Tag Archives: Aislibie Road

Lee House to Lee Centre – the Story of a Small Part of Lee

The Lee Centre is an elegant late Victorian building at the junction of Aislibie and Old Roads in Lee. It is currently used by a couple of voluntary sector organisations. Both the building, and its predecessors on the site, have interesting stories – this blog post outlines the history. 

The site was for centuries ‘home’ to Lee House, a medieval mansion that was probably the last building showing on the bend of the main road on the southern side of John Rocque’s map from the 1740s (see below (1)). This was, of course, before Lee High Road was straightened following the breakup of the estate of Lee Place in 1824. At that point Old Road was given its current layout.

The original Lee House was probably a Tudor mansion and was known to have rush and clay partition walls (2).   Relatively little is known about the early history of the House although it was to become one with Republican links – it was home to the family of one of the Regicides of Charles I (3) and then owned by the slave owner and trader, Maurice Thomson.  Running Past has already covered Thomson and his brother George who may have built Lee Place and who also had clear links to slavery.

In the early 18th century the House was owned by the Lewin family (4), then home to the Huguenot Jamineau family (5) and later to City merchant and Alderman Sir George Champion (6). Champion’s daughter Mary was to marry Sir Thomas Fludyer in 1742 who inherited the house (7), presumably on George Champion’s death in 1754.

Sir Thomas Fludyer was brother of Samuel who lived at Dacre House, more on him at some stage in the future. Thomas was elected as MP for Great Bedwin in 1767, a seat that he swapped for his brother’s Chippenham seat on the latter’s death in 1768 (8). He died the following year in Hackney although his body was buried in Lee (9). Lee House was left to his daughter, Mary, better known by her married title, Lady Dacre.  She was to live at the eponymous House, further up the hill towards St Margaret’s Church. Her time in Lee will be considered in more details in a future post on Dacre House.  The House was sold on by the early 1770s to Henry Pelham (10).

Pelham was the nephew of two Prime Ministers – his namesake who died in office in 1754, as well as the Duke of Newcastle.  Lee’s Henry Pelham had been briefly an MP, but by the time he moved to Lee was Commissioner of Customs in 1758, a role he continued in until the 1788 retiring on a pension of £761 (worth around £1.4m at 2018 values). Henry Pelham died in 1803.

Around 1807 (11) the House was bought by the banker and MP for Taunton, William Morland; he died in 1815 with his wife remained at the house until her own death in 1826. The House was then inherited by their grandson Sir Francis Bernard Morland.

Sir Francis demolished the old house within a year or two, along with a neighbouring house on Lee High Road which had previously been home to Alexander Rowland, the barber who popularised the use of Macassar Oil, who had died there in 1823. As F W Hart noted, many of the older houses in Lee had been considerably extended over the years (as we have seen with Pentland House) but done in a way that didn’t meet the aspirations of the wealthy early Victorian Kent country gentleman. The realignment of the road provided the ability to design a home with a sweeping drive and gatehouse so gave added impetus for change.

Like its predecessor, no images of the House seem to exist, but from late 19th century Ordnance Survey maps at least, it appeared quite grand with a gatehouse (12) – Lee House is the unnamed large house below the right ‘E.’

While Sir Francis Morland lived on to the ripe old age of 86,  he moved on relatively quickly, as the occupant of the eight acre estate for much of the 1830s and 1840s were the Stuarts – William Forbes Stuart, a Scottish  ‘merchant,’ and his wife Hannah.  In 1841 they were living there with two grown up daughters a relative and eight live-in servants.  The Stuarts (incorrectly spelled Stewart) were still there in the 1851 census; while their children had moved on, they had a retinue of 14 servants, including a pair of lodge keepers.

The Stuarts seem to have sold up in the 1850s and moved to Brighton.  The purchaser was James Halliburton Young, a Justice of the Peace. he probably never lived there but he certainly added some of the land of Lee House to his estate at Cedar House which was situated on what is now the opposite side of Aislibie Road, and no doubt will be covered at some stage in Running Past.  It is the collection of buildings between Lee House and Manor House on the Ordnance Survey map above.

