Category Archives: Blackheath History

Eugenia Bouvier – A Lewisham Suffragette

This week marks the centenary of the Royal Assent of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave some women the right to vote (it would be another decade before voting equality with men was to be achieved). It is worth reflecting on, and celebrating, the life of a woman who made Lewisham her home and was actively involved with the struggle – Eugenia Bouvier, usually known as Jeannie.

She was a Russian émigré who was born in 1865.  Little seems to be known about her early years but she married the Italian born Paul Emile Bouvier in 1888.

They settled in Catford, just off Stanstead Road, at 21 Ravensbourne Road – they were there when the census enumerators called in 1891 – he was a French teacher and they were well enough off to be able to afford a servant – a 20 year old, Alice Whiffin.  They remained there for the rest of the decade as, somewhat ironically, given later events, Paul appeared on the electoral register there until 1899. They had a daughter, Irene Eugenie, in 1893 whilst living there.

There is no mention of them in the 1901 census, although given the struggles that officialdom seemed to have struggled with both her names they may just be hidden in spelling errors and poor handwriting.  It is known that at some point Jeannie was living at 32 Mount Pleasant Road (1).  She was widowed in 1904 when Paul died, aged just 46.

Her home in Mount Pleasant Road (immediately to the left of the house shown below) was badly damaged during the Blitz, along with several neighbouring properties which were largely destroyed. The site had been cleared by the time the Ordnance Survey surveyed the area in 1949 and had flats on it built soon after.

Like the two other suffragettes that Running Past has covered, May Billinghurst and Emily Davison, Jeannie was actively involved in direct action and was arrested twice due in the struggle.  She was known to have interrupted a meeting in Reading in January 1908 being addressed by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Augustine Birrell, she and others shouted ‘Votes for Women’ at regular intervals.

In February the same year she was arrested as part of the ‘pantechnicon incident’ when a hired lorry was used as a ‘Trojan Horse’ in an unsuccessful attempt to enter the House of Commons.  There were scuffles with the police, mainly in an attempt to resist arrest, and lots of arrests including Jeannie.

There were 50 suffragettes arrested and they appeared Westminster Police Court – the press noted that the ‘ wily leaders escap(ed) arrest.’

The defendants, including Jeannie, were described as mostly being ‘ladies of refinement and education’ and charged with ‘disorderly conduct.’ The sentence was to find a surety of £20 or 6 weeks in jail (2)

There were further incidents later in 1908 where Jeannie is reported as peacefully disrupting meetings and receptions attended by the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers.

In July 1909 she was arrested again in a ‘raid’ on the House of Commons – Jeannie threw a stone through the window of the Privy Council Offices and was arrested and charged with criminal damage.  She appeared at Bow Street Magistrates Court in front of London’s Chief Stipendiary Magistrate – Albert de Rutzen.  He compared her to ‘hooligan boys in the street’; she compared her actions with men who had used similar methods protesting against the Reform Act.  She demanded to be considered as a political prisoner; he regarded her as a common criminal.  He was the magistrate; she was the prisoner and was fined £5 plus 2/6d damages or a sentence of a month at Holloway – she didn’t pay the fine (3).

Like many suffragettes sentenced to imprisonment she went on hunger strike and was released early, after just 10 days in Holloway (4).

She was secretary of the Lewisham Women’s Social and Political Union for several years – regularly chairing meetings – including  at a ‘rowdy meeting at Blackheath’ Concert Halls in October 1909 when medical students broke up seating and let of stink bombs and fireworks – leading to the police being called (5) as well as meetings in New Cross in May (6) and November 1908 (7).  She was a regular speaker for the Women’s Social and Political Union both locally – including street meetings like this in Catford (8).

She is known to have spoken at a meeting on Blackheath, presumably at Whitefield’s Mount, in September 1909 and in 1912 was present at the opening of new WSPU offices in Lewis Grove in Lewisham where a crowd of around three thousand became hostile throwing eggs (9).

She went well beyond her local area and was a regular speaker in favour of women’s suffrage elsewhere in the country – including a meeting with Annie Kenney where a firecracker was let off inside the meeting (10)

The last definitive political involvement was work in the East End with Sylvia Pankhurst speaking at conferences opposing conscription in 1915 and 1916.  Pankhurst described her as a ‘brave, persistent Russian.’


It is believed that she returned to post-revolutionary Russia after the end of World War 1 and remained there until her death in 1933 (11).


  1. Iris Dove (1988) Yours In The Cause – Suffragettes in Lewisham, Greenwich & Woolwich p5
  2. 13 February 1908 – Sheffield Independent
  3. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Feb 17, 1909; pg. 10; Issue 38885
  4. 12 July 1909 – Yorkshire Evening Post
  5. Kentish Mercury 15 October 1909
  6. Kentish Mercury 08 May 1908
  7. Kentish Mercury 20 November 1908
  8. Woolwich Gazette 11 June 1909
  9. Dove op cit p7
  10. Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser 06 November 1909
  11. Dove op cit p7

WPSU Banner Photo Credit – this is part of the collection of the Museum of London, as is the photograph who allow its use for non-commercial research such as this.

