Tag Archives: Catford

Harry Hutchens – ‘The Greatest Sprinter The World Has Seen‘

Over the years, Running Past has covered a lot of athletes with links to Lewisham and neighbouring areas, including the late Georgian walking pedestrians, such as George Wilson, to the journeymen runners of the 1840s like Tom Cook, the Edwardian professional marathon runner, Charlie Gardiner, and Philip Kingsford, a pioneering triple jumper. Another of these is Henry Hutchins, who competed as Harry Hutchens and was probably the best sprinter in the world of the Victorian era, setting times that are still impressive now.  He lived in Catford in the latter years that he was competing and remained there for the rest of his life – he was living at 134 Brookdale Road, below,  when he died.

Henry was the youngest of the six children of James and Elizabeth Hutchins; James was a journeyman stonemason who died whilst Elizabeth was pregnant with Harry.  In 1861 Elizabeth and the children aged 16 to 4 were living at 4 Gardners Lane, Alpha Place, Putney.  The census records are unclear but it is quite likely that Elizabeth and her family were sharing the house with another charwoman and her 5 children.  Gardners Lane still exists, renamed at Felsham Road.

The story told in numerous newspaper reports was that he was working as a messenger for WH Smith’s at Putney when he discovered how fast he was able to sprint.  He turned professional when he was 18 in 1876.

The way in which professional sprinting was organised in the late 19th century was very different to now.  Races were generally handicapped, based on recent form, with the aim of all the sprinters finishing together.  So while a race may nominally be over 140 yards, the slowest may have a 30 yard handicap (so start at 110 yards) with the quickest a much smaller handicap and so have further to run.  The logic was close races which would generate more betting interest, but times and distances were usually meaningless.

There was prize money on offer, often substantial amounts for the day, but the sport was driven by gambling with the athletes no doubt receiving a cut from their backers.  There were also instructions from the backers as to the amount of effort to put in during certain races as this would impact on the handicapping in future races.  The athletes were working class men who often made relatively little out of the sport; in this respect not much had changed since the days of the late Georgian walkers like the ‘Blackheath Pedestrian’,Blackheath Pedestrian’, the sprinters, such as William Gazeley, and  the distance running ‘pedestrians’ such as the Greenwich Cowboy who were both active in the 1840s.

While races were held all over the country, there were two big venues relating to professional sprinting – Sheffield, mostly based at a pub that is now part of Sheffield United’s ground, Bramall Lane, and at Powderhall in Edinburgh – a New Year’s meeting that Lewisham’s professional marathon runner Charlie Gardiner competed at.  Harry Hutchens was to make his name in Sheffield in March 1878 as a 20 year old.  He clearly wasn’t unknown to the handicappers as they started him within 5.5 yards of the then Champion, George Wallace, but Harry held on to win by a foot (1).

He was to win again the following year in Sheffield, despite a shortened handicap in the 130 yard race – he had stormed past the rest of the field before the halfway mark to win with ease – afterwards he offered to take on any other sprinter for £500 (presumably not his own money), although he had no takers (2).

While the big money would go to his backers and those who successfully bet on his races, Harry was presumably making some money by 1881 as he had married Harriet in 1880, they’d had a child Hilda in 1880.  Harry was described a ‘pedestrian’ in the census, but the successes in Sheffield didn’t mean that he was living in any grandeur; it seems that the house in Grove Terrace in Fulham was being shared with another household, but it was a step up from the cramped conditions he grew up in.

While not winning in 1882, he ran what he regarded as his finest race in Sheffield starting from scratch, he almost overtook sprinters with 7 yard advantages on him completing the 131.25 yards in 12.2 seconds (3).  This equates to around 10.3 for 100 metres, but it needs to be remembered that this was on a grass track, in conditions that weren’t ideal for sprinting.

