Tag Archives: Border Ditch

Beating the Bounds of Lee, Part 4 – Chinbrook and Downham

During the 2020 Coronavirus lockdown Running Past has been following the boundary of Victorian Lee before it was subsumed into Lewisham, aided only by a Second Edition Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1893 and a fair amount of local knowledge. Posts have taken us in stages from Lee Green to Winn Road, appropriately passing Corona Road en route; the second took us through Grove Park, crossing the never built Ringway and the previous one through Marvels and Elmstead Woods leaving the boundary on the edge of Chinbrook Meadows allotments – and it is on to the Meadows that we now proceed.

This section is marked by the red dots on the adjacent map.

At around the point of a kissing gate, at the top of a steep hill down into Chinbrook Meadows the 1893 and 2020 variants of the boundary of Lee diverge.

The current variant of the boundary heads down into the lovely Chinbrook Meadows; it wasn’t always like this when the farmland became a park, the Quaggy was hidden. A blog post from a few years ago, covers its rejuvenation in 2002. The now Bromley and Lewisham border largely hugs the bottom of the railway embankment coming in from Elmstead Woods.

The 1863 version of the boundary crosses the railway in what is a deep cutting at this point, and emerged in what was then a small field and is now part of the smaller southwestern field of Chinbrook Meadows following the fences to the rear of the gardens of Portland Road until the Quaggy is again reached (further upstream than when covered in earlier in the circuit of Lee).

The 1893 boundary followed the Quaggy for around 100 metres until a confluence with the Border Ditch underneath the railway embankment. The ‘border’ in Border Ditch appropriately refers to the boundary we are currently following. When we followed Border Ditch as part of the tracking of the Quaggy and its constituent tributaries, the Ditch in Chinbrook Meadows was in a poor state but there were plans for a sustainable urban drainage system to be incorporated into its flow. Alas, this seems not to have materialised and the watercourse looked decidedly uninviting during lockdown – the photographs of its latter stages are from the initial visit in 2016.

Border Ditch has an even shorter flow than the Quaggy within Chinbrook Meadows – it emerges from culverting in a way that is more reminiscent of a drain than a stream.  As had been the case in the summer of 2016, there was little sign of movement in the ominous looking muddy water. 

The Ditch continues upstream and seems to have marked the border until the 1991 proposals came into force, although as was noted in the post on Border Ditch there were several minor re-alignments of the Ditch and the boundary over the years

Over the other side of the physical boundaries of the railway, which required a significant detour, Border Ditch only appeared as a field boundary on the 1893 Ordnance Survey map. It is now not only the border between Bromley and Lewisham but between the private sector semis of the former and the social housing of the latter. Traces of water were difficult to find in lockdown in the normally still flowing division between the two.

Streams, even quite small ones create valleys and out on the main Burnt Ash Lane the dip is noticeable and there lies both the current and 1893 variants of the boundary. The photograph above probably dates from just after the map was drawn, is of what was then a bridge and is looking towards Bromley.

Burnt Ash Lane was a name that once continued from here to the junction with St Mildred’s Road, but the it was renamed in ‘honour’ of the Lords of the Manor – the Baring Family. At the time they bought the Manor of Lee at least part of the Barings money was coming from an enslaved estate in Montego Bay in Jamaica. John Pound built much of Victorian Grove Park, on Northbrook/Baring land, naming the pub after them – the lovely Baring Hall.

We’ve strayed 400 metres away from the boundary putting the street name into some context, so back to the border, Border Ditch. The 1893 Lee (now Lewisham) – Bromley border continued westwards across fields to a three-way split in 1893 with Lewisham providing the third part of the trio. During the 19th century there had stood, according to F H Hart, ‘a tall round-top oak tree, a land mark from Lee Church’ at the junction of Lee Terrace and Brandram Road. It seems that this may have been lost by 1893, as this point was marked with a boundary post. In 2020, it is part of one of the dozens of largely access roads to garages in the area made largely redundant by the increase in car size, this one behind Welbeck Avenue.