Census and related data via Find My Past


Pound Land – The Homes of John Pound, Victorian Builder & Brick Maker of Lee, Blackheath & Grove Park

Running Past has covered several of the builders who made a substantial mark on the landscape of Lee and Hither Green – W J Scudamore who built large swathes of the Lee from the 1890s to the 1930s, Cameron Corbett of the eponymous estate and others such as W H Elliotts who built Woodyates and Pitfold Roads.  A little earlier than all of these was John Pound who was prolific in Burnt Ash Hill and Roads and what is now Baring Road before moving on to be a prominent developer of Grove Park.
Pound was born in Blackheath in 1827. He was the son of publicans, Thomas and Sarah, who ran the Three Tuns pub  (now O’Neill’s) in Tranquil Vale in Blackheath from 1824 (1).  In the 1851 census he was living at the pub and listed by the enumerators as a joiner, as was his younger brother Richard. His elder brother William took over the tenancy in 1853 on his father’s death (2) and seems to have stayed there until his own death in 1878.
The current building dates from after the Pounds, as it was rebuilt in the 1880s.  It was the ‘principal village pub’ during the 19th century used by ordinary working people and shopkeepers.  There was a riot there in 1877 with a battle between police and some locals – with as many as 120 involved at Ken point.  Oddly this didn’t prevent the licence being renewed ‘because it was an essential part of ordinary working life in the Village, with its slate clubs, dining room and livery stables.’
In 1851 John Pound seems to have made his first foray into development – being responsible for the building of shops at 13 to 21 Montpelier Vale (below).  It seems that he wasn’t the builder though, that appears to have been the established Blackheath builders, Couchman and Co (3).
Pound’s first known development as a builder was in the mid 1850s with the large villas of 89 to 95 Shooters Hill Road (4), as the same style continues eastwards he may have been responsible for up to 113 too.
John Pound’s life away from building was changing too, he married Rose Morton in 1854.  Rose too was imbued in the pub business – her parents ran the Old Tiger’s Head at Lee Green.  By the time the census enumerators visited their home in Burnt Ash Lane in 1861 they had two daughters.  More importantly in terms of the development of Lee and surrounding areas he was listed as a ‘builder employing 50 men and 10 boys.’
Some of the earliest homes that John Pound built in Lee were some houses in the south eastern quadrant of Lee Green which were developed around 1860, Orchard Terrace on Eltham Road (now the Leegate Centre) and Crown Terrace on Burnt Ash Lane (now Road) which was roughly where Sainsburys is now.
In the mid to late 1860s he was developing another street in Blackheath – the initially tenanted large houses in St Johns Park, west of Strathenden Road (5); the houses on the northern side of the road remain (see below).
Probably during the 1860s, possibly earlier, Pound opened or took over a brickworks with clay pits surrounding it, around the current location of Kimbolton Close.  It was certainly there and well established in 1867 when the Ordnance Survey cartographers surveyed the area (see below on a creative commons via the National Library of Scotland).
There was a clay crushing machine on site and on the opposite side of Burnt Ash Hill, roughly where Woodstock Court is currently located (6).  The brickworks were managed by Edgar Drewett who lived next to them in the 1866 (7).  There was another brickworks owned by Pound and run by Drewett on what is now the corner of Winns Road and Burnt Ash Hill.  Oddly,  Drewett was photographer by trade who came from Guildford, he had moved to Burnt Ash in the mid-1860s, and then on to Marvels Lane in 1871.  He had returned to his former trade and hometown by 1881.
His development continued along what is now Baring Road towards Grove Park and more or less parallel along Burnt Ash Hill during the late 1860s and early 1870s.
By 1870 the houses on the eastern side of Burnt Ash Road close to Lee Green, had been built ‘many of them were the work of Blackheath-born builder John Pound (8). He went on to build a lot of houses around Lee Station and further south along Burnt Ash Hill (9). The exact houses aren’t totally clear, the photographs are likely to include some by Pound.
Pound himself moved to one of the houses his firm had built – in the 1871 census Pound was living at Stratton Villa on Burnt Ash Road – the seems to have on the western side, close to the brickworks. Rose though wasn’t there, she had died in 1865.
Around the same time Pound probably built Summerfield Street (pictured below), certainly he had having to get council approval to lay sewers there in late 1871 (10). As has already been noted in relation to what is now Waite Davies Road (originally Butterfield Street), these were quickly to become houses in multiple occupation with many of the occupants working in Pound’s brickfields and labouring – the children of those homes were the
‘roughest element of children to be taught and brought into a satisfactory state of discipline.’
These homes would have been atypical in terms of what Pound built, all the others were large houses aimed at the wealthy middle class of Victorian society seeking what was then suburban living.  Like Cameron Corbett a generation later, he probably realised that he needed a housed local workforce for his enterprises.  Oddly, unlike most of his firm’s housing output, away from Blackheath, which has been lost to 20th century redevelopment, these are homes that have stood the test of time.
He certainly built what was known as St Mildred’s Terrace (top below), a mixture of shops and homes extending from the southwards from the corner of Summerfield Street. As will be covered in a later post on his pubs, it is almost certain that he was responsible for building the Summerfield, assuming that is the case, the adjacent shops continue the pattern and would have been built by him too.
In the early 1870s he advertised regularly in The Times both for rented properties and bespoke houses.  Presumably he felt that he was so well known in the area that he didn’t even need to put his address (11).  The estate office, collecting the rent was at 7 Burnt Ash Hill, opposite what is now Holme Lacey Road.
His development continued apace further south after Grove Park Station opened in 1871 with Pound taking advantage of this in purchasing Grove Park Farm in 1873.  Pound also seems have moved the base for his building operations from Southbrook Road – presumably what is now Southbrook Mews to Grove Park.  He moved from there in 1878, perhaps the nearby brick field had come to the end of its life and he seems to have had a large sale before moving on – presumably to a base nearer Grove Park where most of his building work was then happening (12).

