Tag Archives: Blackheath

The Ghosts of Hillyfields & Blackheath Prefabs Past

The prolonged spell of dry weather in June and July 2018 dried out the top soils in many areas and made visible archaeological remains of past buildings. It has enabled the likes of the flooded village of Mardale Green to be visible again, along with various ancient settlements in Wales.  A little more recent, and a lot nearer to home, are footprints of prefabs that appeared in Hillyfields and possibly on Blackheath too.

The Blitz and the later V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks had destroyed thousands of homes in south east London. – thousands were homeless, staying with families and friends, leaving considerable numbers homeless .The main plank in trying to deal with this was the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act 1944, which planned to deliver 300,000 prefabricated homes.
The old Borough of Lewisham put up 1,610 prefabs by 1948 and a further 1,088 by 1955. While many went on quickly cleared bombsites – such as those in Fernbrook Road and Lenham Road – parks and open spaces were often used. On the Greenwich side of Blackheath, open space on Pond Road in Blackheath was used but more significantly several parks saw significant concentrations of prefabs. Notable in this was the Excalibur Estate (pictured below) which was built on part of the Forster Memorial Park – the estate partially remains although a stalling redevelopment programme is underway. The Excalibur estate (below) was covered in an early post in Running Past. There were also big concentrations around the edge of Hillyfields as well as in a couple of locations on Blackheath.P1040344.JPG

Hillyfields Bungalows

As the 1949 surveyed map that included Ladywell shows, the open ground of Hillyfields was circled with prefabs – Hillyfields Bungalows – with a double row along Adelaide and Montague Avenues, and a single broken line on Hillyfields Crescent.  A number of different types of prefabs were used – the ones here were Arcon bungalows – somewhat different in shape and design to those at Excalibur.

They were certainly there until the early autumn of 1962 as there is cine film footage of them, although there are suggestions that residents may have been moved out before the winter as there are recollections of playing in the remains of the prefabs in the harsh winter of 1962/63.

The extent of the compaction of the ground caused by the foundations means that the ground dries out more quickly than the surrounding around and so sometimes makes the footprints of the prefabs visible from the air.  The Google maps satellite images, probably taken in the dry spring or early summer of 2011. – the top one of Adelaide Avenue, the lower of Montague Avenue.

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They may have been visible on the ground at that point but the 2018 has made them a lot clearer than in previous years as the set of photographs below shows – the top pair are of the Adelaide Avenue prefab bases, the bottom trio are of Montague Avenue and Hillyfields Crescent.

Before leaving Hillyfields, the Ordnance Survey map above indicates a series of Nissen huts close to the tennis courts.  They probably related to search lights (there were search lights there in World War 1 too).  There was nothing visible on the ground in the drought conditions – a combination of post-war trees and play equipment have disturbed the surface too much.

St German’s Place, Blackheath

Alongside St German’s Place on Blackheath there was a double row of prefabs as the photograph from Britain from Above shows the edge of in the bottom left corner,

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The extent is clearer from the 1949 surveyed Ordnance Survey map.

Unlike the position at Hillyfields, the post demolition outlines never seem to have been visible from the air – Blackheath has seen more more earth movement over the years than Hillyfields (apart from the former brick works around Hillyfields Crescent).  Non-natural soils have been added to the edge the grass, while the mounds look impressive in flower they will cover some of the remains of the prefab footprints.

A recent drain edges the Heath a metre further west than the mound and then beyond is a tangle of long grass. There are a couple of outlines that might be the base of a bungalow but it could easily be something else.

Hollyhedge Bungalows

In the top corner of the aerial photograph above another, larger, group of prefabs is present at the south eastern edge of the Heath, adjacent to what is now the Territorial Army Centre at Hollyhedge House – looking  beyond them is Lewisham, almost unrecognisable without the tall buildings.

The bunglaows were know as Hollyhedge Bungalows – their extent is clearer from the map below

There appeared to be nothing obvious visible on the ground when visited – a combination of lots of earth movement on the Heath in the relatively recent past and confusion of lines caused by tyres – no doubt due to the obstacles of the Race for Life Pretty Mudder race the Sunday before – the grass will recover quickly from that, once it rains.