His most impressive time came at the start of 1884 at the New Year’s Powderhall meeting in Edinburgh; it had snowed overnight and the track for the 300 yard race was ‘sloppy’ (4).  His dietary preparation for the races was roast beef and potatoes (5).  He won his heat in 30.4 seconds and had to run the final with no one within 18 yards of him.  Yet he ‘ran through the field like a deer through a frightened flock of sheep’ – winning comfortably in 30 seconds exactly (6).  It is now not an often run distance and there is some dispute as to whether the record still stands – but the then European 200 metres Champion, Doug Walker, tried, and failed, to beat it 1999 describing Hutchens sprint as

It was an amazing run, absolutely amazing. Apparently he had his hands in the air, celebrating, from 30 yards out. Some runner.

Later in the year he headed to the United States – although it wasn’t a particularly successful visit, results wise – although he no doubt had appearance money and expenses. He was beaten over 135 yards in Pastime Park, Philadelphia, on November 1 – the winner had a 21 yard start over Hutchens who lost by half a yard.  The third placed runner ‘could have won, but did not try’ the reporter noted – presumably on instructions from those funding him who no doubt had money on the other two sprinters.  An attempt to run 200 yards in 20 seconds for an ‘imaginary $300’ failed to properly materialise two days later (7).  He was sketched wearing somewhat strange sporting attire for the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic Journal whilst he was in the States (8).

Earlier in 1884, he lost in both February and Whitsun races in Sheffield in front of crowds of over 20,000 – in both outings he struggled against hard handicapping (9).

In 1886 he undertook at provincial tour in the Spring, including 140 yard races over 2 nights in Northampton for prizes of over £8 (10).  In the autumn he headed for Australia, hoping that it would improve his rheumatism (11); it was a long voyage during which he was seasick for large amounts of the trip (12).

The hors d’oeuvre was a series of races in just outside Sydney in Parramatta where Hutchens broke the 50 yard record with a time of at 5.6 seconds (13).  The main course was a series of races Carrington Grounds in Sydney against Charlie Samuels, an Aboriginal Australian, over 136 yards for £200 and the Championship of the World (14).  The first meeting was won by Samuels in 14.9. (15), a race that Hutchens later claimed he ran slow ‘to orders’ – presumably to improve odds in future races.

Samuels again won the second meeting in 15.1 (16), with Hutchens seemingly struggling with sciatica, but as in the previous race may well have been ‘running to contract’ 17).  In the final race, Hutchens romped away, finishing in 14.5 seconds, a much quicker time than Samuels had previously managed (18).  Also on the trip he beat the Irish sprinter, Tom Malone, who seemed to be struggling with hamstring issues (19).

While Hutchens was travelling back to Britain a new kid on the block emerged, winning impressively in Sheffield – Harry Gent from Darlington.  The gamblers that effectively ran the sport set up a high profile match between the Harrys – which was to be held at Lillie Bridge Grounds in September 1887.  It was a small arena, close to the current Stamford Bridge, that hosted many sports including boxing, cricket, cycling, football and athletics – Hutchens had already appeared and trained there (20). It is pictured below via Wikimedia Commons

Hutchens decamped to Leicester whilst preparing for the race – believing he would be less likely to be recognised, although was seen training with his coach, Joe Courtney at athletics grounds at Belgrave Road and Aylestone Road (21). Rumours abounded that Hutchens was out of shape and the race would be an easy victory for Gent, there was heavy betting on this basis. The crowd was estimated at between 6,000 (22) and 15,000 (23) paying a shilling to watch the race – the crowd was already there when Hutchens appeared looking very fit.  Bookmakers who backed Gent used ‘heavies’ threatened both sprinters effectively preventing them running (24).

What The Times described as ‘The Riot at Lillie Bridge’ ensued with disgruntled spectators feeling that they had been tricked, went on the rampage burning much of the stadium down, with the police and fire brigade seemingly powerless to do anything about it (25).  The race was eventually run in at Eslington Grounds in Gateshead, with Gent the victor by a couple of feet (26).

Hutchens (pictured below via Wikimedia Commons) competed infrequently during 1888, one of his few outings was at the Sportsman Running Grounds in Plumstead, under the auspices of Kent Professional Pedestrian Association, his handicap of 20 yards in a 125 yard race seemed to fail to recognise his actual form and he struggled (27).  The Grounds, in what are now part of HMP Belmarsh had some other tenants, a football club named after one of the local employers who became much better known – Woolwich Arsenal.

