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.
- Ken White (1999) The Quaggy & Its Tributaries p25
- ibid p25
- John Coulter (1997) Lewisham and Deptford in Old Photographs: A Third Selection
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 and through the golf courses of Sundridge Park and on to Chinbrook Meadows.
We left the Quaggy in a concrete channel coming out of Chinbrook Meadows. A small weir lowers the level of the river bed as it exits the park, it is not to provide a more natural bed though, the notched river bed gives way to a flat one but it is still concrete – attempting to quickly move the water on, as was de-rigour in the 1960s. The river isn’t completely barren at this point – some small plants are clinging onto an existence but struggling to put down any roots.
It is in a clear valley as it crosses Chinbrook Road, with climbs up to both Grove Park Station and the Grove Park and Chinbrook housing estates (both covered by the excellent Municipal Dreams blog). But that is about as natural as it gets – while the shape of the banks and the bed change the concrete seems to remain as the Green Chain Path follows its eastern bank, it is a path that it marked on early Ordnance Survey maps (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland)
The path emerges out onto what used to be called Claypit Lane but is now called Marvels Lane. The road is bridged and heads towards the entrance to some playing fields – this isn’t how it has always been though. As the Ordnance Survey map above from the 1890s shows, there used to be a small pool and a distinct meander at this point – taking the Quaggy in front of the former agricultural workers cottages – Sydenham Cottages (below) – presumably for Claypit Farm (just off map, although no longer marked by the 1890s).
There was serious flooding there – notably in 1968 – which seems to have led the channelisation and straightening of the river. The Quaggy encased in concrete is now more or less devoid of life at this point. Its former meander is now the Sydenham Cottages nature reserve which despite its river bank location has almost no trace of wetland habitat remaining.
The straight channel is slightly disturbed opposite the nature reserve with a concrete access ramp (see above left photograph) – this has led to some fluvial deposits in the slowest moving bits of the river. Plants have colonised the sediments, but it is a precarious existence, without deep roots, they could be lost to the next high flow.
Opposite the nature reserve, and clearly visible from it is the outflow, just above the river level, one of the tributary streams joins the Quaggy, Grove Park Ditch – which rises in Marvels Wood and has an attractive 400 metres through woodland and park edge before being forcibly submerged around the edge of the Chinbrook Estate and then the playing fields of the former Fairy Hall – which gave its name to another stream in the Quaggy catchment, Fairy Hall Flow.
The river is followed by the Green Chain Path for another hundred metres or so before the path veers off to the right towards Mottingham Lane and the last home of WG Grace. For those following the river as a walk this is the way to head and then re-join the Quaggy near at the junction with Winns Avenue.
For most of the 20th Century the former over spill Greenwich Union Workhouse, Grove Park Hospital, dominated the area – its land went up to the banks of the Quaggy – the slight valley is clear from the postcard below (source eBay November 2016).
The location both as a workhouse and in its early days as a hospital, led to its under use as it away from the urban area. It spent time as a military barracks and hospital during World War 1 ( see post card below – eBay May 2016) but was a TB and chest hospital for most of its ‘life’, although latterly became a mental health institution – the development of care in the community and associated hospital closure programme meant that its days were numbered. It closed in 1994 and is now a mixture of a private health club and housing.
There used to be a second meander, in what were the grounds of Grove Park Hospital but that too was removed presumably at the same time as that of Sydenham Cottages. The meander is easy to see on the ground, next to the former hospital is a private leisure centre through whose ground there is access to a scrubby field that gently slopes down to the river, the path to it, which traverses a broken down bit of chain link fencing, is easy to miss though. The former meander is a jungle of brambles which proved something of an obstacle to the bare-legged urban explorer. A little further along the path that loops around the unkempt grass, the Quaggy is reachable and seems almost back to its semi-rural state last seen on Tong Farm, several miles back upstream. It is but a brief interlude though – the Wates developed houses on the former Melrose Farm soon appear on the western bank and the river is left to flow behind the gardens of Westdene Avenue and Jevington Way.
On the eastern bank is Hadlow College, which was once the site of a large Victorian house, Mottingham Hall. For a while, the site was the Macintyre Nature Reserve – part of an organisation that provided support for people with mental health disabilities, it then became an outpost of Phoebes Garden Centre, before being taking on by Hadlow College. Contours would suggest that there may have been at least one stream joining the Quaggy in this area.
The Quaggy emerges into the public gaze by the side of the entrance to the College, still with natural banks, although one is lost as it hugs the side of Mottingham Lane before flowing through a shiny new screen to prevent blockages in a section under the Lane. The opposite side of the road is then meandered against, with the fields of Mottingham Riding School on the other side, before a confluence with one of the Quaggy’s larger tributaries, the Little Quaggy close to the Sidcup by-pass (below, right.)
In several Facebook threads there are memories of playing in the river in this area, catching sticklebacks and taking them home in jam jars, going through the underground sections of the river both under Mottingham Lane and the braver ones under the A20. Others used to play ‘Quaggy jumping’ in this area near the now closed Dutch House pub. ‘It was always a triumph when you reached the other side without getting wet shoes, good days.’
Any feelings of ‘rus in urbe’ are soon lost after crossing the A20, while edged by grass and trees on initially scrubland and then a series of sports grounds, the concrete bed and banks return in their bleakest form anywhere on the river, any remaining sticklebacks would be hard pressed to find food. The concrete course is almost as straight as a Roman road as it bypasses playing fields including the new home of Greenwich Borough FC, whose previous permanent ground, Harrow Meadow, adjacent to the Quaggy in Sutcliffe Park was lost to developers in 2009 – and they had a nomadic existence for a few years. On the opposite bank, until the early 1930s, would have been the Middle Park Farm – like Horn Park Farm it was originally site one of the Eltham Palace’s hunting parks.
The river then squeezes between back gardens and is bridged the South Circular – on the south side it is shielded by a wall of a height that makes visibility of the flow impossible; on the northern side while the parapet was lower the overhanging shrub on both sides of the river meant that the flow was still invisible. It emerges back into the open at Eltham Bridge. This is an area that is still subject to flooding – over 20 houses were flooded around Christmas 2013. Before leaving the Quaggy there for another day a stop at the Bridge is worth making; it has an old London County Council sign with a wide variety of rules relating to bridges it controlled up until 1965. Mooring a vessel at Eltham Bridge would be quite challenging though …..
In earlier posts, Running Past has followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom and then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley, leaving the river just after it had appeared from the dominant bulk of the railway cutting on Sundridge Avenue. Almost as soon as it arrived into the open it was to disappear into Sundridge Park – which is largely out of bounds for the fluvial flâneur.
Sundridge Park is an old country estate – there had been a three storey brick house on the southern bank of the Quaggy which had been home to a succession of wealthy Londoners. The estate was remodelled by Humphrey Repton in the late 18th century – this included creating a Pulhamite grotto on the hillside close to the current house (see comment from Sarah below). It seems likely that Repton, the preeminent landscape gardener of his generation, was responsible for culverting the Quaggy through much of the grounds – certainly early Ordnance Survey maps (on creative commons from National Library of Scotland) which were surveyed well before the golf courses were built have the Quaggy largely hidden, only reappearing for a lake just below the House. Part of the culverting was removed during the 20th century.
As well as hiding the river, Repton was also responsible for the demolition of the original house, which was located south of the river, around 1792 and a new house was designed by James Wyatt for Edward George Lind and built between 1792 and 1795. Lind sold the estate to (Sir) Claude Scott in 1796, and he employed the prominent Georgian architect John Nash to make additions in 1799. It is an impressive Grade I building (see below – source eBay February 2017), although the extensive conference centre it is now part of it, somewhat detracts from it.
The Park itself is notable for its lack of public rights of way, there are no public footpaths traversing the pair of golf courses of the Sundridge Park golf club (although the Green Chain Walk skirts part of the western course) which was opened by the then Prime Minister Balfour in 1902 on land leased from the Scotts. The valley of the Quaggy is clear on this early postcard of Sundridge Park (source eBay November 2016).
