Category Archives: Lewisham History

James Watt – The Builder of 5,000 Catford Homes

The development of the Corbett Estate on the borders of Hither Green and Catford has been covered several times by Running Past; firstly, looking at North Park Farm – whose sale was to allow the development of the estate, early in the development a walk with one of Charles Booth’s researchers in 1899  and a small section of the estate that was built by Frederick Taylor.  Corbett subcontracted most of the building work and probably the most important of the builders that he used was an already well-established Catford contractor – James Watt.  Watt has been mentioned briefly in relation to the short lived Lee Picture Palace which he ran and probably built.  However, he is worth a post in his own right.

Watt was Aberdonian by birth, born in 1857 his family moved to Stromness in the Orkneys by the 1861 census – his father was a farmer of a relatively small holding, just 25 acres.  Nothing is known of his early years, although by 1876 he was working in Hackney. He was certainly in Lewisham by 1887 as he married Emily from Brighton and in 1889 as his son James Henry was born then.  He initially worked as a foreman for another firm before setting up his own firm.

By the time the census enumerators called in the spring of 1891 he was living in Wildfell Road in Catford.  Also there was his brother, George who was listed as a joiner.  George was to stay around Lewisham, in 1911, for example, working as a builder’s foreman, perhaps working for James.

The house he was living in was one that the firm built, almost certainly the house on the corner of Scrooby Street (above right), where his firm also built houses.  The houses on Wildfell Road, from the outside at least, are arguably one of the most attractive terraces in Catford (see photo below) with some lovely detail (above left).  At the time of writing (July 2017) one of the small two bedroom houses was on sale for a fraction under £400,000.

Watt’s firm also built homes on Brookdale Road, along with Aitken and Barmeston Roads , further south,  off Bromley Road. He also built some of the houses on Canadian Avenue (formerly Berlin Avenue) – including ‘Kenilworth’ in 1901.  It isn’t always easy to tell exactly which houses he built – unlike the similar sized firm in Lee, W J Scudamore, there weren’t obvious patterns in the design.

By 1901 James Watt was at 4 Bromley Road (above), possibly a home built by the firm, although this isn’t certain. While he was a non-conformist, the house was next to St Laurence’s Vicarage – it was to be opposite his estate office and yard, probably the former Sangley Hall – see map below, on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland)

4 Bromley Road was also convenient for the development of the Sangley Farm estate for the Forsters.  No doubt at some stage Running Past will cover the farm, whose buildings were on the corner of what is now Bargery Road.  It included streets like Penerley and Culverley Roads and was very much housing for the Edwardian middle classes and was developed on a piecemeal basis between 1902 and the 1920s.  It isn’t clear which homes he built on the estate but it undoubtedly some of those photographed below in the previously mentioned streets.

As noted before, Watt built around a third of Corbett Estate too.  The only definite location for the firms work as in Fordel Road, where 38 lbs of lead piping was stolen from an unfinished house (1).   However, it is quite possible that Watt’s firm built roads like Minard and Braidwood Roads pictured below (source for both eBay July 2016).

The firm had interests in land over a large swathe of south east London, it isn’t clear as to what they built and what they may have acquired to privately rent, but it certainly included buying 217 Westcombe Hill, Blackheath, acquired in 1918; Land and buildings, Morden Grange; 107 Lewisham Road in 1923 along with several houses in Ravensbourne Road in Catford.

Watt continued to build homes in the area in the 1920s – including homes along Bromley Road, while 115 (below, built in 1922) is definitely one of the firm’s, many others in the area are similar too – so, no doubt were built by Watt.  Like another local builders that Running Past has covered, W J Scudamore, Watt expanded his area of operation in the interwar period buying sites in Orpington in 1928 and Croydon in 1930.

Not only was Watt a builder, but he was a pioneer of popular entertainment in the area. The first time that Running Past ‘came across’ Watt was when he built and initially ran Lee Picture Palace on the corner of Lee High Road and Bankwell Road.  It was one of many cinemas he owned. He opened his first cinema in 1909 – the Electric in Catford (now retirement flats on Sangley Road and marked on the map above), but went onto own around 25 cinemas and ice rinks over the years – mainly in south London, but extending as far as Tottenham, Paddington, Belvedere and Wandsworth. These included the cinema almost opposite his home – initially called Central Hall Picture House (like most in his chain) but later the Plaza, ABC and Cannon (it is now a church) – pictured below on a Creative Commons via Cinema Treasures.  As the map above shows, Catford was also home to one of his skating rinks, next door to the cinema.

James Watt died in 1932, a very wealthy man – his estate was worth in excess of £618,000 (2). His wife, Emily, died later same year.  It has been suggested that the firm had built 5-6,000 homes in and around Catford by the time he died.

The business seems to have been taken over by his older son, James Henry – who took over the family home at 4 Bromley Road, he was living there in 1939, listed as a Director and company Secretary of Building Trades Companies.  However, it seems that times were hard as he was sharing with another family.

It is not clear what happened to James Henry, the 1939 Register is the last definitive mention on-line of him.  It is clear that the younger brother, Horace (born in 1899) who had spent time in the nascent Flying Corps during and after World War 1, and was later a director of a Catford Haulage company, seems to have taken control after World War Two.  He bought a house in early 1948 in 7, Charsley Road, but later that year was to sell a large part of the business, then known as James Watt (Estates) Ltd. (3)

The firm continued until 1957 when it was wound up, it was still based at Central Parade on Bromley Road. Horace was still alive at that point, he was retired and living in West London and was listed on a passenger ship heading for South Africa the following year.

