Tag Archives: Catford

Suffragette City – The Attacks on Lewisham’s Post Office

During recent months Running Past has celebrated the work of Lewisham’s suffragettes both individually – looking at May Billinghurst, Eugenia Bouvier, Caroline Townsend and Clara Lambert, and collectively in the first of a series of ‘Suffragette City’ posts in Lee and Hither Green, all being brought together on a Lewisham Suffragettes page

This post continues with this, looking at the repeated attacks on Lewisham Post Office, Sorting Office and neighbouring pillar boxes within Lewisham Town Centre by Lewisham’s militant suffragettes, presumably members of the Lewisham branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

The main Post Office, marked PO above, was in roughly the same location as its last independent location, in Lewisham High Street within the market.  The sorting office was more or less opposite behind 108 Lewisham High Street – this is now land covered by the Lewisham Shopping Centre and would have been close to the current location of the residual Post Office within W H Smiths.

Oddly, the suffragettes weren’t the first to attack Lewisham Post Office; as Running Past has already covered, Rolla Richards, a Deptford Anarchist with mental health issues had attacked it in 1896 along with several other local Post Offices.

Before looking at the attacks, it is worth looking, briefly, at the history of and reasons given for damage to and destruction of property by militant suffragettes. The WSPU had believed in Direct Action almost from its formation in 1903 – Emmeline Pankhurst had disrupted a Liberal meeting in 1904.  The move to greater militancy and targeted damage to property seems to have been born out of a frustration with lack of progress, not just since 1903, but for a generation before. Despite a majority of MPs elected in 1906 supporting women’s suffrage Asquith (Liberal Prime Minister and opponent of women’s suffrage) contrived to ensure that Bills were never enacted.  This came to a head between 1911 and 1913 with levels of militant activity increasing dramatically.  There were also serious concerns about the extent to which the initial form of protest, demonstrations, were being met with considerable brutality by the police – notably Black Friday and events the following week in late 1910.

One of the first examples of a more direct approach was by a woman with a Greenwich link, Edith New, who smashed windows in Downing Street in 1908. This remained a rarity until 1911, but the following year 240 women were sent to prison for smashing windows, arson and pillar box ‘outrages.’

So why were the Post Office and pillar boxes targets? Presumably it was because they are obvious institutions of the state, resplendent with the mark of the monarch and would disproportionately impact on the wealthy, business and the Government. In practice, it was at least partially targeting those who were denying women the vote. One of the first recorded incidents was in 1911 when Emily Wilding Davison attacked three post boxes in late 1911 including one in Parliament Square. It started to be used on a larger, more coordinated scale in November 1912.

The post box at the main Lewisham Post Office (pictured above) was attacked on 17 December 1912, the same evening at several others in Lewisham, Lee, Hither Green and Blackheath – after the latter attack May Billinghurst and Grace Mitchell were arrested. A black, tar-like, substance was poured into the box, damaging letters (1).

There was to be another ‘pillar box outrage’ at the Lewisham Post Office on 3 May 1913 when a packet of partially burnt gunpowder was found, it had only ‘partially fired’ and around 30 letters were damaged (2).

In September 1913 there was a significant explosion and fire there, which ’caused some alarm.’ A loud bang was heard in the market and then (3)

a portion of the letter box fell into street and this was immediately followed by flames bursting from inside. The fire spread to other parts of the building which was quickly alight…..By the time the firemen arrived (from Lee Green and Ladywell) the flames had got a firm hold of a section of the premises and their efforts were directed at confining the fire to as limited an area as possible.

It took around 45 minutes to put the fire out although the local newspaper report suggested that there was relatively little damage to the building itself (4).

As the local press noted, by this stage it was obvious that the Post Office was ‘steadily becoming the objective of malicious suffragette activity in this neighbourhood.'(5). What was perhaps more surprising was that the attack in September 1913 was immediately after a public meeting in the market, which would probably have had a relatively high police presence and that no one seemed to have been watching what had become a clear target.

Less than a month later there was an almost repeat at around 7:00 pm on a Saturday evening in early October 1913 a loud explosion occurred at the Post Office and moments later flames were seen to be coming from the letter box. A large crowd gathered and while the flames were put out quickly hundreds of letters were damaged or destroyed (6).

Late in 1913 wax vesta matches and gunpowder were found in the post box at the Post Office, but they failed to explode.  The same evening there was also an attack on a pillar box in Lee High Road, that too failed to ignite as intended (7).