Not every bomb site was developed immediately for prefabs – as Running Past has already covered , sites at Campshill House and Lewisham Hill were developed for new council housing almost straight after the War – the final photograph below shows both Lewisham Hill estate (2/3 way up on the right) as well as Hollyhedge Bungalows at the top.

Notes

The modern aerial images are from Google Maps – copied during 2014

The older aerial images are all from Britain from Above and on a Creative Commons

The map images are on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland – the full images are via links for Hillyfields; St German’s Place and Hollyhedge bungalows

 

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The Cade Rebellion & South East London

Cade Road on Blackheath is a small one way lane, skirting the edge of the escarpment, without houses, but always full of cars – attracted by the absence of parking restrictions.  The name relates to a rebellion in 1450 where Kentish rebels, led by Jack Cade, camped on the Heath twice before marching on London.

Jack Cade was the leader of a popular revolt against the almost bankrupt government of Henry VI in 1450. The backdrop was the near end of the Hundred Years War which was seeing defeats for British Forces, the loss of British Territory in France and occasional forays of French soldiers into Kent.

Distrust of the Crown came to a head with a corruption scandal and the murder of the Duke of Suffolk for which the people of Kent were blamed.  There was an earlier uprising in Kent at the beginning of 1450 but this had been quickly put down.  However, the rebels didn’t disappear and became more organised in the county in the late spring; Cade had emerged as the leader by early June.  Little is known of Cade, who sometimes adopted the name Mortimer – suggesting a linkage to one of Henry’s rivals for the throne – the Duke of York.

By 11 June 1450 the rebels were camped on the Heath – with suggestions that they may have numbered as many as 20,000.  Initially Henry VI didn’t confront them, sending a series of messengers, who seem to have been presented with a series of demands.  Sometimes referred to as ‘The Blackheath Petition,’ but more generally known as ‘The Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent’, the demands included inquiries into corruption and to ‘punish evil ministers and procure a redress for grievance.’

Shakespeare depicts the scene on Blackheath in Henry VI Part 2 (Act 4 Scene 2) with a degree of artistic licence, but the offer of a truce seemed to have happened through two messengers.

Sir Humphrey Stafford

Rebellious hinds, the filth and scum of Kent,

Mark’d for the gallows, lay your weapons down;

Home to your cottages, forsake this groom:

The king is merciful, if you revolt.

William Stafford

But angry, wrathful and inclin’d to blood,

If you go forward.  Therefore yield or die.

When the offer was refused, the King sent a large force to put down the rebellion.  The rebels may have been tipped off as by the time the Royal forces reached the Heath, the rebels had gone.   Cade’s men were followed into Kent by a small part of the Royal forces; knowing the territory better the rebels ambushed the Royal forces just to the south of Sevenoaks, close to Knole at Solefields, they defeated the Royal forces killing the leader, Sir Humphrey Stafford – Shakespeare’s speaker in the scene above.

Cade returned to the Heath towards the end of June and then marched on London in early July.  This was depicted in a recently listed mosaic mural (see above) on the former Southwark Town Hall. The scene was also portrayed by Shakespeare  in Henry VI Part 2 (Act 4 Scene 6)

Come, then, let’s go fight with them; but first, go and set London bridge on fire; and, if you can, burn down the Tower too. Come, let’s away.

The rebels seemed to be in control of the city for several days, executing several,including the Lord Chancellor – Baron Saye and Sele – the then occupant of the forerunner of Knole House.  He is pictured below, being brought to Cade (Creative Commons via Wikipedia) . There was much looting and the citizens of the City appear to have turned against the rebels and, on 9 July, after the rebels had spent the night outside the city, they were defeated on London Bridge.

Pardons were issued to the rebels, but the one to Cade himself was quickly revoked and he fled the City.  There is a suggestion that he briefly hid on the island in the mill pond that was later to become Peter Pan’s Pool – sadly, it is almost certainly apocryphal.