The redundant access road is the course of Border Ditch which continues another 50 metres or so to a source in what is now some school playing fields. A small pond was marked in 1893. Oddly for such an elevated situation, close to the watershed between the Quaggy and Ravensbourne catchments, this was a small World War 1 airfield, Grove Park Landing Ground.

On the other side of the redundant track to redundant garages is the edge of one of the larger London County Council (LCC) estates, Downham, which was built in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The name doesn’t have any local links, rather it was that of a Chairman of the LCC just after World War 1.

The Lee – Lewisham boundary of 1893 was through fields, the boundary following what were then the hedges of field edges not marked in any way by posts, markers or marks on trees. Despite the transformation of the area between the World Wars, the street pattern still at least partially follows the field patterns. The former Lee – Lewisham boundary was follows the middle of what is now Geraint Road; like many boundaries that follow roads, it’s marked by white paint. The 1893 boundary then bisects Ivorydown, the name of a former field in this area, to reach Downham Way.

We will leave the boundary there for now because on the other side the nature of what is followed changes from field edge to hidden stream.

Credits and Thanks

  • The Ordnance Survey Map is via the National Library of Scotland on a non-commercial licence.
  • The black and white photograph of Burnt Ash Lane was originally used in the post on Border Ditch on the basis of a creative commons from this site, although the photograph library with it seems to have been deleted.

The series of posts on the Lee boundary that this post is part of, would probably not have happened without Mike Horne, he was the go-to person on London’s boundary markers; he had catalogued almost all of them in a series of documents. He was always helpful, enthusiastic and patient. He died of a heart attack in March but would have loved my ‘find’ of a London County Council marker in some undergrowth on Blackheath during 2020’s lockdown, and would have patiently explained the details of several others he knew to me. A sad loss, there is a lovely series of tributes to him via this link.

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.

Beyond a Boundary – Border Ditch, a Quaggy Tributary

Border Ditch is one of the smaller tributaries of the Quaggy – it rises in playing fields on the edge of the Downham estate, very close to a natural boundary – the watershed that marks the divide between the Quaggy and Ravensbourne catchments. Its name comes from a different boundary though – for some of its recent life it was a small part of the border between Lee, then Lewisham, and Bromley.  In addition, it would mark the limit of London until 1965 when Bromley was prised out of Kent and brought into the metropolis (although the distinctions had become a little blurred from the 1840s as the Bromley was included in the area covered by the Metropolitan Police).

While the contour lines on the map for the early part of the Ditch are clear, they would suggest a route from around the middle of the playing field then following a line slightly to the south of Welbeck Avenue to Burnt Ash Lane.  However, the boundary which predated development, and the playing fields, is slightly to the north of this, suggesting that the course may have been adjusted when the land was farmed.  There was no access to the school playing fields, so any further investigation proved impossible.  The current course seems to follow a now overgrown access road to garages and then a very clear dip in Burnt Ash Lane.

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There used to be a small bridge at this point which was captured on film around the time of the First World War, before the advance of suburbia and the Downham estate in the 1920s (source Lewisham Archives on a Creative Commons).

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The stream is no longer visible (or even audible) at this point but there is a clear valley as it squeezes between the gardens of Ridgeway Close on the Bromley side and Wydeville Manor Road on the Lewisham side.  There are tracks down to garages at the rear on the Bromley side, but as ‘danger reared its ugly head’ – with a dog starting to bark as I attempted to investigate – the urban explorer ‘turned and fled’ in the manner of Brave Sir Robin.

Fortunately, there was a dog-free access point on the Lewisham side and squeezing between some broken railings a view of the newly emergent Border Ditch was possible.  There is a noticeable valley although during a relatively dry early autumn relatively little water. From this point, it is likely that the Ditch continued downhill until it met the Quaggy; it isn’t possible to be certain though as the imposing railway embankment obliterated contour lines past.