While the golf courses make the park largely out of bounds for the (sub)urban explorer, access was negotiated for following Milk Street Ditch at the northern end of the Park along with some slightly less legitimate looking for the unnamed tributaries of the Quaggy elsewhere on the ‘estate’, the Sundridge Park Ditches. ‘Ditch’ should not be seen as a derogatory term, it is just the local term for a small stream. The photographs below show the river upstream and downstream from Milk Street Ditch.
Once out of the Park the river is culverted under New Street Hill and flows, submerged through part of the 1930s suburbia, an area originally known as Hall’s Farm Estate after the farm whose land was lost to development. While the Quaggy is submerged, it is clear in a valley and the course is followed above ground by tracks to what seem to be largely abandoned garages – too small for 21st century vehicles. The Quaggy is joined by another unnamed ‘Ditch’ which follows one of the streets of the estate Leamington Avenue.
The Quaggy re-emerges into the open in the southern part of Chinbrook Meadows (top left below) before being encased in concrete to take it under the towering mass of the mainline out of Grove Park. A few metres into its tunnel it is joined by another tributary – Border Ditch – whose last metres are behind the fencing in the bottom right hand photograph.
The emergence again into the open is initially bounded by concrete but then gently meanders through the main part of Chinbrook Meadows. This was not always the case – early Ordnance Survey maps (on creative commons from National Library of Scotland) suggest a straightening to allow for easier cultivation in pre-development Grove Park. Worse was to come for the Quaggy, after the farmland was turned into a Park – the river was given concrete banks which discouraged any flora or fauna and hedging was planted which almost prevented park users from even viewing the river. It was a waterway disconnected from its environment and the population around it. This all changed in 2002 and the Quaggy was taken out of its concrete culvert and allowed a naturalised bed to flow in.
The changes help mitigate flood risk and allow the banks to be overflowed and excess water to be safely retained within the park, slowing flows and reducing the likelihood of flooding downstream.
Before leaving Grove Park a brief detour a few metres is worth making, to the Peace Garden – an area opened in 2009 by one of Grove Park’s most famous residents, Archbishop Desmond Tutu – some of whose early ministry was as an Honorary Curate at St Augustine’s between 1972 and 1975.
We’ll leave the Quaggy at this point with a stark reminder of how it used to be – a barren concrete channel.
Sundridge Park is an area which formerly had several streams joining the Quaggy – there are a number of tell-tale sets of notched contour lines on modern Ordnance Survey maps heading towards Chin Brook, the local name for the Quaggy at the eastern end of the Park (it is again Kyd Brook at the western end). Other than Milk Street Ditch and its own small tributary, which Running Past has already covered, none have allowed any blue selections by the Ordnance Survey cartographers, indicating current water, so the valleys may be historic, created in times when water tables were higher.
However, they become obvious when looking at Environment Agency flood risk maps (using the surface water option).
All seem to be unnamed but I have referred to them as ‘Ditches’ – this is not to belittle them, far from it, it can be seen as bestowing significance on them – most of the named Quaggy tributaries in this area have the appellation ‘Ditch’ – Petts Wood, Milk Street, Border and Grove Park.
There are several on the southern side of the railway – including the valley of parts of Sundridge Avenue, another which would have risen somewhere around Scotts Park Primary School. There is a further one which is almost adjacent to St Joseph’s School – the latter (and probably the former) were used to feed a long gone boating lake, complete with boat house shown on the 1897 Ordnance Survey map below (source National Library of Scotland on a creative commons).
The location of the lake is obvious on the ground, well obvious to those who ignore the ‘private’ signs (but unlike the western branch of the Kyd Brook higher up in the catchment, there was no razor wire or indeed fencing to deter the fluvial flâneur.) While a notice threatened ‘deep water’, the former lake was a rather dried-up shadow of its former self.
There is another ‘Ditch’ just to the rear of Garden Road, the small valley is obvious on the road up to the clubhouse but not on the golf course viewed through the fencing at the bottom of the Garden Road.
The most obvious valleys are on the northern bank of Kyd Brook – one may have been diverted by the construction of Elmstead Woods station – the dark blue flood risk stops there, but the valley continues – there are clear notched contours just to the west of Rockpit Wood (see the area marked ‘Botany Bay’ on the 1919 OS Map on a National Library of Scotland creative commons, below). The woods take their name from a small quarry, in which there have been found lots of fossils. While no water is marked on the map below, there is a small stretch of azure on the Environment Agency map above – a small remnant of a past watercourse.
