Category Archives: Blackheath History

The Ghosts of Hillyfields & Blackheath Prefabs Past

The prolonged spell of dry weather in June and July 2018 dried out the top soils in many areas and made visible archaeological remains of past buildings. It has enabled the likes of the flooded village of Mardale Green to be visible again, along with various ancient settlements in Wales.  A little more recent, and a lot nearer to home, are footprints of prefabs that appeared in Hillyfields and possibly on Blackheath too.

The Blitz and the later V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks had destroyed thousands of homes in south east London. – thousands were homeless, staying with families and friends, leaving considerable numbers homeless .The main plank in trying to deal with this was the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act 1944, which planned to deliver 300,000 prefabricated homes.
The old Borough of Lewisham put up 1,610 prefabs by 1948 and a further 1,088 by 1955. While many went on quickly cleared bombsites – such as those in Fernbrook Road and Lenham Road – parks and open spaces were often used. On the Greenwich side of Blackheath, open space on Pond Road in Blackheath was used but more significantly several parks saw significant concentrations of prefabs. Notable in this was the Excalibur Estate (pictured below) which was built on part of the Forster Memorial Park – the estate partially remains although a stalling redevelopment programme is underway. The Excalibur estate (below) was covered in an early post in Running Past. There were also big concentrations around the edge of Hillyfields as well as in a couple of locations on Blackheath.P1040344.JPG

Hillyfields Bungalows

As the 1949 surveyed map that included Ladywell shows, the open ground of Hillyfields was circled with prefabs – Hillyfields Bungalows – with a double row along Adelaide and Montague Avenues, and a single broken line on Hillyfields Crescent.  A number of different types of prefabs were used – the ones here were Arcon bungalows – somewhat different in shape and design to those at Excalibur.

They were certainly there until the early autumn of 1962 as there is cine film footage of them, although there are suggestions that residents may have been moved out before the winter as there are recollections of playing in the remains of the prefabs in the harsh winter of 1962/63.

The extent of the compaction of the ground caused by the foundations means that the ground dries out more quickly than the surrounding around and so sometimes makes the footprints of the prefabs visible from the air.  The Google maps satellite images, probably taken in the dry spring or early summer of 2011. – the top one of Adelaide Avenue, the lower of Montague Avenue.

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They may have been visible on the ground at that point but the 2018 has made them a lot clearer than in previous years as the set of photographs below shows – the top pair are of the Adelaide Avenue prefab bases, the bottom trio are of Montague Avenue and Hillyfields Crescent.

Before leaving Hillyfields, the Ordnance Survey map above indicates a series of Nissen huts close to the tennis courts.  They probably related to search lights (there were search lights there in World War 1 too).  There was nothing visible on the ground in the drought conditions – a combination of post-war trees and play equipment have disturbed the surface too much.

St German’s Place, Blackheath

Alongside St German’s Place on Blackheath there was a double row of prefabs as the photograph from Britain from Above shows the edge of in the bottom left corner,

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The extent is clearer from the 1949 surveyed Ordnance Survey map.

Unlike the position at Hillyfields, the post demolition outlines never seem to have been visible from the air – Blackheath has seen more more earth movement over the years than Hillyfields (apart from the former brick works around Hillyfields Crescent).  Non-natural soils have been added to the edge the grass, while the mounds look impressive in flower they will cover some of the remains of the prefab footprints.

A recent drain edges the Heath a metre further west than the mound and then beyond is a tangle of long grass. There are a couple of outlines that might be the base of a bungalow but it could easily be something else.

Hollyhedge Bungalows

In the top corner of the aerial photograph above another, larger, group of prefabs is present at the south eastern edge of the Heath, adjacent to what is now the Territorial Army Centre at Hollyhedge House – looking  beyond them is Lewisham, almost unrecognisable without the tall buildings.

The bunglaows were know as Hollyhedge Bungalows – their extent is clearer from the map below

There appeared to be nothing obvious visible on the ground when visited – a combination of lots of earth movement on the Heath in the relatively recent past and confusion of lines caused by tyres – no doubt due to the obstacles of the Race for Life Pretty Mudder race the Sunday before – the grass will recover quickly from that, once it rains.

Not every bomb site was developed immediately for prefabs – as Running Past has already covered , sites at Campshill House and Lewisham Hill were developed for new council housing almost straight after the War – the final photograph below shows both Lewisham Hill estate (2/3 way up on the right) as well as Hollyhedge Bungalows at the top.

Notes

The modern aerial images are from Google Maps – copied during 2014

The older aerial images are all from Britain from Above and on a Creative Commons

The map images are on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland – the full images are via links for Hillyfields; St German’s Place and Hollyhedge bungalows

 

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Belmont – The House That Named The Hill

Belmont Hill used to be known by a variety of names including Lewisham Lane and Butt Lane (see map below (1)). The present name is taken from a large house that used to be where the elegant Edwardian housing of Caterham and Boyne Roads are now situated.