Pound was able to find a use for the brickfields after their primary purpose had ended.  The Parish paid him £30 a year for their use as a ‘mud shoot’ effectively as  dumping ground for mud, manure and the like from Lee’s roads (13). The land around Woodstock Court and Kimbolton Close may be particualry fertile as a result!

 Pound too moved to Grove Park by 1881, he was living at Saville House, Bromley Road (now Baring Road) – ‘a splendid house in two acres of land’ when the census enumerators called.  He was listed as Builder and Brickmaker employing 50 men.
John Pound was responsible for much of the late 19th century development of Grove Park, it was a ‘small selected estate of large villas for the middle class.’   While there are still a few Pound homes in Lee, little or any of his work survived the post-World War Two re-development in Grove Park, the only house from that era that seems to remain is one large, much altered villa in Somertrees Avenue.


Mentions of Pound from the early 1880 onwards seem fewer and further between, whether he had run into financial problems, ill health or there were fewer development opportunities isn’t clear. There were more mentions of selling land that he had bought to smaller developers such as in East Greenwich and Blackheath in 1881 (14) and on Furzefield and Hassendean Roads in Charlton (15) which were then known as the Dean’s Common Estate.

His elder daughter, Catherine, had married Austin Budden in 1875 he was a ‘gentleman’ according to the 1881 census and they lived in a large house in Higham in Kent – Gads Hill Place – which had been home to Charles Dickens.  Budden initially rented the house from Dicken’s son.  It seems that John Pound moved to Gads Hill Place around 1884 (16). Whether he continued to run the business from Higham or someone else ran it for him, isn’t clear but he certainly got into financial difficulties and was declared bankrupt in 1895 (17).  Pound died the following year at Gads Hill Pace

In the next post we will stay with John Pound and look at the pubs that he built in the area. 

1 Neil Rhind (1983) Blackheath Village and Environs Volume 2 p364
2 ibid
3 Neil Rhind (1976) Blackheath Village and Environs Volume 1 p35
4 Rhind, 1983, op cit p396
5 ibid pp364-5
6 Godfrey Edition Ordnance Survey Maps – Lee & Hither Green 1870
7 ibid
8 ibid
9 ibid
10 Kentish Independent 16 December 1871
11 The Times (London, England), Saturday,  Jan 08, 1870; pg. 14; Issue 2664
12 Kentish Mercury 05 October 1878
13 Kentish Independent 22 January 1887
14 Kentish Mercury 05 November 1881
15 Kentish Mercury 02 January 1885
16 Kentish Mercury 12 June 1896
17 Kentish Mercury 19 April 1895
Census and related information comes from Find My Past.

The Cade Rebellion & South East London

Cade Road on Blackheath is a small one way lane, skirting the edge of the escarpment, without houses, but always full of cars – attracted by the absence of parking restrictions.  The name relates to a rebellion in 1450 where Kentish rebels, led by Jack Cade, camped on the Heath twice before marching on London.

Jack Cade was the leader of a popular revolt against the almost bankrupt government of Henry VI in 1450. The backdrop was the near end of the Hundred Years War which was seeing defeats for British Forces, the loss of British Territory in France and occasional forays of French soldiers into Kent.

Distrust of the Crown came to a head with a corruption scandal and the murder of the Duke of Suffolk for which the people of Kent were blamed.  There was an earlier uprising in Kent at the beginning of 1450 but this had been quickly put down.  However, the rebels didn’t disappear and became more organised in the county in the late spring; Cade had emerged as the leader by early June.  Little is known of Cade, who sometimes adopted the name Mortimer – suggesting a linkage to one of Henry’s rivals for the throne – the Duke of York.

By 11 June 1450 the rebels were camped on the Heath – with suggestions that they may have numbered as many as 20,000.  Initially Henry VI didn’t confront them, sending a series of messengers, who seem to have been presented with a series of demands.  Sometimes referred to as ‘The Blackheath Petition,’ but more generally known as ‘The Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent’, the demands included inquiries into corruption and to ‘punish evil ministers and procure a redress for grievance.’

Shakespeare depicts the scene on Blackheath in Henry VI Part 2 (Act 4 Scene 2) with a degree of artistic licence, but the offer of a truce seemed to have happened through two messengers.