If it happened at all, the sojourn in Southend was a short one; Cade fled further south, but was eventually caught and seriously wounded in Lewes.  He died on the journey back to London but his death wasn’t enough to prevent him being subject to the fate that was de rigour for traitors of the era and he was hanged, drawn and quartered.

In addition to the road on the Heath and the ‘island’, Cade’s name is lives on in a couple of other locations – there is a cavern named after him the on the Heath, and apparently he is the ‘Jack’ in the Brockley Jack pub and theatre.  Sadly, there seems to be no more credible evidence of him visiting the cavern and drinking in Brockley as there was of a stay in Southend village.

Forty years later rebels from Cornwall had pinned hopes on the Men of Kent still being rebellious, but the next generation failed to support the Cornish rebellion which was crushed at the Battle of Deptford Bridge – covered in the very first post on Running Past.

Mass Observation in Blackheath and Bolton, 80 Years On

6 Grotes Buildings is an impressive looking Georgian house, it is part of an even more impressive terrace tucked away in the corner of the Heath close to the ‘village’.  In the 1930s it was home to one of the most important social research ‘movements’ of the era – Mass Observation.

Before looking at Mass Observation, it is worth covering a little about the terrace.  It was developed by Andrew Grote in the 1760s on land leased by Morden College to fund a chaplain (1). Grote was a speculative developer and banker, who had made his wealth as a ‘merchant’ trading with enslaved estates in Maryland, no doubt he traded elsewhere too. Grote lived on the opposite corner of the Heath at Point House.

 

The idea behind Mass Observation was that it was ‘no longer tolerable for the nation’s working classes to be as unknown to the middle and ruling classes as (so one of them put it) the inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands.

There were two main strands to Mass Observation, one of which was based at Grotes Buildings.  This was led by Humphrey Jennings, a film maker, and his friend Charles Madge, a poet and journalist, who was later to become a professor of sociology. They recruited hundreds of volunteers to write accounts of their daily experiences.  The first time this happened was on 12 May 1937, the day of George VI’s Coronation. Participants told their own stories of what they had done from waking up to going to sleep, the resulting diaries provided a wonderful glimpse into the everyday lives of people across Britain, and the narratives have been used as a resource for those researching aspects of the era.  Later similar work included amassing a collection of diaries by over 500 home front civilians.

The second strand, in its simplest terms, can perhaps be described as organised people watching – it was a wide ranging inquiry into the views, customs and daily routines of ordinary people. One of the researchers behind it, Tom Harrisson had made his name as an anthropologist, studying people on remote Pacific islands. Along with Jennings and Charles Madge he requested volunteers via the ‘New Statesman’ to participate in a new research project, which would be ‘anthropology at home . . . a science of ourselves’. This part of the project was based in Bolton and became known as ‘Worktown’.  Unsurprisingly, given the location of the advertisement, the volunteer researchers tended to be left-leaning middle-class students, artists, photographers and writers who were ‘watching’ northern working class people.  They observed and recorded behaviour and conversations in the shops, pubs, churches and mills of Bolton. Observation was done without the subject’s knowledge and was criticised in the local press

“an unequalled opportunity for the pettifogging, the malicious, the cranky, the interfering and the mildly dotty”

Nonetheless, many experiences were recorded often as anthropological type readings of ‘rituals’ of round-buying along with consumption rates, the presence and absence (mostly the latter) of women and what was discussed. Some of his was published in John Sommerfield’s 1943 book, ‘The Pub and The People’ and the more recent ‘Worktown’, written by David Hall, and published in 2015.

Some of the photographs became widely used, such as the one by Humphrey Spender which was used as an album cover by Everything But The Girl, for their 1985 release, Love not Money.

Artists too worked on the project including, William Coldstream, who had also worked with the East London Group of artists, and Humphrey Jennings.  Jennings painted several scenes of life in Bolton, including this one of terraces, which, like many of the images collected, is held by Bolton Museum and Art Gallery.