There was a further attack on Saturday April 18 1914 when phosphorous in an envelope and a cycle tyre containing a black liquid, wrapped in ‘The Suffragette’, was pushed through the letter box at Lewisham Post Office. The same evening an envelope containing sulphur was put in a post box at 160 Rushey Green (above). The damage on this occasion was quite limited.

As for the Lewisham Post Office while the attempts to destroy it, initially by Rolla Richards and then suffragettes, failed – it was very badly damaged in the V-1 attack on 28 July 1944 (it is on the right edge of the photograph above). It was initially rebuilt as a Post Office after the war although is now used for other retail purposes.

 

Notes & Credits

  1. The Suffragette 27 December 1912
  2. Lewisham Borough News 12 September 1913
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. The Suffragette 10 October 1913
  7. The Suffragette 4 January 1914
  8. The Suffragette 1 May 1914

Thank you to the always helpful Julie Robinson at Lewisham Archives in terms of press cuttings held there from Lewisham Borough News

Picture Credits

The picture of the Post Office is courtesy of Luke Anthony Briscoe on the excellent Catford and Lewisham Way Back When Facebook Group.

The picture on the pillar box in Catford is via Google Streetview.

The map is on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland

The photograph of the destruction of the town centre in 1944 is on a Creative Commons via the Lewisham War Memorials Wiki

Advertisements

From Russia to Rushey Green and Back – Eugenia Bouvier, a Lewisham Suffragette

This week marks the centenary of the Royal Assent of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave some women the right to vote (it would be another decade before voting equality with men was to be achieved). It is worth reflecting on, and celebrating, the life of a woman who made Lewisham her home and was actively involved with the struggle – Eugenia Bouvier, usually known as Jeannie.

She was a Russian émigré who was born, Eugenia Anna Weber in 1865.  Little seems to be known about her early years but she married the Italian born Paul Emile Bouvier in St Petersburg in August 1888 

They settled in Catford, just off Stanstead Road, at 21 Ravensbourne Road – they were there when the census enumerators called in 1891 – he was a French teacher, initially at King’s College, London and then at the nearby St Dunstan’s College in Catford.  They were well enough off to be able to afford a servant – a 20 year old, Alice Whiffin.  They remained there for the rest of the decade as, somewhat ironically, given later events, Paul appeared on the electoral register there until 1899. They had a daughter, Irene Eugenie, in 1893 whilst living there.

There is no mention of them in the 1901 census, although given the struggles that officialdom seemed to have struggled with both her names they may just be hidden in spelling errors and poor handwriting.  It is known that at some point Jeannie was living at 32 Mount Pleasant Road (1).  She was widowed in 1904 when Paul died, aged just 46.

Her home in Mount Pleasant Road (immediately to the left of the house shown below) was badly damaged during the Blitz, along with several neighbouring properties which were largely destroyed. The site had been cleared by the time the Ordnance Survey surveyed the area in 1949 and had flats on it built soon after.

Like the two other suffragettes that Running Past has covered, May Billinghurst and Emily Davison, Jeannie was actively involved in direct action and was arrested twice due in the struggle.  She was known to have interrupted a meeting in Reading in January 1908 being addressed by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Augustine Birrell, she and others shouted ‘Votes for Women’ at regular intervals.

In February the same year she was arrested as part of the ‘pantechnicon incident’ when a hired lorry was used as a ‘Trojan Horse’ in an unsuccessful attempt to enter the House of Commons.  There were scuffles with the police, mainly in an attempt to resist arrest, and lots of arrests including Jeannie.

There were 50 suffragettes arrested and they appeared Westminster Police Court – the press noted that the ‘ wily leaders escap(ed) arrest.’

The defendants, including Jeannie, were described as mostly being ‘ladies of refinement and education’ and charged with ‘disorderly conduct.’ The sentence was to find a surety of £20 or 6 weeks in jail (2)

There were further incidents later in 1908 where Jeannie is reported as peacefully disrupting meetings and receptions attended by the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers.

In July 1909 she was arrested again in a ‘raid’ on the House of Commons – Jeannie threw a stone through the window of the Privy Council Offices, she was one of the first militants to adopt the tactic of window-breaking and was arrested and charged with criminal damage.  Jeannie said that the action was to show “what we thought of the Prime Minister in refusing these ladies admission to the House of Commons.”