The only significant race he competed in during 1888 was notable only for its strangeness, a man v horse v horse and chariot race in London; Harry was the man and won comfortably over the 2 laps of a tight 150 yard course (28).

1889 seems to have been a year when he struggled with injuries – press reports of his races are few and far between, although the Sporting Life noted that he had ‘ricked’ his leg during May and would be unable to run for ‘some time’ (29). Earlier in the year he had lost in Northampton to W Roseblade, who had a 14.5 yard advantage, over 150 yards, losing out on a prize of £50 and no doubt a cut of betting profits (30).  1890 seems to have been even worse for the now 33 year old with no mentions of races in the press.

Such was his decline that he was described as ‘once famous’ in early 1891 (31).  In the short term this perhaps proved favourable to Harry as he was able to win his fourth and final Sheaf House handicap championship in Sheffield in February (32).

In 1892 there were reports of him competing much more than in the previous three years, including several at athletics grounds in Bow on an 800 yard track (33) and a second place in Battersea (34).

As was noted in one of the press reports of a race in 1893, the sport was a decline – ‘professional pedestrian matches are not so frequent these days that a contest between Harry Hutchens….and George Revell, of Newcastle, will pass unnoticed (35).’

It certainly seemed to that way  there appear to be no reports of the race which in previous years would have been newsworthy as both were former victors in Sheffield. Hutchens had a rare south east London outing during the year racing  at Browns Grounds in Nunhead (now part of Haberdashers‘ Aske’s playing fields), winning his heat but losing in the final (36).

Early in 1894 it was announced that it was to be his farewell season and that he would retire at the end of it.  A testimonial was arranged, subscribers included. venues he’d raced at and the Sporting Life. Harry was described as being ‘for sixteen years the champion sprinter of the world’ (37). He made various unsuccessful attempts during the year to beat his own records, often with pacers including ones in Paisley (38) and Stamford Bridge where ‘few were present’ (39).

The testimonial seems to have been a shambles, it’s main backer, the gambler, Sir John Astley, being left out of pocket and Hutchens getting nothing from it (40).

Probably as a result of the lack of income from the testimonial, reports of Harry Hutchens retirement ended up being premature, he was reported as having entered several races during 1895, although there were few results in the press – although he comfortably got through to the final of a race in West Bromwich in February (41), the result of the final didn’t seem to get a mention in the press though.

As we have seen, before his ‘retirement’ Hutchens had taken part in some odd races.  This continued into 1896 when Hutchens featured in several runner v cyclist sprints; track cycling was in the midst of a major boom with ‘cycling grounds’ and velodromes springing in numerous locations.  One of the these was at the newly built Catford Velodrome (pictured below, via eBay in February 2016), a long sprint from what was to be his home – where, in front of a 10,000 crowd (no doubt there in the main to see the cycling) he comfortably beat the professional cyclist Tom Osborn (42). In a similar race in Walsall he raced a cyclist over 100 yards, being only overhauled by the cyclist, Sam Vale, in the last few yards in front of 2,000 (43).

There were a few outings in 1897 including another unsuccessful race against the cyclist C F Barden in Wood Green (44) along with a heat win in a Christmas race in Leeds, although how he fared in the later rounds is not clear (45).

There were a few more traditional sprint races in 1898 – including revisiting West Bromwich where he had an easy win in the first heat, but the match being abandoned after disturbances concerning Hutchens opponent in the second round Hammond Jump (46).  Later in the year he lost to the Scot A R Downer in  Rochdale for a relatively large wager (47)

While well into his 40s Harry continued to occasionally race in 1899, he just lost to the much younger Charles Harper in Hanley over 200 metres despite having a handicap of 7 yards for a £50 prize (48). Hutchens did win one race that year when he competed in a strange 120 yard race against a woman cyclist at Putney Velodrome – he was described as ‘ungallant enough to beat’ Rosa Blackburn (49).