Notes

  1. Kentish Mercury 23 December 1898
  2. The Scotsman 22 July 1932
  3. The Times (London, England), Monday, Mar 29, 1948; pg. 2; Issue 51031

Census and 1939 Register data is via Find My Past

Elsa Lanchester – Catford’s Bride of Frankenstein

48 Farley Road is an ordinary looking Victorian terraced house in Catford; it has a brief, but important, place in British cinematographic history – in the early 20th century it was the birthplace in 1902 and home to Elsa Lanchester, who was to become the Bride of Frankenstein (Picture on Creative Commons via James Vaughan on Flickr)

Her parents were Edith (“Biddy”) Lanchester and James (“Shamus”) Sullivan; to suggest that their lifestyle was ‘different’ would be something of an understatement.  They were members of the Social Democratic Federation and challenged late Victorian and Edwardian mores in relation to marriage by living together outside marriage.  After telling her family that she was going to move in with Shamus, her family had her sectioned for several days. Biddy later became secretary to Eleanor Marx, a role she retained until Marx’s death.  She stayed with Marx in Sydenham after the birth of her first child, Waldo Lanchester who was to become a famous puppeteer.

In Elsa Lanchester’s autobiography there is, sadly, little reference to the Lewisham life of one of ‘Hollywood’s most delightful comediennes and the wife of one of its greatest, and most tortured, actors’ (Charles Laughton) (1). The family moved frequently around South London, in addition to Catford (see picture below), there were short-lived homes in Lewisham, Clapham and Norwood before settling in Battersea.  Part of the reason for these frequent movements was to try to prevent Elsa being vaccinated as her brother Waldo had reacted badly to his and Edith wanted to prevent government interference in the life of Elsa (2).

This fear of authority extended to what was recorded in the census – in 1901, at Farley Road,  Biddy was recorded as a visitor and Waldo her son.  Similarly in the 1911 census night Edith, Elsa and Waldo camped in Surrey woodland away from their then Clapham home to avoid being included in the returns (3). Oddly James still mentioned all but Edith to the enumerators.

The various family homes often had socialist visitors  who Elsa refers to as ‘kitchen comrades’ – this included the Pankhursts and there were regular trips to Women’s Social and Political Union rallies, one of which Biddy was arrested on (4). There were childhood memories of May Day rallies, sherbet fountains and singing the Internationale and the Lewisham written Red Flag (5).

There were trips to both the ballet, to see Pavola’s Swan Lake as well as seeing the likes of George Robey, Marie Lloyd at Clapham Grand (6).  Elsa went to classes in weaving, spinning and sandal making with Raymond Duncan (brother of Isadora) in Clapham (7).  Through him she ended up at Isadora Duncan’s dance school in Paris although there seemed to be little real talent for teaching from Duncan so little was learned other than to ‘become an autumn leaf’ (8).

After returning from Paris as war broke out, Elsa began to make a living out of short-lived dancing assignments, including a week as a snake dancer in Edmonton (9). After the war ended she worked for a charity teaching dancing called Happy Evenings, during her second summer of this she set up a school in Charlotte Street in central London (10).  She also used the premises to set up what was effectively an after-hours theatre club – the Cave of Harmony – which began to attract a famous clientele which included the likes of H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh who became a regular visitor(11). As she was with many friends and acquaintances, Lanchester was quite cutting about Waugh – describing him as ‘not at all attractive looking….pink in patches as though he had a bad cold.’ (12) The Cave of Harmony didn’t provide enough income to fully support her, so Elsa took a range of other jobs to make ends meet including cleaning (13)  and acting as a ‘correspondent’ for couples that couldn’t get an ‘honest’ divorce (14).

She began to get parts in plays as a result of the Cave of Harmony contacts, including several through Nigel Playfair, then manager of the Lyric Hammersmith. By the time she met Charles Laughton in 1927 (pictured together left – source), she had become moderately well-established on the London stage; he was still making his way – they married in 1929. They appeared together several times on the stage, notably in ‘Payment Deferred’ – an adaptation of a novel by sometime Lewisham based CS Forester (covered a while ago in Running Past) (15).

There was an incident during the run, where police arrived at the door with a ‘boy’ who was trying to get money out of Laughton who then confessed to Elsa about his homosexuality – Elsa’s response of ‘It’s perfectly alright ,it doesn’t matter…’ The latter remark seems to have upset Laughton greatly (16).  Laughton played William Marble and Elsa his daughter in Payment Deferred, the play lasted for 3 months in the West End (17) before transferring to Broadway and then Chicago for short runs with both of them appearing.

It was the critically acclaimed performance by Laughton in Payment Deferred that was to mark the beginning of his film career – he was to keep the role in the film version of the play and had several other parts in Hollywood films. Elsa though was overlooked for the daughter – the studio wanting the more bankable, in box office terms, Maureen O’Sullivan (18).

Her own movie debut was to come in a film that her husband starred in, playing Anne of Cleves in the Private Life of Henry VIII in 1933 (Picture on a Creative Commons via Wikipedia).