She appeared at Bow Street Magistrates Court in front of London’s Chief Stipendiary Magistrate – Albert de Rutzen.  He compared her to ‘hooligan boys in the street’; she compared her actions with men who had used similar methods protesting against the Reform Act.  She demanded to be considered as a political prisoner; he regarded her as a common criminal.  He was the magistrate; she was the prisoner and was fined £5 plus 2/6d damages or a sentence of a month at Holloway – she didn’t pay the fine (3).

Like many suffragettes sentenced to imprisonment she went on hunger strike and was released early, after just 10 days in Holloway (4).

She was secretary of the Lewisham Women’s Social and Political Union for several years – regularly chairing meetings – including  at a ‘rowdy meeting at Blackheath’ Concert Halls in October 1909 when medical students broke up seating and let of stink bombs and fireworks – leading to the police being called (5) as well as meetings in New Cross in May (6) and November 1908 (7).  She was a regular speaker for the Women’s Social and Political Union both locally – including street meetings like this in Catford (8).

She is known to have spoken at a meeting on Blackheath, presumably at Whitefield’s Mount, in September 1909 and in 1912 was present at the opening of new WSPU offices in Lewis Grove in Lewisham where a crowd of around three thousand became hostile throwing eggs (9).

She went well beyond her local area and was a regular speaker in favour of women’s suffrage elsewhere in the country – including a meeting with Annie Kenney where a firecracker was let off inside the meeting (10).   She gave a provocative speech in  Lewisham market in early 1913 (11)

the life of men will be made so miserable that they will rush to the Prime Minsiter and beseech him to give the vote to women…men would cry for mercy … militancy had brought the women’s question to the forefront of politics

She was ‘followed by 200’ mainly men and had to be escorted to the tram by police amidst a ‘good deal of jeering (12).’

The last definitive political involvement was work in the East End with Sylvia Pankhurst speaking at conferences opposing conscription in 1915 and 1916.  Pankhurst described her as a ‘brave, persistent Russian.’ In addition to be an asset to the work of Sylvia Pankhurst in her own right, she proved useful in being able to translate and interpret for the Russian emigres in the East End.

She returned to post-revolutionary Russia in 1921, proud that her family wealth had been seized after the Revolution, suggesting that the wealth ‘ought to have taken.. from me years ago, and from all of us who lived on the backs of the people’.

She remained there until her death in 1933 (13), working for at least some of this time at the Comintern in Moscow.

Notes

  1. Iris Dove (1988) Yours In The Cause – Suffragettes in Lewisham, Greenwich & Woolwich p5
  2. 13 February 1908 – Sheffield Independent
  3. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Feb 17, 1909; pg. 10; Issue 38885
  4. 12 July 1909 – Yorkshire Evening Post
  5. Kentish Mercury 15 October 1909
  6. Kentish Mercury 08 May 1908
  7. Kentish Mercury 20 November 1908
  8. Woolwich Gazette 11 June 1909
  9. Dove op cit p7
  10. Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser 06 November 1909
  11. Lewisham Borough News 7 February 1913
  12. ibid
  13. Dove op cit p7

WPSU Banner Photo Credit – this is part of the collection of the Museum of London, as is the photograph who allow its use for non-commercial research such as this.

For more detail on Eugenia’s life after Lewisham an excellent starting point is ‘From Russia to East London — and back again: Eugeníe Bouvier (1865-1933), suffragette and socialist.

Census and related data via Find My Past

Days of Wine and Roses – The Sad Life & Death of Ernest Dowson

Running Past has covered several of the poets who have passed through Lewisham at various stages in their lives – Robert Browning, who lived in New Cross for a while in the 1840s, Thomas Dermody who died in a hovel on Perry Vale and was buried at St Mary’s Lewisham along with James Elroy Flecker, who was born in Gilmore Road.  Another who passed through was the ‘decadent’ poet, Ernest Dowson, whose final resting place is in Ladywell and Brockley Cemetery.

Dowson was born on 2 August 1867 at 11 The Grove (now Belmont Grove) off Belmont Hill.  The house is no longer there; it was probably demolished during the early 1930s and replaced with a large block of council flats with more than a nod towards Art Deco, the appropriately named Dowson Court. He is remembered there though with one of Lewisham’s maroon plaques; as is next door neighbour Edward Owen Greening, also has a maroon plaque.  Both have matching overflows next to them.

Dowson was the elder son of Annie and Alfred.  They may not have stayed in Lee that long after Ernest’s birth – they were recorded as living in Weston-Super-Mare in the 1871 census and in Barnstaple in 1881, although it seems that the family travelled a lot around Europe in an attempt to find relief for his father’s tuberculosis.  Dowson went to Oxford in 1886 but left before the end of his second year, without a degree.  He returned to London to help run the family owned dock, seemingly without much enthusiasm becoming involved with London literary society – knowing the like of Wilde and Yates and joining The Rhymers Club contributing poems to their annual collections in 1892 and 1894.

He became infatuated with Adelaide “Missie” Foltinowicz when she served him, aged just 11 in a restaurant in 1889.   He was to later unsuccessfully propose to her, and was left devastated when she eventually married someone else.  He wrote extensively about her, often with overtones of paedophilia; although it has been suggested that Dowson (pictured below – source) was looking for eternal love rather than sexual gratification.  It was certainly considered ‘eccentric rather than deviant’ at the time.

His father died from an overdose of chloral hydrate in August 1894, probably a suicide as he was in the advanced stages of tuberculosis; his mother took her life early the following year.   Their deaths, along with the rejection by “Missie” seems to have caused Dowson to embark on a downward spiral of self-indulgence and drink, he became addicted to absinthe – a strong spirit, later banned in many countries, ostensibly due to purported hallucinogenic properties.

The publisher Leonard Smithers gave him an allowance to move to France and write translations in an unsuccessful attempt to try to shake him out of his dissolute lifestyle.  Dowson returned to London and stayed with the Foltinowicz family during 1897.

He was found drunk and penniless in a central London wine bar by the novelist and biographer, Robert Sherard and he was to spend his final weeks in ‘a cottage in Catford, where Sherard was living.’ Bucolic idyl it most certainly wasn’t – Catford was mid-way through its transition to suburbia through the likes of Cameron Corbett and James Watt.  The ‘cottage’ was in reality a two bedroom terraced house at 26 Sandhurst Gardens (now 159 Sangley Road).  Sherard noted

Our fashionable residence is in a row of cottages about 200 yards up the lane (from the Plough and Harrow).  The lane is a mud swamp.

As was common in poor households, the house was shared with a building worker and his family.  While Sherard had left by the time the census enumerators called in 1901 – 26 Sandhurst Gardens was then home to two households with 9 people.

Dowson was to die at Sandhurst Gardens on 23 February 1900, he was buried four days later on the Ladywell side of what is now Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery in an area reserved for Catholics.   

Oscar Wilde wrote on hearing of Dowson’s death

Poor wounded wonderful fellow that he was, a tragic re-production of all tragic poetry, like a symbol or a scene.  I hope bay leaves will be laid on his tomb, and rue, and myrtle too, for he knew what love is.

The grave was restored through public subscription in 2010 with a ceremony on what would have been the poet’s 143rd birthday.

While there is no plaque on his place of death at Sangley Road, in addition to the plaque in Lee and the grave, he is ‘commemorated’ by an information panel in Wetherspoons in Catford, given his downward alcoholic spiral, this is perhaps an appropriate accolade.

Whilst drunk he apparently said the immortal words ‘absinthe makes the tart grow fonder’, but a  post about a poet needs some poetry – a good, accessible starting point is his poem – Autumnal – which starts

Pale amber sunlight falls across

The reddening October trees,

That hardly sway before a breeze

As soft as summer: summer’s loss

Seems little, dear! On days like these.

 

Let misty autumn be our part!

The twilight of the year is sweet:

Where shadow and the darkness meet

Our love, a twilight of the heart

Eludes a little time’s deceit.

 

However, Dowson is probably best known  for ‘Vitae Summa Brevis’ (appropriately translated as ‘The shortness of life forbids us long hopes), which now appears on his grave

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

Love and desire and hate:

I think they have no portion in us after

We pass the gate.

 

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catford Southend – The Non-League Club that nearly took over Charlton Athletic – Part 2

In the first post on Catford Southend they were left at the outbreak of World War 1 as ‘a solid non-League team with a relatively new ground in early 20th century suburbia, in a similar position to many non-League teams that are still around almost 100 years later.’

Their story is picked up after hostilities ceased and football resumed in 1919, like a lot of sport, the Athenian League that The Kittens had played in before the war had been mothballed during the bloodshed of World War 1.  By the time the Athenian League was reformed for the 1919/20 season, Catford Southend had moved on – newcomers to the league that season were to include local non league stalwarts Kingstonian, Bromley and Wimbledon.

Catford returned to the London League after the War, it had been their ‘home’ for much of their existence.  On the field, the 1919/20 season was a struggle, had it not been for the abject performance of Islington Town, the Kittens would have been propping up the table.  Further up the Division, in second place, were Charlton Athletic – the Addicks had initially joined the league during Southend’s brief stint in the Athenian League.  It was probably the only time the first teams Charlton and Catford played in the same league – Charlton moved onto the expanded Southern League for the 1920/21 campaign.

Catford’s 1920/21 season (team photo above – see notes for credit) ended up with mid-table mediocrity – the brilliantly named Gnome Athletic (later the more prosaic Walthamstow Borough) propping up the table.  The following season saw the Kittens finish second, although some distance behind the runaway leaders, Grays.  The 1922/23 season, the last in the League saw Catford hovering above the relegation places.

Just outside the ground at the Dartmouth Arms on the corner of Laleham and Ringstead Roads.  A new landlord, Harry Issaacs, had arrived around 1921who was soon to develop big plans for Catford Southend, it isn’t clear whether he became the owner, but his impact became very clear in early 1923.

A proposal was made to Charlton Athletic in April 1923 for them to move to Catford,  play at what had become known as The Mount and merge to two teams under the Catford Southend name. The logic for the acceptance had been Charlton’s financial losses in the previous season and the hope that they would get more paying punters in through the turnstiles in Catford.

The Kittens had to give up London League status due to potential merger with Charlton as otherwise the merged team would have to play at Catford’s level in the football pyramid.

It seems that the orientation of the pitch was changed to allow a larger stand to be dismantled at the Valley and rebuilt at The Mount, Charlton seem to have paid for the move of the stand which would give the ground a capacity of 20-25,000 (other, less plausible, higher estimates are available). The map below (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland) from a couple of decades later shows the area covered by the enlarged ground.

1923/24 season that saw Charlton ground sharing at The Mount saw Catford playing in the Kent League.  As was covered in an earlier post of Charlton’s sojourn at the Mount, attendances were not as expected and at the end of the campaign the Addicks returned to the Valley. Running Past covered Charlton’s short stay a while ago – which included a stand sliding down the created terrace towards Laleham Road.  Charlton were heavily criticised at the London League AGM in June 1924 for causing the ‘demise’ of Catford.  While the report of club’s death was premature, The Kittens were in a perilous position (1).

The 1924/25 season saw the club turn professional in the Kent League, they weren’t allowed back into the London League due to their resignation 18 months before.  The decision to turn the Kittens into a professional outfit seemed ambitious at best.  There is much less information available about the Kent League, than those seasons that went before, Catford’s story having to be pieced together from very limited local press reports, often little more than scores and few tables.  Consequently there are frequent gaps in the narrative.  The manager was a former Spurs and Charlton forward Geoffrey Dodd, who had played for the latter at The Mount (2).

While there were some the early successes in the Kent League, they were not maintained.  The campaign started with a 3-2 home victory over Tunbridge Wells Rangers, with the Kittens coming from 2 down in the final quarter of an hour. The campaign continued well during September with a victory against Bexleyheath and draws against Margate and Gillingham (3).

dreamland

In mid-October there was a trip to Dreamland (above – source eBay July 2017), the new home of Margate; it proved to be a nightmare for the home team – the Kittens mauled the men of Margate 5-3.  Unusually, there was a team sheet in the Thanet Advertiser  Bransby, Champion, O’Connor, Shaw, Tolhurst, Wells, Hopper, Devonshire, Weston, Humphreys, Mills (4).

Results were more mixed during October and November and this became the pattern of things, while it hasn’t been possible to find an end of season table, by the end of March, Catford were mid table – 20 points adrift of the league leaders Chatham (5).

The 1925/26 campaign saw little improvement; early poor form saw Catford close to the bottom of the League at the end of October (6).  While results improved during December, including a 9-0 home thrashing of Ashford (7) , the mixed results continued, although another 9-0 victory against Sheppey will have brought cheer to the Catford faithful (8).