His last race, other than a strange race in his 50s (50), was one of his regular appearances in the West Midlands – it drew in the crowds in Bilston, but handicappers on the 120 yard race were harsh – with Hutchens on ‘scratch’ he was beaten by a lad (junior) with a 40 yard start in a ‘magnificent race.’  (51)

During most of his professional career he lived in Fulham with wife Harriet (born in 1859) and daughter, Hilda (1881) he seems to have moved to Catford and started working for the Woolwich Arsenal around 1899. How this happened isn’t clear, but certainly the Woolwich Arsenal appeared sympathetic to the career of another local professional athlete – the marathon runner,  Charlie Gardiner, who worked there in the early 1900s. By 1901 he was listed as a ‘Foreman In Royal Naval Ordnance Depot’ living with his wife Harriet, daughter Hilda (listed as a ‘Fancy Knitter’) and a lodger at 12 Bradgate Street (now Road).

While he’d had a successful career, it was no doubt others that had earned far more than Harry had through the gambling that pervaded the sport.  The failure of his benefit probably meant that he had little to show from his lengthy career.  It isn’t clear whether this contributed to Harry being arrested and found guilty of the theft of a charity box from a Northampton pub, he was sentenced to 14 days hard labour in 1903 (52).

He was still working at Woolwich Arsenal in 1911, listed as a ‘Leading Hand’ there – he’d moved down the street to locally and was now at 38 Bradgate Street– a relatively near neighbour of probably the oldest World War 1 soldier, Alfred Figes, at 79.  The household and trades were still the same though and there was a different lodger there.

Harriet died in 1930, but at the time of his death in 1939 when Harry died he was still living in the same bit of Catford, now at 134 Brookdale Road with Hilda and a different lodger.  Hilda died in Lewisham in 1952.

His death on 2 January 1939 was fifty-five years to the day after he had covered 300 yards in 30 seconds on a cold winter’s day in Edinburgh, a performance that still impresses historians of athletics.  It was to be the defining moment of his career – a time that is still impressive given the conditions, the nature of the track and the lack of modern training techniques and diet.

Notes

  1. Edward S Sears (2015) Running Through The Ages (Second Edition), McFarlane & Co, Jefferson North Carolina p76
  2. ibid p76
  3. ibid p76
  4. Edward S Sears (2008)George Seward: America’s First Great Runner, Lanham, Scarecrow Press p179
  5. 06 January 1939 – The Scotsman
  6. Sears (2008) op cit, p179
  7. 19 November 1884 – Sporting Life
  8. Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic Journal, November 22 1884
  9. 22 January 1885 – Sporting Life – London
  10. Sporting Life 2 April 1886
  11. Sears (2015) p77
  12. The Sportsman 28 October 1886
  13. 02 March 1887 – Sporting Life
  14. Sears (2015) p77
  15. ibid
  16. ibid
  17. ibid
  18. 02 March 1887 – Sporting Life
  19. Sears (2015) p78
  20. 06 January 1939 – The Scotsman
  21. 10 September 1887 – Sporting Life
  22. The Times, 21 September 1887
  23. Sears (2015) p78
  24. ibid
  25. The Times, 21 September 1887
  26. 31 October 1887 – Lancashire Evening Post
  27. 27 April 1888 – Kentish Mercury
  28. Rugby Advertiser 6 October 1888
  29. 14 May 1889 – Sporting Life – London, London, England
  30. Sporting Life 30 January 1889
  31. 03 January 1891 – The Graphic
  32. 11 February 1891 – Yorkshire Evening Post
  33. 26 December 1892 – Sporting Life – London,
  34. 30 March 1892 – Sporting Life
  35. Pall Mall Gazette 30 December 1893
  36. 23 May 1893 – The Sportsman
  37. 12 January 1894 – Sporting Life
  38. 09 January 1894 – Sporting Life
  39. Penny Illustrated Paper 31 March 1894
  40. 12 December 1927 – Athletic News – Manchester, Lancashire, England
  41. 09 February 1895 – Sporting Life – London, London, England
  42. 04 May 1896 – St James’s Gazette – London, London, England
  43. 08 August 1896 – Sporting Life – London, London, England
  44. 31 July 1897 – Rugby Advertiser
  45. 22 December 1897 – Sporting Life – London, London, England
  46. 02 March 1898 – Sporting Life
  47. 16 September 1898 – The Salisbury Times
  48. Manchester Evening News 8 August 1899
  49. Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 13 May 1899
  50. Hawick News and Birder Chronicle 9 August 1912
  51. Sporting Life 18 October 1899
  52. Bolton Evening News 1 August 1903