There is certainly another ‘Ditch’ behind the Mansion, possibly a dammed stream creating a small pond on the hillside – a stream isn’t obvious from OS Maps but it features on the East Course golf course map adjacent to the 15th and 16th fairways, with a smaller arm from close to the Mansion. They probably wouldn’t be noticed by those playing the ‘demanding’ par 3 15th, hidden by the woodland to the right of the fairway . While the confluence with the Quaggy is marked, I failed to spot it from my surreptitious run along the road up towards the Mansion.
The deepest valley is one emerging opposite Milk Street Ditch – the source of this is in Elmstead Woods , the other edge of the wood is source to another tributary – Fairy Hall Flow. This is clear on the ground, close to Grove Park Cemetery; with two small ditches coalescing at a screen in a small dip on the Green Chain Walk. While I haven’t seen any water there for a while, I certainly remember small channels flowing alongside the path in wetter seasons. The combined flow, when it flows, would take it under a corner of Grove Park Cemetery and then at a slight dip in the path crosses the Green Chain Walk just before it enters Elmstead Woods. There is the ferrous presence of a manhole cover allowing access to the occasional stream in a small dip in the path going back towards Chinbrook Meadows allowing access before it reaches the railway.
The railway bars its way and the Flood Risk Map (above) suggests that it may have flooded in the past – there seems to have been a new concrete structure built which presumably ushers the wrong kind of water away from the tracks.
There appear to be remnants of the stream adjacent to the 10th fairway on the West Course – visible on the fly-through of the course.
I had hoped to be able to see the valley when tracking Milk Street Ditch’s short traverse of the golf course but the last vestiges of autumnal colours prevented a clear enough view.
There are a series of tributaries of the Quaggy that run (or in some cases ran) through the golf courses of Sundridge Park – most of these are unnamed and we will return to them in a future post –but there is one which is visible and complete with appellation which we will look at first – Milk Street Ditch.
Before passing on it is worth noting that the designation ‘Ditch’ should not be seen as either derogatory or belittling of its importance, it is just the way in which streams are described in these parts; there is a neighbouring Border Ditch and Grove Park Ditch. One or two streams in the area do get offered slightly grander names – the most obvious being Fairy Hall Flow, which, unlike the Ditches, seems bereft of water.
The name comes from the street, the street name relates to a dairy farm – Hall’s Farm. It may have been one of the ‘dots’ marked when Roque surveyed area in the 1740s (see above – via Creative Commons) and was certainly there from the earliest Ordnance Survey maps (via National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons). The fields are long gone – a mixture of housing covers its acreage, ncluding an area sometimes referred to as the Hall’s Farm Estate – through which flows/flowed another small unnamed tributary of the Quaggy – which we have already covered, as well as the Quaggy itself hidden in concrete piping.
The farm house is still there and is now a nursery – it is of children though, rather than any tenuous link to farming past. Although it may not be there for much longer, plans were afoot, at the time of writing (December 2016), to demolish the locally (but not nationally) listed farmhouse and replace with 8 four bedroom houses and one eight bedroom home.
There is scarcely room for a stream to emerge here – the watershed with the Ravensbourne is only a hundred and fifty metres or so away on the opposite side of Burnt Ash Lane and the source of Spring Brook that heads through Downham Parkland to join the Ravensbourne barely 300 metres away.
The source is currently unclear, but seems, from old OS Maps, to be on what is still a small green in from of some probably largely ex-Bromley Council homes. There wasn’t anything obvious in terms of either damp ground or the sounds of subterranean rushing water than would pinpoint the source or its early flow.
There is though a slight, but perceptible, dip in Milk Street which would take the young Ditch towards the railway Bromley North Branch Line which opened on New Year’s Day 1878.
The Ditch’s emergence into the open is in Hall Farm Allotments – sadly on a chill December Sunday afternoon there was no one visibly tending their patches, presumably at home enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of their labour.
Fortunately some of the stream flowing through the allotments was visible through the fencing protecting it from the narrow corridor of the Green Chain Walk; in other seasons it would have been easy to miss though, as the boundary chain link was covered with leafless, deciduous foliage.
Across the Walk there is a boundary of a different sort, much more sturdy 2 metre plus railings which hug the edge of the West Course of Sundridge Park Golf Club. Some of the metal fencing was re-enforced to ensure that it was a little less porous, with holes considerably smaller than the 41.1mm diameter of a golf ball – presumably to prevent a wayward shots hitting the unsuspecting Green Chain Walker. The Ditch was just visible but is much better viewed from the other side of the fence.
The helpful people at Sundridge Park Golf Course allowed me to wander around part of the course, insisting, quite reasonably, that I stuck to their well-made paths and wore hi viz attire – my normal cooler weather running apparel anyway – although a few eyebrows were raised as staff took me through the lounge – lycra short tights are probably a breach of the standard dress code. The dayglo was indeed necessary at one point, as an over hit approach shot was followed by the bellowing of ‘fore’ and a small thud way beyond the ball’s intended target green.
The Ditch enters the golf course through some heavy rough before being briefly piped under the approach to the 12th green then emerging into the open as a hazard on the beautifully manicured fairway of the 393 yard 13th. Its course is straight (unlike one or two of the drives witnessed whilst wandering) and partially marked by small flags, before quickly it joins The Quaggy – little more than a 9 iron shot from its entrance onto the course. Golf courses are generally not places I frequent, but on a mild, sunny Friday lunchtime with a relatively quiet course and the backdrop of pleasant undulating park with the last remnants of the autumn, I could see the attraction.
Despite a length of barely 300 metres, Milk Street Ditch has a tributary (probably slightly longer than the main stream) which probably originates somewhere near the main clubhouse, close to the West Course’s 11th tee, which now emerges from a small copse and then forms a hazard running alongside the final fairway. The stream bed was damp with a few hints of water but insufficient to allow a description of ‘flowing.’
The stream feeds a pond (which may have an artificial source too) – it is carefully positioned just after the last tee to trap those topping their final drive. It was orginally a farm pond though and is marked on the OS map. When I passed it was ‘guarded’ by a heron, so presumably there were contents other than Titleist Pro V1. The stream then flows on and joins the Ditch near the 12th green – although from both the path and satellite images, this wasn’t obvious.
Finally, thank you to the Golf Club to allowing me access to the course and apologies to any member or paying visitor for any distraction my rather conspicuous presence caused to their round of golf (or their drinks at the 19th hole for that matter).
Border Ditch is one of the smaller tributaries of the Quaggy – it rises in playing fields on the edge of the Downham estate, very close to a natural boundary – the watershed that marks the divide between the Quaggy and Ravensbourne catchments. Its name comes from a different boundary though – for some of its recent life it was a small part of the border between Lee, then Lewisham, and Bromley. In addition, it would mark the limit of London until 1965 when Bromley was prised out of Kent and brought into the metropolis (although the distinctions had become a little blurred from the 1840s as the Bromley was included in the area covered by the Metropolitan Police).
While the contour lines on the map for the early part of the Ditch are clear, they would suggest a route from around the middle of the playing field then following a line slightly to the south of Welbeck Avenue to Burnt Ash Lane. However, the boundary which predated development, and the playing fields, is slightly to the north of this, suggesting that the course may have been adjusted when the land was farmed. There was no access to the school playing fields, so any further investigation proved impossible. The current course seems to follow a now overgrown access road to garages and then a very clear dip in Burnt Ash Lane.
There used to be a small bridge at this point which was captured on film around the time of the First World War, before the advance of suburbia and the Downham estate in the 1920s (source Lewisham Archives on a Creative Commons).
The stream is no longer visible (or even audible) at this point but there is a clear valley as it squeezes between the gardens of Ridgeway Close on the Bromley side and Wydeville Manor Road on the Lewisham side. There are tracks down to garages at the rear on the Bromley side, but as ‘danger reared its ugly head’ – with a dog starting to bark as I attempted to investigate – the urban explorer ‘turned and fled’ in the manner of Brave Sir Robin.