The Kittens were finally allowed back into the London League for the 1926/27 campaign but this seems to have been the final desperate throw of the dice to try to make their professional status work.  The Kittens struggled to resource running two teams and started to send ‘short’ teams to some matches – this led to a 13-1 humiliation being inflicted by Sittingbourne (9).

They started to not fulfil games in the Kent League, including a no show in Tunbridge Wells in December (10).  By the end of January 1927 the Kent League table showed a desperate position Catford had only managed to play 10 games, all of which were defeats, with just 5 goals scored and 49 conceded (11).

While the Kent League seem to have been inclined to leniency, once matches in the London League, were failing to be fulfilled, including one at Chelmsford, the London League acted, suspending Catford (12).  The Kent League did likewise but seems to have briefly lifted the suspension in an attempt to allow them to fulfil a game at Norfthfleet – which they were unable to do, leading  to a further suspension (13).

There was to be no comeback this time, by April the record of Catford Southend for the season had been expunged (14).  There doesn’t appear to be any evidence of either Isaacs going bankrupt or the winding up of the club, although it may well have been run through a holding company.

Ultimately, a successful London amateur non-League team was brought to extinction by over-ambition and trying to take a short-cut to Football League status which some of its nearest neighbours in Millwall, Crystal Palace and Charlton had all already obtained.

After the departure of The Kittens, the ground was re-absorbed back into the Park – certainly the Ordnance Survey map from 1949 (above) suggests that the stands had already disappeared by then and a new pitch created alongside.  The outline of the home of the Kittens is still clearly visible through the large flattened area’ pitch area.

Notes

  1. 9 June 1924 – Athletic News
  2. 11 August 1924 – Athletic News
  3. 5 September 1924 – Kent & Sussex Courier
  4. 11 October 1924 – Thanet Advertiser
  5. 28 March 1925 – Thanet Advertiser
  6. 24 October 1925 – Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald
  7. 12 December 1925 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald
  8. 27 February 1926 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald
  9. 8 January 1927 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald
  10. 3 December 1926 – Kent & Sussex Courier
  11. 29 January 1927 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald
  12. 4 February 1927 – Chelmsford Chronicle
  13. 4 February 1927 – Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser
  14. 23 April 1927 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald

Some of the information for the post has come from the fantastic non-League resource Non-League Matters, which, if you have a penchant for league tables past,  it could keep you occupied for days.

Sadly, the owner of the site looked as though they are planning to mothball the site in May 2017, if anyone reading this has any time on their hands and wants to take it over there are contact details on all the pages on the site other than the home page.

Picture credits – the team photograph is courtesy of the always helpful Lewisham Archives.

Britain’s First Cycling Stage Race Which Almost Started in Catford in 1944 

One of the now seemingly permanent features of the national and international cycling calendar is the Tour of Britain. It is an event that can trace its roots back to a race that was planned to start from Catford – the first ever British stage race.

Cycling stage racing has been common on the continent with races such as Le Tour de France and Giro D’Italia having their origins in the early 20th century. In Britain road racing had been effectively banned since the end of the 19th century.  Time trials  (where riders start on their own and race against the clock) were eventually tacitly allowed often in remote locations with ‘code-named’ courses to avoid any police interest.’ (1)   Mass start races were only ever allowed on tracks, such as the short-lived one on Catford’s Sportsbank Street or Herne Hill, or later on airfields or motor racing circuits – some of the earliest racing at Brands Hatch was cycling, as well as more notably at the Brooklands Circuit (2).

The first road race with a mass start had been organised in 1942 by Percy Stallard, (picture source) it was a single stage race from Llangollen to Wolverhampton.  He and the other organisers and riders were all banned by the National Cyclists’ Union (NCU) as a result.  Stallard set up the rival British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC) to promote racing rather than time trialing.

With Midlands roots, it was perhaps surprising that a war-torn London was to be the location for the (not so) Grand Départ of the first English Cycling stage race.  Perhaps using it as a fundraiser for the Red Cross helped and perhaps it was seen as a morale booster for those suffering at home.