Census and related data is via Find My Past (subscription required)

Thank you to Mike Guilfoyle for jogging my memory about Harry

Elmwood & the Catford Constitutional Club

Elmwood is a former farm house in the centre of Catford, only really visible from the side in Thomas’ Lane, although it is better known from the sign at the front on Catford Road which beckons the passer-by down an alley between shops.  The legend on the sign is now (September 2019) ‘Catford Constitutional Club.’

It is a building that dates from 1736, Cherry and Pesvner briefly describe it (1) as

a three bay house that was added to over the years. It is hidden by a mid-19th century extension with ironwork. The core of the old building can be seen, but is partly hidden by 20th century extensions.

Elmwood from the 1950s

Elmwood was built by Nelgarde Doggett who gave his name to the neighbouring Nelgarde and Doggett Roads. It was marked  on John Rocque’s 1746 map of the ‘Country Near Ten Miles Round’ London.

It is clearly shown on the Ordnance Survey map from 1863, below, there were a series of water features  (some relating to the former adjacent Manor House)- these were fed by a stream seemingly called Springfield which looks as though it flowed alongside Bromley Road.  The diverted flow into the Ravensbourne would have been around where the slight dog-leg in Doggett Road now is, with a confluence with the Ravensbourne opposite Bournville Road. The stream seems to have been completely culverted when roads like Doggett and Nelgarde Roads were built.

By the time the map was drawn Elmwood was no longer a farm.  When the census enumerators had called in 1861 it was home to George Deane, a publisher and printer, along with his family and three servants.  Deane was possibly attacted by  the railway that had come to Catford Bridge in 1857; Catford Station was not marked as it didn’t open until 1892.  Census records for Elmwood for 1841 and 1851 proved difficult to find it was not listed in any obvious form, despite trawling through every farm related census record in the area.

By 1871 it was home to West Indies Merchant, William Houston and his wife Mary, their young family, Mary’s mother and four servants.  Two generations earlier and this was a trade that would have had clear links with slavery as we found with Lee’s Manor House, but while emancipated and free in name, local plantation owners still wielded vast amounts of power and with shifts in the markets led to massive unemployment, low wages and high levels of poverty in the islands.

It was still a private residence in 1881 – home to the Harris family – William a timber merchant, Constance, their two adult children and 4 servants – including a butler. According to electoral registers they were there from around 1879 to 1883 when William Jenkins moved in.

The timing as to when it became the Conservative and Unionist Club isn’t entirely clear and information slightly contradictory. The 1891 census showed it as home to the widowed Mary/Annie Howcroft and her family. However, two years earlier there was a press notice saying that the Conservative club which was already in residence was looking to buy the lease (2).  Maybe, at that point the rambling house was being shared.

Whatever the arrangement was at that point, it was certainly the Conservative and (sometimes) Constitutional Club throughout the 20th century – the Pusey/Puzeys were there from at least 1897 and in the 1901 census were listed as Club Steward and Stewardess – their live-in household oddly included a 15 year old William Hales who was listed in the census as a ‘page.’

The need for a ‘page’ continued in 1911 when the Beresfords were running the club – it was then Herbert Booker. As World War 2 broke out 1939, the Club Steward was William Adams, born in 1907, his wife Ivy born in 1911 one person redacted (probably a daughter Beryl who was born in the summer of 1939) and Henry Webb a Post Office Stores keeper – Ivy’s brother.  The picture of the interior of the club above is from the early 1950s.