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Railway engineers appear to have taken the Ditch on a slightly more circuitous journey in creating a new confluence with the Quaggy. The course they chose for it would have seen the Ditch empty into the Quaggy close to the bridge in the southern part of Chinbrook Meadows – source Creative Commons.

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While the line to Bromley North was later added, the course doesn’t seem to have altered – source Creative Commons, National Library of Scotland.

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The stream seems to have been slightly moved north east at a later date to hug the edge of the embankment and emptying into the Quaggy just after the latter enters the tunnel under the main line.

The re-emergence into the open  is a rather desultory one, exiting from its concrete casing into what was more reminiscent of a drain than a stream.  There was little sign of movement in the ominous looking muddy water.  It wasn’t even easy to see, hidden behind stout metal Network Rail fencing preventing any ne’er do wells having access to the embankment from the south westerly part of Chinbrook Meadows.

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The emergent Ditch trickles slightly downhill for almost a hundred metres towards its final destination – its confluence with the Quaggy.  The coming together of the flows is rather lacking in distinction too, there is a twist to force the Ditch down and almost back upon itself to meet the Quaggy with the all the force of a tap with low water pressure.  My failed attempts to photograph the junction were even less impressive than the reality.

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The good news is that there are plans afoot to try to make the last few metres of the ‘Ditch’ slightly more alluring, while the aesthetics will be improved considerably, the real reason is to install a sustainable drainage system (SuDS) which would enable water to run through a series of pools planted with native marshland plants that will naturally filter the water reducing the potential pollution impact of the ‘Ditch.’  I am no expert on gauging water quality by sight, but it didn’t look good.

While Border Ditch isn’t currently worth much of a trek, Chinbrook Meadows is a different matter, it is a lovely park – one of my Lewisham favourites.  It was the site of a small dairy farm, Chinbrook Farm – the park first opening in 1929 and being considerably extended eight years later.  The Quaggy was channelised early in the ‘Meadow’s’ existence and, from memory, large fences and hedges partially hid the river (they still do on its exit).  The river was freed into a more natural gently meandering course with more natural planting and access after works that were completed in 2002.

© Derek Harper, Creative Commons

If you recognise some of the latter photos and text, that would not be surprising, I have previously attributed them to a different stream – one I referred to as Grove Park Ditch (West).  Border Ditch is referred to as that, without the locational suffix, by the Environment Agency. However, having spent an age following flows and contours on old OS Maps I am now pretty certain that the outflow is that of Border Ditch, I am in pretty good company here – my view is shared by the sadly departed fellow fluvial flâneur, Ken White.

The area is no stranger to artificial boundaries – around quarter of a mile away from the source of Border Ditch there was the infamous wall of Alexandra Crescent.  It was built by the developer of a private road in 1926 to prevent those on the Downham Estate being able to walk through the new middle class housing towards Bromley.  It never had planning permission, but the over two metre boundary, topped with broken glass was to last until 1950. (More information & picture source)

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The Ordnance Survey note boundary markers both within the Chinbrook Meadows and at the bottom of Oakbrook Close.  They seem to no longer exist – I certainly couldn’t find them and they haven’t been spotted by a follower of the blog who is tracker of boundary markers – the earliest maps note they were on trees though so even if the trees are still there the marks probably won’t be – however, nowhere did I see any arboreal girth approaching 200 year years (a substantial tree in 1860 plus the intervening time period)…

Back to the Border Ditch, it is no longer the border for much its last few metres, the Local Government Boundary Commission agreed to requests from both Bromley and Lewisham to shift the boundary to the far side  of the railway in 1991.  The dashed line is the ‘new’ boundary; the non-dashed one the pre-1991 boundary.  So it seems that the watershed is probably the only definitely fixed boundary – boroughs and counties are man-made constructs and as we have seen even streams change course, in this case diverted at least.

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