The house was built for George Ledwell Taylor around 1830. When it was built, ‘Belmont,’ which was on a distinct rise, will have offered fine, uninterrupted views towards London and, a little nearer, in the direction of the Royal Dockyards at Deptford. This was, perhaps, deliberate – he had been appointed Surveyor of Buildings to the Naval Department in 1827; his work estate included Deptford.  It was one of the larger houses in the district – with only the Cedars surpassing it as the 1863, surveyed map below shows (2). One of the Quaggy’s tributaries, Upper Kid Brook was at the foot of the slope, and, not to be undone the neighbours, like the Brandrams at the Cedars almost next door, he too interrupted the flow to create a small lake – at the top of what is now Cressingham Road – marked below (3).

It wasn’t Taylor’s first home in Blackheath – he had designed a quartet of villas on what is now Lee Terrace, almost opposite the church. He lived in one of them for a while – two of the houses were later demolished to make way for William Webster’s massive Wyberton House – indirectly the proceeds of being one of Joseph Bazalgette’s main contractors.

Taylor was made redundant in a series of public expenditure cuts by the Admiralty in 1837. He went into private architectural practice and may well have moved on from Lee soon after. Certainly, he doesn’t seem to have appeared in censuses at Belmont.

When the census enumerators called in both 1851 and 1861 Belmont was home to the Soames family. Frederic was listed as head of household and referred to as a ship owner, he was away from home in the New Forest in 1861.  While listed as a ‘ship owner’ he seems to have been linked to Gilstrap Soames, who were a family of brewers and maltsters.  They had moved from Lee before the 1871 census and were to take over the Wrexham Brewery in 1879; the family were major creditors when it went into liquidation and renamed it as Soames Brewery.  The new company also got into financial difficulties in the 1930s and merged to form the Border Brewery.

The long term occupants of Belmont were the Wainewright family, John (Senior) was referred to as Taxing Master of the High Court of Chancery – a role which seems to have been effectively a High Court judge specialising in costs; it is a role that they seem to be now referred to as Senior Cost Judge.

Each census they seemed to add more servants – by 1891 there were 12, albeit several looking after the elderly John (Senior) who was then 85.  He died in 1893, with his wife, Anne, passing on in 1897. The house didn’t last long after their deaths; the view that no doubt attracted Taylor had been broken by the railway and on the opposite side of the Upper Kid Brook was overlooked by Granville Park (home to the Billinghursts and Smiles households).

The city was expanding, Lewisham (Lee had been lost to local government reorganisation in 1899) and Belmont Hill, close to the station would have been a desirable location. The builders were H & J Taylor, who were the main developer of the larger, both in terms of numbers and size, development of Park Langley estate in Beckenham.  H & J Taylor seem to have been brothers Henry Thomas and John.  The latter had a son who was named John Belmont Taylor, presumably after the estate.  John Belmont and Henry Thomas Taylor were to move into partnership in the late 1920s and lived at Campshill House on Hither Green Lane.

The architect both at Belmont Hill and Park Langley was Reginald C Fry who won the Ideal House Competition, part of the Ideal Home Show for one of the homes in Beckenham in 1911. He appears to have used the Belmont Hill in his entry for the following year’s competition, but without the same success.  Fry lived for a while with his parents in a large house on Belmont Hill, The Elms, which seems to have been between The Cedars and Belmont; he was listed there in the 1901 census.

The area is rightly a conservation area – Lewisham’s Area Appraisal describes the homes as ‘eclectic, exuberant, typically Edwardian houses,’ although the next sentence suggests streets that are ‘characterised by modest terraced and semi-detached two storey villas of largely similar plan and size.’ There are hints of a myriad of architectural styles in the houses – the tiles in the porches are certainly worth pausing to look at.

The entrance into the estate from Belmont Hill is marked by impressive polygonal corner ‘towers’ with weather vanes on the houses on either side of this top end of Boyne Road, the one on the westerly side is particularly well preserved and detailed – the DKF initial remains a mystery though. The house at the junction of Belmont Hill and Lockmead Road, has an “angled, double, two storey bow window surmounted by a ‘bell turret’.”

 

The remnants of the views westwards that no doubt had attracted George Ledwell Taylor still existed in part until early into the current millennium, the once impressive vista is no more though, blocked by the ugly bulk of the police station and the new high rise developments of Lewisham Gateway.

Notes

  1. Source – Wikipedia on a Creative Commons
  2. National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons
  3. National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons

Census & related information come 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. 

Notes
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.

Notes

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; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/bolton-terraces-163155 (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.

Notes

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

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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.