Tag Archives: Burnt Ash Farm

Wood Burning, Farming & Dairy Crest – The Story of Burnt Ash Farm

Burnt Ash Farm, stood at what is now a busy road junction – that of Baring Road and St Mildred’s Road.  The site has an interesting history – it moved from medieval settlement to being a farm, to a dairy in the 1920s, being taken over by United Dairies, before being sold to Dairy Crest in the 1990s.  It survived attempts to turn it into a Big Yellow Storage facility before being developed for social housing around 2013.

The farm wasn’t always on Baring Road, until the beginning of the 20th century it was known as Burnt Ash Lane (it still is on the Bromley side of the border) – the Barings (Northbrooks) were the local landowners who owned the Manor House and whose wealth had its roots in slavery.  It wasn’t always in that location either, it was originally located in Old Road, Lee, almost certainly situated at what is now the Lee Manor House and was known as Lee Farm; it seems to have moved around 1727 (1).  It was farmed by Thomas Butler, who is buried at St Margaret’s Lee, having died in 1733.

It was a substantial farm at this stage, its land running from around what is now Lee High Road to the current Grove Park (2).  The farm seems to have been split after Thomas Butler’s death between two of his sons with the dividing line being drawn around St Mildred’s Road (3) – Matthew who stayed at Burnt Ash Farm and James who set up a new farm, Lee Manor Farm, around the junction of Manor Lane and Manor Lane Terrace (4).   Running Past will return to Lee Manor Farm in the future.

The farm buildings at Burnt Ash were clearly marked on John Roque’s 1746 map (on a Creative Commons via Wikipedia).

It wasn’t the first settlement to have been found on the Burnt Ash site, during archaeological investigation works in 2012 on the site was found to have had a

series of pits, postholes and ditches indicating that people were living and probably working on the site in the 12th century. The majority of the finds are shards of pottery from serving and cooking vessels that were manufactured in Surrey. This indicates that trade routes may be focussed to the southwest rather than the City of London.

Whether this early settlement was abandoned soon after this, or perhaps as a result of the Black Death is unclear – an early incarnation of Hither Green, Rumbergh, disappeared at this point.  Certainly woodland covered the area from the 14th century until the early 18th century.

The name, Burnt Ash, comes from coppicing of wood for charcoal manufacture and was first mentioned in Assize Rents in 1384 and in a 1607 description of Lee Farm, with a section of Woodland called Crabland Spring. Certainly by the time Rocque surveyed the area, the woodland was gone.

Returning to Burnt Ash Farm, the farm was further subdivided in the early part of the 19th century (5), presumably after the Barings bought both the Manor House and the land portfolio that had been put together for and by Thomas Lucas.  The history of the farm during the first half of the century seems a little sketchy – but it was still a substantial operation of 367 acres in the 1839 tithe schedule, when the farmer was Richard Norman.

While the location of most of the fields is unclear, Josephine Birchenough with John King identified the locations of some of the fields – Grass Buntins was broadly where Northbrook Park now is (6), Red Robin was on the western side of Baring Road (7); Ivory Down and Buntins were roughly where the Hither Green Cemetery is now (8).  Ivory Down lives on in a road name on the Downham estate.

Norman had certainly been at the farm for at least a couple of years before the Tithe schedule was compiled, as he had been the farmer when the ‘unfortunate Mr Cocking’ was to become the first parachute death when his own design failed to work and he hurtled to his death on the farm – the sad story was covered in Running Past a couple of years ago.

Richard Norman was move on from the farm in 1844 – there was a farm sale of some of the livestock and equipment – oddly advertised as ‘Live and dead farming stock’ (9).

It isn’t clear who was farming there in the 1851 census as records are a little confused, however, by 1861 census two farmers are listed at the start of Burnt Ash Lane in the census records – the Adams and the Uptons.  Thomas Adams, born in 1806 was listed as a ‘farmer of Farmer of 72 Acres employing 3 Men’ (the acreage is probably incorrectly recorded – it may have been 272) and his family including Edward (1837) who was also working on the farm.  The three employed may have included some of the Uptons – this included John who was 69 ‘Farmer No Occupation at Place’ and his son Stephen 45 who was listed as a farmer and dairyman.  The Upton left during the 1860s – they were to move onto Durham Farm at Grove Park – where they stayed until at least 1901.

