated to Canada in the 1930s.
Sidney (1897) was living at 7 St Margaret’s Passage and was working as a railway labourer – a house that was on the western side of the alleyway, more or less opposite the end of the Dacre Arms’ garden. It was demolished for the flats which are pictured at the bottom of the first group of photographs.
The youngest son, Fred, born in 1906, was living at 52 Dacre Park – close to the corner of Boone’s Road – he seems to have worked for coal dealer – although this was incorrectly transcribed as ‘coal miner.’ Fred seems to have stayed in Lewisham until his death in 1983. The home he was lived in was destroyed in the Blitz – there were prefabs there post war.
Lewisham Local History Centre (1992) Looking Back at Lewisham p56
Kentish Mercury 5 March 1897
Census and related data comes via Find My Past, subscription required
The pair of photographs of Boone Street and that of Boone’s Place (with children) come from the notice board adjacent to Kingswood Halls
The single photograph of Boone Street, the photo of the classroom along with those looking into and out of Boone’s Square are from the collection of Lewisham Archives and remain their copyright, but are used with their permission
The earlier photograph of the school is via Collage – Record number 189098 / Catalogue reference: SC_PHL_02_0327_59_2658 – permission given for use here, but no rights to use elsewhere, it remains their copyright
The Ordnance Survey map is on a non-commercial licence via the National Library of Scotland
There were serious floods in Lewisham in September 1968 which Running Past covered on their 50th anniversary. Previous floodings of the Ravensbourne, Quaggy and Pool were mentioned in passing at that stage, including a reference to some very serious ones 90 years earlier in 1878. It is to these that we now turn our attention. In syndicated press reports it was reported that in Lewisham the ‘whole of the village (was) 3 or 4 feet deep in water’ (1).
The 19th century had seen several inundations of Lee and Lewisham – Victorian historian FH Hart noted very serious floods in 1814 as the ice melted following one of the last big freezes of the Little Ice Age – the last time there was a frost fair on the Thames. There had also been really bad ones in 1853 and another flooding following a period of heavy rain on Christmas Eve 1876 – but the 1878 ones were described as being ‘the worst in living memory’ (2).
The spring of 1878 seems to have been a very dry warm one with surfaces left hardened. From the early hours of Thursday 11 April 1868, 3¼ inches (83 mm) of rain fell in 12 hours while this was the highest for 64 years, it was substantially less that the rainfall that led to the 1968 floods.
Unlike the floods 90 years later in 1968, where the devastation was similar in the three catchments of the Ravensbourne, Pool and Quaggy; in 1878 it was mainly in the Quaggy and the Ravensbourne below the confluence with the Quaggy near Plough Bridge – named after the pub of the same name (pictured just before its demolition around 2007).
This is not to say the other parts of the catchment escaped – there was flooding higher up the Ravensbourne with Shortlands impassable; the local landowners at Southend, the Forster’s, home was flooded and the nearby bridge on Beckenham Lane (now Hill Road) was washed away – the bridge that replaced is pictured in the background of the postcard below. The cricket pitches by Catford stations were flooded up to sills of pavilion windows. Similarly, Bell Green was impassable on the River Pool (5).
The local press though focussed on the Quaggy and lower Ravensbourne – we’ll follow the trail of destruction and damage downstream from Lee Green.
At Lee Green the basement of the shops at what was then called Eastbourne Terrace on Eltham Road (to the left of the photo, a couple of decades later) were completely flooded out with seemingly some flooding at ground level too.
Further downstream where the Quaggy is bridged by Manor Lane, the road was impassable. The area was in a period of transition from its rural past to suburbia, having been opened up by the railways through (but not stopping at) Hither Green, Lee and Blackheath. There were still some larger houses from the exclusive village past – all situated in the higher ground around Old Road and on the hill between Lee High Road and Belmont Hill. The lower lying fields were under water as was any housing built on the flood plain. The same continued downstream through what is now Manor Park – the course of the Quaggy was a little different at that stage though.
The houses that had been completed on what is now Leahurst Road (then a dog leg of Ennersdale Road) which backed onto the Quaggy were badly flooded. As a result of the 1876 floods, the local Board of Works had built a large concrete wall, an early use of the material, to try to reduce the impact of future floods. It was described as ‘perfectly useless’ as water bypassed it and inundated the houses in Eastdown Park. The wall is still there – extended upwards a little after the 1878 floods.
There was a small dairy on Weardale Road, probably next door to the Rose of Lee. Unsurprisingly it became flooded and the cowherd turned out the 30 cows who were found wandering in the water on Manor Park. The were taken to the higher ground of Lee Manor Farm. Elsewhere in Lee, pigs were drowned.
