Category Archives: Blackheath History

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

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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.

algarkirk_church_-_geograph-org-uk_-_2500

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

webster1

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.

Notes

  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; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/old-brick-field-kidbrooke-193789

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).

B&BH4

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).

B&BH1

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).

B&BH2

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).

B&BH3

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.

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Notes

  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!

William Gazley, The Star of Kent – A Running Pedestrian

Running Past has covered several running and walking pedestrians over the last year or so, within the running ones from around the 1840s the name of William Gazley (also spelled Gazeley and Gazly in some reports) quite often appears.

Unlike some of the others, he wasn’t a star, other than his competitive name – the ‘Star of Kent’, and he tried his hand at a range of distances as well as a very odd race on Blackheath involving running and picking up stone weights.

Source - ebay March 2016

Source – ebay March 2016

His reported career was a relatively short one.  One of the first reports of Gazley in the press was a race in October 1842 against another local runner Tom Cook, the Greenwich Cowboy – someone already covered in the blog. It was from the five mile marker outside the Green Man (see picture above), near the top of Blackheath Hill over Shooters Hill to the nine mile marker and returning to the Green Man.  The race was for 10 shillings, with ‘heavy bets dependent on the outcome.’ (1) Gazley seems to have opened up a lead on the run back up Shooters Hill from near Welling, taking 20 yards out of his opponent which he extended by the end, winning by 40 yards (2).

Gazley1

Two months later, in December 1842, he ran again over part of the same route. It was over a mile from the milestone opposite the Earl of Moira (later the Brook and now a Co-op) down Shooters Hill Road to the  mile marker on the edge of Blackheath – at the junction of Prince of Wales Road.  The race report suggests he ‘looked pale, and not in his usual fine condition.’ (3)

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He lost the race to Tom Maxfield, the North Star, who was to become one of the leading runners of the day.  The latter was a coal carrier based in Berkshire, but originally hailed from Sheffield.  Maxfield was the first runner to cover 20 miles in under 2 hours – in the impressive time of 1:58:30 in 1845.  This was a time only bettered bettered by 65 runners in 2015.

Maxfield won in 5 minutes 10 seconds, but could have gone faster, on what is largely a reverse of the the first mile of the London Marathon (4)

IMG_0844

It was a big event though with crowds of up to 8000 lining the route, the local punters had clearly backed the Star of Kent to win, but it was the ‘sporting gentry’ from London who seemed to have made the money. (5)

The strangest event of Gazley’s reported career was from the Hare and Billet in Blackheath in March 1843, it was to pick up ‘300 stones, a yard apart each, in a course of 51 miles 540 yards, for with each stone the party had to return to the place he started from, and they were to be picked up in four hours.’  The wager was a paltry 10 shillings for what would have been a superhuman feat.

The reported distance was clearly not possible within the timescales  – it would have required back to back marathons faster than current world record pace, plus the small matter of the stones…..Oddly, neither Gazley or his opponent, ‘the Veteran Townsend’ completed the task – the latter calling it a day after two hours and Gazley completing 30 miles but with 35 stones left.  As the report in The Tablet noted

They went home defeated, and will not speedily recover from the effects of the fatigue experienced.

 

Gazley was meant to have a re-match with the Greenwich Cowboy, over 10 miles from Dartford to Blackheath in April 1843 for 10 Sovereigns, but Cook had to forfeit (6). Whether Gazley would have been in any state to race after the stone lifting contest was probably debatable though.

In September 1843, he was to race Edward Wild, Merrylegs, a Mancunian runner who seems to have been locally based, from the Tigers Head at Lee Green for 20 sovereigns over 8 miles, although the outcome is unclear (7).

He competed at the Rosemary Branch in Peckham against another pedestrian called Dixon, it wasn’t a planned race, neither had trained for it but both were present to watch Merrylegs race Maxfield. It seems that they were both persuaded by ‘sporting gentlemen’ backers to race over 2.5 miles for 5 sovereigns. Gazley’s backers expected ‘easy pickings’ but Dixon took the lead from the off and it seems that Gazley threw in the towel with around half a mile to go.

‘The ignominious defeat has given to Gazley vaunting a severe damper, and he sporting world are not likely to hear from him again for some time to come.’ (8)

Gazley’s defeat at the Rosemary Branch, didn’t stop challenges coming in from other runners though.  The following week Thomas Birkhead of Sheffield offered 25 or 50 sovereigns to a number of named runners including Greenwich Cowboy and Gazley over 10 to 20 miles, it isn’t known if Gazley or any of the others took up the challenge (9).