Her breakthrough was two years later as the Bride of Frankenstein.  Oddly, her autobiography, ‘Elsa Lanchester – Herself’ spends little time on the film; she includes no photographs, and the four pages of narrative is little more than a description of the time spent in makeup creating both her hair and the bandages that were wrapped around her.  She did note some of the reviews though, including this one from the subsequent ‘An Illustrated History of the Horror Film’ (19)

Elsa Lanchester in her white shroud and Nerifertiti hairdo is a truly fantastic apparition  …. a delicate suggestion of both the wedding bed and the grave

The film had good reviews on release and, unlike many of the era, has stood the test of time; at the time of writing in 2017 it had a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. It did well at the box office too – by 1943 it had made a profit of $2 million. (Picture below on a creative commons via Wikipedia)

 

Lanchester had a successful career after the Bride of Frankenstein, although you’d be hard pressed to work this out from her autobiography; her own accomplishments only seem worth mentioning in passing, whereas the trials and tribulations of Laughton’s various roles and his angst in preparing for them, as he became one of Hollywood’s ‘leading men,’ are dealt with in great detail.  While Elsa, was only once the ‘leading lady,’ in Passport to Destiny, she had a good career as a supporting actress – winning a Golden Globe for Agatha Christie’s ‘Witness for the Prosecution’, along with and Oscar nomination for the same film and another Oscar nomination for ‘Come to the Stable’.

She also found success returning to her roots at the Turnabout Theatre off Sunset Boulevard.  The theatre was a bizarre mixture of a puppetry stage at one end of the theatre and one for actors at the other end with reversible seats. Lanchester performed a similar solo vaudeville act to the one she had done in the past at the Cave of Harmonies at the Turnabout Theatre (20).

She had a number of early television presenting roles in the USA, including hosting ‘Words about Music’ on US TV every Saturday night for a year in the late 1950s .  Elsa played various small parts in American TV shows including ‘Burkes’s Law’ pictured below in 1964 (On a Creative Commons via Wikipedia)

She toured an autobiographical one woman show –‘Elsa Lanchester – Herself’ which Laughton had directed. He was to die of cancer in late 1961 but Lanchester continued to work into her late 70s, her final film was in 1980.  She published her autobiography in 1983 but suffered from a stroke soon after and passed away in late 1986 aged 84.

But it is as The Bride of Frankenstein that she is best remembered – hopefully, one day this might include a plaque at 48 Farley Road.

 

Notes

  1. Quoted on rear cover of Elsa Lanchester – Herself, 1983.
  2. ibid p7
  3. ibid pp7-8
  4. ibid p17
  5. ibid pp6-7
  6. ibid p19
  7. ibid p19
  8. ibid p28
  9. ibid p45
  10. ibid p50
  11. ibid p 56
  12. ibid p57
  13. ibid p58
  14. ibid p59
  15. ibid p97
  16. ibid p97
  17. ibid p100
  18. ibid p107
  19. ibid p138
  20. ibid p171

Census and related data comes via Find My Past 

The Roebuck – A ‘Lost’ Lewisham Town Centre Pub

The Roebuck was a Lewisham pub that dated back until at least the 1740s, possibly earlier.  In recent times its address was in Rennell Street but originally it was located on the High Street next to one of the two arms of the Quaggy as it joined the Ravensbourne.  The other ‘arm’ had a pub too, the Plough, which Running Past covered a while ago.

In between the two pubs was Plough Green, named after the Plough, and before the Enclosure Acts which allowed the wealthy and powerful to ‘enclose’ common land, there was an area of grass “Plough Green” roughly around the area of the old town centre roundabout; it was home a St Thomas Day fair – the Green is shown below (source on a Creative Commons) – the building shown was an early incarnation of the Roebuck.  This area was enclosed in 1810 and built upon. (1)

The two arms of the Quaggy were obvious in early Ordnance Survey maps, the Roebuck is the realtively large building just north of Rennell Street.  It was almost opposite the Lewisham Tollgate – marked ‘Lewisham TH.’ (Image on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).

The first mention of the pub was in parish registers in 1742 (2)  It was originally at 40-42 the High Street and it seems to have had a garden or bowling green at the side of it – which was later built upon.  The garden had a chestnut tree, in the picture below, which was said to have been planted in 1683 (3).

The William Miller referred in the picture of the pub, was the landlord from around 1834, the previous landlord was a William Lance – he decided to return to his former trade as a hatmaker (4).  Miller was probably from Lewisham (his sister certainly was), he died in 1849, but his wife, Elizabeth, took over the tenancy – the owners were Roach and Hill (5) – helped by his son Robert, who was also listed as a licensed victualler in the 1851 census. Elizabeth Hall was from Westerham in Kent, although had lived in Lewisham since 1825, possibly earlier, as Robert was born there. The rate book listed the pub as having assembly rooms, garden, yard, stables and building land (4).  Elizabeth was to remain the publican until around 1863 (6).  In the 1851 census there were two relatives living at the Roebuck, one working as a barmaid, along with three servants and two paying lodgers.

Robert had moved on by 1861 but a daughter Eliza had returned to work at the pub along with her husband, George Beven who was running the stables at the Roebuck.