Sir Humphrey Stafford

Rebellious hinds, the filth and scum of Kent,

Mark’d for the gallows, lay your weapons down;

Home to your cottages, forsake this groom:

The king is merciful, if you revolt.

William Stafford

But angry, wrathful and inclin’d to blood,

If you go forward.  Therefore yield or die.

When the offer was refused, the King sent a large force to put down the rebellion.  The rebels may have been tipped off as by the time the Royal forces reached the Heath, the rebels had gone.   Cade’s men were followed into Kent by a small part of the Royal forces; knowing the territory better the rebels ambushed the Royal forces just to the south of Sevenoaks, close to Knole at Solefields, they defeated the Royal forces killing the leader, Sir Humphrey Stafford – Shakespeare’s speaker in the scene above.

Cade returned to the Heath towards the end of June and then marched on London in early July.  This was depicted in a recently listed mosaic mural (see above) on the former Southwark Town Hall. The scene was also portrayed by Shakespeare  in Henry VI Part 2 (Act 4 Scene 6)

Come, then, let’s go fight with them; but first, go and set London bridge on fire; and, if you can, burn down the Tower too. Come, let’s away.

The rebels seemed to be in control of the city for several days, executing several,including the Lord Chancellor – Baron Saye and Sele – the then occupant of the forerunner of Knole House.  He is pictured below, being brought to Cade (Creative Commons via Wikipedia) . There was much looting and the citizens of the City appear to have turned against the rebels and, on 9 July, after the rebels had spent the night outside the city, they were defeated on London Bridge.

Pardons were issued to the rebels, but the one to Cade himself was quickly revoked and he fled the City.  There is a suggestion that he briefly hid on the island in the mill pond that was later to become Peter Pan’s Pool – sadly, it is almost certainly apocryphal.

If it happened at all, the sojourn in Southend was a short one; Cade fled further south, but was eventually caught and seriously wounded in Lewes.  He died on the journey back to London but his death wasn’t enough to prevent him being subject to the fate that was de rigour for traitors of the era and he was hanged, drawn and quartered.

In addition to the road on the Heath and the ‘island’, Cade’s name is lives on in a couple of other locations – there is a cavern named after him the on the Heath, and apparently he is the ‘Jack’ in the Brockley Jack pub and theatre.  Sadly, there seems to be no more credible evidence of him visiting the cavern and drinking in Brockley as there was of a stay in Southend village.

Forty years later rebels from Cornwall had pinned hopes on the Men of Kent still being rebellious, but the next generation failed to support the Cornish rebellion which was crushed at the Battle of Deptford Bridge – covered in the very first post on Running Past.

Emily Davison and her Blackheath Home

One of the best known ‘daughters’ of Blackheath was the suffragette Emily Davison, who was born at Roxburgh House, 13 Vanbrugh Park West. She was to die on 8 June 1913 following serious injuries at Tattenham Corner on Epsom Downs four days earlier.  Roxburgh House was the middle house on the eastern side of the street on the Ordnance Survey map below (on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland).

She was born on 11 October 1872 to Margaret and Charles Davison who were both from the north east.  Charles seems to have been a retired stock broker. Little is known about her early life but it seems that the family didn’t stay that long in Blackheath, while there are rumours of some time in Brockley, there next definitive location was Fulham where her father died in 1893 and the family were recorded in there in the 1891 census.  As is covered below, they had certainly moved from Blackheath by the time the 1881 census enumerators called at Roxburgh and she was at school in Kensington by the mid 1880s.

After an education that included periods at Royal Holloway College, Oxford and the University of London she taught privately for several years.  Emily joined the the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906 and was working for them full time by 1909.   She was imprisoned eight times for a variety of offices including arson and stone throwing, force fed and had her cell deliberately flooded (Picture below on a Creative Commons via Wikipedia).

On Wednesday 4th June 1913, Davison attended the Derby at Epsom positioning herself on the inside of the track at Tattenham Corner, she ducked under the track,ran out on the course and attempted to grab the bridle of Anmer, a horse owned by King George V. The horse hit Emily and the impact fractured her skull, she never regained consciousness and died on 8th June.  There has been much debate as to whether Emily Davison intended to kill herself in the century since her death – a new analysis done around the centenary of her death suggests that she may have intended to put a sash around the neck of the King’s horse.

As for the house, Roxburgh has an interesting story beyond that of being the first home of Emily Davison and the details of those living there tell much of the decline of the area during the 20th century before its more recent emergence as a highly desirable place to live. Roxburgh was built around 1872 and the Davison family seem to have been the first occupants.  It was the middle house on the eastern side of Vanbrugh Park West (1).  While there appear to be no photographs of the house – there are several postcards of the neighbouring Vanbrugh Park (below eBay September 2016) – whose houses were very similar. The church in the background was St Andrews – which was covered a while ago in Running Past in relation to a painting by Elwin Hawthorne.

‘The housing was substantial, provided for a prosperous middle-class who could afford space for servants, gardeners, coaches and horses.’ (2)

The first time the census enumerators called in 1881, Roxburgh House was home to the Matthews – Marmaduke and Martha Ann, their 7 children and five servants. They had moved there from Sutton in Surrey where they lived in 1871. Marmaduke was a solicitor.  A decade later the parents weren’t mentioned, but may have been away when the enumerators called as the relationships to head of household were son, daughter etc.