Jennings, Humphrey; Bolton Terraces; Bolton Library & Museum Services, Bolton Council; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/bolton-terraces-163155 (See notes below)

Jennings was much better known as a film maker and was later to work with the GPO Film Unit, which was based in Bennett Park in Blackheath, and was covered in Running Past a couple of years ago.

Mass Observation effectively finished by the end of World War 2, but was relaunched in the early 1980s at the University of Sussex, where he archives had been relocated in the previous decade.  Initially, there were requests for feedback on specific areas, the one in the autumn of 1981 asked for views on shopping, the SDP-Liberal Alliance, unemployment amongst other things. The following year participants were asked to focus on the Falklands War – part of one randomly chosen post is below (on a On a Creative Commons, via the University of Sussex) – there are lots more which make for fascinating reading.

May 12 2017 will make the 80th anniversary of the recordings of experiences of the Coronation of George VI, and as has happened for several years, Mass Observation have replicated their annual call for day diaries, capturing the everyday lives of people across the UK. The written diaries will be used by a wide range of people for research, teaching and learning. Do participate! There are details of what to do on this link.

Notes

1 Neil Rhind (1987) The Heath – A Companion Volume to Blackheath Village & Environs, p66

Painting credit

The painting is owned by Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, but has been made available on line through the wonderful on-line public art gallery – Art UK, and can be used for non-commercial research such as this.

The Lewisham Hill V-1 & the Post War Re-Building

Lewisham Hill was an old route up to the Heath from the Ravensbourne valley and was captured below as a print around 1810 (source on a Creative Commons), the only currently recognisable features being St Mary’s Church in the middle distance and the hills of Forest Hill and Sydenham which provide the background.

With the coming of the South Eastern railway in 1849 large, desirable houses for the wealthy of Victorian London were built up the hill towards the Heath.   Looking at a sample of the houses in the 1871 census, all were single household properties, all with several servants – a pattern largely repeated in 1901.  An Edwardian postcard (source eBay Nov 2106) ‘paints’ the street scene of a well to do street.

By the outbreak of World War Two, while the buildings were the same, most of the houses had either been divided into flats or were home to several households – the wealthy seem to have largely moved-on.  Lewisham Hill was the site of one of the bigger single losses of life in Lewisham through a V-1 rocket, better known as doodlebugs; one hit Lewisham Hill on 17 June 1944 – thirteen died as a result of the attack.  The V-1 attacks had started four days before on 13 June 1944 – a week after the D Day landings – and were to go on until October 1944 when the last V-1 site in range of Britain was captured, although there were a small number of later air launched attacks.

As was noted in a post a couple of years ago on the attack on Lewisham town centre, there appear to have been some attempts to use double agents to persuade the Germans that the V-1s were over-shooting their targets and landing to the north west of London, this may explain the reasons for the volume of V-1s that hit South London. The old boroughs of Croydon (171), Wandsworth (122), Lewisham (115) and Woolwich (77) were the 4 locations hit the most. The City of London and Westminster only received 17 and 29 attacks respectively.

The scale of the devastation is clear towards the top of an aerial photo taken during July 1944 by Stanley Devon an official photographer with the RAF (source Imperial War Museum on a Creative Commons).  In the foreground is a site cleared from another V-1 attack 9 days later at the bottom of Granville Park.

Of the 13 who died, eight were living at 25 Lewisham Hill – including a couple, Doris and Albert Pilgrim and their two young sons.  None of the thirteen were living in the homes that they died in when the 1939 Register was compiled, although Minnie (73) and Samuel (75) Rowe and their daughter, Maud (48) were probably relatives of Henry and Edna Rowe who were there in 1939.  Ernest Kinnear, who died at 21, was a retired compositor who had lived three doors away at 15 with his wife Alice in 1939.  The rest had lived elsewhere, including Cicely Rackstraw who was living in Battle in Sussex and was still a student in 1939.