After the Millers left there was a steady trickle of licensees; in 1871 the landlord was Richard Wooff who was 40 – he lived there with his wife Hannah and 4 children and a neice – there were three live-in servants helping to run the Roebuck.  He seems to have later moved on to the Three Tuns in Blackheath (now O’Neill’s) with one of his sons.

At the 1881 census James Tyrell from Rainham was the ‘Licensed Victualler’, also living there was his wife Frances, three children and three servants. The beer around this time was supplied by the Nicholls brothers  from the Anchor Brewery in Lewisham, which was covered by Running Past a while ago, whose offices (below) still remain in Tesco’s car park.

A decade later, Samuel and Elizabeth Fryatt were running the Roebuck (or Roe Back as it is incorrectly transcribed in the census…). The Fryatts had six live-in staff including one with the wonderfully named role of Potman and Billiard Marker.  Around this time the pub moved to the corner of Rennell Street, its former site was later to become the Gaumont (picture below from postcard – eBay Nov 2016).   The new building didn’t stop the steady flow of publicans though, Owen Ward from Ireland was there in 1901, when the census enumerator called, but had moved on by 1905, to be replaced by EE Coley.  Charles and Beatrice Freeman had arrived by 1911, he from Brighton, she from Portsmouth.  The business was creating enough trade to support three live-in barmaids, two cooks and a domestic nurse – presumably to look after the Freemans’ children.  The Freemans certainly lasted longer than many of their predecessors; they were still there in 1921 Post Office Directory.

Leonard Jennings was the landlord by 1938 and in the 1939 Register; he was a Bermondsey boy, born in 1877 – he married Sarah Elizabeth in 1906 in Southwark.  They had moved on by the end of World War Two, Leonard passing away in Greenwich in 1947.  One of the next landlords (1956) was W H J Harris.

The pub moved again, probably in the late 1950s or early 1960s, from its impressive position on the corner of the High Street and Rennell Street to a position a little further back down Rennell Street.  There are a couple of photos courtesy of Boak and Bailey’s Beer Blog  – one each of its exterior and interior from 1961.

It had a function room (downstairs) where bands played – those performing there included the local ‘legend’ Albert Lee, who grew up in Kidbrooke Park Road in Blackheath – according to several comments on Facebook threads relating to this post he was a regular performer there.  It also nearly saw the demise of Dave from Chas ‘n’ Dave who was non-fatally electrocuted on stage there whilst playing with The Tumbleweeds.  Other famous names spotted there included Lee Brilleaux from the Feelgoods, alas this wasn’t as a performer, but to buy some cigarettes before a gig at the Gaumont around the corner.

During the 1970s the Roebuck also became a relatively well-known Country & Western venue on Tuesday nights, hosting bands in the basement.  A Facebook thread from a while ago fondly recalled a local singing postman who was renowned for his rendition of Charley Pride’s ‘The Crystal Chandelier.’ Around the same era a Shadows tribute band called Apache who played regularly at the venue.

Other Facebook reminiscences from this post included Saturday nights which frequently saw tribute acts in the basement including Jim Reeves, Roy Orbison and the Everley Brothers. After the bar closed, some went to the Gaumont on the pub’s former site for late night ‘pictures’. Kicking out from there would be after the last bus – so it would be a long walk home.

The YouTube video of Dreamstate  performing there in 1991 gives a few glimpses of what the room was like (the volume is at Spinal Tap 11, so you may want to turn down the sound on your device before opening ….)

Harry Robinson was landlord during the 1980s and also owned Lewisham firm Robinson’s Hauliers based in Thurston Road.  My own recollections are from a decade later – my memory is of a dark, dismal place with little natural light and a blurry fag smoke fug even when there were few drinkers lighting-up.

Within a year or two of my last visit, the Roebuck became a gay bar, initially retaining the Roebuck name but latterly it was known as Bar Phoenix (see above on a Wikipedia Creative Commons), which included ‘weekly drag entertainment’.  There are a few on-line reviews from that era

The Roebuck, near Lewisham Shopping Centre, is dire, but has to be seen to be believed. It attracts a strange mix of ‘fresh’ and ‘experienced’ faces.

This gay-friendly bar is a real find. I’d heard good things about The Roebuck from friends so last Saturday we trooped off to the place anticipating a good night. We simply had a ball. The service was outstanding and the atmosphere unrivalled by any bars in the area. The Roebuck has got to be seen to be believed!

It remained until around the end of the first decade of the 21st century before it was demolished – part of the early preparation work for the redevelopment of the northern end of Lewisham town centre. Rennell Street still exists; it is part of a short stretch of dual carriageway to be endured by those passing through the town centre by road with risks of high levels of pollution.

The final resting place of the pub is ‘marked’ by a pedestrian crossing (left, below) with its Victorian incarnation remembered via The Roebuck Memorial Traffic Lights (right, below).

Notes

  1. Leland Duncan (1908) History of the Borough of Lewisham p96
  2. ibid p77
  3. ibid p77
  4. Ken White The Public Houses of Lee and Lewisham 6c p233
  5. Ibid
  6. ibid

Census and related data comes via Find My Past 

Following the Quaggy – Sutcliffe Park to Lee Green

In previous posts, Running Past has followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom and then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley, through the golf courses of Sundridge Park and on to Chinbrook Meadows.  Most recently, we left he river at on the south side of Eltham Green Bridge, by an old London County Council sign, wondering about how to moor a boat there.

North of the bridge, over Eltham Road, is Sucliffe Park; until the early 20th century the area was farmland, The Quaggy meandered through the fields as the map below shows (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).  Woolwich Borough Council acquired the land just after World War 1.  It was named after the then Borough Engineer (1).

The meanders had been removed by the time that the Ordnance Surveyors cartographers visited again in 1938 and encased in concrete – as the map below shows (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland). The river was completely enclosed at some stage during the post war period, Ken White believed it to be around 1970 (2) although several on Facebook threads thought it was much earlier than this.

The look that remained until the current Millennium was of a flat, featureless park (apart from the athletics track that is home to Cambridge Harriers, whose early history was covered a while ago.  It was reminiscent of a miniature Hackney Marshes (Photo below on a Creative Commons via Restoring Europe’s Rivers wiki)

In Facebook threads on upstream posts, there were lots of memories of playing in the Quaggy and culverts around the Park, seemingly including some of the streams that join the Quaggy – notably Well Hall Stream.

This all changed in 2002. A new meandering channel was created for the Quaggy, close to its pre-1930s course, albeit at a slightly lower level, with the park itself being remodelled to create a flood plain able to store 85,000 m³  with a series of boardwalks, viewing points and a large pond. The old channel was retained for extreme flood situations and flow can be switched to it when the storage in the park is full (above, right photograph).

The park which used to be rarely visited other than for weekend football is now a well-used focal point and reconnecting the community with the river and its natural environment – it is often held up as an excellent example of urban river management. Unlike other parts of the Quaggy’s catchment, it is beginning to be used as a place of play and discovery – children can sometimes be seen jumping across the river, there were reminiscences about doing this in Mottingham, feeding ducks on the pond along with the occasional sightings of fishing nets and buckets.

The Quaggy was originally joined by Well Hall Stream in the park, although when followed a while ago, there was little evidence of any current flow.

The river goes through some complex engineering that can shut off the flows in periods of high water, and re-emerges the other side of Kidbrooke Park Road in the playing fields of John Roan School.  Here too the river has changed, the concrete encasement had continued west of the road, I remember having to scramble down angled concrete to fish out footballs from the river during my sons’ Saturday morning football practice there. 

The Quaggy is theoretically joined by Lower Kid Brook (above) opposite a rather impressive Woolwich Borough marker (below left), or rather it isn’t any more – the flow was probably diverted into the Quaggy three hundred metres to the east in Sutcliffe Park.

Beyond John Roan playing fields, the river is sandwiched between Lyme Farm Road estate, which replaced Victorian housing, and Crofton Albion FC.  It emerges out into the public gaze again at Weigall Road where the 1903 boundary markers from Woolwich had again been busy (above right).

Over the road, to the south, there is another series of playing fields – the first is a public one, Weigall Sports Field which was once home to Ravensbourne Athletic Club’s grass running track.  It was part of a residential club and sports centre for employees of Cook, Son and Co (St Pauls) Ltd. which was a clothing wholesale company – the building faces on to Eltham Road (see above) and was completed in 1912.  Prior to then there were newspaper reports of them being based in Ladywell Fields, hence the name from a different catchment.  The building on Eltham Road was requisitioned for World War 1 billeting but returned to its former use after the War.  It continued as this until after World War Two when it was converted into flats – it is now part of Ravens Way (perhaps a shortening of the club’s name) (3).

Its next door neighbour is the Bowring Group Sports Ground (below), although its days in recreational use are probably numbered as it seems to have been acquired for  a ‘Free’ School.

The northern banks of the Quaggy also used to have playing fields, the just post war Ordnance Survey map shows cricket grounds (on a Creative Commons from National Library of Scotland.) The outlines of the fields are still there and indeed the derelict remains of one the pavilions remains.  The formerly manicured grounds have been largely abandoned and now form part of the Weigall Road flood defence and storage, although the intention has always been dual use.

It isn’t meant to be an accessible area, but fences on Weigall Road and Blackheath Park are always porous enough for the runner of a smaller stature to enter without having to resort to contortions or scaling boundaries.  It the last long section of the river where the Quaggy has a bucolic feel – it probably hasn’t changed much since the fields by the river were used as the venue for the horse racing of the Lee Races in the first half of the 19th century.

The flood defences have a second fence to prevent the fluvial flâneur but in a period of low flow they proved to be of limited deterrent.  Apparently the Weigall Road storage will hold 65,000 m³ of water.

There is/was probably a small tributary joining around here.  There is very boggy ground just south of the derelict pavilion, more standing water in wetter seasons but still pooling in a very dry Spring.  There is an occasionally running stream which forms the boundary between the fields, in recent years I have only seen water there in the very wet winter of 2013/14.

On Facebook pages relating to upstream posts, there are fond memories of playing in and on the banks of the Quaggy in these parts – there still sometime cross river swings with a ducking for those with poor grips, although none have been noticed for a year or two.

Beyond the Weigall Road flood storage area, the Quaggy briefly disappears before being bridged by Meadowcourt Road and then flowing onwards towards Osborne Terrace.  The river is then bridged by Lee Road, there was only a footbridge until as late as the 1860s, as the 1863 published 25″ Ordnance Survey shows (on a Creative Commons via National Library of Scotland). The road bridge was certainly there by the time the cartographers returned in 1893.