The last licensees of the Conservative Club moved out towards the end of the 20th century – perhaps SE6 ran out of drinking Tories – and by 2008 paint was peeling, Elmwood was fenced off, and the alley was used for in-the-know parking.

Pub Company Antic London took over the building in 2013, having previously run the Catford Bridge Tavern and have breathed some fresh life into the decaying building in their inimitable, slightly quirky way – renaming it the Catford Constitutional Club .   While it appeared for a while that Elmwood may be under threat from redevelopment, Lewisham Council have made it clear that they want to see the core retained in future development.

 

However, in mid-August 2019 further structural surveys were undertaken which found

  • The roof in the Georgian section of the building (presumably that with a worsening kink visible from Thomas’ Lane) was in a ‘very dangerous condition and sections of it are at risk of falling down;’
  • Parts of the inside of the building were identified as ‘an immediate fire safety risk;’
  • There were risks of falling tiles from other parts of the building.

On the basis of these quite serious risks to public safety Lewisham Council decided to ‘close the building’ to enable works to be carried out to make it safe.  Antic’s tenancy was ended as part of the same process, it is the end of an era and the building enters another period of uncertainty.

Notes

  1. Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner (1983) The Buildings of England – London 2: South p427
  2. Kentish Mercury 10 May 1889

Credits

  • The black and white photos of Elmwood are from the collection of Lewisham Archives, they are used with their permission and remain their copyright.
  • Census, shipping and related data comes via Find My Past (subscription required)
  • The Ordnance Survey map is via the National Library of Scotland on a non-Commercial Licence
  • John Rocque’s 1746 map is on a Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Mountsfield – the Park, the House & the Butterflies

Hither Green Lane largely follows a ridge that is the watershed between the Ravensbourne and the Quaggy, it once offered fine views to the east towards Shooters Hill and to the west along the Ravensbourne and Pool valleys and Forest Hill, once part of the Great North Wood. These vistas were no doubt the reason behind the location of several large houses, that were homes to the wealthy – including Campshill House, Laurel Cottage, Oak Cottage, Wilderness House, Hither Green Lodge, and Mount Pleasant. Perched around the highest point on the ridge was Mountsfield – this post tells the story of the house, its occupants and the Park that came after.
The land for Mountsfield seems to have been bought around 1845 by Henry Stainton of Springfield House (1). Springfield was at what is now the junction of Rushey Green and Hawstead Road, next to the almshouses, it was named after a stream that ran alongside the main road (2).Henry Stainton was a wealthy iron merchant and the land and house that was built on it seem to have been bought for his son, Henry Tibbats Stainton as a wedding present when he married Jane Isabel Dunn (also from an iron and steel family) at Sheffield Cathedral in 1846. Henry Tibbats Stainton was born in August 1822 and baptised in the City of London church  St Benet, Paul’s Wharf.  But the family seem to have moved to Lewisham soon after. He was educated at home before going to King’s College, London before working for his father as an iron merchant.
The house seems to have been finished in 1847 (3), with the wide main drive sweeping slightly round from the current entrance in George Lane (above). The footprint and size suggest something rather grand, sadly though, no pictures seem to survive of it other than photos of bits of walls. The house was badly built, and had to be demolished in 1905 (4) – we’ll return to that later. A stable block remained until 1969, when it was largely destroyed by fire and that, along with some other outbuildings, were demolished in 1981 (5).

The outbuildings (partly shown above), latterly used as a cafe, were home to Henry Tibbats Stainton’s museum relating to his interest in entomology. Henry Tibbats Stainton had developed an interest in moths and butterflies around 1840 and by the time he moved to Mountsfield was a recognised authority on them.

The preface to ‘Stainton’s Handbook of Butterflies and Moths’ was penned at Mountsfield in February 1857. However, his references to Lewisham, Hither Green and Catford are disappointingly few and far between in the first volume.