The Adams too moved on soon after the census, as by the mid-1860s Zephaniah Seal seemed to be the tenant farmer as there were several cases involving the theft of a horse, embezzlement and theft of hay in the mid-1860s when he was listed as farmer or master. Seal’s father, John, had earlier been a dairyman on the farm.  Seal had been previously living with his parents in Lee Church Street.

William Winn certainly acted as bailiff or manager for the Seals for a while, he was in the area and possibly at the Farm from around 1850 as his younger children were born around Lee – he was mentioned in one of the court cases and died at the Farm in 1863.  He may have inspired the street name Winn’s Road – although the local resource on the derivations of Lewisham street names is silent on this (10). The farm and the newly built Lee station are shown on the map below published in 1870 (on Creative Commons from National Library of Scotland).

Zephaniah Seal’s brother, Charles Frederick (1827) was listed as the farmer in the 1871 census with William Warwick living in a cottage on the farm – there is no trace of Charles after that, although Zephaniah was back at Lee Church Street in the 1880s on electoral registers.

Charles Seal had moved on by 1874, at the latest – another Adams family were farming Burnt Ash Farm, Thomas who hailed from Leighton Buzzard, one of his children were born on the Farm in 1874. The farm was listed in the census as 274 acres and employing six men and two boys.

It is not clear how long the Adams Family stayed but by 1893, there were two registered cow houses at the farm – one run by Cordwell and Sons the other by W. H. Carter – the farm was still owned by the Northbrooks. By the early 20th century the farm was being run and probably owned by the Edwards family –  Public Health Reports listed them having 56 cows Burnt Ash Farm – they were being farmed as a joint operation with a few other local farms including College Farm – covered before in the blog.   Edwards and Sons were a relatively large scale dairy enterprise with 60 shops around SE London. Some of the fields still farmed at that stage are in the postcard below (eBay November 2016).

The Edwards tenure seems to have lasted until Burnt Ash Farm closed in the 1920s and their shop operation appears to have been taken over by United Dairies.  What happened the Farm is a little sketchy after that – the buildings seem to have been retained (they were still showing on a 1946 published Ordnance Survey map) and it was controlled by the Milk Marketing Board, probably still as a dairy.  However, during the 1950s, the milk depot was largely re-built (although a couple of the farm buildings were retained (11)) and was initially operated by United Dairies – at its peak they ran 54 rounds with milk floats going out on their rounds by 6:30, returning by early afternoon. It served a large area of south London with deliveries going as far as Waterloo Bridge, Sydenham, Bromley and Woolwich.  The milk float below is typical of United Dairies, although not specific to Lee (12).  United Dairies merged with Cow and Gate to become Unigate in 1959.

In a contracting sector there was some rationalisation and the depot was sold to and run by Dairy Crest from 1989 until its closure in September 2000. By that stage only 25 rounds were still in place when the milk float, like this one below (13) pulled out of Baring Road for the last time.

After the closure the site was demolished in 2001 and there were attempts by the Big Yellow Self Storage Company to build a warehouse on the site.   There was long running opposition to proposals which were finally defeated at Lewisham’s Planning Committee in 2006. In the end Big Yellow built on a site at the Land of Leather/Cliftons Roundabout a mile further along the road.

The site was eventually purchased by developers who developed the site on behalf of a housing association with work finished in late 2013.  It is one of the more attractive recent housing developments in the area, although the duck egg blue glazed balcony panels on will probably make it quite easy to date for future architectural historians.

A postscript to the post

One of the people who made the housing association scheme happen was my friend Martyn Brindley, Martyn was a lovely man with a great commitment to high quality social housing which both looked good and worked well for the residents.  Sadly, Martyn died a few weeks after I wrote this post – hopefully this scheme and several others in the area will be fitting and lasting tributes to him.

Notes

  1. Josephine Birchenough (1981) Some Farms and Fields in Lee p4
  2. ibid p 4
  3. ibid p6
  4. ibid p6
  5. ibid p10
  6. ibid p35
  7. ibid p25
  8. ibid p23
  9. West Kent Guardian 21 September 1844 – via Find My Past
  10. Joan Read (1990) Lewisham Street Names and Their Origins
  11. Read, op cit, p11
  12. Both pictures of milk floats are copyright of and published with kind permission of a specialist milk floats site – Milk Float Corner
  13. ibid

Census and related data comes via Find My Past 

 

 

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Dairy Farming in Lee – College Farm

Running Past has covered several of the farms of Lee that predated the gradual encroachment of the city – Lee Green Farm, Horn Park Farm, Woodman’s Farm and the slightly smaller operation of Butterfield Dairy.  College Farm is a farm that the blog has mentioned a few times before in passing and was to be the final home of the large scale Lee farmer, William Morris (sometimes called Morriss) who ran both Lee Green and Horn Park Farms for many years. College Farm was a largely dairy farm which stood on the western side of Burnt Ash Hill, located roughly where Farmcote Road now meets Burnt Ash Hill.