 

This was an area of flooding – Hastead reported depths of 10′ (3 metres) in the 18th century and FW Hart reporting similar depths after the rapid thaw following the bitterly cold 1813/14 winter, there was flooding over a wide area including a lot of Lee Park.  Hart reported flooding being a regular occurrence in the early 19th century with a Bromley farmer drowning in 1830.

 

There is another Woolwich marker from 1903 by the bridge, only someone has chiselled out – the borough name, perhaps they were going to return and add Greenwich, but they never did.  Next to the bridge there is a pipe with water entering the Quaggy, with a Lewisham Natureman stag ‘grazing’ next to it, this is the diverted Mid Kid Brook.  On the opposite bank, there is a ghost sign for a ‘carver and gilder’ (more here), oddly hidden by the current cafe owners.  We’ll leave the river here for another day.

Notes

  1. Ken White (1999) The Quaggy & Its Tributaries p25
  2. ibid p25
  3. John Coulter (1997) Lewisham and Deptford in Old Photographs: A Third Selection

 

A Single to Sydney – Transportation and the Two Lewishams

Lewisham has a namesake in the south western Sydney suburbs named after its south east London equivalent.  The New South Wales Lewisham, was given the name in 1834 from the estate of Jacob Josephson, which was sold after his death by his son, Joshua, in the 1850s for development.

The ‘other’ Lewisham in the 1930s (on a Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Jacob was transported for 14 years in May 1818 for having forged £1 notes in his possession.  His son Joshua and his mother made the same journey to New South Wales in 1820.   Jacob had been on the run before his arrest and running up considerable bank debts and absconding with church silver whilst working as a clerk to a parish church.  He seems to have never been charged with the theft as his punishment could have been considerably greater.  Once in Australia he set himself up in his former trade as a silversmith but again got into considerable debt and ended up in a debtors’ prison.

Once out of prison he seems to have made a large amount of money as a publican in several locations in New South Wales, it would be appear that part of this money was used to buy land, including what was to become Lewisham.

So where does the link to south east London come from?  Sadly, it isn’t clear, the church that Jacob Josephson was clerk to and ran away with the silver from was in Bethnal Green. The offence for which he was transported was tried in Oxford and at the time of the offence was living just north of Oxford.

The land in the area had been ‘granted’ by the first Governor, Arthur Phillip (who had been educated at what is now Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College) by around 1809. This was a decade or so before Josephson arrived in the colony, so one possibility might have been that an earlier owner had a link to south east London.  Sadly, nothing is obvious though – the two largest parts of the Lewisham estate were ‘granted’ to an the emancipated convicts, George Gambling, who had been convicted in Hampshire in 1797, and to John White from County Fermanagh, So, sadly, it remains something of a mystery where the link to Lewisham.

Transportation began to be used as a punishment in the early 18th century – Running Past has covered it before in relation to the Scottish Political Martyrs remembered at Nunhead Cemetery – see below.

It continued until 1857 when it was replaced by the slightly more enlightened penal servitude, which those who have been reading the blog for a while may recall was the punishment meted out to the Deptford anarchist and Post Office bomber Rolla Richards.

The Old Bailey’s on-line archives offer a fascinating insight into crime and punishments – by modern standards many of the sentences seem incredibly harsh – transportation for ten years for burglary without any aggravating factors would perhaps warrant a custodial term of 2 years now. Some of the theft cases that saw the perpetrators Australia bound may only have seen community orders.

 

The cases below all have a Lewisham (south east London) link in either the crime and/or the residence of the perpetrator, sadly with all of them it isn’t clear what became of them once they reached the Antipodes.

James Moore – Theft of Flutes from Colfe’s School

Moore was convicted of ‘burglariously breaking and entering’  the home of  Joseph Prendergast, at Lewisham, who then head of Colfe’s School off Lewisham Road, his will was to enable the founding of the Prendergast School. He and an accomplice stole two flutes, with a value of £5 and £3 and a hat valued at 2/6d (13p). Moore was transported for 15 years in 1837.

Colfe’s School from the 19th Century on a Creative Commons via https://archive.org/stream/proceedingsoflew02lewi#page/74/mode/2up

William Skilton – Bigamy

Skilton (Skelton) was convicted of bigamy in 1837; he had married Mary Ann Wyld in Newington in 1820, Anne Sarah Wilkinson in Islington in 1826 and finally Esther Pink at St Mary’s, Lewisham  (below) in 1829.  On arrest he was reported as having said “What if I have had three wives, two of them turned out bad ones, and now I have got a third I suppose you won’t let me keep her.”  Skilton was sentenced to seven years for each offence – seemingly to run consecutively.

 

George Baker, George Bassett & John Grant – Burglary

The three men were convicted of ‘burglariously breaking and entering’ the home and business of a Lewisham grocer, taking coins and notes of almost £100 along with various goods of some considerable value one night in February 1844. The trio then went on a drinking spree taking in Deptford and Poplar, before heading to the brothels and bars of the Strand area.  Baker, Bassett and Grant were sentenced for 10 years transportation.

 

Samuel Ewins – Robbery

Ewins was indicted for a robbery, with violence on Loampit Vale, close to the former Hope Tavern, stealing from a 15 year old a watch and chain, value £14 along with around 6/2d (31p) in cash.  He was transported for 10 years in 1853.

 

Henry Pickett – Burglary

Henry Pickett was found guilty of ‘burglariously breaking and entering’ and stealing two coats, a cap and a pair of boots from George Selby of Ravensbourne Park in Catford.  Based on the 1851 census, George Selby was a solicitor who lived on a farm which appears to have been managed by one of his sons.  Ravensbourne Park was to become an extremely desirable location with the arrival of the railway at Catford Bridge six years later, but already had a small number of large houses in the early 1850s.  The postcard below (eBay April 2016) was from a few decades later, but the look of the area, other than the station, would have been little different.  Pickett was apprehended after his accomplice tried to sell some of the goods in Deptford.

While his accomplice was sent to prison for two years, Pickett was sentenced to be transported for 10 years.  However, he never made to long voyage to Botany Bay as he seems to have ended up with a lesser prison sentence and was released from Portsmouth prison in 1855.

 

Notes

Thank you to the ever helpful Julian Watson for being able to rule out the theft of the silver being from St Mary’s, Lewisham and pinpointing it to Bethnal Green.  Thank you also to Aleem Aleemullah, Local Studies Librarian at Inner West Council (which includes the ‘other’ Lewisham) in the Sydney suburbs who was very helpful in providing some Antipodean local knowledge and getting me a little further along what proved to be a dead-end in trying to work out the link Jacob Josephson or his estate had to south London’s Lewisham.

The 1851 census data comes via Find My Past.

 

The Fernbrook Road Doodlebug Attack

In Fernbrook Road, opposite the railway embankment for platform 6 at Hither Green station, there is a row of bungalows which were built by Lewisham Borough Council sometime after the Second World War.  They look slightly out of place in an area of Victorian terraces, like lots of other small sites in south east London – they were not there because of any defect of the original properties but because of bomb or rocket damage. Fernbrook Road was hit by a V-1 rocket, better known as a Doodlebug, on 23 June 1944 – which destroyed several houses and caused serious damage to others.

V-1 attacks had started on 13 June 1944 – a week after the D Day landings – and were to go on until October 1944 when the last V-1 site in range of Britain was captured, although there were a small number of later air launched attacks.

As was noted in a post a couple of years ago on the attack on Lewisham town centre, there appear to have been some attempts to use double agents to persuade the Germans that the V-1s were over-shooting their targets and landing to the north west of London, this may explain the reasons for the volume of V-1 rockets that hit South London. The old boroughs of Croydon (171), Wandsworth (122), Lewisham (115) and Woolwich (77) were the 4 locations hit the most. The Cities of London and Westminster only received 17 and 29 attacks respectively.

The V-1 exploded on impact and a blast wave rippled out from the impact point, effectively creating a vacuum in the centre – the combined impact was to both push and pull buildings leading to large numbers of collapses.  The Impact was often spread over quite a wide area with total destruction in the centre with much less damage on the outside.

Key: black=total destruction, purple=damaged beyond repair, dark red=seriously damaged (doubt if repairable), light red=seriously damaged (repairable at cost), orange=general blast damage (non-structural), yellow=blast damage (minor), green=clearance area

The map above (1) shows the damage surveyed by the London County Council, the circle to the north east of the railway shows the location of the Fernbrook Road V-1 (the adjacent one, in Nightingale Grove will be covered in a later post).  The terrace of homes it hit was probably built by W J Scudamore and Sons – certainly the houses either side of those destroyed have the same square bays and details to others locally.

The extent of the devastation is clear – destroying or damaging beyond repair the immediate area but causing significant damage to the shops on Staplehurst Road and the houses behind, on Leahurst Road, along with some blast damage to the Station Hotel.  Not showing on the map, there was also some damage to the Dartford Loop line (2).

There were 22 injuries (3) and two deaths in the attack on Fernbrook Road – Marjorie Annie Lewis and her father, George Samuel Atkins at 22 Fernbrook Road.  Marjorie was 29 and listed as a Clerk in the 1939 Register, George was a Butchers Office Manager in 1939.  George would have been survived by his wife Lily – a Lily Atkins of the right age remained in Lewisham until her death in 1959.

Marjorie had married Francis Lewis who was a Railway Porter after war broke out.  Francis was living further down Fernbrook Road at 64a in 1939 with his parents and sister.   It isn’t clear whether Francis had moved into 22 after their marriage or Marjorie was just visiting her parents at the time of the attack.

They weren’t the only World War Two civilian deaths in Fernbrook Road – Joyce Jones of 100 was to die a month later at Lewisham Hospital probably a victim of a later V-1 which hit there on 26 July 1944 and Henry Munyard from 106 who died in an attack on the London Power Station, along with eight of his work mates on 11 July 1944.

The Blitz, the ‘Dooblebugs’ and the later V2 rocket attacks had destroyed thousands of homes in south east London, leaving considerable numbers homeless. One of the responses was the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act 1944, which planned to deliver 300,000 prefabricated homes over 10 years, within a budget of £150 million. The temporary homes were designed to be quickly put up and last 10 years while more permanent solutions were found. Only half of that number was ever delivered due to a combination of costs being greater than expected and higher than traditional brick homes, and public expenditure cuts after 1947.

