Category Archives: Parklife

Mountsfield – the Park, the House & the Butterflies

Hither Green Lane largely follows a ridge that is the watershed between the Ravensbourne and the Quaggy, it once offered fine views to the east towards Shooters Hill and to the west along the Ravensbourne and Pool valleys and Forest Hill, once part of the Great North Wood. These vistas were no doubt the reason behind the location of several large houses, that were homes to the wealthy – including Campshill House, Laurel Cottage, Oak Cottage, Wilderness House, Hither Green Lodge, and Mount Pleasant. Perched around the highest point on the ridge was Mountsfield – this post tells the story of the house, its occupants and the Park that came after.
The land for Mountsfield seems to have been bought around 1845 by Henry Stainton of Springfield House (1). Springfield was at what is now the junction of Rushey Green and Hawstead Road, next to the almshouses, it was named after a stream that ran alongside the main road (2).Henry Stainton was a wealthy iron merchant and the land and house that was built on it seem to have been bought for his son, Henry Tibbats Stainton as a wedding present when he married Jane Isabel Dunn (also from an iron and steel family) at Sheffield Cathedral in 1846. Henry Tibbats Stainton was born in August 1822 and baptised in the City of London church  St Benet, Paul’s Wharf.  But the family seem to have moved to Lewisham soon after. He was educated at home before going to King’s College, London before working for his father as an iron merchant.
The house seems to have been finished in 1847 (3), with the wide main drive sweeping slightly round from the current entrance in George Lane (above). The footprint and size suggest something rather grand, sadly though, no pictures seem to survive of it other than photos of bits of walls. The house was badly built, and had to be demolished in 1905 (4) – we’ll return to that later. A stable block remained until 1969, when it was largely destroyed by fire and that, along with some other outbuildings, were demolished in 1981 (5).

The outbuildings (partly shown above), latterly used as a cafe, were home to Henry Tibbats Stainton’s museum relating to his interest in entomology. Henry Tibbats Stainton had developed an interest in moths and butterflies around 1840 and by the time he moved to Mountsfield was a recognised authority on them.

The preface to ‘Stainton’s Handbook of Butterflies and Moths’ was penned at Mountsfield in February 1857. However, his references to Lewisham, Hither Green and Catford are disappointingly few and far between in the first volume.

He spotted Cosmidæ Euperia Fulvago, a moth that is ‘pale ocherous, faintly tinged with grey with darker centre’ spotted in Lewisham in 1846 (6). I have a mental ‘picture’ of Stainton wandering through the fields of North Park Farm or a little further afield to the meadows of Burnt Ash Farm. I hope that when he noted that ‘In lanes we find in addition to these, several species of Hipparchia, and perhaps the Fritlillaries, Hair Streaks and Skippers,’ (7) that this included the still rural Hither Green Lane and the farm track that became Verdant Lane. If there were sightings here they would have been included in ‘common everywhere’ category, frequently used by Stainton.
There seem to have been relatively local wanderings with mentions of Trochillium Incheumoniforme – a tiny moth was once observed at Charlton sand-pit, probably Gilbert’s Pit (8). He spotted several rare species in West Wickham Woods including Lophopteryx Carmelita (picutred), a reddish brown moth (9) and another moth Limacodes Testudo (10).

Stainton died from stomach cancer in December 1892 at Mountsfield, and was buried in the family vault at St Mary’s, Lewisham. An obituary described him as ‘a genial and generous friend and a painstaking industrious worker….(who took a) truly biological approach to taxonomy’.

By the time Henry Tibbats Stainton died, the city was encroaching on Mountsfield; the streets below to the west built on the former Mount Pleasant had been laid out and much of the housing built.

It would appear that Jane Stainton at least contemplated selling up soon after her husband’s death. She appointed a surveyor to act for her, as was noted in the enquiry in relation to building a Fever Hospital next door on the land belonging to Wilderness House and Hither Green Lodge. The surveyor suggested that the building of the Fever Hospital would lead to land of the Mountsfield estate, then valued at £500 – £600 an acre, being reduced to as little as £150 an acre (11).

In reality, Jane Stainton didn’t sell up and remained at Mountsfield until her death in 1898. There appear to have been some legal complexities in relation to what happened following Jane Stainton’s death without a will, which appear to have related to interests in both Scotland and England. The estate was put up for auction in 1900 as a result of a legal case McLaren v Stainton, although presumably wasn’t sold (12).

The following year, the London County Council (LCC) Schools Board purchased 14 acres for a school on Brownhill Road. It was noted at the same time that the LCC was looking to buy the rest of the estate for a park given the lack of one in the area (13).

The purchase of six acres for the park wasn’t completed by the LCC until 1904 though, with half funding coming the old Borough of Lewisham (14). The Park was opened in August 1905, and was soon extended as the LCC decided that they only needed half of the land that they had set aside for the school and the remaining 7 acres was returned to parkland – presumably land close to Brownhill Road (15). This would have addressed concerns expressed by the Hither Green and Catford Ratepyers Association about the lack of an entrance from Brownhill Road in the original plans (16).

As was the pattern with Lee Manor House and Manor House Gardens, the intention was to create a library as well as a Park. Sadly, the quality of the building of Mountsfield was so poor that when the LCC surveyors inspected the house a decision was made to demolish it (17).