However press reports of him actually racing don’t appear again until September 1845 when he tried his hand at hurdling over 440 yards in a race at the Tiger’s Head at Lee Green (10) already mentioned in the blog – he didn’t get through to the final which was won by Railway Jack.

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The final mention of his running career came in 1849 when he challenged Dan Williams of Bermondsey over a mile up Blackheath Hill – perhaps from around Deptford Bridge to the Green Man. Whether the race came off is unknown though.

So who was William Gazley? Newspaper reports often referred to Gazely as being from Blackheath, this means relatively little though – it could have been where he was then living, where his financial backers were based, or where he was born.  The 1841 census throws up a possible identification – a William Gazley living in Bennett Street (now Grove) just off Lewisham Road, close to Blackheath Hill.  It was a house that he and his wife Sarah, and daughter, also Sarah shared with two other households.   A generation later, Booth described the street as ‘2 storey houses, small, labouring people, rather rough’

The information in 1841 census was limited and the dates of adults in bands, however, the same William Gazley was living in King Street on the Greenwich/Lewisham borders in 1851 – he was listed as a 34 year old boiler maker. It is certainly roughly the right age – he would have been 25 when he raced Tom Cook on Shooters Hill Road.

King Street was close to the junction of Lewisham Road and Blackheath Hill, roughly where Sparta Street is now.  This was poor housing – six years after the census there was a death from dysentery there; by the time Booth visited around 40 years later, the street was coloured light blue – ‘Poor’ with an income of 18 to 21 shillings a week.  However, it was a step up from Bennett Street as it wasn’t a shared house.

If, and it is a big “if”, this is the Star of Kent, he was born in Greenwich and seems to have lived around the Greenwich during most of his competitive career – his second youngest, also William, was born there in 1845 along with two older children.   By 1848 the family was living in Deptford where his youngest child Elizabeth was born, meaning that the move to King Street had been a recent one.  This Gazley was a single parent, presumably Sarah had died.  Sadly, there is no mention of this William Gazley in subsequent censuses.

Notes

  1. The Morning Post (London, England), Thursday, October 20, 1842; Issue 22388. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.
  2.  ibid
  3.  The Era (London, England), Sunday, December 18, 1842; Issue 221.
  4.  ibid
  5.  ibid
  6.  The Era (London, England), Sunday, April 9, 1843; Issue 237.
  7. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 27, 1843; Issue 257
  8. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 11, 1844; Issue 307.
  9. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 18, 1844; Issue 308.
  10. Picture from information board at Lee Green

 

The V2 Rocket Attack on Blackheath’s Methodist Chapel

Just to the east of Blackheath station, behind the shops in Tranquil Vale is a car park with steps at the rear, locals use it as a cut through between Blackheath Grove and Wemyss Road. To the south of the car park there are a few architecturally nondescript looking 1960s shops, a restaurant, and a building that used to be a library but was closed a few years ago and is now a private school.

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Until a Thursday afternoon in March 1945 it was home to one of the dominant features of the the pre-World War 2 Blackheath landscape – a Methodist chapel.

Source - eBay (Sept 2016)

Source – eBay (Sept 2016)

At 12:06 on 8 March 1945 the last V2 rocket to hit Blackheath landed on the Methodist chapel, completely destroying it and causing significant damage to the rest of the Village (1).

Blackheath methodist 3

The rocket had been fired from the Dutch capital; battery 485 was moved around Den Haag regularly to reduce the likelihood of itself being a target.  That fateful morning it was based in Statenkwartier, close to the upmarket coastal resort of Scheveningen, presumably hidden in the extensive sand dunes or the woods behind then.  The battery continued bombarding London and the south east for almost another three weeks until German forces retreated in the face of the Allied advance, this included an attack on Deptford Creek nine days after the Blackheath attack.

Given the timing and scale of the damage, it is perhaps surprising that there weren’t more deaths; of the five who died, four, all women died at the scene or very soon after (2) including three who lived within a half a mile of the blast – Daisy Denny (Foxes Dale), Alice Drain (Pond Road) and Eve Taylor (Lee Road); Eve Leibe lived a little further away in St Mildred’s Road. The fifth fatility was an ARP Warden, Albert Brown, who had lived at Eliot Hill (3). There were also 134 non-fatal injuries.

Methodism had a strong history in Blackheath; the blog has covered preaching by both Whitefield and John Wesley from Whitefield’s Mount in the 18th century.

Blackheath methodist 2The chapel itself was opened in 1864 and was designed by James Wilson (1816 – 1900) of Bath who had certainly designed a number of Gothic style Methodist chapels elsewhere in London – including in Poplar, Westminster, Islington and Clerkenwell.