It isn’t clear who was at Lee House in 1861; it may well have been empty when the census enumerators called. In the 1871 Lee House was home to James and Anne Dale – it was clearly a time before contraception – there were 13 surviving children between 18 and just born living at the House along with 3 live-in servants.

By 1881, while the Youngs were still next door, there was no mention of the House in the census, part of the site had already been sold off – the census lists St Margaret’s Home whose inhabitants included a curate.  By the late 1880s, the house had been demolished and what is now Lee Centre at least had its foundation stone, with the grounds sold for the housing of Aislibie and Lenham Roads.

Part of the land was bought by the widow of George Barnes Williams, Helen, ‘For the use and benefit of the men and lads of Lee.’  The building is now known as the Lee Centre.

George Barnes Williams is a name that has already had a passing reference in Running Past in that he was living at ‘Belmont’ (The House that Named the Hill) when the census enumerators called in 1871. He was an architect and surveyor, with a business based in Westminster.  He was best known for his input into the refurbishment of the Mercers Hall between 1877 and 1881.

In 1881 he and his wife Helen were living at 14 Brandram Road. George died in 1887.  In addition to what is now the Lee Centre, it appears that Helen paid for a window at St Margaret’s Lee in his memory.  Helen seems to have lived on at Brandram Road until her own death in 1894.

From the outset there was a chess club based there, which was to be a feature at the Institute for at least 30 years, meeting initially on Monday and Thursday evenings (13).   In addition to chess, there seems to have been a football team based there for a while (14), and an athletic club was based there in 1892 which met on Tuesday and Thursday evenings (15).  How long the football and athletics clubs lasted is not clear, as there was only one mention for each in the local press. In its early days of operation the building was also used by Lee Dispensary – it was listed in the Kelly’s Directories there between 1895 and 1900.  Certainly, when it was first considered by planners in 1888, the application from Helen Williams, was in relation to setting up a Cottage Hospital (16) so this may have been a relic of the original application.

While initially it seems that the Institute was an independent one, by 1927 it had come under the wing of St Margaret’s Church whose parish rooms were then next door.  The building was still home to the Chess Club which lasted there until 1930; the 1937 Kelly’s saw a solitary mention of St Margaret’s 1st Lee Scouts being based there.

While the Scout group only appeared once in Kelly’s Directory, it seems to have been a feature there until the early 1960s, before the group moved to the then newly acquired Kingswood Halls. The building continued to be used to store camping and other equipment for Scout and Guides until at least 1960.

The building was also used for storage by a father and son painting firm, Charles and Gordon Payne, in the late 1950s and 1960s, perhaps earlier. They lived in Dacre Park as war broke out in 1939 and continued to use a hand cart to transport materials around Lee into the 1960s when motorised transport had become the norm.

The Working Men and Lads suffix lasted until 1953, by which time the building was just known as St Margaret’s Lee, Church Institute – a name which lasted in Kelly’s until 1980 by which time it was referred to as the Lee Centre.  The mosaic above the door probably dates from around then – it certainly wasn’t there in 1979 when photographed.

By this stage, the building was being used Goldsmiths College as a Community Education Centre, as part of their Department of Adult Studies. This had started in 1973 and continued until around 1991, the activities run from there included several reminiscence projects during the 1980s.  The building was also used for some Lewisham Council run Adult Education courses up until around the mid-1990s.

In the more recent past it has been home to several voluntary sector groups – notably the Arts Network whose work was aimed at people with enduring mental health support needs and sought to provide ‘a supportive welcoming space for participants to explore their creativity.’ It often opened its doors to the public as part of Lee Green Open Studios, with the upper floor providing a pleasant airy space for displaying art. The project has now moved on to the Leegate Centre.

At the time of writing (late 2018) the building was being used by Ubuntu, a Black social history project and Family Health Isis, a mental health project.

It is a lovely building, although, oddly, neither Listed nationally by English Heritage or locally by Lewisham – it is certainly at least as worthy as the Grade II listed Lochaber Hall a couple of hundred metres away.