The site was one of the earlier ones developed by the Borough of Lewisham after the Second World War, Running Past covered another  development from those years – what was formerly known as the Heather Green Estate during 2016.  A larger area than the initial bomb site was cleared, including several other houses lower down the hill where damage had been limited (1).  By the time site was photographed again in 1949 (see above – source – Britain from Above on a Creative Commons), building work seems to have been near completion – the new Lewisham Hill Estate is 3/4 way up on right edge of the photograph.  Amongst the other interesting features in the photograph are prefabs at Holly Hedge Terrace (top right), the Lewisham Anchor Brewery (now the site of Tesco), and in front of it Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd Century Works (next to the railway).

From the outside, at least, the estate seems to have stood the test of time quite well as a comparison of the soon after building (2) photograph and the 2017 one show – it has been refurbished with the pitched roofs added, these weren’t possible immediately after the war due to restrictions with building materials.

As for the view from near the top of the Hill, well, it has changed quite a lot since 1810 …..

Notes

  1. Lawrence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945
  2. The immediate post war picture has appeared several times on social media without credits – I am more than happy to add credits or delete from the post, if preferred, if you are the owner of the image.

Census and 1939 Register data is via Find My Past

A View From The Point

Time series of images make for interesting viewing – it is a technique that many have used, such as the Chilean-born photographer Camilo José Vergara who recorded changes in particular buildings over 40 years and fellow blogger Bobby Seal who recorded the same view at the same time of day over a year and created a video.

On Twitter, the Barnsley Bard, Ian McMillan, creates 140 character poetic ‘images’ of his (very) ‘Early Stroll’ of around 40 minutes, that includes a visit to the paper shop – it is one of the joys of twitter .

The Point is perhaps my favourite view of London, it was the starting point for my first post on Running Past  – there is an uninterrupted vista over the city in an arc from around Battersea in the south west to glimpses of Orbit in the Olympic Park to the north east.

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Oddly, it isn’t a well-known panorama, often I am the only one admiring; it doesn’t have the impressive Inigo Jones foreground of the view a little further around the escarpment in front of the Observatory which draws in the tourists.

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It is a place of solitude, despite the proximity of the often pollution laden A2, frequently the only sounds are the birds in the quite dense shrubbery that flanks the viewpoint along with the more distant rumble of the DLR.

In places, the horizon is truncated by the hilly landmasses of north London – Hampstead Heath and Highgate along with their relatively near neighbour which Alexandra Palace sits atop.  All the tall London landmarks are visible – St Pauls, Telecom Tower, the ‘Cheese Grater’, the ‘Walkie-Talkie’, the ‘Shard’, the ‘Eye’, and the tops of the Canary Wharf towers – the number of stories depending on the level of pruning.

On a clear day the Wembley arch is visible in a way that the Towers never were – it sometimes glints in the sun – it is about 10 miles away as the crow flies; on a really clear day there are views beyond to what appear to be the tiny undulations of to what must be the Chilterns to the south and Harrow on the Hill to the north of it.

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I first discovered the view from The Point on a run in the mid-1990s and have been frequently drawn back, although only started taking photographs a couple of years ago.   The camera can never pick the level of detail of an eye scanning the horizon – the clarity of the view on a frosty autumn morning or after a summer afternoon downpour are hard to replicate, particularly with a smart phone camera with no optical zoom.

Some of the changes would need a much longer time series of photographs to become apparent – most of the larger landmarks of the cities of London and Westminster have appeared in the time that I have been viewing – it is a gradual evolution of the view, almost imperceptible from visit to visit.  Over longer time periods the view has changed more – I bought a 1940s photograph of the view (taken slightly lower down the hill), while fascinating, its slightly blurry image is almost unrecognisable compared with those 70 years later, with considerable bomb damage around Deptford Creek.  Only St Pauls Deptford seems constant – its steeple particularly clear.