It was described by the Illustrated London News (4) as being ‘in the Decorated or Middle Pointed period of Gothic Architecture, and built of Kentish ragstone, with Bath dressing.  The interior is lined with freestone, no plaster being used in any part of it.’  It was built to seat a congregation of 969; although by 1940 this was reduced to 830. It had a 120 ft tower and spire (5) which, until its destruction, was a prominent feature of the Blackheath landscape.

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Notes

  1. The photograph of the aftermath of attack in Blackheath Village has appeared uncredited numerous times on Twitter and in a couple of places online, although never properly attributed. I have attempted to contact all the sites with it on to try to discover  the ownership of the image, without success  If you are the owner of this image let me know, I am more than happy to (ideally) attribute or take off the site if you would prefer.  Just leave a message in comments.   It is quite possible that it is a UK Government picture, if this is the case it is effectively in the public domain anyway (see notes here)
  2. The details of the deaths come from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website 
  3. ibid
  4. New Wesleyan Chapel, Blackheath. Illustrated London News (London, England), Saturday, October 20, 1866; pg. 392; Issue 1395 (also the source of the lower trio of photos)
  5. ibid

 

Blackheath’s Windmills

There used to be several windmills on the Heath – John Roque’s map of 1745 seemed to show a couple.  There were also a pair that stood on what is now Talbot Place, which were built in the 1770s (1).  There is a hint to their location in the name of the house that is now on their site – Mill House.
image

Given the elevated position of the Heath, it is perhaps not surprising to find windmills. Rhind suggests that their exact location was probably predicated on the semi-industrial use of the land adjoining it – there was a large sand pit, which was eventually to become Blackheath Vale (2).

The windmills lasted about 60 years on the site, they were probably demolished in the late 1830s and the land was enclosed amidst wider concerns of enclosure and usage of land on the Heath.  Rhind notes that at the time that

Uncontrolled riding and military activity spoiled the cricket and horse grounds; the ponds were full of rubbish, dead dogs and worse.  Holiday crowds and donkey men were all contributing to the ruin of a once pleasant, if somewhat (after dark) dangerous facility for all to enjoy (3)

Mill House, behind its high wall, is an impressive building and has had some interesting occupants over the years.  There was an interesting piece on the Transpontine blog about Joan Littlewood and her time at Mill House in the 1950s and 1960s, and the somewhat higher wall she put up to protect her privacy.

The windmills have been depicted by artists several time.  Later in the year Running Past will probably return to an etching of them when the Heath was used as a military encampment.  The painting below was by Edward Cooke (see notes below re copyright etc.)

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Cooke was born in Pentonville in 1811 and was a precocious talent – at nine he was illustrating a plant encyclopaedia.  He studied architecture for a while under Pugin, but decided to concentrate on painting.  He is best known for his seascapes travelling extensively both in Britain, Europe and North Africa.  He exhibited well over two hundred paintings, including 129 at the Royal Academy – which he was elected a member of in 1864. Latterly, he lived at Groombridge in Kent, where he died in 1880.

The picture was painted in 1835, probably just before the windmills were demolished, the picture is owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum, although not on display – see notes at bottom of page about copyright.

Apart from the lack of windmills, the view across the Heath towards Shooters Hill is not that different – apart, obviously, from the small football goals remaining from Saturday morning Lewisham inter-schools football – a distant tower is visible in both, although in the painting that would have been Sevendroog Castle, as the currently visible water tower was not built until 1910.

image

 

Notes

  1. Rhind, Neil (1987) The Heath – a companion volume to Blackheath Village & Environs p59
  2. ibid p59
  3. ibid p32

Notes About Painting

The painting is owned by, although not on display at, the Victoria and Albert Museum, it was made available via the BBC’s Your Paintings Project, which in turn allows reproduction in non-commercial research – this includes blogs (page explaining this only works intermittently).

 

A Lost Church and a Painting – St Andrew’s Vanbrugh Park

A daily pleasure of my twitter feed are the paintings of the East London Group of artists that appear regularly in my time line.  In their number are several paintings of south east London including a couple from Greenwich Park, one of the gate house of Morden College and a canvas of the Princess of Wales on Blackheath.  While they were painted over 80 years ago the views are all recognisable, all apart from one that is.

The one that isn’t is a painting from the 1930s – ‘A Church near Blackheath’ by Elwin Hawthorne; for a while I had wondered whether it might be St John’s, close to the Royal Standard, but the spire is somewhat different and the street while similar is clearly not the same – even allowing for the passing of time – Victorian houses don’t change that much.

