Category Archives: Rivers

Penge Stream – A River Pool Tributary

As we have seen with a couple of streams in the Pool catchment, Pissarro’s Stream and Wells Park Stream, the high land above Sydenham was covered in woodland known as the Great North Wood.

Another of these streams is Penge Stream which had several sources just to the south of Crystal Palace Park. It was visible in William Faden’s map of 25 miles around London (on a Creative Commons via the Library of Congress) was surveyed in 1790 (above).

The most obvious source is high up on a street parallel to Anerley Hill, Milestone Road – a road that seems to lacks its name. This source was around a rather attractive modern block of flats which makes extensive use of glazed bricks, Stratos Heights. ‘Was’ is because there is now no obvious sign of water despite the assertions of the contour lines of a valley (streams erode the land they cross and the valley that is created has an upstream pointing notch on maps with contour lines.)

The valley tumbles down through the gardens between of Milestone Road and Anerley Hill towards Cintra Park, here the valley is clear, a pronounced dip in Cintra Park, below.

Cintra Park was also a confluence of streams, one of the other sources is close to the ridge and Belvedere Road. The branch runs almost due east, passing the blue plaqued home of Marie Stopes at 28 Cintra Park – while she made major contributions to plant palaeontology and coal classification, and was the first female academic on the faculty of the University of Manchester, she is better known for founding the first birth control clinic in Britain, despite her opposition to abortion.

Below Cintra Park there is another dip on Playdell Road and a further one on Palace View, with each terrace further down the hill, the valley flattens out a little. There is one of the several small, fluvially eroded switchbacks on Anerley Hill just below the road leading to Crystal Park station – here there would have been another small confluence with a stream that ran between houses in Waldegrave Road – it’s course is clear a little further upstream too, with a small dip in Belvedere Road (just below the junction in the picture below).

The Stream, for much of its original course, was crossing Penge Common; most of which was enclosed with the Croydon Enclosure Act of 1797 and the Penge Enclosure Acts in 1805, 1806, and 1827.

To the north of Anerley Hill, contours were slightly confused by the railway line approaching Crystal Palace station but the former course would have taken in through the former Bromley Council housing of Lullington Road – some sold under Right to Buy, the remainder owned by Clarion Housing, the current name of what was once Broomleigh, the housing association all of Bromley’s stock was transferred to.  Lullington Road (Lillington Road on the 1863 surveyed Ordnance Survey map) is on the site of Victorian housing that was developed soon after the arrival of the Crystal Palace. The mention of Battersea below it is not a cartographical error by early Ordnance Surveyors, rather, as was covered in the post of the River Wilmore, Penge was for centuries an outlier of Battersea.

Downstream the stream would have crossed the current Thicket Road before traversing the contour hugging Anerley Park (once home the the leading Victorian cyclist George Lacy Hillier). The curvature was the result of the road following the former Croydon Canal – a short stretch still remained into the 1860s. Assuming that the stream was still flowing at the time the canal was built, it may well have drained into it.

Later Ordnance Survey map  contour notches suggest another stream joining around this point – while the cartographical route is clear, it’s former route lacks clarity on the ground.

On the other side of the canal replacement service, the railway, Penge Stream crosses Oakfield Road, there is a no doubt fluvial eroded depression close to Woodbine Grove. Woodbine Grove is and was part of the Groves Estate – first built in the mid 19th century and redeveloped by Penge UDC, then London Broough of Bromley in the 1960s.

Around here, another small stream would have joined just behind the Pawlene Arms; while it’s contour lines are obvious from Ordnance Survey maps, although slightly less so on the ground – there are hints of a depression mid way along Howard Road, parallel to Maple Road, and its neighbours, but tracing it back upstream it peters out well before Anerley Road.

 

The once larger stream would have probably flowed now not so Green Lane, joining another stream flowing from the northern side of Crystal Palace Park and making a confluence with the Wilmore (also known as  Boundary Stream, Boundary Ditch and Shire Ditch) around the junction of Kent House and Parish Lanes.

The Environment Agency 100 year flood risk map,  whilst relating to surface water is helpful in tracking former streams as storm flows will often follow the courses of former or hidden watercourses due to the small valleys that have been created.  This is shown above for the entire course of Penge Stream, but potential flows become somewhat confused around Penge’s High Street.

Here, as with the rest of the course of the stream, there is no evidence of Penge Stream still flowing – at no stage was there either any water or the tell-tale sounds of water flowing under man-hole covers. While the course is clear, it seems that like many of the other streams that flowed from high up in the Great North Wood, Penge Stream is lost to changes in the water table or Victorian surface drainage (probably the former).

Ordnance Survey map credits – all are from the National Library of Scotland on Creative Commons – the top 1960s  and the bottom from 1863.

Advertisements

The River Wilmore – a Penge Stream

Running Past has covered several of the streams that eventually amalgamate to form the River Pool in Beckenham’s Cator Park – all had their sources in the Great North Wood which sits on one of South London’s most prominent pieces of high ground – stretching from South Norwood Hill, through the present Crystal Palace, Sydenham Hill and Forest Hill – to date these have included several without surviving names, those that I have called Pissarro’s Stream, Wells Park Stream and Adams’ Rill.

This lack of names is more than made up for by a quartet of options for this waterway – known variously as Boundary Stream, Boundary Ditch, the River Wilmore and Shire Ditch.  Regular readers of Running Past will know I am partial to using ‘Ditch’ – it is common in the Quaggy catchment. However, it seems out of place here and given the significance of this watercourse, I think that it deserves ‘river’ status.

Rivers and streams often form the boundaries between parishes, wards districts and counties – as was covered in a post on the Quaggy catchment on Border Ditch which is part of the boundary between Lewisham and Bromley.

The boundary that the Wilmore is used for refers to is a ‘lost’ one between Surrey and Kent (to the east), and later the frontier between Municipal Borough of Beckenham and Penge Urban District Council (UDC).  As a boundary it was there when John Roque mapped Surrey in 1762 (above) marking the edge of the surveyed land.