Source ebay March 2016

The race was due to start in Catford outside the then Town Hall (above) on Saurday 5 August 1944, – the beginning of what was then the August Bank Holiday Weekend.  The planned route of the first stage is not clear but the second and third stages were the same –  starting at The Fantail (now Chapter 1) at Locksbottom and looping 60 miles out to Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and Pembury before returning to Locksbottom – see below (3).  Just 40 riders were to start the race which received some media interest – the BBC planned to cover the first stage (4)

Presumably when the organisers had agree the route with the authorities, London seemed a relatively safe location – there had been a lull in attacks following the end of the Blitz.  But from June 1944 London was again targeted by the Germans.  The first V1 rockets hit Lewisham on 16 June, including attacks on Lewisham Park and the areas around George Lane and Davenport Road.  Around a 100 more were to hit Lewisham  in the 7 weeks before the planned start, so it was probably understandable that the  Ministry of War Transport wanted the start moved (5).

The race was moved to Farnborough, where, in the end, all three stages started  outside the Fantail Restuarant, almost opposite the Ye Olde Whyte Lyon pub, pictured from around three decades before (6).

As for the race, the first stage was won by the organiser of the initial Llangollen-Wolverhampton race, Percy Stallard.  The second stage saw Les Plume from Manchester triumph, despite the seemingly safe location in the Kent countryside, during the race the RAF shot down another London bound doodlebug very close to the peloton. With shrapnel coming down around the cyclists, the eventual winner wondered whether they should be in an air raid shelter rather than racing.

The final stage saw a lone breakaway, won by Ron Baker with a sprint for the rest of the podium places of the stage won by Stallard, over ten minutes behind the winner.  Les Plume took the overall victory by just a second from Len Hook who had placed well on each of the stages.  Baker took the King of the Hills competition.

The following year there was the Victory Cycling Marathon from Brighton to Glasgow and a similar national stage race has been almost ever present (there was a five year hiatus from 2000).

Notes

1 William Fotheringham (2005) Roule Britannia: A History of Britons in the Tour de France p8

2 ibid p8

3 Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 21 July 1944

4 The People, 30 July 1944

5 The People,  6 August 1944

6 Postcard via eBay February 2016

 

The Catford Studios – South London’s Walk-on Part in Silent Films

Strangely in the early days of the British Film industry one of the main studios was in Catford – the former home of the Forster Family, The Hall (or Southend Hall) at Southend – the Hall is to the left hand middle of the postcard (via eBay April 2016).

peter-pan-ravensbourne

As the 1919 Ordnance Survey map below (on a creative commons from the National Library of Scotland) surveyed in 1914 shows, it was still a largely rural area.southend-1919

 

The Hall was leased by the Henry William Forster M.P to the Britannia Film Company in August 1914, despite its name, the company seems to have been Italian owned by the Marquis Guido Serra di Cassano and was generally known as Windsor Films.

It was a daylight studio (see picture below – copyright details here) which sought to make use of natural light, it was built in the grounds of the Hall and was about 5000 square feet with the house being used for processing and administration.

catford-studios

The building to the right is what is now the church hall of St John’s Church, the hall was built in 1824 and the former chapel for the hamlet of Southend as well as for the Forster family. It was replaced as a church by the current adjacent buildings in 1928.

The studios saw the production of the 1916 silent movies ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ and an adaptation of an Edgar Wallace novel, ‘The Man Who Bought London’ were both made there in the early days.

The ownership is slightly confused after then – while one of the main histories of the British Film Industry of the period has Marquis Guido Serra di Cassano owning until after World War 1, documents at the Lewisham archives suggest that he surrendered the lease to the Forsters in late 1917.

Whatever happened it is clear that an Anglo Italian Producer and Director, Arrigo Bocchi used it as a base for several feature films and shorts– including the 1919 silent movie, ‘The Polar Star’ – some of the films were based on the romantic novels of Elinor Glyn who was popular at the time.

kenelm_foss_vanity_fair_17_dec_1913One of the actors that Bocchi worked with was the Croydon born Kenelm Foss (left, on Creative Commons), Foss took control of the studios after agreeing a purchase from Serra for £23,000, and seems to have taken possession of the studios after a down payment of £2,300 in 1919.

The balance was not forthcoming though and in early 1920, the Catford Studio was bought by Walter West’s firm BroadWest who were based in Walthamstow.  Catford was effectively a secondary studio for the firm.  It is not clear which films were made in Catford and which in Walthamstow, but they may have included ‘The Loudwater Mystery’ (1921), ‘Was She Justified?’ (1922) and ‘When Greek Meets Greek’ (1922).  The Studios didn’t last long with the new owners though – with West moving his operations to Kew in 1922– seemingly as a cost saving measure.