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The middle distance has evolved considerably – the Pepys Estate and other ‘regeneration’ schemes that have brought high specification private housing, but little genuinely affordable social housing, to the riverside and in the process have driven traditional Thames-side activities away from the waterfront.  Deptford Creek, the mouth of the Ravensbourne, around a mile away, is much altered – it is no longer visible but now seems lined with glass and steel, including the  impressive Laban Centre.  The changes are even greater to the north – when I first ‘discovered’ the view, 1 Canada Square was there but little else on the Isle of Dogs, the Barkantine Estate towers on the east of the ’Island’ were still fairly dominant, they are now dwarfed by everything around them.

There are lots of other changes too, which it is easy to forget.   Helpfully the viewpoint has a guide to the view provided by the old Greater London Council, which predated many of the now landmark buildings that dominate the skyline, less helpfully , most of the time those in charge of the grounds maintenance have allowed shrubs to block the view it described although an early January pruning has restored the view.

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Other changes are more obvious – seasons, weather, cloud cover, pollution levels, times of day and foliage growth.  The seasons make a surprising difference – the winter sun with its much lower angle casts a very different light to its midsummer counterpart – the former is clearer, brighter and crisper but the contrast is greater. My visits are often on a Sunday morning, more recently I have frequently laced up my running shoes in the afternoon. In the summer, I sometimes eschew the Wednesday evening ‘club run’ for a run nearer home – decisions that are often based around the timing of the sunset or the weather.

I only tend to visit in daylight, it is uneven under foot and ill lit at night, although there are exceptions, and rarely when it rains, although where there is a choice I would tend to avoid running in the rain and the phone stays firmly in the pocket.

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But perhaps that is the key point, I am one of the variables, perhaps the single biggest influence on the series of pictures – it depends on me being there to be captured – it isn’t just the wet days, I may ‘skip’ the loop to The Point if I know the visibility is poor – the clarity of the view towards the spire of Our Ladye Star of the Sea on Crooms Hill from my emergence onto the Heath– is often the bellwether of adjustments to my run.  I also decide on the angle of the photograph, the amount of zoom, while my eye is drawn more towards the horizon, the lens is drawn west-north-west towards the City, towards the glimpses of the River.

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The V2 Rocket Attack on Blackheath’s Methodist Chapel

Just to the east of Blackheath station, behind the shops in Tranquil Vale is a car park with steps at the rear, locals use it as a cut through between Blackheath Grove and Wemyss Road. To the south of the car park there are a few architecturally nondescript looking 1960s shops, a restaurant, and a building that used to be a library but was closed a few years ago and is now a private school.

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Until a Thursday afternoon in March 1945 it was home to one of the dominant features of the the pre-World War 2 Blackheath landscape – a Methodist chapel.

Source - eBay (Sept 2016)

Source – eBay (Sept 2016)

At 12:06 on 8 March 1945 the last V2 rocket to hit Blackheath landed on the Methodist chapel, completely destroying it and causing significant damage to the rest of the Village (1).

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The rocket had been fired from the Dutch capital; battery 485 was moved around Den Haag regularly to reduce the likelihood of itself being a target.  That fateful morning it was based in Statenkwartier, close to the upmarket coastal resort of Scheveningen, presumably hidden in the extensive sand dunes or the woods behind then.  The battery continued bombarding London and the south east for almost another three weeks until German forces retreated in the face of the Allied advance, this included an attack on Deptford Creek nine days after the Blackheath attack.

Given the timing and scale of the damage, it is perhaps surprising that there weren’t more deaths; of the five who died, four, all women died at the scene or very soon after (2) including three who lived within a half a mile of the blast – Daisy Denny (Foxes Dale), Alice Drain (Pond Road) and Eve Taylor (Lee Road); Eve Leibe lived a little further away in St Mildred’s Road. The fifth fatility was an ARP Warden, Albert Brown, who had lived at Eliot Hill (3). There were also 134 non-fatal injuries.

Methodism had a strong history in Blackheath; the blog has covered preaching by both Whitefield and John Wesley from Whitefield’s Mount in the 18th century.