Penge has had a strange history in terms of boundaries – for hundreds of years it had been an isolated part of the parish of Battersea, itself part of the Hundred of Brixton.  In the second half of the 19th century the Metropolis Act brought it together with Lewisham and it was run by the Board of Guardians – this was a cross boundary arrangement with Lewisham being in Kent and Penge in Surrey. After the London local government re-organisation that came into force in 1965, Penge UDC was merged with its next door neighbour, Beckenham, over the Wilmore (along with the Municipal Borough of Bromley, Orpington Urban District and the Chislehurst bit of Chislehurst and Sidcup Urban District.)  to form the London Borough of Bromley.

The main sources of the Wilmore are in the high ground above South Norwood Lake.  The steep hillside coming down from the ridge that continues on from Sydenham Hill and Anerley Hill, on top of which once sat the Crystal Palace saw numerous springs where the geology changes and the gravel meets the London Clay beneath. The hillside below them is gently serrated with small valleys gouged out by fluvial activity as water tumbled down towards lower levels. These valleys are clear both on the ground, despite the volume of housing that clings to the hillside, as well as on Ordnance Survey maps where there are upward pointing notches in the contour lines.

Some of the flows are no longer visible either because they are no longer flowing due to changes in the water table or because they have been culverted.  The 1863 surveyed map above shows some evidence of the flows.

The reality on the ground now is a little harder to work out due to the extent to which, first the Croydon Canal , which opened in 1809, and its successor along much of the course 30 years later, the London and Croydon Railway, played havoc with the natural lines of the landscape, changing contour lines and flows.

Environment Agency 100 year flood risk map,  whilst relating to surface water is helpful in tracking former streams as storm flows will often follow the courses of former or hidden streams due to the small valleys that have been created.

There are two main groups of these the northerly streams ones which coalesce around Maberley Road and the Auckland Rise group which would have combined in what is now South Norwood Lake and Grounds, along with a southerly one originating around Goat House.

Maberley Branch

The exact sources of the streams forming this branch are not that obvious, development has made exploration of the upper slopes of the hill difficult.  In any case, changes in the water table have probably meant that they are no longer flowing,.  However, the multiple switchbacks caused by streams eroding the hillside are clear on Auckland Road, one around Fox Hill, the other in Stambourne Way (below).

Originally gravity would have probably suggested that the course was a downhill one – there are hints of this on the Environment Agency map.  However, the downward flow would have been blocked by the route of the Croydon Canal.  It is quite likely that its engineers wanted to use the streams to provide water for the reservoir that is now South Norwood Lake which was used to provide water for the canal.  This would probably explain this unexpected dog-leg to a confluence around the Harris Academy site and a flow onto the Lake.  The arrival of steam, 30 years after the canal no doubt confused matters further.

Close to the Maberley Road entrance of South Norwood Lake and Grounds there is what appears to be a seasonal stream, in the incredibly dry summer of 2018 there was, unsurprisingly, a lack of water.  The occasional watercourse seems to peter out just before it would have entered the Lake.

Auckland Rise Group

Of the three streams that once flowed about ground there is little evidence for two of them other than depressions in roads marking their presumably former existence, certainly nothing flowing in the driest summer for 44 years.  However, the third is most definitely flowing.

The upper reaches while clear in terms of contours aren’t on the ground – a long slog up the steep, winding road through the Auckland Rise estate to a small bit of woodland failed to produce any of the obvious signs of water that the notched contours suggested.  Although there were a couple of rather attractive wooden owls an overgrown picnic areas.

The stream would have flowed past the childhood home of the crime writer Raymond Chandler, which is remembered with a blue plaque – he had been gone from there for almost 30 years before he published his first novel ‘The Big Sleep’ in 1939.The course emerges from Auckland Close (where there is no hint of the stream) out into some bramble dominated woodland, not some residual part of the Great North Wood as it isn’t marked on the Ordnance Survey map above.  It doesn’t seem to have a name but the nascent stream emerges, finding a way through the choked woodland floor to the edge of some school playing fields abutting South Norwood Country Park before disappearing into a rudimentary screen – presumably then going, submerged, into the Lake.

South Norwood Lake would have been the man-made confluence of all these streams – a reservoir for water needed to keep up levels in the 28 sets of locks in the Croydon Canal. It is a pleasant park, with an elegant cricket ground – the Lake is home to a lot of wildfowl and plenty of spots for fishing.  The latter has a long history here – there is a beautifully preserved pre-decimal sign indicating fees – which had risen a little by the time of writing.

Goat House Branch

John Roque’s 1672 map of Surrey (above) suggests a branch emanating from ‘Goat House’.  In terms of location this would have been around the location of the current major bridge over the railway, around 250 metres from Norwood Junction.  There was for a while a pub of the name next to the bridge.  The route on a 1960s OS map is much clearer than on the ground – there were boundary markers at the junction of Thomsett and Wheathill Raods with Marlow Road and then a little way up Cambridge Road.  As these are broadly the same as the contour notches this was probably the route of the branch.  Like its northern counterparts, the railway played havoc with the route, as the 1960s Ordnance Survey map below shows.

The outflow appears to be along the northern side of the Lake, where in the dry summer of 2018 a trickle of water was heading north-eastwards. It then gets disturbed by the railway (formerly canal) again, along with another line from coming into Crystal Palace from Birkbeck station and Beckenham Junction beyond.  The land either side of Croydon Road is fairly flat, although gently failing away to the east, so an exact route is hard to be sure of.  But it probably crosses Selby Road running through the South Penge Park estate crossing Croydon Road near the sad site of a boarded up pub, the Mitre, which closed in March 2018, a recent refurbishment seemingly having failed to attract sufficient new drinkers.

The course eastwards was probably originally crossing Tremaine and Samos Roads.  The confluence with the branch from Goat House would have been around here.

A slight depression becomes obvious in Marlow Road, while there are no obvious signs of water rushing beneath manhole covers (it was very dry though)  The route beyond the small Wilmore-cut depression in Elmers End Road , is clear because until the mid-1960s the Wilmore was flowing above ground at this point. It squeezed between gardens for Ravenscroft Road and Chesham Road.  It is obvious from both the blue of the water and the coterminous black boundary dots on the early 1960s Ordnance Survey map

A slight diversion is needed at this point as we are now very much in Penge here; Penge to the fluvial flâneur of a certain age, will always gave a grizzly association – the ‘Penge Bungalow Murders.’ Fortunately, these were fictional rather than actual homicides and were to the starting point of the career of ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’, wonderfully played by Leo McKern. In the streets of Penge, bungalows are hard to find – I would love to think that this is John Mortimer’s inspiration about a 150 metres off course.  We digress though, and ‘she who must be obeyed,’ in this case the River Willmore, must be returned to.