Sadly none of the films made at the studios seem to have survived nor have any posters for them, certainly none seem to have been converted into any available digital format – some were on YouTube a few months ago but the account seems to have been taken down.

As for the house, it was demolished after World War 2 and Whitefoot Lane was straightened – it was replaced by post war former council flats, Langthorne Court, which are now managed by Phoenix Housing, who are based on the neighbouring site of the former Green Man pub.

langthorne

Henry Woodham & Sons and the Catford Steamrollers

The name of Henry Woodham came up a while ago in relation to the short-lived velodrome in Sportsbank Street in  Catford, Woodham unsuccessfully attempted to build next to it in 1897 and may have been the developer who bought the stadium in 1900 and built in surrounding streets early 20th century.

The firm was much better known as a highways contractor and latterly also as a plant hire company, and local memories focus very much of the impressive looking steam rollers that the firm used, including the Ruston Hornsby roller below (on a Creative Commons via the Tractor and Construction Plant Wiki)

ruston_and_hornsby_no-_115123_roller_veronica_reg_xm_6374_at_woolpit_09_-_img_1483

The firm was based at a plot of land at 121 to 139 Sangley Road, almost opposite the Roman Catholic Church of Holy Cross, next to one of the alleys between Sangley and Engleheart Roads.

The yard would have originally been part of Cockshed Farm – it is midway between the Farm and Sangley Lodge on the 1893 OS map below (on a creative commons via National Library of Scotland)

CCC1

The highlighted yard is more obvious in the 1930s map of the same area – also on a creative commons via National Library of Scotland.

woodham-1

There are fond local memories of the yard – there were several recollections on a recent Facebook page, including those who remembered the yard as children and would “always sit upstairs on the bus so that we could ‘look over the wall’ to see those wonderful machines as there was a bus stop outside.”

Several of the steam rollers have been preserved by enthusiasts, including the one below (on a Wikipedia Creative Commons) at Bredgar and Woshill Railway, near Sittingbourne. It was bought new by Henry Woodham & Sons in 1922, it still has a company plaque and was used on road repairs until the 1950s.

ruston__hornsby_115023_of_1922

 

So who were Henry Woodham and Sons?  Henry had been born in Elmers End in 1857, into a labouring family.  He moved around a fair amount as a young man – he was in Camberwell in the 1870s, marrying Maria and arrived in Catford by 1879 – his elder son, Henry George, was born there in 1879.  Henry (senior) was employing 11 as a road and sewage contractor living at 25 Brownhill Road in the 1881 census.

He was still living in Brownhill Road in 1901 (Sydney Villa) and 1911 when all five adult children were living at 182 Brownhill Road, including the ‘Sons’ Henry George and Reginald (born in 1881).

Henry Senior had retired by 1911, but was still living in Brownhill Road (102) with a housekeeper.  He subsequently moved to Bromley where he died in 1928.

By 1911 the business was being run by Henry George and Reginald, the former was living at 11 Ardoch Road with two children, including a Henry Ernest Clifford born in 1905.  Reginald who was living at 168 George Lane.

Reginald had retired and was living in Sevenoaks by the time the 1939 Register was drawn up – dying in neighbouring Tonbridge in 1956. Neither of Reginald’s sons went into the family business – Reginald (1904) worked as an engineer for Woking Council in 1939, with Gerald dying early in 1925, when only 17.

Henry George seems to have tried to expand the business into Devon between the wars.  But returned to returned to south east London, before his death in Bromley in 1961.  His son, Henry Ernest Clifford was listed as a Public Works Company Director in 1939, at 72 Arran Road, but maybe the business wasn’t doing quite so well – he was sharing with an unrelated father and son. He died in south east Surrey in early 1969.

By this time the business was gone, liquidated in 1965 – the registered office was in Bickley at that time, although the business was still carried out in Catford.

As for the yard, after Woodham and Sons went into liquidation, it seems to have been home to demolition firms, initially Sid Bishop Demolition, latterly Harris.   Like the former grandstand of the velodrome the small plot eventually succumbed to the developers.

The housing seems to have taken the name of the last users of the site and is known as Harris Lodge – a mixture of flats and bungalows. img_2819

And finally, another of the impressive steamrollers that plied their trade out of Sangley Road (although was later sold to A J Ward), the Excelsior – via a creative commons from Grace’s Guide.

woodham-2

Note

All the census and related data comes from Find My Past