Blackheath methodist 2The chapel itself was opened in 1864 and was designed by James Wilson (1816 – 1900) of Bath who had certainly designed a number of Gothic style Methodist chapels elsewhere in London – including in Poplar, Westminster, Islington and Clerkenwell.

It was described by the Illustrated London News (4) as being ‘in the Decorated or Middle Pointed period of Gothic Architecture, and built of Kentish ragstone, with Bath dressing.  The interior is lined with freestone, no plaster being used in any part of it.’  It was built to seat a congregation of 969; although by 1940 this was reduced to 830. It had a 120 ft tower and spire (5) which, until its destruction, was a prominent feature of the Blackheath landscape.

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Notes

  1. The photograph of the aftermath of attack in Blackheath Village has appeared uncredited numerous times on Twitter and in a couple of places online, although never properly attributed. I have attempted to contact all the sites with it on to try to discover  the ownership of the image, without success  If you are the owner of this image let me know, I am more than happy to (ideally) attribute or take off the site if you would prefer.  Just leave a message in comments.   It is quite possible that it is a UK Government picture, if this is the case it is effectively in the public domain anyway (see notes here)
  2. The details of the deaths come from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website 
  3. ibid
  4. New Wesleyan Chapel, Blackheath. Illustrated London News (London, England), Saturday, October 20, 1866; pg. 392; Issue 1395 (also the source of the lower trio of photos)
  5. ibid

 

Blackheath’s Windmills

There used to be several windmills on the Heath – John Roque’s map of 1745 seemed to show a couple.  There were also a pair that stood on what is now Talbot Place, which were built in the 1770s (1).  There is a hint to their location in the name of the house that is now on their site – Mill House.
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Given the elevated position of the Heath, it is perhaps not surprising to find windmills. Rhind suggests that their exact location was probably predicated on the semi-industrial use of the land adjoining it – there was a large sand pit, which was eventually to become Blackheath Vale (2).

The windmills lasted about 60 years on the site, they were probably demolished in the late 1830s and the land was enclosed amidst wider concerns of enclosure and usage of land on the Heath.  Rhind notes that at the time that

Uncontrolled riding and military activity spoiled the cricket and horse grounds; the ponds were full of rubbish, dead dogs and worse.  Holiday crowds and donkey men were all contributing to the ruin of a once pleasant, if somewhat (after dark) dangerous facility for all to enjoy (3)

Mill House, behind its high wall, is an impressive building and has had some interesting occupants over the years.  There was an interesting piece on the Transpontine blog about Joan Littlewood and her time at Mill House in the 1950s and 1960s, and the somewhat higher wall she put up to protect her privacy.

The windmills have been depicted by artists several time.  Later in the year Running Past will probably return to an etching of them when the Heath was used as a military encampment.  The painting below was by Edward Cooke (see notes below re copyright etc.)

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Cooke was born in Pentonville in 1811 and was a precocious talent – at nine he was illustrating a plant encyclopaedia.  He studied architecture for a while under Pugin, but decided to concentrate on painting.  He is best known for his seascapes travelling extensively both in Britain, Europe and North Africa.  He exhibited well over two hundred paintings, including 129 at the Royal Academy – which he was elected a member of in 1864. Latterly, he lived at Groombridge in Kent, where he died in 1880.

The picture was painted in 1835, probably just before the windmills were demolished, the picture is owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum, although not on display – see notes at bottom of page about copyright.

Apart from the lack of windmills, the view across the Heath towards Shooters Hill is not that different – apart, obviously, from the small football goals remaining from Saturday morning Lewisham inter-schools football – a distant tower is visible in both, although in the painting that would have been Sevendroog Castle, as the currently visible water tower was not built until 1910.

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Notes

  1. Rhind, Neil (1987) The Heath – a companion volume to Blackheath Village & Environs p59
  2. ibid p59
  3. ibid p32

Notes About Painting

The painting is owned by, although not on display at, the Victoria and Albert Museum, it was made available via the BBC’s Your Paintings Project, which in turn allows reproduction in non-commercial research – this includes blogs (page explaining this only works intermittently).