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Before continuing, College Farm should not be confused with a farm of the same name on Lewisham High Street which was farmed latterly by the Clarks who end up at the close by Butterfield Dairy..

The land for the farm has its roots in the early 17th century, it was bought by Henry Howard, the Earl of Northampton to help provide income for Trinity Hospital in Greenwich which was founded in 1613 (there was a post on the blog in 2015 on Trinity Hospital) (1).  The land was initially woodland, but like most of the woodland in Lee it was probably felled for farmland during the 17th century.  It was managed on behalf of Trinity Hospital by the Mercers Company (2).

The farm was referred to, although not by name, in the 1839 tithe schedule.  While the land is noted in the tithe schedule as being owned by the Mercers Company, this is probably a mistake (3).

In 1839, College Farm was being farmed at part of the large portfolio of land which William Morris leased in the area – Running Past has covered Morris in some detail in a post on Lee Green Farm.  It was listed in the 1839 Lee Tithe schedule as being of 61 acres – it was mainly set to pasture as part of Morris’ extensive dairy operation.  Some fields had some rather attractive names such as Little Climbrooks (see below – source).

College Farm 3

In his latter years Morris was to make College Farm his home, passing away there in early 1851.  His second wife, Susannah, continued to hold the farm for another 4 years – she surrendered the lease in 1855 to William Brown (4).  It appears that by 1893 Brown was the freeholder, but it may have been much earlier than this.

College Farm 4

There was an attempt to let the farm house separate to the farm, presumably by William Brown in 1862 (5).  Whether this was successful or not is unclear, but by 1871 the Bowditchs were listed in the  census as living at College Farm, Kerslake Terrace. The father of the family was away on business on census night and doesn’t appear in subsequent censuses.  Charles Edward Bowditch was living there with his mother, Anne, his cousin and a Dutch visitor.  The family seems to have been around Lee since at least the Morris’ time, as Charles was born there in 1851.

There were three other households in Kerslake Terrace in 1871 which appears to have been the name of the workers cottages on or adjacent to the farm, they were given the similar ‘Karslake’ name in 1881.

It seems that the farm was run for a while as a joint enterprise between Charles and, presumably, his brother Stephen (born 1852) but this was ended in 1879.  Stephen carried on as a dairy farmer, based at 2, The Limes, Lee in 1881.  Charles stayed on at College Farm, having married Caroline from Cambridgeshire in 1878.

Like many modern farms, College Farm tried to diversify – it offered ‘board and residence’ in The Standard a couple of times in October 1881 – interestingly Lee was still regarded as ‘very pretty country’ at that stage (6).

College Farm 5

The Bowditches remained at the farm during the latter part of the 19th century – in 1891 there was Charles, Caroline, four daughters along with Ann(e). By the 1911 census Charles seems to have retired he and had moved to Wisteria Road in Lewisham, his occupation is listed both as ‘none’ and ‘dairy farmer’ so it is probably reasonable to assume that the 60 year old Charles had retired.  He passed away in 1915.

College Farm 1

The presumably shrinking farm was taken over by the Edwards Family – Public Health Reports listed them having 36 cows in 1913 along with 56 at Burnt Ash Farm – they were being farmed together, along with a few other local farms.  It seems likely that by this stage that the College Farm was just being used for milking and storage (7) – there is a photo above of some rather dilapidated looking buildings on the farm from that era (see notes for source).  The Edwards and Sons were a relatively large scale dairy enterprise with 60 shops around SE London – the family name continued to be used for a while after it was taken over by United Dairies (8) in 1927.  The photo below is a field from the farm from around this time  (see notes for source).

College Farm 2

The numbers were the same in 1919 but reports after that don’t list the dwindling number of dairy operations – which halved between 1919 and 1924 to just six, it probably didn’t include College Farm though.