Fortunately, there was a dog-free access point on the Lewisham side and squeezing between some broken railings a view of the newly emergent Border Ditch was possible. There is a noticeable valley although during a relatively dry early autumn relatively little water. From this point, it is likely that the Ditch continued downhill until it met the Quaggy; it isn’t possible to be certain though as the imposing railway embankment obliterated contour lines past.
Railway engineers appear to have taken the Ditch on a slightly more circuitous journey in creating a new confluence with the Quaggy. The course they chose for it would have seen the Ditch empty into the Quaggy close to the bridge in the southern part of Chinbrook Meadows – source Creative Commons.
While the line to Bromley North was later added, the course doesn’t seem to have altered – source Creative Commons, National Library of Scotland.
The stream seems to have been slightly moved north east at a later date to hug the edge of the embankment and emptying into the Quaggy just after the latter enters the tunnel under the main line.
The re-emergence into the open is a rather desultory one, exiting from its concrete casing into what was more reminiscent of a drain than a stream. There was little sign of movement in the ominous looking muddy water. It wasn’t even easy to see, hidden behind stout metal Network Rail fencing preventing any ne’er do wells having access to the embankment from the south westerly part of Chinbrook Meadows.
The emergent Ditch trickles slightly downhill for almost a hundred metres towards its final destination – its confluence with the Quaggy. The coming together of the flows is rather lacking in distinction too, there is a twist to force the Ditch down and almost back upon itself to meet the Quaggy with the all the force of a tap with low water pressure. My failed attempts to photograph the junction were even less impressive than the reality.
The good news is that there are plans afoot to try to make the last few metres of the ‘Ditch’ slightly more alluring, while the aesthetics will be improved considerably, the real reason is to install a sustainable drainage system (SuDS) which would enable water to run through a series of pools planted with native marshland plants that will naturally filter the water reducing the potential pollution impact of the ‘Ditch.’ I am no expert on gauging water quality by sight, but it didn’t look good.
While Border Ditch isn’t currently worth much of a trek, Chinbrook Meadows is a different matter, it is a lovely park – one of my Lewisham favourites. It was the site of a small dairy farm, Chinbrook Farm – the park first opening in 1929 and being considerably extended eight years later. The Quaggy was channelised early in the ‘Meadow’s’ existence and, from memory, large fences and hedges partially hid the river (they still do on its exit). The river was freed into a more natural gently meandering course with more natural planting and access after works that were completed in 2002.
If you recognise some of the latter photos and text, that would not be surprising, I have previously attributed them to a different stream – one I referred to as Grove Park Ditch (West). Border Ditch is referred to as that, without the locational suffix, by the Environment Agency. However, having spent an age following flows and contours on old OS Maps I am now pretty certain that the outflow is that of Border Ditch, I am in pretty good company here – my view is shared by the sadly departed fellow fluvial flâneur, Ken White.
The area is no stranger to artificial boundaries – around quarter of a mile away from the source of Border Ditch there was the infamous wall of Alexandra Crescent. It was built by the developer of a private road in 1926 to prevent those on the Downham Estate being able to walk through the new middle class housing towards Bromley. It never had planning permission, but the over two metre boundary, topped with broken glass was to last until 1950. (More information & picture source)
The Ordnance Survey note boundary markers both within the Chinbrook Meadows and at the bottom of Oakbrook Close. They seem to no longer exist – I certainly couldn’t find them and they haven’t been spotted by a follower of the blog who is tracker of boundary markers – the earliest maps note they were on trees though so even if the trees are still there the marks probably won’t be – however, nowhere did I see any arboreal girth approaching 200 year years (a substantial tree in 1860 plus the intervening time period)…
Back to the Border Ditch, it is no longer the border for much its last few metres, the Local Government Boundary Commission agreed to requests from both Bromley and Lewisham to shift the boundary to the far side of the railway in 1991. The dashed line is the ‘new’ boundary; the non-dashed one the pre-1991 boundary. So it seems that the watershed is probably the only definitely fixed boundary – boroughs and counties are man-made constructs and as we have seen even streams change course, in this case diverted at least.