The original Park, did not include the south western quadrant which was used initially by Lewisham Montrose and then by Catford Southend, affectionately known as ‘The Kittens’ from 1909  who played to a good non-league standard. In the early 1920s there were plans to merge The Kittens with Charlton Athletic who played part of the 1922/23 season at The Mount, which probably had a 25,000 capacity. The merger didn’t happen, Charlton returned to The Valley, and Catford Southend went into a rapid downward spiral – with their records for the 1926/27 season being expunged and seemingly ending in liquidation. The embankment for the terracing in the south west corner of the ground still remains (see below). Some parts of the physical structure of the ground seem to have remained until the 1950s, but the pitch was subsumed back into the Park.


At around the same time some former allotment land was purchased from Trinity College in Greenwich bringing the total size of the park to around 28 acres (18). It seems that around the time that the Park was created seven houses were built along the George Lane side of the Park to the corner of Stainton Road. These were short lived as they were destroyed, beyond the level of repair in the Blitz (19), and by 1949 the land had been subsumed back into the Park.

After the closure of the school on Brownhill Road, latterly Catford Boys, in the early 1990s, the playing fields were reunited with the rest of the Park.

The Park has been public open space for the citizens of Catford, Hither Green and elsewhere for over a century, although during World War Two much of the Park was turned over the allotments. It has an active Friends Group, a lovely community garden, a cafe, a parkrun and it is home to the now biennial Lewisham Peoples Day – 2020 will be the 35th edition. While the Victorian views towards Shooters Hill have been lost, the urban views up and down the Ravensbourne Valley and towards Forest Hill while now urban, remain almost as impressive as when Henry Tibbats Stainton moved in during the 1840s.

Notes

  1. Godfrey Smith (1997) Hither Green – The Forgotten Hamlet p34
  2. Leland Duncan (1908) History of the Borough of Lewisham p157
  3. Smith op cit p 34
  4. ibid p34
  5. ibid p34
  6. Henry Tibbats Stainton (1857) Stainton’s Handbook of Butterflies and Moths’ p257
  7. ibid p11
  8. ibid p104
  9. ibid p124
  10. ibid p124
  11. Kentish Mercury, 2 June 1893
  12. Kentish Mercury, 6 July 1900
  13. Kentish Mercury, 29 November 1901
  14. Kentish Mercury, 4 March 1904
  15. Smith, op cit, p59
  16. Kentish Mercury, 1 July 1904
  17. Smith, op cit, p34
  18. ibid p 59
  19. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps p129
Census, marriage and related information comes via Find My Past
Picture Credits
  • The drawing of Lophopteryx Carmelita is a part of a picture via Wikipedia and is on a Creative Commons
  • The Ordnance Survey map from 1867 is via the National Library of Scotland on a non-commercial licence
  • The black and white photograph of the gardens and outhouses and that of Catford Southend are from the collection of Lewisham Archives, it remains their copyright and is used with their permission.

Parklife – Manor Park

Parks of various shapes and sizes are so important to the urban runner, they allow us to get us away from the roads and run without fumes and without the disruption of rhythm and pace from crossing roads. Virtually all my day time runs involve plenty of parkland; so for a blog on running and local history, it seems like an obvious subject matter.

20140626-224444-81884316.jpg
Manor Park is not the obvious place to start though; it is a narrow strip, around 400 metres long and 50 wide flanked by The Quaggy and the large Victorian houses of the eponymous Manor Park. It isn’t even a park with a long history its usage as a public open space only going back to the mid 1960s on the site of a former pig-farm and bomb damaged house.

It is a pleasant calm, green space which is well used, although not overused, with colour coordinated planting and a path alongside the river which I use 2 or 3 times a week.

20140626-224621-81981391.jpg
It used to be so very different – it fitted much of Will Self’s antithesis of what a park should be like

In the playground the swings stand like gibbets, a few lengths of chain dangling from their rusty crossbars. The rubberised flooring – beloved of some safety-conscious bureaucrat – has long since been eroded by the scuffing of many thousands of feet, exposing the concrete and clay of the urban bedrock…

It was a park that oozed neglect, the paths were rutted and required care when running across, poor grounds maintenance had allowed Japanese knotweed to take over in places and The Quaggy was encased in a concrete channel which was a barrier rather a natural resource and seemed largely devoid of birdlife. There had been an aviary in Manor Park in a building that pre-dated the park as late as the early 1990s, but it was abandoned following a fire and the corners of its brick building, to which the path hugged, provided uncertainty for the unwary runner.

From mid-morning the main park users seemed to be the ne’er-do-wells who used to congregate in the remains of the playground. I have been threatened when running in the pre-restoration Manor Park almost as many times as every other location combined. All this, along with unpredictable opening times and haphazard decisions as to whether to open a gate at both ends of the park or just one meant that I gave up on Manor Park for years.

It was also a park that lived under the shadow of another older, bigger local park – Manor House Gardens, with which it is sometimes confused. The size of the shadow increased in 2000 when the Heritage Lottery Funded restoration of Manor House Gardens was completed.

Manor Park had to wait for its upgrade until 2007 with funding from the same source as well from the Environment Agency as part of a major scheme to reduce the flood risk posed by the Quaggy. The banks of the river have been opened up, wildflower meadows created, the ‘gibbets’ have been replaced with a larger and improved play area, and a third entrance with a new bridge over the Quaggy has been created. Birdlife has returned to the river and I have seen the iridescent blur of blue and orange of the kingfisher flashing above the surface of the Quaggy.

With CCTV and a much greater park-keeper presence, it has become a much safer environment for the runner, and everyone else for that matter.

2015 has seen park usage increase considerably with opening in the spring of  the Lewisham Arts Cafe, run by by local artists Banu and Fred Schmid, the park has become a focus for a wonderful array of arts based activities.

20140626-224724-82044690.jpg