Notes

  1. Map from information board at Lee Green
  2. Edwin and Josephine Birchenough (1968) Two Old Houses of Lee – Dacre House and Lee House p68
  3. ibid p68
  4. ibid p71
  5. ibid p72
  6. ibid p73
  7. ibid p78
  8. ibid p78
  9. ibid p79
  10. ibid p94
  11. ibid p97
  12. The map is on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland
  13. Kentish Mercury 18 October 1895
  14. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper 15 January 1899
  15. Kentish Mercury 25 March 1892
  16. Kentish Mercury 17 August 1888

Census and related data comes via Find My Past

Kelly’s Directorys were accessed via the always helpful Lewisham Archives

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The Lenham Road V-1 Attack

Lampmead and Lenham Roads are quiet residential streets coming off Lee High Road, they are mainly Victorian terraces.  There are also several infill homes built by the London Borough of Lewisham,or its forerunner.  There is a story behind their presence in the early 21st century streetscape – they are the indirect result of a V-1 rocket attacks which hit the junction of Lampmead and Lenham Roads on just before 5 am on the morning of 22 June 1944.

Running Past has covered several of the almost two hundred V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks on Lewisham, including the ones on Lewisham High Street, Lewisham Hill and Hither Green’s Fernbrook Road.  They are important to remember both in terms of the death and injuries caused to ordinary Londoners whose stories often get forgotten, but also in terms of their impact on the urban landscape – both in the short-term and longer term.

Six died as a result of the attack on Lenham and Lampmead Roads and no doubt many more were injured.  Those who lost their lives were James Joseph Carroll (20) and Patrick Leonard (26) who died at 34 Lenham Road; Hugh William George Harvey (59) who died at 6 Lampmead, Joseph Daniel Barry (55) died next door at number 8, his neighbour Alfred William Roedear (64) died at no 10 – his wife Annie appears to have survived, and Flora Borthwick (37) perished at 12 Lampmead.

What is perhaps surprising is that of those who died only one, Hugh Harvey, who was a groundsman and coach at the outbreak of the war living at 6 Lampmead Road, had lived there when the war broke out (1).  It is worth remembering that the private rented sector was still dominant at that time – accounting for almost 60% of homes – security of tenure, while perhaps slightly greater than it is now, was still limited.  In Lewisham these landlords included some of the bigger builders in the area – WJ Scudamore and James Watt.

During World War 1 there had been profiteering by some residential landlords which had led to rent strikes and unrest which threatened to undermine the war effort.  These had been repeated in the East End of London in 1938 and 1939. In this context, full rent control was introduced early in World War 2.  However, this seems not to have led to a stable community in this part of Lee – similar issues were found with the Lewisham Hill V-1.

The V-1 would have exploded on impact and a blast wave rippled out from the impact point, effectively creating a vacuum in the centre – the combined impact was to both push and pull buildings leading to large numbers of collapses.  The impact was often spread over quite a wide area with total destruction in the centre with much less damage on the outside.  The map below  produced by the London County Council during the war (2) shows this well – the darker the hand-colouring, the greater the damage.

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

By the time the Ordnance Survey cartographers surveyed the area in 1949 (see below & note 3), the debris had been cleared and the site filled with 14 prefabs – a small part of attempting to deal with post-war housing needs.

The old Borough of Lewisham put up 1,610 prefabs by 1948 and a further 1,088 by 1955.  They would have no doubt not been that dissimilar to those on the Excalibur estate in Catford (below from 2014).  The prefabs probably lasted until the 1960s when they were replaced with council housing.

As the lower of the two maps above shows, there were several smaller gaps in the neighbouring Aislibie Road (named after Benjamin Aislabie – the last tenant of Lee Place), the result of bombing during the Blitz, the gaps were not used for the prefabs but they too were later filled by post war council housing.

Notes

  1. The 1939 Register didn’t cover armed forces so possible that some of victims had been living there before war broke out, employment details from Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  2. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 – permission has been given by the copyright owners of the map, the London Metropolitan Archives to use the image here
  3. On a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland