Tag Archives: Brandram Road

The First Night of the Blitz in Lee, Hither Green, Catford and Lewisham

The afternoon of 7 September 1940 saw wartime football matches at the Valley, where Charlton lost 4-2 to Millwall, and a few miles away Crystal Palace beat yet to be rivals Brighton 5-2 in the wartime South Regional Competition.  The almost normality was about to come to a shuddering halt with the first raids of the Blitz, when German bombers came ‘en masse’ on a Saturday afternoon, some up the Thames, some from the south – it was to be the start of eight months heavy bombing of London.

A Heinkel He 111 bomber flying over the Thames at the start of the Luftwaffe’s evening raids of 7 September 1940

One of the waves came over the Surrey hills and were recalled by a then young cyclist

It was the most amazing, impressive, riveting sight …Directly above me were literally hundreds of planes … the sky was full of them. Bombers hemmed in with fighters, like bees around their queen…

Running Past has covered many of the V-1 and V-2 attacks of the second half of the war – including ones in Lewisham High Street, Lewisham Hill, Hither Green Station (pictured below) and Blackheath Village.  On the 80th anniversary of the start of the Blitz it seems appropriate to reflect on what happened that afternoon and into the early hours of the Sunday. We’ll look at that the first night of the Blitz from the perspective of the Lee, Catford and Lewisham areas that Running Past generally focuses on.  Hither Green largely escaped that first night with one significant exception a partial collapse of the railway bridge on Ennersdale Road with 20 injured and several trapped at around 20:25 which was noted in the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Log.

For many of the other attacks on the area, Running Past has used the ARP log for the old Borough of Lewisham.  However, in the early days of the Blitz the records seemed to be only partial, they seemed to be overwhelmed by incidents. There is better documentation for that first night in the records of the London Fire Brigade which are part of the collection of the Metropolitan Archives.  There were typed official green slips record each incident and a separate bound volume listing all the fires attended.  These were all pulled together for the 70th anniversary and a datasheet published in The Guardian, and elsewhere.  As we shall see though, even these aren’t perfect, serious incidents to homes in Limes Grove, Lewisham Road and Ennersdale Road railway bridge were not included.

The data shows the sheer scale of the attacks on the dockland communities on both sides of the Thames from late afternoon onwards, with a second wave of attacks from around 8:30 pm – seemingly the fires from the first attacks helping guide the Luftwaffe for a renewed onslaught as the natural light faded.  The attacks will have seen Londoners scurrying to their shelters – both household ones and communal ones such as those in Manor House Gardens and lots in the streets around Lewisham High Street.

The first bombs in the area – seemed to have been on Lewisham High Street furniture suppliers, Bolsom Brothers which was ‘severely damaged’ at 16:14 and the same with part of Chiesmans department store six minutes later.

There were a series of reports at 17:55, around Blackheath and Lee with damage to three houses in Brandram Road, including number 30, the original house is no longer there.  The ARP log noted another incident in a similar location around 19:09 but this could well have been the same one.  A couple of bombs failed to explode at the almshouses – given the communal shelter there (pictured below) there could have been a large loss of life had they exploded.

Around 20 minutes later 51-57 Lewisham Hill were hit – the damage noted in the Fire Brigade reports was to contents rather than the structure.  However, they were all marked as badly damaged in the LCC Bomb Damage maps – a mixture of repairable at cost, damaged beyond repair and completely destroyed, so either the Fire Brigade reports were incorrect or they were hit again either later in the Blitz or during the sporadic attacks that preceded the V-1 flying bombs – one of which caused enormous damage a little further down the Hill.  53 (the Victorian house and 55-57 are pictured below)

Bombers returned to Brandram Road at 18.31 with damage to 1, 2 and 4 although fortunately not the adjacent church – the worst damage seems to have been to a garage at number 2.

The second wave of attacks started from around 8:30 pm, and for the first few hours Lee, Catford, Hither Green and Lewisham were ignored with the much of the firepower being targeted on Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth areas.  By around 10:30 though dockland areas were re-targeted and half an hour later bombs started falling on Catford and Lee.

At 11:00 pm here was some limited damage to 34 Winn Road, part on an estate built by Wates just before the war; with an incendiary bomb being dropped on a nearby field in Alnwick Road. Around the same time an incendiary bomb fell in the street on Glenton Road, seemingly outside Holy Trinity Church – the extensive damage to the church was to come later in the Blitz. A bit further south ‘slight damage’ was recorded to 31-37 Abernethy Road, part of the late Victorian Firs Estate (top picture below).

The bombers returned to the skies above Abernethy Road around 11:45 pm, possibly ‘guided’ by a fire from the previous attack – the Fire Brigade report suggested that four houses of 41-47 were ‘severely damaged.’ As that numbering didn’t exist – in reality, these were almost certainly houses on Manor Lane Terrace about 30 metres away (lower picture above).  The damage to 31-37 seems much more serious than recorded and both groups of houses had been demolished by 1949. Neither site seemed to have been big enough for prefabs and the Victorian housing was replaced with council homes in the 1950s or 1960s.

In the early hours of Sunday morning the Luftwaffe turned some of their attention to Catford and the streets to the south of Brownhill Road.  The first attacks were at 0:18 and 0:20 on 141 Braidwood and 129 Killearn Roads, both suffered roof damage from an incendiary bomb – any sign of which was hidden behind a replaced roof and rendering.  At around the same time another incendiary hit a shed at Sandhurst Road School – the target of a much worse attack in early 1943 and there was some damage to 54 Laleham Road from another incendiary.

Twenty seven minutes past midnight saw an explosive bomb hit Jutland Road with seventeen houses damaged, several seriously – while some of the houses were repairable others weren’t with three houses being rebuilt (see below) – not in the style of the immediate post-war council housing so, presumably, private sector housing.

There was slight roof damage, now not obvious, from incendiary bombs to 86 Torridon and 91 Ardgowan Roads (the latter may have been hit twice as there was another report for it at 1:10 am) at the same time with some damage to fences to a couple of houses in Fordel Road. A few minutes afterwards saw the front bedroom of 127 Minard Road ‘severely damaged.’  The house was rebuilt well, with no obvious damage visible from the outside.

In between these attacks there had been an explosive bomb dropped on Sportsbank Street, which still had the stand for the former velodrome being used as warehousing, which damaged three houses, and ‘severely damaged’ three others – probably at the Laleham Road end.  The homes were rebuilt as council housing after the war (see below).

A few minutes earlier, at 138 Engleheart Road had been hit by an explosive bomb leaving two houses destroyed and two damaged beyond repair.  At 140 Ellen Moseley (37) was injured and died later in Lewisham Hospital – she was living in Hythe in Kent in 1939.  Again the homes were rebuilt post war.

Not every incident was recorded, and this was the case with the two in Lewisham where there was the biggest loss of life in the first night of the Blitz. The first of these was the bombing of 159 Lewisham Road (opposite Connington Road) where five died. Neville (20), Gwendoline (19) and Hilda Osborne (16) along with Charles Smith (23) and Christine Smith (nee Osborne – 24) who had married a few weeks before the bombing. They were all living at 213 Algernon Road in 1939 – Gwendoline  was a Photographic Clerk and Hilda an accounts assistant. Charles Smith was a Mechanical Engineering Draughtsman at the War Office as well as being in the Home Guard.

Despite the deaths and probable large amount of damage, the house (pictured above) was probably repaired during the war – it was marked on the LCC Bomb Damage Maps as orange – ‘general blast damage, not structural.’

The second unrecorded incident leading to significant loss of life was about half a mile further south; it seems that at some point during the night that 43 and 45 Limes Grove was hit. At 43 (the left of the houses below), Mayhew Edith Spedding died aged 56; she was the wife of George Spedding who was First Mate on a ship. In the 1939 Register she was listed there with George and what seem to have either been a couple of lodgers or it was a shared flat. It was a house that was split into two flats. Edith was badly injured in the bombing and later died at Lewisham Hospital.

Next door at 45, which was also two flats, lived the Bennions; both Edith Bennion (53) and her son William Arthur Bennion (18) were badly injured in the explosion, and like Mayhew next door, died later in hospital. They were survived by William Henry Bennion a mail porter and a school age daughter, also called Edith.

Lewisham had got off lightly compared with other areas, 11 deaths from the 430 who perished on that first night.  The all clear was sounded at around 5:00 am on the Sunday morning.  The respite was short though bombers arrived again over London the following night and did so every day/night for about two months and off and on for eight months.  Catford, Lee and Hither Green weren’t attacked every night but there will be more posts on the Blitz over the next few months.

The bombings changed the urban landscape, not as dramatically as they did in areas around the Thames, but most streets in the area have bits of post-war council housing amidst the Victorian terraces.  Most will tell a story of a family displaced and possibly injuries and deaths as a result.

Credits

Most of the information for this post comes from four sources:

The football results are from The Times of 9 September 1940.

Picture Credits

  • The Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses air raid shelter is from the collection of Lewisham Archives, it is used with their permission and remains their copyright;
  • The Heinkel He 111 bomber flying over the Thames is from Wikipedia and is on a Creative Commons
  • The Hither Green Station V-1 photograph part of the Imperial War Museum collection (produced here on a Creative Commons)
  • The rest are copyright of the author and are usable elsewhere, attributed, on a non-commercial basis.

 

The Almshouses of Lee Part 2

A few months ago Running Past covered the two Boone’s Chapels on Lee High Road, both chapels had almshouses attached to them and in a recent post last week we looked at the almshouses themselves. Behind the Grade I listed Boone’s Chapel, set back from Lee High Road, are the best known some of the best known almshouses in South East London, Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses.

Like much of the area around Old Road, the land currently used by the Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses on Brandram Road, has its roots in the piecemeal sell off of the land that was once belonged to Lee Place in 1824. Several of the plots were bought by the Worshipful Company of the Merchant Taylors’ for almshouses.

The Company was one of the livery companies of the City of London; as the name implies it was first an association of tailors, but this connection had virtually ended by the close of the 17th century and it had become a philanthropic and social association.

The almshouses built in 1826 were the third generation of almshouses – the first had been built next door to Merchant Taylors’ Hall in Threadneedle Street, and dated from the mid 14th century. The second edition was close to Tower Hill on land occupied by the railway into Fenchurch Street and DLR into Tower Hill.

The 1826 almshouses were designed by William Jupp, the Younger, who was the architect and surveyor to the Merchant Taylors’ Company. His uncle was Richard Jupp, who designed Lee Manor House.

The 34 almshouses, two behind each door, are Grade II listed and described by Cherry and Pevsner (1) as:

Large, on three sides of an open quadrangle, stock brick, sparsely classical, with a central feature emphasised by a pediment and cupola.

The almshouses have a walled garden with a lawn sloping down to a small dip which once contained the original course of Mid Kid Brook which was dammed around the border with Brandram Road to form a boating lake – latterly known as the Mirror of Lee. It is surrounded by mature trees and shrubs which make photography difficult.  The impressive gatehouse (pictured below) was added in the 1850s.

Having looked at the Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses, we return to the Boone’s almshouses, as was noted in the previous post, the second version of them was replaced in 1963 in Belmont Park and known as Christopher Boone’s Almshouses. The area around there had been devastated by a pair of V-1 flying bombs, and the land to the north and east was covered with a large concentration of prefab bungalows. A slightly larger area was cleared for what became the Mercator Estate, which included an old people’s home. The almshouses site saw demolition of Victorian houses, which had suffered some damage in the Blitz. They are pictured in the bottom right hand corner of the aerial photograph from 1939 (just above the Patterson Edwards factory).

The number of almshouses increased from the 12 on Lee High Road to 29 one-bedroom houses and bungalows along with two staff units, originally for a matron and a gardener. The selection criteria for residents were less onerous than those of Trinity Hospital in Greenwich, requiring applicants to have lived for at least five years in the Borough of Lewisham or Greenwich; preference was given though to applicants from the former parish of Lee.  

The high walled development had an attractive gatehouse and, from the outside at least, looked a pleasant development. However, unlike the other variants of the Merchant Taylors’ managed almshouses in Lee, their life was a relatively short one – the relatively steeply sloping site proved to be a struggle for an ageing population with increasing mobility issues and letting the almshouses became problematic.

Plans were submitted in 2010 for the demolition of the 1963 site to be replaced by a much denser development – the 29 homes have become 62, with 32 being returned to The Merchant Taylors’ Boone’s Charity (the two charities merged in 2010). The remainder were sold to cross subsidise the re-provision of ‘state-of-the-art, fully-accessible and fully-adaptable almshouses;’ since 2010 there has been little grant funding for social housing and sales were, at the time, the only way to make this type of development ‘work’ financially.

To qualify for a home there the allocations criteria you would need to be …

• a peaceful, considerate person committted to getting on well with your neighbours
• in need of high quality housing in Lewisham
• aged at least 57
• capable of independent living; and
• can’t afford to buy

So what of the 1826 version? The residents were relocated to the new Blessington Road site with the Grade II listed buildings struggling to cope with those with reduced mobility who may require wheelchairs or motorised buggies. They currently stand empty and from the Brandram Road side look rather dilapidated; they are occupied by property guardians – with a notice on the listed entrance. Planning permission was granted in 2010 to build 5 houses, either side of the the southern most block, immediately behind Boone’s Chapel. In 2015 further permission was granted to reduce the number of almshouses – largely by knocking the ‘pairs’ behind each front door together. Both of these Planning Permissions will have lapsed at the time of writing in spring 2020, with no new permissions having been sought. The intention though presumably remains the refurbishment and sale of the Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses on a long leasehold basis – part of the cross subsidisation of the ‘state of the art’ version.

Notes

  1. Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner (1983) The Buildings of England – London 2: South p426

 

Credits

  • The 1939 aerial photograph is via the fantastic Britain from Above, its use is allowed in non-commercial blogs such as Running Past, it remains their copyright
  • The photograph of the 1963 scheme is via Google Streetview