The Matthews had moved out by the mid 1890s to Essex, they seem to have been replaced by Alfred Blechynden a respected marine draughtsman and engineer who had moved from Barrow to manage John Penn and Sons, Greenwich shipbuilders and marine engineers, a firm he had worked for for three years a decade and a half earlier. The Blechyndens were used to a comfortable lifestyle – Alfred and Elizabeth had three servants ‘living in’ in their substantial home in Barrow in 1891.  Sadly, Alfred Blechynden died from a heart attack just over a year after moving back to south east London. How long Elizabeth remained at Roxburgh is unclear, but she was eventually to return to her native north east (photo below of Vanbrugh Park – eBay June 2017).

By 1901, Roxburgh was home to Robert Watson, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army who was 55, his largely grown up children and three servants.  In 1911 the house was vacant, although an elderly caretaker and his wife, Hugh and Caroline McLean were living there.  This was perhaps the shape of things to come, after World War 1 most of the houses around Vanbrugh Park leases were subdivided into flats or used for boarding houses for naval students at the Royal Naval College (3).  The postcard below was from eBay June 2017 would have been from this era.

When the 1939 Register was compiled, the house had been divided into three flats – one was empty, another was home to the Gorsuch family – the 47 year old father, Frank, was an inspector for the Port of London Authority, his wife Marjorie and daughter Mabel (19) carried out ‘domestic duties’ while son Denis (23) was an engineer. The Willoughbys lived in in the other flat, they were retired but had a a lodger too. Most of the neighbouring houses had been similarly divided and the occupations were generally manual and clerical.  There were though still a few that were lived in by single households, often with older residents.

There was some bomb damage, probably from the V-2 rocket which hit neighbouring Vanburgh Park Road on 19 February 1945, with two deaths; this completely destroyed one house and seriously damaged the western side of that road.  Several of the houses along Vanburgh Park Road West were damaged beyond repair, the same was the case for all the houses in Vanbrugh Park between the two bits of Vanbrugh Park Road.  What level of damage was suffered by Roxbrugh House isn’t clear as the initial pink colouring, indicating damage beyond repair was whited out (4).

The 99 year leases were allowed to run down by the Page Estate who had retained the freehold and would have expired in 1971.  While the Page Estate opposed redevelopment they were compulsorily purchased and new local authority housing completed in 1965 – the Vanbrugh Park Estate (5). Roxbrugh House would have been just to the right of the photograph below.

It was designed by by Geoffrey Powell of Chamberlain, Powell and Bon, the firm who designed the Barbican (6). Cherry and Pevsner describe it as ‘one of the most interesting housing estates in the borough,’ an unassuming, informal grid of flat roofed terraces with ‘distressingly unappealing cheap painted breeze blocks’ (7). The savings on the building materials enabled more to be spent on landscaping.

It is housing that has stood the test of time, although much of it has been sold under Right to Buy and those living there have no doubt changed considerably since it was built.  Average values in June 2017 on the estate were suggested to be just shy of £500k.


1 Neil Rhind (1981) Blackheath and its Environs, Vol 2 p291

2 ibid p287

3 ibid p288

4 Laurence Ward (2015) London County Council Bomb Damage Maps p163

5 Rhind, op cit p288

6 Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner (1983) ‘The Buildings of England – London 2: South’ p274

7 ibid

Census, 1939 Register and related data comes via Find My Past 

Mass Observation in Blackheath and Bolton, 80 Years On

6 Grotes Buildings is an impressive looking Georgian house, it is part of an even more impressive terrace tucked away in the corner of the Heath close to the ‘village’.  In the 1930s it was home to one of the most important social research ‘movements’ of the era – Mass Observation.

Before looking at Mass Observation, it is worth covering a little about the terrace.  It was developed by Andrew Grote in the 1760s on land leased by Morden College to fund a chaplain (1). Grote was a speculative developer and banker, who had made his wealth as a ‘merchant’ trading with enslaved estates in Maryland, no doubt he traded elsewhere too. Grote lived on the opposite corner of the Heath at Point House.


The idea behind Mass Observation was that it was ‘no longer tolerable for the nation’s working classes to be as unknown to the middle and ruling classes as (so one of them put it) the inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands.

There were two main strands to Mass Observation, one of which was based at Grotes Buildings.  This was led by Humphrey Jennings, a film maker, and his friend Charles Madge, a poet and journalist, who was later to become a professor of sociology. They recruited hundreds of volunteers to write accounts of their daily experiences.  The first time this happened was on 12 May 1937, the day of George VI’s Coronation. Participants told their own stories of what they had done from waking up to going to sleep, the resulting diaries provided a wonderful glimpse into the everyday lives of people across Britain, and the narratives have been used as a resource for those researching aspects of the era.  Later similar work included amassing a collection of diaries by over 500 home front civilians.