The valley crossing the main downward hill from Crystal Palace towards Elmers End at right angles becomes a little more pronounced here.

 

There are a couple of bridges over the former stream which are obvious – the first reflects different street names in once different boroughs either side of the bridge, the second while plainer fails to hide the concrete casing that the Wilmore now has to lurk beneath squeezing between the houses. .

In 1894 the Lewisham and Penge Board of Works asked their counterparts in Beckenham to help pay for improvement works to what they referred to as Boundary Ditch as it was in places insufficient to deal with the volume of water entering from both parishes.

The culverting of the river seems to have started in late 1965 as it was promised in a statement by a Minister in April 1965.  This doubling up of street names is again apparent as the Wilmore crosses the main road – the former Kent side is called Beckenham Road, the Surrey side High Street.

The stream passes over High Street, crossing next to Tesco.  The Wilmore still flowed above ground alongside the southerly end of Kent House Road to around the railway bridge at the beginning of the 20th century – see above (source e Bay September 2015).

The River was then culverted and joined by Penge Stream, which will be covered in a later post and another, as yet,  nameless stream broadly following Parish Lane – this is clear on John Roque’s map of Surrey above. Oddly, until the mid-1960s the newly merged watercourse re-emerged between the gardens of Kent House and Reddons Roads before being forced into a sharp east turn behind the then Cator Park School (now like a school further upstream a Harris Academy) before traversing Cator Park to join the newly formed River Pool (the amalgamated Beck and Chaffinch Brook) .  It probably wasn’t the original course but the right angled diversion was probably to make cultivation easier – it certainly existed in the 1860s, before the area was developed.

Unlike upstream where culverting was over the top of the existing course, the 1965 works here diverted the flow, presumably under Kings Hall and Aldersmead Roads to enter the Park further south and run parallel to Chaffinch Brook for a hundred metres (the flows clearly audible through vented manhole covers), past the latter’s confluence with The Beck to form the River Pool. The Wilmore enters the Pool in the same place as it did before but from a different angle.

 

Picture & Map Credits

The Ordnance Survey maps images are all on Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland – the specific links are contained within the text.

I cannot remember where I copied a small part of John Roque’s map of Surrey from – it is no longer available on-line in the form that I saw it.  If it is your organisation’s image, do let me know and I will properly credit you.

The 1968 Lewisham Floods

Mid-September sees the 50th anniversary of the 1968 floods in Lewisham caused by the Rivers Ravensbourne, Quaggy and Pool all overflowing their banks as a result of two days very heavy rain on 15 and 16 September 1968.  The summer of 1968  had been one of the wettest on record, so the ground was already pretty much saturated causing large amounts of water to immediately run-off with large amounts draining into the local rivers.

So what caused the floods? A warm and very moist air front which had its origins in the western Mediterranean converged with a cool, moist one from the Baltic over south eastern England.  The fronts then moved very little for two days.   A broad area from the Thames Estuary to Hampshire received six weeks of rain, 75 mm (3” for you non-metric folk), during those two days.  A large area including south east London received double this – 150 mm (6”) – 3 months of rain in 48 hours.  On  Sunday 15 September alone, the Met Office noted that Bromley saw the heaviest rain with 129.5 mm (5.2”); rain in Bromley  ends up in flowing down the Ravensbourne and Quaggy to Lewisham. With this volume of rainfall it is not surprising that drainage systems failed to cope.

To understand the sheer scale of the flooding it is worth noting that the Quaggy, which typically had a depth of 15 cm (3”) at one point was over 5 metres deep in Lewisham (1). Traffic was unable to run at all along the main road between Catford and Loampit Hill as the entire area, built in the Ravensbourne flood plain was flooded (2).

The Ravensbourne

The Ravensbourne runs in a fairly flat valley all the way through Catford and Lewisham and there was flooding all the way along course – The Times photographed flooding on Southend Lane, close to Bromley Road where the usually hidden Ravensbourne crosses (3).  There was flooding too further upstream at Bromley South where the Ravensbourne burst its banks.

There were lots of memories on Facebook threads on this of using boats from Peter Pan’s Pond – originally a mill pond on the Ravensbourne (now the pond outside Homebase) to row around the area, including getting into the bar at the Tiger’s Head and generally playing in the flooded waters.

In nearby Watermead Road, flood waters reached 1.5 metres deep in places (as they did on Southend Lane) – houses there took a year to dry out and there was some looting after the flood waters receded.   A little further downstream is one of iconic pictures of the Lewisham floods – the Robertson’s Jam Factory which had the Ravensbourne immediately behind (on a Creative Commons via David Wright on Geograph).    

Unsurprisingly, a hundred metres further down Bromley Road, there was also flooding at the junction with Aitken Road (on a Creative Commons via David Wright on Geograph). Those with basement flats were particularly badly affected – in one on Barmeston Road the water went up to the ceiling.  

The volume of water coming down the Ravensbourne was augmented by the also flooded River Pool (see below) – the confluence is just south of Catford Bridge.  This meant that Catford Town Centre was under water.  There were memories on Facebook of free buses being laid on to transport people wanting to get from Stanstead Road to Brownhill Road, elsewhere refuse lorries did the same thing.

There was a ‘not entirely successful’ attempt to sail from Catford to Lewisham on a wooden garage door brought downstream on the Ravensbourne.  More appropriate forms of water transport were used in Ladywell Fields where an unknown kayaker paddled close to the railway bridge.

The extent of the flooding becomes apparent in the foreshortened by telephoto lens shot looking towards Ladywell Bridge from the around the ‘playtower’

While not shown in the picture there was a boat that ferried people across the worst of the flooding at Ladywell.  Marsala Road, parallel to the Ravensbourne, itself became ‘a fast flowing river’ with water levels inside houses rising to over a metre above ground level at one point.  There were Facebook memories of playing on a tractor inner tube in the flood water on the street. The ground floors in neighbouring Elmira Street were flooded too.