Beyond the Rose of Lee the relatively newly built Eastdown Park bridge ‘blown up by the force of the water.’ The bridge between Weardale Road and Eastdown Park also seems to have been destroyed.
The food waters became deeper as they went down Lee High Road, up to 1.2 metres (4’) deep in the houses of Elm Place, just before Clarendon Rise (then Road). The Sultan on the other side Clarendon Rise was badly flooded too – the third time that this had happened in a decade as the publican, Robert Janes, explained in the press. The pub is pictured below from the next century.
Beyond the Sultan, flood waters flowed both over and under the road – at one point it was expected that the culvert from the bottom of Belmont Hill to St Stephens church might be destroyed but in the end it was just the road surface that was wrecked – this is the high pavement that now stands in front of the police station.
The roadway in front of St Stephens several feet underwater – with the Roebuck, Plough and other pubs such as the Albion all flooded. Boats used to ferry people through Lewisham. There was a real bottle neck around Plough Bridge, the ‘utter insufficiency’ of the narrow Plough Bridge to carry off ordinary storm water was regarded as one of the causes too. The whole area around Lewisham Bridge (pictured below from a few decades later) badly flooded, particularly Molesworth and Rennell Streets and unsurprisingly Esplanade Cottages in the middle of the Ravensbourne, along with the pub the Maid in Mill and rest of Mill Lane.
An iron girder bridge at Stonebridge Villas was washed down along with a wall by the railway, built to try to reduce flooding a year before was washed away – hundreds of houses on the lower lying parts of what became the Orchard estate to the east of the Ravensbourne were inundated. It was the same with the market gardens on the western side, along with large swathes of Deptford. Virtually all the area around the Ravensbourne on the map below from 15 years later was left underwater.
In addition to the high rainfall there was a clear underlying cause which was summed up well by a local man, Frederick Barff, who had grown up in Lee when it was still rural but was living in Eastdown Park in 1871 and if still there in 1878 would have been flooded out. He observed that prior to the development of Lee from the mid-1850s while there had been flooding, it initially stood in large areas of fields which absorbed the runoff without major consequences. The growth of Victorian suburbia had led to increased run off and more water ending up in rivers and stream and at a quicker pace (6).
In the immediate aftermath a temporary wooden bridge over the Quaggy between Weardale Road and Eastdown Park was approved the following day by the Metropolitan Board of Works (7).
There was a public meeting at the Plough on the Friday (next day) to ‘consider the best means of alleviating the distress amongst the poor of Lewisham, Lee, Blackheath and Catford. Crowded by the clergymen, parish officials and leading tradesmen of the district.’ In days before the state intervened in disasters like this it was left to charity to provide ‘coal and relief to those poor people in the district’ whose homes had been flooded. Over £200 was collected or promised for the Lewisham and Lee Inundation Relief Fund – with £120 going to the parishes of St Mark and St Stephen in central Lewisham that had been worst affected; £50 for Ladywell; with £50 for Lee and Blackheath.
So, what happened afterwards? The approach that was used was one that continued towards the end of the 20th century and the 1968 floods – straightening and deepening rivers to try to move water on more rapidly. This happened on the Quaggy behind what is now Brightfield Road – as the maps from 1863 and 1893 show. The Quaggy was also moved and straightened between Manor Park and Longhurst Roads – this happened a little later once the land was developed for housing.
Several bridges were replaced – the partially destroyed Eastdown Park bridge was rebuilt and replaced with a girder one (see below from the river), the river level is lower there now too, although whether this happened post 1878 or 1968 isn’t immediately clear (8).
Plough Bridge was replaced in 1881 by the Metropolitan Board of Works (9) having been preceded by ‘general dredging and clearing the channels of the river’ (10). Later a new sewer between Lee Bridge and Deptford Creek was constructed to try to take some pressure off the rivers from run off (11).
Another bridge replaced by the Board of Works was the one on Lee Road. Previously this had been a ford and footbridge, but a large single span bridge replaced it following the floods, presumably with a lowering of the river bed (12).
The underlying problems remained though, making flows quicker may alleviate problems in one location but without storage and a whole catchment solution, including the ability to control flows on the Thames it wasn’t much better than a sticker plaster. The fields that had acted as sponges continued to be developed and increased run off. In reality, not much had changed by the 1968 floods and it took the development of flood storage in Sutcliffe Park (pictured below) in the early 2000s to really make much difference. Without it Lewisham would regularly flood – it is pictured from late 2020.
Most of the information for this post comes from the Kentish Mercury of 27 April 1878 which covered the flooding and its aftermath in depth. Readers can assume that contemporary information comes from there unless otherwise referenced.