Category Archives: Rivers

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.

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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.

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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)’
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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.

Following the Quaggy – Sutcliffe Park to Lee Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Notes

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

 

Following the Quaggy – Chinbrook Meadows to Eltham Bridge

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.

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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)

 

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.’

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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 …..

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Following the Quaggy – Sundridge Park to Chinbrook Meadows

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We’ll leave the Quaggy at this point with a stark reminder of how it used to be – a barren concrete channel.