In Lewisham it seems that the flooding caused a crane to topple over – presumably on the Sundermead Estate that was being built at the time (4).

The Quaggy

From its entry into Lewisham at Chinbrook Meadows (and no doubt further upstream too) there was flooding along the Quaggy, Just outside the park in Marvels Lane, next to Sydenham Cottages as the Quaggy burst its banks.

Lee Green flooded, although probably not as badly as it had done in the past from snow melt in the early 19th century.  Manor Lane, where the Quaggy is bridged and Leahurst Road flooded too. There was flooding on Lee High Road and the parallel streets – with memories of submerged basements and flooded gardens around Eastdown Park – the photogrpah belwo shows the bottom of Dermody Road and the bridge over the Quaggy into Weardale Road.

On Lee High road itself the shops on Manor Park Parade (opposite the Rose of Lee, now Dirty South) had almost 2 metres of water in their basements).

At Lee Bridge water reached the top of the steps of the White Horse and there are rumours of paper money floating in the basement of the then Midland (now HSBC) Bank opposite, which were covered in a blog post on the last stretch of the Quaggy.

The bottom of the High Street flooded as the whole area around the Quaggy and Ravensbourne confluence was inundated – perhaps the most icon photograph of the floods are of the ‘Lewisham Lake’, it made the front page of the Daily Mirror but local people put on their wellies just got on with life as the photograph below outside the Odeon (formerly Gaumont) shows.

One of the largely culverted tributary streams of the Quaggy, Hither Green Ditch, seems to have flooded on Verdant Lane.

The Pool

The Pool effectively forms in Cator Park in Beckenham from the confluence of The Beck, Chaffinch Brook (which certainly flooded) and the River Wilmore (often known as Boundary Stream).   Unsurprisingly, the River Pool flooded too at, and below, Bell Green.  The photograph below is from Winsford Road, with the backdrop of Grangemill Road in Bellingham (on a Creative Commons via David Wright on Geograph) – the area flooded to the left is still open ground and known locally as Dog Field (after a very short-lived greyhound track that was once there).  The high waters washed away large amounts of coke from the gas works, off screen right, which was deposited on the allotments behind Dog Field.

A little further upstream the Pool overflowed near Bell Green making the bridge from Southend Lane impassable other than by boat

Pool River in Flood - 1968

Elsewhere in the South East

Given the extent of the weather front it wasn’t surprising that the flooding wasn’t an isolated issue for Lewisham, although it was one of the areas that was hit worst; large swathes of south east England were flooded with rail contact between London and Kent was being completely cut.   Edenbridge in Kent was completely cut off after the River Eden, a tributary of the Medway, burst its banks. 150 passengers on a diverted train from Charing Cross to Hastings stuck on the train for almost 12 hours at the station there (6).

The AA described the picture from above with only a little exaggeration –  ‘The whole of the area form Essex to the Sussex-Hampshire border was like a giant lake, with dozens of main roads and hundreds of secondary roads flooded.’ (7)

In days when mobile communication is the norm – landlines were the only means of telecommunications – over 78,000 (9), including many in Lewisham were down as the GPO were overwhelmed (8).  Still 28,000 of those out of action by 19th September (10)

In the days that followed the flooding spread as the storm water made its way down the Thames – East Molesey being particularly badly affected. (11)

The Immediate Aftermath

In the days after the flood before the water subsided the army were brought into deliver food to those cut off on upper floors (14). Shops had sales of tinned food without labels which became something of a lucky dip and town centre shops, such as Chiesmans, had flood damage sales.

Basements were pumped out – including the Rose of Lee (now Dirty South) and no doubt the shops opposite.

The Mayor of Lewisham had used his dinghy to ferry a few people around and investigate what was happening on the ground (lake?) himself whilst the area was flooded (11).  However, the then Tory run council was accused of “falling down” on its duties.  Some victims were paid up to £1600 from surpluses on funds set up following the Lewisham Rail Crash in 1957 and the Hither Green one of 1967 (12).  Some were rehoused by the council, but beyond that, other than giving people a bottle of bleach, there seems to have been little practical support for those families make homeless or having had possessions ruined – particularly those who weren’t insured.  After the floods subsided, carpets were hung over fences and other possessions left outside in the hope that they would dry out and recover …..and then there would have been the smell as they probably didn’t properly dry out.

Lewisham’s population has changed a lot since 1968, many of the areas alongside the rivers have seen gentrification and those with better paying occupations move in.  It is easy to forget the changes in the last 50 years – ‘Employers, Managers and Professional Workers’ made up 34.5% of the adult population in last census in 2011 – in the census immediately after the floods in 1971 only 10.5% fell into this category.  Census employment categories have changed a lot over time but it is worth remembering that manual work still dominated in the area at the time of the floods.  Household contents insurance was rarer, and then, as now, poorer households didn’t have it.   While overall household insurance costs from the floods across south east England were estimated at £15 million (13), this would obviously not have taken into account those without.

There was little in the way of a Parliamentary debate about the floods – Parliament was in recess when the floods happened and seems to have moved-on by the time that the floods were debated in mid-October – in the Commons the focus was on farming and in the Lords, oddly on a telephone exchange in Cobham that was flooded for a couple of days.

Longer Term Changes

There was little change in approach to moving peak flows downstream, a continuation of plans that had been started on the River Wilmore (Boundary Stream) in Penge and other local rivers of creating concrete banks and beds to move water on faster – sometimes referred to as ‘channelisation’.  

 

This continued along parts of the Quaggy – notably between Grove Park and Eltham Bridge (see above); the River Pool between Bell Green and Catford had its meanders removed (left) and the concrete casing and straightening continued from its confluence with the Ravensbourne all the way through Catford, Ladywell and Lewisham (see below).

There were still occasional more localised flooding’s but the real downside of the concrete straight-jackets was that the lack of natural banks and beds meant that the rivers lost much of the plant and wildlife.

New approaches started to be developed from the late 1990s, with large scale flood water storage areas in Sutcliffe Park (above) and Weigall Road which hold peaks flows – much of this happening through work by QWAG, the Environment Agency and other local groups. Similar work is planned in Beckenham Place Park.   More natural, wider banks and meanders have been added and restored in several areas – notably in John Roan Playing Fields, Chinbrook Meadows, Manor Park and Ladywell Fields (below from late 2013) – these allow the rivers to hold more water in peaks, slow down flows and allow the return of plant and wildlife on banks.

Notes

  1. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 17, 1968;
  2. Ibid
  3. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 5; Issue 57357.
  4. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 5; Issue 57357.
  5. ibid
  6. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 17, 1968; pg. 1; Issue 57358. (796 words)
  7. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 1
  8. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 17, 1968; pg. 10; Issue 57358. (1129 words)
  9. The Times (London, England), Friday, Sep 20, 1968; pg. 2; Issue 57361. (376 words)
  10. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Sep 18, 1968; pg. 1; Issue 57359.  (792 words)
  11. South East London and Kentish Mercury 19 September 1968
  12. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 1
  13. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 23, 1968; pg. 4; Issue 57363.
  14. The Times (London, England), Friday, Sep 20, 1968; pg. 21; Issue 57361.

Picture Credits

  • Most of credited within the text
  • The Ordnance Survey map of the Pool’s meanders is via the National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons
  • The photograph of Marvels Lane is from Borough Photographs, used with permission of Lewisham Archives
  • The photograph outside the Odeon has appeared numerous times on social media, never credited – if you are the copyright owner do let me know so that I can credit you (or remove if you would prefer.
  • The remaining 1968 photos were copied by Emily Hay from Lewisham Archives and are used with the kind permission of both
  • The modern photographs are mine, feel free to use them, credited, for non-commercial purposes.

A massive thank you to Emily Hay both for the photos and talking with me about her childhood memories of the floods – it was really helpful and much appreciated.

Pissarro’s Stream – A Lost Sydenham Watercourse

There is evidence of at least a dozen streams having flowed from the high ground of Sydenham Hill to the River Pool.  Many no longer flow – some victims of changing water tables and spring lines, others lost to Victorian drainage.   Running Past has already covered a couple of these – Adams’ Rill and Wells Park Stream, and over the next few months will cover most of the others.  This post covers a stream to the south of the other two which, as far as I can see, is currently nameless, but will be referred to as Pissarro’s Stream, for reasons that will become obvious as we proceed downhill.

The stream seems to have emerged around the location of what was originally called Horner Grange (above), just east of Charleville Circus. The upward pointing contour lines (streams erode, so notches appear on contours) peter out around the Grange.  Horner Grange was built as home to William Knight who made a fortune diamond mining in South Africa in 1884, and he lived there until his death in 1900 – he was buried at West Norwood Cemetery. After Knight’s death, the house became a hotel and then the freehold was bought by Sydenham High School in 1934.  The Grange remains but its grounds have been heavily built upon by the School and there are no publically visible hints of fluvial activity.

A contour  line notch below the school suggests a route across a small cul-de-sac, The Martins, off Laurie Park Gardens. There is a small depression in the road which is clearly visible.

Just below it, on the stream’s course was the large Westwood House, once home to Henry Littleton – who had made his fortune from Novello’s, the music publisher.  Littleton invited many of the leading lights of classical music of the era to stay and the music room saw performances by both Dvorak and Liszt.

The house had started more modestly around 1720, but there were several ‘water features’ including a small lake, perhaps fed by the Stream – this is visible on the Ordnance Survey map below (on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland) from the 1860s.  The scale had reduced by the time the map was redrawn in 1897 . Westwood House later became the Passmore Edwards Teacher’s Orphanage and was demolished in 1952 to make way for the Lewisham’s Sheenwood council estate.

Just below Sheenwood, the stream comes to one of the more famous artistic views in South London – Pissarro’s painting of The Avenue, Sydenham dating from 1871 (Via Wikipedia on a Creative Commons).  Pissarro was to later note to his son ‘I recall perfectly those multicoloured houses, and the desire that I had at the time to interrupt my journey and make some interesting studies.’ (1)

Pissarro was one of a number of artists who fled France at the beginning of the Franco Prussian War in 1870.  While unlike some of his fellow artists, Pissarro wasn’t at risk of conscription – he carried a Danish passport but left to escape the Prussians in his village of Louveciennes.  He settled in Norwood, close to his mother who had already fled France with other members of her family.

The stream would have flowed around where  Pissarro set up his easel on what was then Sydenham Avenue, now Lawrie Park Avenue, although the stream was almost certainly not visible on the ground at that point in time – it wasn’t marked on the map surveyed in 1863 (see above).

It is often said how little the view has changed, certainly the backdrop of St Bartholomew is still there and the road remains. While the view would have been similar until the 1960s, Dunedin House to the left is still there, but less visible.   The street is now dominated by 1960s or 1970s housing, the mode of transport is much changed and the trees are much bigger even at a similar time of year to the original (see below).

Beyond Pissarro’s view, the stream would have crossed Hall Drive, where there is a perceptible dip, and then dropping a little further to Lawrie Park Road – the hollow is more  distinct there.  The Stream would have flowed close to the site of the home of one of Sydenham’s more famous former residents, the cricketer WG Grace – whose time in South London was celebrated in Running Past around the centenary of his death.

The short-lived Croydon Canal (opened in 1809) and then its successor the London and Croydon Railway will have blocked the passage of the stream.  Whether the stream  was flowing when the former was built at this point is debatable, and if it was, it is unclear as to  whether it was culverted underneath or allowed to drain into the Canal.

Over the railway, Venner Road is crossed by the stream at Tredown Road, the course is clearer from contours than it is on the ground.  Beyond another faint dip on Newlands Park, the ground flattens out into lower Sydenham.  The route, becomes much less clear to follow.  Even the Environment Agency Flood Risk maps which show 100 year surface flow peaks and often indirectly indicate former streams don’t help much here.

However, they show clearly the two possible routes for the stream, either side of a small hill that is obvious from Kent House Road to Kangley Bridge Road.  There are possible routes either side of the knoll.

