Old Road in Lee is veritable cornucopia of housing types – two of the large houses of Lee remain – the Manor House, now a volunteer run library, and Pentland House, now a hostel. There is the 1890s housing at the western end which was built on the site of The Firs. At the other end is the Edwardian housing centred on Bankwell Road – possibly built by James Watt, he certainly built the cinema that was part of the same plot.
In between are 1930s flats built with more than a nod to the Arts and Crafts style of housing, more often seen in suburbia of the era with mock exposed beams against white rendered eaves. The reason for two terraces of 1930s housing and the row of shops of a similar style and era on Lee High Road, Market Terrace, goes back to 1824 and the break-up of the estate of Lee Place, the original country home of Lee.
Lee Place had probably been built for George Thomson, but was for most of its life home to the Boones, they latterly let the house to Benjamin Aislabie – when his lease expired the estate was broken up into small lots with the house being demolished. Two of the lots were used to build Lee New Town (the area around Lee Church Street) and the Merchant Taylors Almshouses. The lot built on in the 1930s was bought by the owners of Pentland House and used as an orchard – it is to the right on the Old Road snow scene, probably from the 1890s.
When Pentland House was bought as halls of residence for Goldsmiths College around 1913, the orchard was bought with it. The Ordnance Survey map below from the 1890s shows the plots the the north of Old Road clearly.
So who lived in the homes? Less than six years after residents moved in World War Two broke out and the 1939 Register was collected – so while there will have been some movement since the initial letting and sales, it gives an interesting insight into some of the early households who made this part of Old Road their home. A surprising number of the flats did not have entries, whether they were empty or missed by those compiling the Register isn’t clear.
Occupations were mainly manual, although there were a few clerical grade civil servants and similar jobs in selling advertising, insurance and the like. It was quite similar to the Verdant Lane estate which was developed at around the same time. Unlike Ardmere Road (where Running Past has done a similar analysis of the 1939 Register), where around a third of the male household members had the ‘Heavy’ suffix to their trade entitling them to more rations, there were only a couple in Old Road.
As was generally the pattern at both Ardmere Road and Verdant Lane (where a 1939 Register analysis was also done) relatively few women worked with most listed either as ‘Housewife’ or ‘Unpaid Domestic Duties.’ The exceptions were a couple of shop assistants, maybe working in local shopping parades on Lee High Road or Market Terrace plus a laundress, a couple of typists and an embroidery machinist. In all but one of these the woman was the head of household – something that wasn’t seen in either Ardmere Road or Verdant Lane.
The ages were younger though than Verdant Lane – the average age there was almost 42; in the Old Road flats there were mainly relatively young couples living there – the average age was 36, although this was pushed up a couple of years by the single retired couple who had a working son.
This is perhaps not surprising; the homes were smaller, mainly one bedroom flats, compared with the three bedroom houses at Verdant Lane, although any children of school age would have been evacuated in early September 1939. However, given how few redactions (generally for those who would be still alive) it would indicate almost no pre-school children who would have remained in Lee. Had the Register been taken a month earlier there would have no doubt be several children in the flats – Winifred and William Kinsey’s son Anthony at 19 would have been 11 in 1939 and was no doubt evacuated with friends from the street.
The tenure of the flats after they were built in the 1930s isn’t clear – although nationally over half of housing was private rented in 1939. Based on Land Registry data, just over half the flats have been sold since 1999 – 2 bedrooms flat sold for £405k in late £2018, although the last 1 bedroom flat sold seems to have been in 2015 which changed hands for £270k. However, this probably implies that a lot remain in private renting or have returned to the private rented sector in the recent past. Two of the blocks, four flats, seem to have been acquired by Lewisham Council at some stage, although one of the flats has been subsequently sold under Right to Buy.
So how has the area changed since 1939? For the slightly wider 2011 Census Output Area which covers a slightly wider area of 134 homes including most of the rest of Old Road, Bankwell Road, the adjoining part of Lee high Road and Hamlet Close. 51% were owner occupied and 42% privately rented with the remainder socially rented.
Employment patterns have probably changed more – the biggest employment sector was education (15%)Heath and Social Work (13%), IT (9%), Finance and insurance (8%) and the motor trade (8%). This was not dissimilar to the rest of Lewisham – although there were fewer working in admin activities and accommodation and food services, with more in manufacturing and education
- The Ordnance Survey map is courtesy of the National Library of Scotland on a non-commercial license;
- The Picture of Lee Place is from the information board opposite to St Margaret’s Church;
- The snow scene is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives, who hold the copyright, it is used with their permission;
- Kelly’s Directories records were accessed at Lewisham Archives;
- Land Registry data on tenure is through Nimbus Maps (Registration required)
- The 1939 Register data comes via Find My Past (subscription required)