See picture notes below for details re source & copyright

The reason for it not being a recognisable view is that the church has gone, not destroyed in the Blitz or V1 or V2 attacks like Christ Church, Lee Park and Holy Trinity, Glenton Road (both of which have been covered before on the blog) but being demolished in the 1960s due to subsidence – although I have seen suggestions that its foundations may have been weakened during World War 2.

The church was St Andrews on the corner of Vanbrugh Park and Mycenae Road, its beginnings were in 1882.  The developing Westcombe Park area of Blackheath had had steady influx of Scots involved in the engineering and shipbuilding industries along the banks of the Thames.  Many of these were Presbyterians and they built a small hall near the corner between Mycenae Road and Vanbrugh Park (1).

As the congregation grew, funds were found for a much larger church – some coming from the explorer John McGregor, better known as Rob Roy.  He laid the ‘memorial stone’ along with Sir Donald Currie in July 1887 – at that stage the costs were expected to be around £6000, with a third of that still needing to be raised (2).

In the end, the church cost £7000 to build and the first minister was Rev John Head Thompson who served until 1910 (3); he was followed by the Reverend Robert Cecil Roberts who remained as minister until World War 2 (4).

By the early 1960s, the church was found to be structurally unsafe and the now much smaller number of Presbyterians in the parish moved back to the original hall (5).  The parish moved again in 1965 to the newly built Church Army chapel. The chapel itself originally had the tallest aluminium spire in the country, but it was subsequently taken down, it is now part of Blackheath High School, although the protective shrubs and trees virtually hide it  from Vanbrugh Park.

The church hall was home for a while to the Vanbrugh Park Literary and Debating Society – the local paper, the Blackheath Gazette, had an extensive report of a meeting in March 1892 on ‘Which of the great parties in the State can best promote the happiness of the people?’  The meeting was chaired by Sir Thomas Crawford, a retired former Director General Army Medical Department and resolution in favour of the Liberal party was carried by 23 votes to 11.

All that remains of St Andrews church is an allusion to it in the name of the housing development that now occupies the site.

Vanbrugh3

As for the artist, Elwin Hawthorne, his paintings have been described as ’melancholy, rather surreal views of London suburbs’ which used subdued colours.

Elwin Hawthorne was born in 1905 in Poplar as Hawthorn, but his name was misspelled in a catalogue and he was advised to retain the incorrect spelling for the future.  His father was a painter and decorator. Elwin had left school without qualifications but had  developed an interest in art whilst unemployed and attended  classes at the Bethnal Green Men’s Institute and then the Bow & Bromley Evening Institute where the teacher was the inspirational John Cooper who was trained at the Slade School of Art.

By the end of the 1920s, he was working as an assistant to Walter Sickert and was exhibiting both with the East London Group and through the dealers Lefevre who bought and exhibited a lot of his work.  He received positive reviews from both the 1929 and 1930 East London group exhibitions – the latter comparing him favourably with the French artist Utrillo

the most original artist of the group, producing pictures of East London which are the English equivalents – though more matter of fact – of what Utrillo is doing for Paris

imageDuring the 1930s, he was able to work full time as an artist in his own right and had a number of solo exhibitions – a critic at one in 1934 described Hawthorne as “an outstanding, possibly great artist in the making” and the best solo exhibition in London at the time. ‘The church near Blackheath’ dates from 1934 and was part of this exhibition.

World War 2 ended his career as a full time artist, the art market largely disappeared due to hostilities and when Hawthorne returned civvy street, Lefevre’s couldn’t offer him work or a retainer and suggested he looked for other employment.  When he died in in 1954 he was teaching art part time in schools and doing wages for the electronics firm Plessey. One of the few brief biographies of him suggests that at his death he was ‘disheartened by the lack of opportunities to exhibit, he had lost heart in his work.’

Much of the work of the East London Group of artists seems to have been forgotten after WW2, although in recent years there is much more interest with a book published on the in 2012 by David Buckman – ‘Bow to Biennale.’  While it is out of print, there are plans to publish a second edition.   There have also been some recent exhibitions, there is a website promoting the group’s work and of course the site’s own twitter account.

Returning to Vanbrugh Park, other than the missing church, the view hasn’t changed that much as the photograph from a misty Sunday November morning shows.  Perhaps it was appropriate to visit on that sort of day – there were few people around, as is often the case with Hawthorne’s paintings and the lack of sun gave a similar slightly gloomy feel that the original had.  The modes of transport might have changed, but the houses are still recognisable as is the fir tree – even though it has another 80 years’ worth of growth in it.