The second strand, in its simplest terms, can perhaps be described as organised people watching – it was a wide ranging inquiry into the views, customs and daily routines of ordinary people. One of the researchers behind it, Tom Harrisson had made his name as an anthropologist, studying people on remote Pacific islands. Along with Jennings and Charles Madge he requested volunteers via the ‘New Statesman’ to participate in a new research project, which would be ‘anthropology at home . . . a science of ourselves’. This part of the project was based in Bolton and became known as ‘Worktown’.  Unsurprisingly, given the location of the advertisement, the volunteer researchers tended to be left-leaning middle-class students, artists, photographers and writers who were ‘watching’ northern working class people.  They observed and recorded behaviour and conversations in the shops, pubs, churches and mills of Bolton. Observation was done without the subject’s knowledge and was criticised in the local press

“an unequalled opportunity for the pettifogging, the malicious, the cranky, the interfering and the mildly dotty”

Nonetheless, many experiences were recorded often as anthropological type readings of ‘rituals’ of round-buying along with consumption rates, the presence and absence (mostly the latter) of women and what was discussed. Some of his was published in John Sommerfield’s 1943 book, ‘The Pub and The People’ and the more recent ‘Worktown’, written by David Hall, and published in 2015.

Some of the photographs became widely used, such as the one by Humphrey Spender which was used as an album cover by Everything But The Girl, for their 1985 release, Love not Money.

Artists too worked on the project including, William Coldstream, who had also worked with the East London Group of artists, and Humphrey Jennings.  Jennings painted several scenes of life in Bolton, including this one of terraces, which, like many of the images collected, is held by Bolton Museum and Art Gallery.

Jennings, Humphrey; Bolton Terraces; Bolton Library & Museum Services, Bolton Council; (See notes below)

Jennings was much better known as a film maker and was later to work with the GPO Film Unit, which was based in Bennett Park in Blackheath, and was covered in Running Past a couple of years ago.

Mass Observation effectively finished by the end of World War 2, but was relaunched in the early 1980s at the University of Sussex, where he archives had been relocated in the previous decade.  Initially, there were requests for feedback on specific areas, the one in the autumn of 1981 asked for views on shopping, the SDP-Liberal Alliance, unemployment amongst other things. The following year participants were asked to focus on the Falklands War – part of one randomly chosen post is below (on a On a Creative Commons, via the University of Sussex) – there are lots more which make for fascinating reading.

May 12 2017 will make the 80th anniversary of the recordings of experiences of the Coronation of George VI, and as has happened for several years, Mass Observation have replicated their annual call for day diaries, capturing the everyday lives of people across the UK. The written diaries will be used by a wide range of people for research, teaching and learning. Do participate! There are details of what to do on this link.


1 Neil Rhind (1987) The Heath – A Companion Volume to Blackheath Village & Environs, p66

Painting credit

The painting is owned by Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, but has been made available on line through the wonderful on-line public art gallery – Art UK, and can be used for non-commercial research such as this.

William Webster – A Victorian Building & Civil Engineering Contractor

One of the larger houses on Lee Terrace is Wyberton House, it was home to one of a major building and civil engineering contractors of late Victorian London, William Webster whose firm was one of the main ones used by Joseph Bazalgette.  He lived close to St Margaret’s Church, for the last couple of decades of his life.  Amongst the firm’s work were three of my favourite south east London buildings – all of which have some exquisite detail:

  • Crossness Pumping Station
  • Hither Green Cemetery’s Non-Conformist chapel
  • Blackheath Concert Halls


William Webster was born at Wyberton, a small village near Boston in Lincolnshire, probably in 1822 based on census and birth record data.  After an apprenticeship with a local builder, he set up his own business restoring churches – amongst his early work was restoring the partially 9th Century church of St Peter & St Paul, Algakirk (pictured below via Wikipedia Creative Commons) with the renowned architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott, work which was completed in 1851.



He gradually took on larger work further south, including asylums in Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire in the latter part of the 1850s.  He moved to 1 Grove Place in Lee (now Belmont Grove) around 1860 – he, his wife, mother, three children and two servants were there in the 1861 census.


He won several contracts for projects led by Sir Joseph Bazalgette including several of the northern Thames Embankments to allow for the construction of the Circle Line and sewer system, and several sewage pumping stations – notably Crossness in Thamesmead.   Opened in 1865, the building is impressive from the outside, built in a Romanesque style, but once inside it becomes clear why it is often referred to as ‘Cathedral on the Marshes’  – it has magnificent cast iron work, that has been painstakingly restored and is well worth a visit.  Webster’s name is cast into some of this.



The Dissenters Chapel at Hither Green Cemetery dates from a decade later, opening in 1873, when it was referred to as Lee Cemetery.  The Gothic building has some stunning detail – including some wonderful gargoyles in the small spire.  It suffered from World War 2 bomb damage and has been boarded up and allowed to decay since.  Its neglect gives it a slightly eerie feel, and, perhaps, adds to its beauty.