The encroachment of suburbanisation continued apace in Lee as the series of maps below from 1867, 1893 and 1914 show (all on a creative commons from the National Library of Scotland).  By the next time the cartographers visited in the 1930s to update the maps the farm was gone – 1920s and 1930s terraces and semis were to sweep away most the remaining farmland in the area – as we saw with Wates development of the neighbouring Melrose/Woodman’s Farm.  It is likely that the developer was a local builder that we have covered before, W J Scudamore and Sons, part of what was referred to as the Northbrook Estate – Farmcote Road began to be developed in 1925 (9) .

img_2917

 

Notes

  1. Josephine Birchenough (1981) Some Farms and Fields in Lee p13
  2. ibid p13
  3. ibid p13
  4. Like much of the family detail on William Morris – this information comes via a comment to the blog on the post on William Morris and Lee Green Farm
  5. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Apr 16, 1862; pg. 6
  6. The Standard (London, England), Thursday, October 13, 1881; pg. 8; Issue 17858.
  7. Birchenough op cit p13
  8. Ibid p 11
  9. Joan Read (1990) Lewisham Street Names and Their Origins p22

The last two photographs are  produced courtesy of Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre.  The census and related information generally comes from Find My Past although some relating to William Morris comes from a comment by Mike on the Lee Green Farm post.

‘Death by Falling from the Clouds’ in Lee

Burnt Ash Farm, which was around what is now the junction of St Mildred’s Road and Baring Road, has a somewhat odd historical claim in that it was the scene of the first fatal parachute jump.

Robert Cocking was a watercolour artist by trade, but had spent years attempting to develop a parachute and on 24 July 1837 its maiden flight was planned from Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, which by that stage had been re-badged the The Royal Vauxhall Gardens.

A lot was made of the launch – the public were allowed to inspect the 107 foot perimeter parachute, there were bands and an orchestra, and the parachute was to be launched from the Great Nassau balloon which was piloted by, perhaps, the best known balloonist of his generation – Charles Green.

It was planned to get the parachute to around 8,000 feet (about 2,400 metres), but the weight of the parachute with the basket below prevented this and at less than half this height Cocking was released from the balloon over Greenwich. The balloon, without the weight of Cocking’s contraption, rapidly ascended, however the parachute plummeted turning inside out and breaking apart before crash landing in Lee.

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John Chamberlain, a shepherd at Burnt Ash Farm was a witness to the crash and the events leading up to it with the rapidly falling parachute making a sound like ‘thunder’ and the sight of the the crash ‘quite turned him’. Others appeared on the scene quite quickly, including Richard Norman. the proprietor of Burnt Ash Farm, and the battered Cocking was taken to the previous incarnation of the (Old) Tiger’s Head, where he died soon after.  There have been suggestions that while those finding him were from Burnt Ash Farm, that he may have actually landed in a field of a neighbouring farm – Lee Green Farm (the story of the farm was covered in the blog in 2016).

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The original (Old) Tigers Head, built in the 1730s (1) and demolished in the early 1890s – from information board at Lee Green.

The detail of the post-mortem was published in The Lancet, which covered the horrendous extent of Cocking’s injuries in some detail. The Lancet though was damning of the enterprise, describing the parachute as a ‘suicidal machine’

The instrument of death was simply a canvas toy, constructed in ignorance, and used with the hardihood which might distinguish an unfortunate being who contemplated his own destruction by extraordinary and wonder exciting means ….

The inquest was held at the (Old) Tiger’s Head at Lee Green, the report in The Times noted that (2)

cocking times 1

These conclusions seems somewhat harsh, the paths trodden by pioneers of most means of transport were, and still are, fraught with danger. Cocking in trying and failing with an unusual design made it easier for those who came after to learn from his mistakes and was probably fully aware of the risks of failure.

It is worth noting a comment from the coroner about the innkeeper, Thomas Sears, who had charged sixpence to see the badly injured corpse of Robert Cocking’s body; the coroner found the scheme “deserving of peculiar censure and deprecation.” Some of Cocking’s clothing and pieces of the parachute also disappeared whilst in Sear’s charge (3).

Cocking was buried in the old St Margaret’s Lee Churchyard on Belmont Hill, close to the Astronomer Royal, Sir Edmund Halley – whose grave the blog visited a while ago, whilst following the Prime Meridian.

img_2271

The crash left Cocking’s family almost destitute as a ‘begging’ letter in The Times noted just after the inquest (4).

cocking times 2

Notes

  1. Kincaid, D (2001) ‘Lee Races’ Lewisham History Journal No 9
  2. The Times (London, England), Saturday, Jul 29, 1837; pg. 6; Issue 16481
  3. Kincaid op cit
  4.   The Times (London, England), Monday, Jul 31, 1837; pg. 4; Issue 16482