Tag Archives: Beckenham Place Park

Bellingham Lido – the ‘finest in London’

Catford has lost many sports venues over the years – notably the Greyhound Stadium, but also a velodrome, The Mount which was once home to Charlton Athletic, a former ground of London Irish, another smaller greyhound and midget car racing track as well as a significant cricket ground in Penerley Road. Another of these lost sporting venues was Bellingham Lido which opened in July 1922, it was one of the first in inner London and was apparently, at the time, the longest pool in London.  It was to open its doors during summer months for hardy swimmers for almost 60 years.  We’ll look at its development and demise, putting it in the context of other London lidos and open-air swimming facilities.

The backdrop to the development was the conversion of Bellingham from farmland to homes in the early 1920s.  Interestingly at the time, it was referred to as a ‘garden city’ a ‘new town of ten thousand’ – based on principles adopted in the building of Letchworth twenty years before (1).

While Bellingham was a London County Council (LCC) estate, some of the facilities in surrounding areas were provided the Borough Council, Lewisham. The site, for those not familiar with it, was a slightly awkward one between the Ravensbourne and the railway – about a hundred metres south of Bellingham station, access was over the river – the map below shows the location and layout, just post World War 2.

What was initially referred to as either an open-air swimming pool or an air pool, cost between £8,000 and £9,000 over a period of about 9 months.  In addition to providing swimming and bathing facilities for Bellingham ‘garden city’ and Catford it was used as a means of reducing local unemployment.  The work was carried out in-house by the Borough Council with 38 unemployed local men being used to build the pool (2).

The Mayor, Cllr C H Dodd (of the still trading Blackheath solicitors, who started life in Eltham Road), opened the pool describing it as ‘the largest and finest’ in London (3). Kathleen Dodd, his niece, and the Lady Mayoress, was the first to take the plunge into the cold water accompanied by the King sisters from Forest Hill Swimming Club (4)– she is pictured below (5); a swimming gala followed. 

It seems that the LCC watched its building with interest as around the time of its opening were asking for expressions of interest for building open air swimming pools form other Borough Councils (6).

While there is no evidence that she swam here it would be good to think that Hilda ‘Laddie’ Sharp, Hither Green’s pioneering Channel swimmer might have at least done some training here – she swam the Channel in 1928. 

Water initially drained into the Ravensbourne and there was no filtration plant initially built as part of the lido – water was drained late on Sunday mornings into the Ravensbourne and then refilled.  Presumably the quality of water was poor by the end of Sunday morning’s session.   A new filtration plant was agreed in late 1929.  Around £9000 was borrowed from the Ministry of Health for this along with increasing the ‘number of first and second class slipper baths’ from 31 to 57 at Ladywell and 12 to 25 at Bell Green.  The inspector noted ‘you will be quite clean in Lewisham.’ (7).

Whilst Bellingham may have been the first lido in what was then the old London County Council area it was by no means the first open water swimming in what we would now regard as London.  Several ponds that had been used for years for swimming, notably those on Hampstead Heath whose usage dates from around 1800 and the as well as the Serpentine soon after (8).  Outside what was the LCC area were already several open-air swimming pools in South London including Erith (built in 1906), Croydon (1909), Wimbledon (1913) along with Tooting Bec (1906) (9).

At their peak in 1939, the leader of the LCC Herbert Morrison described London as a ‘City of Lidos’ – there were a staggering 67 lidos open that year (10).   In neighbouring areas this included Brockwell, Danson Park, Eltham Park, Charlton, Bromley Southlands, Peckham Rye, St Mary Cray and Southwark Park (11).

In addition to issues around filtration there were serious problems with leakages – having to be refurbished over the winter of 1959/60 and opening a little late for the summer of 1960. (12). Fond memories of the lido from this era and a bit later often appear in Facebook threads in the various Lewisham reminiscence groups.

The lido closed in 1980 (13) – presumably as a result of the public expenditure cuts that most councils had to make in the early years of the Conservative Government led by Margaret Thatcher. 

It was a similar fate that beset most of the local lidos – Danson Park and Bromley both closed in 1980 too, although Bromley re-opened for a while in the mid-1980s, the last length was swum in 1987; Peckham Rye also closed in 1987, Southwark Park in 1989 and Eltham Park in 1990 (14) – its outline is still fairly clear though.

Locally only two remain – both built much later than Bellingham -Brockwell (1937) and Charlton (1939).  The latter had a major refurbishment a decade ago with Olympic legacy funding.  It re-opened as a heated pool in 2013 and is the perfect place to watch the sunrise on a cold winter’s morning.

Whilst now having no lido, Lewisham does now have open water swimming in Beckenham Place Park (pictured below) – it’s part of the conversion from an underused golf course to a well-used public park.  There was £440k grant funding from the Greater London Authority (a successor of the LCC) for both the pool and large scale tree planting, it opened in 2019. It is open year-round although booking is required.

As for the Bellingham Lido site, it was eventually replaced with the social housing of Orford Road, let from around 1990.

Notes

  1. Sydenham, Forest Hill & Penge Gazette 28 July 1922
  2. Brockley News, New Cross and Hatcham Review 4 August 1922
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. from Bromley & West Kent Mercury 4 August 1922
  6. Forest Hill & Sydenham Examiner 4 August 1922
  7. Forest Hill & Sydenham Examiner 27 December 1929
  8. Simon Inglis (2014) Played in London (Swindon, English Heritage) p155
  9. ibid pp 158-159
  10. ibid p154
  11. ibid pp 158-159
  12. Sydenham, Forest Hill & Penge Gazette – 24 June 1960
  13. Inglis op cit p158-9
  14. ibid

Picture and Other Credits

  • The Ordnance Survey map is via the National Library of Scotland on a non-commercial licence
  • The photograph of the entrance is from the collection of Lewisham Archives – it is used with their permission but remains their copyright.
  • The postcard is from e Bay in July 2019.

The World War Two Home Front – Digging For Victory, Allotments and Women’s Land Army

Since the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War in September 2019, Running Past has been looking at a number of aspects of life on the ‘Home Front’ during the War.  This has included the evacuation of Lewisham’s children to safer areas, the shelters built to try to keep the local population safe during air raids, the role of the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Service and the rationing of food.  On a similar vein we’ll look now at what is referred to a Digging for Victory, the growing of food in gardens and allotments along with briefly looking at the Women’s Land Army.

In 1939 Britain was importing large quantities of food – including 70% of cheese, cereals and sugar, 80% of fruit and more than 50% of meat. It was fully expected that the Germans would target food supplies coming in via sea, as they had done with the U-Boat Campaign in World War 1.  At the national level merchant shipping was put under Admiralty control in August 1939 – with food coming via convoy.

While they have links back to the 17th century, allotments, as we know them, have their roots in the Victorian period, demand for them in areas such as the then suburban Lewisham seems to have come from middle classes who wanted space to grow their own.  As we have seen with Lee Working Men’s Institution and Lee Public Halls there were several gardening clubs locally. Allotment numbers were not that large though with 244,268 plots in 1873 across the   country.

Numbers grew steadily in the Edwardian era and by the time World War One broke out, there were somewhere between 450,000 and 600,000 allotments. Those pictured above, bounded by Hafton, Hazelbank and Wellmeadow Roads, probably date from early in this period.  There was a large expansion during World War 1 with just over 1.5 million allotments in England by 1918.

Numbers of plots declined in the interwar period such that by the outbreak of World War Two just 819,000 allotment plots were cultivated. Many around Lee and Hither Green were lost to development in this period – two of the larger interwar private housing developments in the area – the Woodstock (the area around Woodyates Road) and Verdant Lane estates were both built on allotment sites in the 1930s, as was part of Reigate Road on the Downham Estate and a plot to the north east of bend in Meadowcourt Road near Lee Green.

The Ministry of Agriculture launched the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign soon after the outbreak of war in 1939. There was propaganda throughout the war encouraging people to use their gardens, parks and unused land for cultivation, stressing that ‘food just as important a weapon of war as guns’– several hundred thousand leaflets were distributed, with posters such as the one above displayed and it was a regular feature in propaganda films such as this one…

Around a million new allotments were created and many parks and open spaces were converted into allotments.  In the old Borough of Lewisham about 3000 were created (1)  – this included large swathes of Mountsfield Park as the 1940s Ordnance Survey map shows.

Parts of Beckenham Place Park were turned over to the growing of potatoes, with sheep grazing on the now former fairways (2).  Parts of Ladywell Fields were turned into allotments and on Blackheath around half of the triangular green bounded by Hare and Billet Road, Orchard Road and Eliot Place was turned into allotments.

One of the most iconic views in south London changed during the war with the field below the Observatory in Greenwich Park being dug up for allotments, the same had happened during World War One there.

It wasn’t just parks that saw food grown, other bits of land were brought into use too – a narrow strip of, presumably, railway company owned land between Milborough Crescent and the embankment was cultivated.  This was the same with the land on the other side of St Mildred’s Road where a narrow strip all the way down to Grove Park Nature Reserve was turned into allotments.

Other land too seems to have been taken over –  the land in a triangle bounded by Dacre Park (then Turner Road), Boone’s Road and Lee Park was a nursery and had been since the 1860s, probably before, emerged out of the war as allotments.  They continue to remain in that usage and are pictured below.

Another aspect of maintaining food availability was increasing the amount of help on farms – this was done through the Women’s Land Army which was launched ahead of the War in June 1939.   This was initially based on volunteering but a degree of conscription was added. By 1944 it had over 80,000 members; while most were already rural based around a third came from London and other cities.

Several women from Bellingham, including Olive Boyes who had previously worked at Chiltonian Biscuit Factory, Rene Powell and Joan Hicks joined the Women’s Land Army in the spring of 1942. They took a train from Catford to Ashford with Olive and Rene ending up in a small village called Hamstreet, with Joan and her friend Ivy being sent to Faversham.

Betty Hilda Baker lived at 41 Nightingale Grove had started the war as a ‘confectionary hand’ – perhaps working for Whitehouse and Co. at 36 Old Road.  Born in 1918 she was living with her parents, Charles and Julia, along with what are probably two younger siblings, Stanley who was a 23 year old butcher’s assistant and one that was redacted. It is known that she joined the Land Army but not known where she was stationed.

Joan Pearson lived at 73 Bramdean Crescent in Lee, at the outbreak of war she was an invoice clerk for Fords, aged 17.  When she joined up in 1942, she was working for Crosse and Blackwell near Charing Cross station – she wanted to ‘do something useful’ and to ‘get away from London.’ She ended up driving tractors in the New Forest.

Notes

  1. Lewis Blake (1995) How We Went To War – Deptford & Lewisham 1939 -1945 p24
  2. ibid

Where not specifically referenced, examples of locations of allotments come via Ordnance Survey maps.

Credits