Vanbrugh1

Notes

1 Neil Rhind (1983) ‘Blackheath Village and Environs Volume II, Wricklemarsh and the Cator Estate, Kidbrooke, Westcombe, The Angerstein Encroachment’ (London, Blackheath Bookshop Ltd.) p330

2 Sydney Evening News 16 July 1887

3 Rhind op cit p330

4 ibid p330

5 ibid p331

Picture Credit

The painting can be viewed at Manchester City Art Galleries; it was made available via the BBC’s Your Paintings Project, which in turn allows reproduction in non-commercial research – this includes blogs (page explaining this only works intermittently).

And finally, a big thank you to Alan Waltham of the East London Group website for help with some details and suggestions.

Remembering the WW2 Dead in Lewisham, Lee & Blackheath

As Remembrance Sunday 70 years on from the end of the Second World War approaches this week, it is perhaps worth reflecting on some of the local people who lost their lives during the conflict.  I did a similar piece last year in relation to WW1 combatant deaths, but for WW2, I wanted to focus more on those who lost their lives on the ‘Home Front.’

One of the main differences compared with the WW1 is the number of women who died in the conflict.  While there were deaths in WW1 – such as those I have covered in the blog in relation to the Gotha bombing of Sydenham Road and the Zeppelin attack on Hither Green – they were a very small minority. The extent of aerial attacks by both German and Allied sides in WW2 changed this, as did the changing role of women in the armed forces.  A memorial in Whitehall commemorates both the changes in roles of women during the War and their deaths.

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Albion Way Shelter

At about 4 pm on 11 September 1940, a brick street shelter suffered a direct hit, as a German bomber discharged his remaining bombs as he returned to Germany.  Unsurprisingly there were a large number of casualties, with 41 dying inside the shelter and nearby.  Those who died included

  • William Abbott (56) a shop assistant of 8 Murillo Road;
  • Marjorie Wickens of 7 Taunton Road (19), who was an air raid warden; and
  • Elizabeth Grant of 19 Brightfield Road (19)

All three were buried and commemorated at Hither Green Cemetery.

Deptford Central Methodist Hall

The Central Hall was also hit on 11 September 1940, probably in the same raid as Albion Way, 50 were buried in the rubble whilst sheltering in the basement.  There were 26 deaths – including

  • Phoebe Turner of 60 Harvard Road (45); and
  • Lillian Allum of 47 Effingham Road (40).

Lee Park

There were at least seven who died in the bombing on Lee Park on 17 September in 1940 –  which would have been roughly to the left of the picture below, towards the Lee High Road end of the street.  The church was Christ Church which was bombed at around the same time and has been covered in the blog before.  Those who died were:

  • Emily Collins (62) of 35;
  • Ethel (66) & George Crawford (70) of 31a;
  • Ethel Pollard (39), daughter of the Crawfords also of 31a;
  • Emma Green (90) from 40 Dacre Park who was visiting 35 Lee Park and died of her injuries later in the year; along with
  • Maud (30) & Samuel (32) Nuttal at 31 Lee Park

Leepark

Boone Street

George Loader of 34 Boone Street died aged 85 in the Blitz on 21 September 1940. This probably became one of the sites for prefab bungalows after the war.

Sandhurst Road School

A large bomb was dropped during the day of 20 January 1943 killing 45 children and teachers, the casualties included:

  • Anne & Judith Biddle, 5 year old twins from 22 Muirkirk Road;
  • Pauline and Eunice Davies – Sisters of 9 and 7 from 57 Killearn Road;
  • Dennis and Ronald Barnard 10 and 9 from 120 Further Green Road;
  • Mary Jukes (38) from 3a Newstead Road; and
  • Harriet Langdon (40) from 65 Manor Park

There is a poignant memorial to those who died in Hither Green Cemetery.

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Hither Green Railway Station

There was a V-1 attack on the station on 29 July 1944 – the day after the Lewisham High Street V-1 explosion, which was covered on the blog a year or so ago.  There were four deaths including a mother and daughter from Walworth, Emily (25) and Jean (1) Champion, Violet Kyle of 11 Morley Road, who died in the Miller Hospital in Greenwich, and William Pontin (38) of Weybridge.

Blackheath Village

There was considerable damage to Blackheath Village on 8 March following a V-2 rocket hitting the Methodist chapel in what is now called Blackheath Grove –  there will be a specific post on this in a few weeks, 134 were injured and there were five deaths including Daisy Denny, Alice Drain and Eve Taylor who all lived in and around Blackheath, and Eve Leibe lived a little further away in St Mildred’s Road.

Note

Unless linked otherwise, the source for all the casualty information is the  Commonwealth War Graves Commission.