The large amount of work that the firm was obtaining allowed Webster to build a home to match his, presumably very large income.  He bought two adjacent smaller houses, 7 and 9 Lee Terrace, part of what are sometimes referred to as the Lee Grove Group which he then demolished and replaced with the massive 15 bedroom Wyberton House which was completed in 1869.  An estate agent’s description is in a cutting below, but its listing text describes it as

Stone fronted with polished granite decorations, other sides stock brick. Slate roof concealed by parapet. Slightly irregular building of 3 storeys ; 7 windows. Panelled parapet.  Cornice of alternate paterae and brackets. End windows set back. End quoins. Windows have cambered architraves with keystones and stops. First floor windows have cornices and brackets and window over porch has pediment on brackets. Porch has granite columns, fretted balcony and 4 steps. Three-light canted bays either side, the right side window with glass removed for chapel use.

The wealth also allowed a large number of servants – this grew from  two in the 1861 census to six in the subsequent  three – it wasn’t a house where servants would get any long service awards though, none of them appeared in more than one set of enumerator records.

William Webster died in 1888 and was despite his building the dissenters’ chapel at Hither Green Cemetery, he was interred at St. Margaret’s, Lee just over the road from where he lived.


Oddly for what was such a large company, it seemed to have disappeared almost without a trace – it certainly traded after William’s death, seemingly taken over by his eldest son, also William, who was listed as a contractor in the 1891 census.  Blackheath Concert Halls built in 1896, was constructed his stewardship.  However, it seems that the firm was sold up or folded soon after – by the 1901 census William was listed as a ‘Scientist, Living on Own Means’  – William was to die during the next decade, probably in 1904.


As for Wyberton House – after William Webster’s (senior) death, several attempts were made to sell the property during 1890 but to no avail (1), and William (junior) was living there with his family when the census enumerators called in 1891. William moved on to slightly less grand surroundings, in 1901 he was at the now demolished 50 Lee Park (a few doors up from the bombed Christ Church) add link.  It seems that there were few takers for the mansion his father had built as it was often empty.


The House eventually found a long term use in 1906 when Knightsville College for Girls, moved from their previous home in what is now called Lewisham Way.  The College, run by Alton (or Altro) Knight had around 75 boarders in its previous location.  After the First Word War, the building was taken over by St Joseph’s Academy and it remained in their use until the early 1990s – amongst the pupils that would have passed through its doors were the author David Lodge, the sprinter John Regis and the footballer Jlloyd Samuel.  The house was converted into substantial flats after its use by St Joseph’s finished.


  1. The Times (London, England), Saturday, Jan 18, 1890; pg. 16; Issue 32912

Census and related information comes from Find My Past.


Early Amateur Running In & Around Blackheath

This weekend, Blackheath will see the start of the 36th London Marathon, but running on the Heath is nothing new – Blackheath has a long athletic history with recorded events going back at least two hundred years.  Running Past has covered the late Georgian long distance walkers – George Wilson, the Blackheath Pedestrian and Josiah Eaton, the Woodford Pedestrian.  Later in the century large crowds were drawn to the heath by the likes of William Gazley, the Star of Kent and Tom Cook, the Greenwich Cowboy for their running and related exploits.  These were all professionals, with wealthy backers, and large amounts of money changed hands through gambling.  The athletes themselves though probably saw very little of the money that was made through their efforts though – Cook and Gazley both seem to have ended up living in poverty.

Walter Chinnery

Walter Chinnery

The mid-Victorian period saw the growth of the gentleman sportsman, the amateur athlete, the development of athletic clubs, track and cross country racing.  One of the very first competitive cross country races of this era on Blackheath was on 5 October 1867 – a mile handicap steeplechase, which the Go Feet Blog posted about last autumn.  The race was won by A Maddock from Richmond, who had been given a 15 second head-start on Walter Chinnery.  Chinnery was a founding member of the world’s oldest track and field club, London Athletic Club (AC), which had been set up in 1863 and was initially called Mincing Lane AC.  The following summer he was to become the first amateur athlete in the world to break 4:30 for the mile in August 1868.  Chinnery was to become a wealthy stockbroker and was perhaps not atypical of the ‘gentlemen amateurs’ of the era – very different indeed to their forerunners of a couple of decades before like Gazley, who lived in comparative poverty on the Greenwich/Lewisham borders.

Three of the biggest athletics clubs in south London had their roots from the late 1860s and all had links with Blackheath and its environs.

Lewisham’s main club – Kent AC – has its roots in two clubs formed in the 1880s, Lewisham Hare and Hounds and West Kent Harriers.  The ‘Hare and Hounds’ element of the name was common in the early clubs and related to cross country races that mimicking hunting – a paper/flour trail being set by the ‘hare’ who goes off first for the ‘hounds’, the runners, to chase.  As the blog has noted before, this type of racing has its links back to  the fee paying Shrewsbury School and was adopted by rowers in Putney wanting to keep fit during the winter in late 1867 – became Thames Hare & Hounds – their history describes them as ‘a gentleman’s club’ in this era.