He spotted Cosmidæ Euperia Fulvago, a moth that is ‘pale ocherous, faintly tinged with grey with darker centre’ spotted in Lewisham in 1846 (6). I have a mental ‘picture’ of Stainton wandering through the fields of North Park Farm or a little further afield to the meadows of Burnt Ash Farm. I hope that when he noted that ‘In lanes we find in addition to these, several species of Hipparchia, and perhaps the Fritlillaries, Hair Streaks and Skippers,’ (7) that this included the still rural Hither Green Lane and the farm track that became Verdant Lane. If there were sightings here they would have been included in ‘common everywhere’ category, frequently used by Stainton.
There seem to have been relatively local wanderings with mentions of Trochillium Incheumoniforme – a tiny moth was once observed at Charlton sand-pit, probably Gilbert’s Pit (8). He spotted several rare species in West Wickham Woods including Lophopteryx Carmelita (picutred), a reddish brown moth (9) and another moth Limacodes Testudo (10).

Stainton died from stomach cancer in December 1892 at Mountsfield, and was buried in the family vault at St Mary’s, Lewisham. An obituary described him as ‘a genial and generous friend and a painstaking industrious worker….(who took a) truly biological approach to taxonomy’.

By the time Henry Tibbats Stainton died, the city was encroaching on Mountsfield; the streets below to the west built on the former Mount Pleasant had been laid out and much of the housing built.

It would appear that Jane Stainton at least contemplated selling up soon after her husband’s death. She appointed a surveyor to act for her, as was noted in the enquiry in relation to building a Fever Hospital next door on the land belonging to Wilderness House and Hither Green Lodge. The surveyor suggested that the building of the Fever Hospital would lead to land of the Mountsfield estate, then valued at £500 – £600 an acre, being reduced to as little as £150 an acre (11).

In reality, Jane Stainton didn’t sell up and remained at Mountsfield until her death in 1898. There appear to have been some legal complexities in relation to what happened following Jane Stainton’s death without a will, which appear to have related to interests in both Scotland and England. The estate was put up for auction in 1900 as a result of a legal case McLaren v Stainton, although presumably wasn’t sold (12).

The following year, the London County Council (LCC) Schools Board purchased 14 acres for a school on Brownhill Road. It was noted at the same time that the LCC was looking to buy the rest of the estate for a park given the lack of one in the area (13).

The purchase of six acres for the park wasn’t completed by the LCC until 1904 though, with half funding coming the old Borough of Lewisham (14). The Park was opened in August 1905, and was soon extended as the LCC decided that they only needed half of the land that they had set aside for the school and the remaining 7 acres was returned to parkland – presumably land close to Brownhill Road (15). This would have addressed concerns expressed by the Hither Green and Catford Ratepyers Association about the lack of an entrance from Brownhill Road in the original plans (16).

As was the pattern with Lee Manor House and Manor House Gardens, the intention was to create a library as well as a Park. Sadly, the quality of the building of Mountsfield was so poor that when the LCC surveyors inspected the house a decision was made to demolish it (17).

The original Park, did not include the south western quadrant which was used initially by Lewisham Montrose and then by Catford Southend, affectionately known as ‘The Kittens’ from 1909  who played to a good non-league standard. In the early 1920s there were plans to merge The Kittens with Charlton Athletic who played part of the 1922/23 season at The Mount, which probably had a 25,000 capacity. The merger didn’t happen, Charlton returned to The Valley, and Catford Southend went into a rapid downward spiral – with their records for the 1926/27 season being expunged and seemingly ending in liquidation. The embankment for the terracing in the south west corner of the ground still remains (see below). Some parts of the physical structure of the ground seem to have remained until the 1950s, but the pitch was subsumed back into the Park.


At around the same time some former allotment land was purchased from Trinity College in Greenwich bringing the total size of the park to around 28 acres (18). It seems that around the time that the Park was created seven houses were built along the George Lane side of the Park to the corner of Stainton Road. These were short lived as they were destroyed, beyond the level of repair in the Blitz (19), and by 1949 the land had been subsumed back into the Park.

After the closure of the school on Brownhill Road, latterly Catford Boys, in the early 1990s, the playing fields were reunited with the rest of the Park.