595134BA-ED3D-4F34-B9CC-41399EA736DB

The northern option around the less than grassy knoll would necessitate crossing Trewsbury Road (picture above – source eBay November 2016) and then passing close to the Kilmore Grove former ghost sign and the home of the author Graham Swift’s father in Fairlawn Park before a confluence with Wells Park Stream around Home Park.

The southerly option would have seen a flow through Alexandra Recreation Ground where there is a very slight dip, through another on the elegant Cator Road Beyond Woodbastwick Road the boundary would have bifurcated from the Indeed, the Environment Agency surface water flood maps, which show 100 year  extremes, and often highlight to course of former or hidden streams suggest potential flows either side of the hillock.

image

There are a couple of southerly options  – Bing maps has a bit of blue indicating a stream through some allotments off Kent House Road – it wasn’t visible either on aerial photographs or marked on Ordnance Survey maps  and despite the warm sun of the late afternoon when I was doing the ‘fieldwork’ no one was visibly tending their vegetables.  Notched contours on Ordnance Survey maps would support this route though, as do some ‘puddle’s on Environment agency map above.  However, as the flows onwards from here would have seen the pre-development contours obliterated by the Beckenham and Penge Brick Works, so any certainty is hard to come by.

The second option would take the stream close to the junction with Kent House Lane and Kent House Road, alongside some other allotments, there is flowing water for around 50 metres to a confluence with the Pool, including a small bridge that carries National Cycle Route 21.  As there is water flowing and any post on a stream is better with an actual fluvial flow this would be my preferred option for the final metres of Pissarro’s Stream.

Notes

  1. Quoted in notes adjacent to painting in Tate Britain’s ‘Impressionists in London, French Artists in Exile (1870-1904)’

Wells Park Stream – An Almost Lost Sydenham Stream

Running Past has already covered one of the many streams that flow into the River Pool whose sources are in the high ground of Sydenham Hill – Adams’ Rill – which rises a little way down the slope around Peak Hill.

The second of the streams has two main sources, both almost as high as it is possible to get in in the catchment – close to the watershed with the Effra, known locally as Ambrook River, of Sydenham Hill – the road, rather than the area.  Sadly, the watercourse seems to be nameless; however, if, dear reader, you are aware of an appellation please do get in touch.  But for the purpose of this post, I will give it a name. The first part is relatively easy – the watercourse is only visible in Wells Park so it seems appropriate to use that.  The second element is trickier; I am slightly tempted to continue with ‘Rill’, despite its geographical inaccuracy.  There are strong regional variations in stream naming conventions – the most common in the south east being Brook and Stream. Locally, in the neighbouring Quaggy catchment ‘Ditch’ was the most common name for a small watercourse – appearing in Hither Green, Milk Street and Grove Park to name but three; it even has a counterpart in the Ravensbourne catchment – Chudleigh Ditch, also known as Honor Oak Stream.  The latter though is a suffix is used by a couple of nearby watercourses in the Pool catchment in Penge – Border and Penge Streams – so it probably has to be Wells Park Stream.

The northerly source is around the housing association development of Mount Acre Close – the westerly pond on the map below; there is some impenetrable chain link fencing at the side (above, left), protecting the careless intrepid urban explorer from a deep gully.  There is no obvious sign of water though. The rest of the estate is guarded by robust looking close boarded fencing.

The reason becomes obvious when looking at late 19th century Ordnance Survey maps, the steep slope behind the fencing is a deep railway cutting – part of the line into Crystal Palace High Level station from Nunhead – where it met up with the Greenwich Park Branch covered a while ago in Running Past.  The former railway has annihilated the contours indicating the stream’s route at the foot of the cutting, now the social housing of Vigilant Close, managed by Lewisham Homes (bottom photo above).  The likely route seems to roughly follow a path through gardens to Longton Avenue, although the ‘private land, no public access’ signs as I emerged suggest I may have gone a little off track… A fierce look from a window should perhaps have been a warning.

There is a tell-tale dip in Longton Ave, caused, no doubt, by the stream’s erosion – all too obvious to the fluvial flâneur.  Beyond the tarmac, and into Sydenham Wells Park, a vista of the rest of the route emerges.  On a clear day it is possible to pick out the gas holders adjacent to the confluence with the Pool, but it was a little harder on a slightly hazy winter’s afternoon.  The distinct valley through the Park though is obvious – part of a much larger one bounded by Wells Park Road and Westwood (formerly just West) Hill.

In the mid-17th century mineral waters were discovered on Sydenham Common in the area now partially occupied by Wells Park – those taking the ‘waters’ were rumoured to include George III and they were described as ‘a purging spring, which has performed great cures in scrofulous, scorbutic, paralytic, and other stubborn diseases.’  Another described them as ‘of a mild cathartic quality, nearly resembling those of Epsom.’

The southern source too would have been close to the watershed; it too has been truncated by the arrival of the steam train to serve the visitors to the Crystal Palace.  The Green Chain Walk tacks up the side of the cutting behind the tower of Cambria House – there are one or two dips in the well managed woodland hillside (work was being carried out by Friends of Hillcrest Wood and the London Wildlife Trust when visited) which hints at possible former courses.

Back on High Level Drive (a continuation of Vigilant Close) there is a clear dip which is roughly in the right place for the formerly flowing stream, although the railway disruption makes this less than certain.  The landscape has effectively become terraced to make best use of the land with roads hugging the contours of the hill; passage to the next stratum of housing down, Longton Avenue, involves a circuitous detour.  A little further to the east along Longton Avenue was one of the homes of C S Forester, covered a while ago in Running Past.

Like the northern counterpart, the southern branch of the stream has eroded a small depression which has been smoothed rather than filled by the Edwardian road engineers.  Into Wells Park and the route becomes more obvious than that of its sibling – mainly due to the presence of water.  When the Park was opened it was noted that

“Advantage has been taken of the natural undulations and the existing watercourses … and was ornamented by a succession of small lakes and rivulets”.

The stream actually flows as a stream for twenty metres or so before disappearing into a culvert which seemed to have a rudimentary trap to prevent underground blockages downstream.  There seems to have been another pond, the Children’s Yacht Pond, lower down in the Park which has now been filled in (Source – eBay July 2016).

The exact location of the former confluence of the two branches of the stream is probably just beyond Taylors Lane.  There is a clear dip in the road close which marks the boundary between Victorian terrace and 1970s council housing as well as the location of the stream (when it flowed).

The path downhill is clear the stream’s route is a relatively deep valley between the higher land of Wells Park Road and Westwood Hill, it appropriately follows Peter’s Path.  There was a pair of small ornamental lakes here when the Ordnance Survey cartographers called in 1863 (see above).  They were filled in when the Victorian terraces to the south of Wells Park Road were built before the century was out.

Beyond the flats and concrete garages that replaced their late Victorian counterparts in the 1970s the route is barred by a locked a gate to Longton Nursery Allotments, with no sign of life beyond it on a cool January Friday afternoon.  It has been a nursery or allotments since the late 19th century, perhaps too damp and at risk from flooding to allow development at that stage. It too had a small pond along the line of the stream’s flow in 1893, although this too had gone before the outbreak of the Great War.

The next physical sign of the stream is another dip in the road, a relatively pronounced one in Jews Walk.  A few metres away was the home of Eleanor Marx at 7 Jews Walk (Source eBay Nov 2017); she was the youngest daughter of Karl Marx and she spent her last few years there with her long partner Edward Aveling – they had not married for political reasons.  The historical orthodoxy, based on the inquest findings, is that she committed suicide after discovering that Aveling had secretly married an actress.  A recent biography by the very persuasive Rachel Holmes, suggests that Aveling murdered her rather than it having been a case of suicide.  There is a little more on her time in Sydenham and the possible reasons for choosing the home in the Sydenham and Forest Hill History blog.

The stream next ‘appears’ crossing Kirkdale close to Collingtree Road, it became visible during  road works in the early 21st century.  As Collingtree Road has an upward gradient towards the summit of Peak Hill the route will have skirted around its base into what is now a small park – Kirkdale Green, it may well have been joined by water from another source here as at least one spring has been found underneath a Collingtree Road house.  The dip in the appropriately named Spring Hill shows the line towards the railway.  There is a large mound of earth adjacent to the likely former route with some brickwork similar to ‘springs’ elsewhere – I have not found anything on-line as to whether the small summit has any significance.

The short-lived Croydon Canal (opened in 1809) and then its successor the London and Croydon Railway will have blocked the passage it seems that that unlike some of the streams from Sydenham Hill, it appears that this one was culverted underneath – certainly it was still evident on the other side – after the railway largely took over the route of the Croydon Canal.

Over the railway, the valley is obvious when crossing Silverdale before cutting through the Thorpes estate, where it was above ground  pre-development as the 1863 map below shows.

The ‘Thorpes’ Estate (a suffix to Kings, Queens, Bishops, Prince, Dukes and Earls) is a largely Edwardian development built by the firm of Edmondson & Sons between 1901 and 1914 over the garden of the Old House, the former home of the Mayow family – who gave their name to the neighbouring road and park.

It is a conservation area where

“Features and details used were inspired by the Queen Anne, neo-Georgian and vernacular revivals using red brick contrasted by white roughcast, multi-paned sash windows, grey slate roofs and decorative pargeting.

The area’s character is enhanced by its compact layout of tightly packed houses, small front gardens and tree-lined streets.”

There are perceptible dips in the north-south roads on the estate as the postcard below (source eBay July 2016) shows.After leaving the Thorpes the lie of the land dictates that it would follow Sydenham Road – although it would have been hidden from view before the time of the first Ordnance Survey Maps; it may have fed a small ‘water feature’ in Home Park, and possibly supplied  the long-lost Sydenham Brewery.

This is an area which has flooded in the past – possibly as a result of the stream bursting out from its culverting – the photo below looking toward Home Park is from 1907.

The confluence with the Pool appears to have been between the unlikely pairing of gas works and watercress beds.  It would have been under what is now Sainsbury’s car park.

There is an outflow into the River Pool at  roughly the right location – little in the way of water flow is ever seen from it though.

Photo Credits

The maps are all from the National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons, the photo of the floods is via Steve Grindlay’s lovely photo stream on Flickr, which is well worth a visit, and is also on a Creative Commons.

Adams’ Rill – A Lost Sydenham Stream

The high ground of Sydenham Hill forms the watershed between the Pool and the Effra, known locally as Ambrook River, there are numerous springs on both sides of the fluvial divide; Running Past will be following those heading broadly east south east towards the Pool.  The first of these posts has a source around 500 metres from the edge of the Pool’s catchment on the small protuberance of the appropriately named Peak Hill.

Some maps mark a small pond in what would be the playground of St Bartholomew’s Primary School, although it has never been obvious on current or past Ordnance Survey maps, present day satellite views of the area or from the road.  However, that area would seem to have been the roughly the source of the stream.

The first obvious hint of stream is a dip in road as Sydenham Park Road (above) bends sharply to the north east close to a turning to The Peak and the likely original source.  The original flow would have taken the nascent stream through what are now gardens before emerging into a clear dip in Silverdale around Paddock Close.

The gap between the two roads is little more than 120 metres, but what lies betwixt the two will have changed the stream’s flow – firstly the short-lived Croydon Canal (opened in 1809) and then its successor the London and Croydon Railway will have blocked the passage.  Unlike some of the other streams coming off Sydenham Hill to the north of this, it seems likely that the flow continued under the railway as a series of ‘water features’ continued along the stream’s route when the Ordnance Survey surveyors visited in 1863, see above (1).

After a line that takes in some garages the hint of a shallow valley appears in the green flagged Mayow Park, particularly at the southern end facing onto Mayow Road.  The Park itself dates from 1875 and was created by public subscriptions from the great and the good in the area – particularly Mayow Wynell Adams.  It has a rather grand drinking fountain remembering the Reverend W Taylor Jones – another of the benefactors.

Sydenham and Forest Hill Recreation Ground was part of a Victorian movement of trying to allow the ‘less fortunate’ to take the air.  As was noted above, the 1863, post canal and railway, Ordnance Survey map suggests the stream was still flowing at the time the surveyors visited so the culverting was probably when the Park was created.

The stream crosses Mayow Road (see above – (2)) in a very clear dip where water often collects after rain and then heads off down Adamsrill Road in an obvious  valley, initially, at least, with paths to back gardens on the right being upwards as is the incline on Niederwald Road.  As the ‘rill’ in the street name is one of a myriad of names for a stream and the Adams prefix will have related to the local benefactor Mayow Wynell Adams, it is not unreasonable to call the stream Adams’ Rill.

The geographical pedant may dispute the appropriateness of calling it a ‘rill’ though as in relation to ‘hillslope geomorphology, a rill is a shallow channel (no more than a few tens of centimetres deep) cut into soil by the erosive action of flowing water.’  The size of the small valley as the stream heads down Adamsrill Road is considerably deeper than this.

As Adams’ Rill continues down the eponymous street, the locally listed gas holders Bell Green dominate the view.  The gas works have been there since the 1850s, it ceased to be operational  as a gas works in 1967 although it was not until 1995 that the first retail unit, Savacentre (now Sainsburys) opened on the site.  Other than the gas holders the only remaining  part of  Bell Green’s gas producing past is the works social club, now called the Livesey Memorial Hall (below).

 The exact route the stream took to the River Pool is not clear – the gas works obliterated the contour lines.  However, on modern 1:25,000 maps there is an upward pointing contour line to the north east of the gas works (now a retail park) site, it contains a small pond – often complete with fishing heron.  It is just possible that the the pond is the last remnant of Adams’ Rill and that the stream is still just flowing.  The confluence would have been roughly at the location below – although as the current river landscape was constructed in the mid-1990s after the Pool was taken out of its concrete casing under the gasworks, it is doubtful that it ever looked like this when Adams’ Rill was flowing. 

 

Notes

  1. From National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons
  2. Source – eBay – September 2017

Following the Quaggy – Manor Park to the Ravensbourne

We left the Quaggy just outside Manor Park having seen the park’s rejuvenation  from one of Lewisham’s worst bits of open space to one of its best, before that Running Past had followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom; then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley, through the golf courses of Sundridge Park and on to Chinbrook Meadows; through the concrete and countryside of Mottingham; and then on through the playing fields and parkland of Sutcliffe Park and the Lee/Blackheath borders.
We left the river at an old crossing, although relatively new bridge that formed part of Hocum Pocum Lane; we continue along the Lane although it is now referred to as Weardale Road.  Unusually, it is visible for a short stretch as the western side of Weardale Road remains undeveloped, in spring it is a riot of colour from the plants that have colonised the banks.  The bridge is a great place for seeing the iridescent blue blur of the kingfisher – often sighted almost skimming the surface of the water, with occasional sightings of egrets and herons fishing in the shallows.
After 100 metres or so It bends sharply to the left, on the bend, in a tight triangular site, is almost certainly the finest modern building on the Quaggy – 22 Weardale Road – designed by and Anglo-Dutch architectural practice 31/44.
A little further on is the Rose of Lee pub, latterly called the Dirty South although it has gone through several names in the last 25 years.  It opened around 1900 and, perhaps, it’s greatest claim to fame was that it was the first venue that Kate Bush played.  It suffered damage and looting during the 2011 riots that spread across numerous locations in London in early August, it looked as though it was to become another lost Lewisham pub.  There were occasional signs of life and a few drinkers during 2016, but it took until 2017 to have a major revamp and re-open as the Dirty South in late October 2017.
Around here the Quaggy was once joined by Mid Kid Brook which used to flow  more or less alongside Lee High Road from close to Lee Green, its former valley is clear in places.  However, it was diverted to follow Lee Road to Lee Green, probably around the early 18th century.
The river is bridged by Eastdown Park, a bridge that was partially destroyed in a flooding in 1878 in an era when flooding seemed more common.
On the west side of f the Eastdown Park bridge (to the left of the photograph) is currently Penfolds garage – the remaining part of a company that used to have three bases locally, including taking over Lee Picture Palace as a car showroom in the 1970s. The usage of the site, which used to be home to a Baptist Chapel (below – source eBay April 2016), is about to change again – this time to flats.
The river follows a tight channel, built on both sides, occasionally over it – such as by KwikFit. The banks had been almost rural on the south-eastern side of until the College Park Estate in the late 1860s as the map below shows (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).
By the next bridge, over Clarendon Rise, is without a doubt the most attractive riverside building on The Quaggy, a Hindu Temple, the London Sivan Kovil.  In September each year it is the venue for probably the most stunningly beautiful site in Lewisham – the Chariot Festival.
Attempts continue to be made either side of the Clarendon Road bridge to slow down flows through artificial meanders, while this allows some of the normal fluvial erosion and depositions on rivers in their natural state and thus will help a little with plant growth, it will be of little use in high flows though.
Soon after Clarendon Rise, just behind Lewis Grove, the Quaggy is covered at what used to be known as Lee Bridge.  Like much of the area upstream this too was liable to flooding – on an earlier Facebook thread on the river further upstream there were stories of what was then the Midland Bank (postcard from eBay September 2016) flooding in and notes floating around the flooded basement of the bank.
Historically, flooding was very common around Lee Bridge, this 1968 photograph, outside the Odeon (formerly Gaumont) Cinema commonly shown in relation to Lewisham flooding will probably relate to both the Quaggy and  Ravensbourne though – see comments below.
The extent of the covering of the Quaggy has varied over time, the recent development of the police station offered an opportunity to extend its visibility but it wasn’t taken and there is less of the Quaggy open now than there was a century ago as the postcard below shows (source – eBay February 2016).
The river currently re-emerges in front of St Stephen’s church, having first been joined by Upper Kid Brook. There used to be two arms to the Quaggy at this point – one by the former Roebuck pub, the second by the former Plough as the map below shows ( (Image on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland). Both pubs disappeared in the early 2000s, as part of the redevelopment of Lewisham town centre.
The river broadly follows the course by the former Plough Bridge (left photo above) but at the time of writing, the confluence with the Ravensbourne is hidden in the middle of the Lewisham Gateway development which has rendered the area around the station almost unrecognisable.  Eventually, the confluence with the Ravensbourne will be in a small park, Confluence Place, but it may be a wait until the reality is anywhere near the architect’s impression.