The old Borough of Lewisham put up 1,610 prefabs by 1948 and a further 1,088 by 1955. Many went up on parks and open spaces  – the most obvious location for this was on the edge of Forster Memorial Park, the Excalibur Estate (see picture above – taken in 2014), which Running Past covered in one its earliest posts; but there were there were several dozen around the edge of Hillyfields, where they remained until the 1960s, along with several locations on Blackheath (source Britain from Above on a Creative Commons).

Many bombsites were cleared too, including on Boone Street in Lee.  Fernbrook Road was another of these sites – the 1949 OS map (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland) shows them marked.

fernhurst Prefabs

One of the families who lived in the five prefabs in Fernbrook Road was the Beech family, they had lived there before the V-1 rocket attack.   The attack was recalled by Margaret (see comments below) who had been evacuated to Wales the week before the attack.  Her mother and older sister were in a Morrison shelter when the rocket hit three doors away and miraculously they survived.  They moved to relatives in Mottingham for the remainder of the war, returning to Fernbrook Road when the prefabs were built.

Unlike the prefabs of Excalibur, those in Fernbrook Road were relatively quickly replaced with bungalows, and a couple of houses at the southern end, probably in the late 1950s with a pair of semis at the far end of the new bungalows.

Notes

  1. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 – permission has been given by the copyright owners of the map, the London Metropolitan Archives to use the image here
  2. Godfrey Smith (1997) ‘Hither Green: the Forgotten Hamlet : Including the Corbett Estate’ p64
  3. ibid

The marriage and 1939 Register data comes via Find My Past, the details of the deaths are via the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Literary Lewisham – Graham Swift’s Last Orders

Running Past occasionally covers some of the writers that have formed part of the Lewisham’s literary heritage.  This has included some with clear links such as CS ForesterDavid Lodge and Robert Browning, plus a few where the links are a little more tenuous – including Thomas Dermody – a Lewisham resident only in is his dying days and burial at St Mary’s Church.

Graham Swift was born in Lewisham, and, if my memory has served me correctly, in a nursing home on Woolstone Road; this was based on an information board that used to be at Kirkdale Bookshop.  Certainly, Swift was born on the borders of Catford and Sydenham.

There are South London settings to many of his novels – his debut novel, the wonderful ‘The Sweet Shop Owner’ featured both Upper Sydenham (perhaps then home to his maternal grandparents) and Wandsworth; ‘Shuttlecock’ was set around Clapham Common and Greenwich Park featured in the brilliant ‘Waterland.’

His father was Lionel Allen Stanley Swift who was born in 1922; in the 1939 Register he is listed as living at 176 Fairlawn Park  – wrongly transcribed as Fareham Park – the house is still there, although did suffer damage following a V-1 rocket attack at the junction of Fairlawn Park and Sydenham Road. Swift’s paternal grandfather was listed as a ‘clothiers warehouseman and his grandmother doing ‘unpaid domestic duties’. There was another household member, presumably an aunt or uncle whose details are redacted.  They weren’t sharing, so it was a step up from some on the street.

His mother was living at 29 Burghill Road in 1939, his maternal grandfather an engineer/tester for a typewriter manufacturer, Swift’s maternal grandmother like the paternal one doing ‘unpaid domestic duties’. It was a house that they seem to be shared though with the Weiners – a mother and son, the latter a grocer’s assistant. The house was built a little later than many of the original homes on the street, and like Fairlawn Park suffered damage from a V-1 rocket which hit the junction of Burghill Road and Sunnydene Street.

IMG_3113

Swift’s parents were married in Lewisham in the second quarter of 1943 and Graham Swift was born into rationing in 1949. It was

a lower-middle-class postwar family in a time of austerity and retrenchment, with no one in the family who was in any way artistic or a potential mentor to a budding writer

The family moved a few miles to the south to Croydon in his early years, right on the edge of the city.  He was a scholarship boy at Dulwich College before heading to the spires of Cambridge via another scholarship.

His best known novel is Last Orders, it won him the Booker Prize – it is a gentle, moving road trip of four Bermondsey friends, carrying out the last wishes of their fellow drinker and mate for a scattering of the ashes in the sea at Margate. The novel subtly and poignantly tells their sometimes intertwined histories which ‘skeletons’ gradually emerge from.

The lives were spent mainly within a few streets of each other; the location could have been anywhere in south London, indeed anyone can put their own mental images of the places and it would work – mine was of Jamaica Road just east of the tube station.  It is a beautifully told story, perfectly-paced but not the perfect novel.   Swift has remarked “I don’t research; it’s a great destroyer of the imagination.”

There perhaps lies the reason for the slight imperfection, while the lack of research wasn’t important in terms of the location, I suspect that he missed a little of the linguistic nuances of that part of south east London spending a few hours in Manzes pie and mash shop on Tower Bridge Road and an evening or two in the local pubs might have ‘solved’.

The film of the book was equally good, filmed around Bellenden Road in Peckham in the early stages of its gentrification; it featured Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Michael Caine, Ray Winstone, David Hemmings and Tom Courtenay – poster above on Creative Commons via Wikipedia.

 

Notes

Details of V-1 damage from Lawrence Ward (2015) ‘The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945’

Census and 1939 Register data from Find My Past.