Lewisham Hare and Hounds and West Kent Harriers amalgamated in 1898 and their early training runs took them the still rural Blackheath environs of Kidbrooke.

unknown artist; Old Brick Field, Kidbrooke; Greenwich Heritage Centre;

Painting of Kidbrooke from 1889 – See notes copyright at bottom

Another local club Cambridge Harriers is now partially based in the Kidbrooke/Eltham border in Sutcliffe Park.  However, it had its roots in the Cambridge Settlement where students would live and work among the poor, devoting their time to philanthropic, educational and religious activities within the local community. The first of these was set up in Walworth by St. John’s College, Cambridge in 1884, followed a year later by the Clare College Mission in Rotherhithe.   Initially they set up a cricket club, but like the Putney rowers they looked to running to provide winter fitness.  Their first run was from close to the Dowager’s Bottom (a former name for this part of Blackheath) – from Tranquil Restaurant at 56 Tranquil Vale on 6 October 1890 with 15 runners turning out.

While Blackheath currently has no athletics clubs, there is one that retains the name despite the geographical association having long since gone – Blackheath and Bromley Harriers.  Their origins are much earlier than Kent AC and Cambridge Harriers and are a few miles to the west in Peckham, starting as Peckham Hare and Hounds, but changing their name to Peckham AC soon afterwards – like Thames Hare and Hounds their initial raison d’etre seemed to be to help keep amateur sportsmen (and it was men) fit for a range of other sports ranging from cricket to rowing and gymnastics.  Their club history claims that they were the earliest club to athletic club to offer both cross country and track athletics.

Source - ebay March 2016

Source – ebay March 2016

Their links to Blackheath started in 1878 when they moved to the Green Man on Blackheath Hill and changed their name to Blackheath Harriers.  Like many clubs of the era they were founded for male athletes only – women’s athletics developed much more slowly and separately – the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) was set up in 1880, with the Women’s equivalent only coming in the 1920s – something covered in a post a while ago on the first women’s AAA championships which were held in Downham.  Blackheath, though were slower than most in integrating – they didn’t allow women members until 1992.

The handicap steeplechase from 1867 was quite common fayre of the early days on the Heath – there were press reports of a repetition in the second winter at Blackheath with 42 runners in an inter-club race in early 1880 (1).  The fixture was repeated the following year (2).

The Blackheath Society have a series of sketches of Blackheath Harriers from that era – including runs through Kidbrooke and in front of Morden College which they have allowed to be used here (see picture notes at end).


Their track and field competitions were held elsewhere – the 1881 Championships were held at Stamford Bridge – although press reports described them as a ‘disastrous failure’, due to the wet and cold.  They had a high number of entries though – including 83 for the handicapped 100 yards (3).


From the following winter there was evidence of that staple of cross country running with a mob match against Ranlegh Harriers, from Richmond (4).  Later that season the ground was ‘fearfully heavy going’ and conditions’ in ‘weather as unfavourable as could be imagined’ around Blackheath for the annual steeplechase (5).


Their major athletics meeting of the year moved to Catford in 1883 – to the Private Banks Sports Ground, by the stations.  The highlight of the fixture, on a grass track, was a then record of 4:24.25 for the mile by W G George of Moseley Harriers (6).  At another meeting at the Oval organised by the club in September the same year, W G George took a second off the record – 5,000 were there to watch events (7).

Race walking events were organised too – including one from Chislehurst to the Green Man via Eltham Church in 1903 (8).

They also had a rather odd annual bachelors v married men, the two reports found for 1905 (9) and 1906 (10), both saw victories for those out of wedlock.

Interest seems to have declined in Edwardian England – attendances well down at the 1906 Crystal Palace meeting (11).  Cross country numbers too reduced – a five mile race in late 1908 only attracted six entries, of these, only four made the starting line (12).


Blackheath Harriers were to move on from the Heath – by 1922 they were based at the Private Banks Sports Ground in Catford for track and field and they purchased a base in Hayes in 1926 for their road and cross country running.  Membership increased considerably after WW1 with the 500 level being reached in 1923.

From 10:00 on Sunday morning around 38,000 runners start the marathon on various parts of the Heath, of those around 100 will be from Kent AC, Cambridge Harriers and Blackheath and Bromley Harriers (Blackheath Harriers merged with Bromley AC in 2003).  The elite men will finish around 12:05 but amongst the slower competitors at around 4:30 pm will be the millionth London marathon finisher.



  1. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, February 15, 1880; Issue 1943
  2. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, February 05, 1881; pg. 90
  3. Daily News (London, England), Monday, October 10, 1881; Issue 11071
  4. Daily News (London, England), Saturday, October 28, 1882; Issue 11400
  5. The York Herald (York, England), Monday, February 12, 1883; pg. 8; Issue 9905
  6. The Morning Post (London, England), Monday, July 30, 1883; pg. 2; Issue 34663
  7. The Morning Post (London, England), Monday, September 24, 1883; pg. 2; Issue 34711.
  8. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, October 17, 1903; pg. 246; Issue 2212
  9. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, January 28, 1905; pg. 54; Issue 2279
  10. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, March 10, 1906; pg. 150
  11. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 19, 1906
  12. I.P.: Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, December 26, 1908

Notes on Pictures

The painting is by an unknown artist and is owned by Greenwich Heritage Centre  and is displayed via the Art UK website, and reproduction for non commercial research such as this is allowed under the terms.

Thank to the Blackheath Society for allowing the use of the sketches of Blackheath Harriers, it is just one of several hundred pictures from their fantastic photographic archives which they have recently allowed public access to – they are well worth a visit!