The Park has been public open space for the citizens of Catford, Hither Green and elsewhere for over a century, although during World War Two much of the Park was turned over the allotments. It has an active Friends Group, a lovely community garden, a cafe, a parkrun and it is home to the now biennial Lewisham Peoples Day – 2020 will be the 35th edition. While the Victorian views towards Shooters Hill have been lost, the urban views up and down the Ravensbourne Valley and towards Forest Hill while now urban, remain almost as impressive as when Henry Tibbats Stainton moved in during the 1840s.

Notes

  1. Godfrey Smith (1997) Hither Green – The Forgotten Hamlet p34
  2. Leland Duncan (1908) History of the Borough of Lewisham p157
  3. Smith op cit p 34
  4. ibid p34
  5. ibid p34
  6. Henry Tibbats Stainton (1857) Stainton’s Handbook of Butterflies and Moths’ p257
  7. ibid p11
  8. ibid p104
  9. ibid p124
  10. ibid p124
  11. Kentish Mercury, 2 June 1893
  12. Kentish Mercury, 6 July 1900
  13. Kentish Mercury, 29 November 1901
  14. Kentish Mercury, 4 March 1904
  15. Smith, op cit, p59
  16. Kentish Mercury, 1 July 1904
  17. Smith, op cit, p34
  18. ibid p 59
  19. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps p129
Census, marriage and related information comes via Find My Past
Picture Credits
  • The drawing of Lophopteryx Carmelita is a part of a picture via Wikipedia and is on a Creative Commons
  • The Ordnance Survey map from 1867 is via the National Library of Scotland on a non-commercial licence
  • The black and white photograph of the gardens and outhouses and that of Catford Southend are from the collection of Lewisham Archives, it remains their copyright and is used with their permission.

Passfields – Listed Lewisham Social Housing

One of the most attractive (from the outside at least) flatted social housing estates in Lewisham is the Passfields Estate on Bromley Road – along with the some of the remaining homes on the nearby Excalibur Estate, it is one of only two listed council estates in Lewisham.

After World War 2 with some sites, as we have seen in earlier posts, housing was developed soon after the war to try to ameliorate the homelessness and destruction of homes as a result of the V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks and the Blitz.  Such estates included Heather Grove on Hither Green Lane and Lewisham Hill, The post-war brick shortages and the need for new housing quickly meant that other sites – such as the parkland of Forster Memorial Park and Hillyfields, along with some smaller sites whether there had been large scale V-1 destruction, such as Lenham Road and what is now the Mercator Estate became home to prefabs. Passfields was one of the former group.

It had been farmland until after World War One; the 1916 published Ordnance Survey map shows the small Whtehouse Farm still there (just down from the junction between Bromley and Bellingham Roads) with several fields behind, although on the front was one of a series of sports grounds that faced onto Bromley Road.  The probable home for a while to Catford Southend, and certainly home to Waygood Athletic afterwards, was a little higher up beyond Park House (which remains in a much modified form as the Territorial Army Centre.)

By the outbreak of the Second World War, while the farm buildings remained, Whitehouse Farm was no more – its land had been sold and the private sector homes of Conisborough Crescent Woodham, Arkindale, Bosbury and Carstairs Roads, along with Daneswood Avenue had all been built.

The Passfields estate was designed for the Borough of Lewisham as council housing in 1949-50 by J B Shaw of Fry, Drew and Partners. There are a 101 homes – a mixture of flats, bedsits and maisonettes – the presence of the latter was unusual at the time. Similarly the balconies that were an important feature in the design were more of a rarity up to that point.

The builders were Ove Arup and Partners, now better known as engineers.  The block behind Bromley Road is slightly curved, reflecting the constraints of the site – at the time this was innovative in large blocks.

Importance too was placed on the landscaping – both in terms of the areas between the blocks at right angles to Bromley Road and in the centre of the estate.  It was an estate that received recognition at the time winning an award at the Festival of Britain. More recently it was given Grade 2 listing in 1998.

Cherry and Pevsner waxed lyrically about the estate in ‘Buildings of England’ (1)

Passfields …is one of the most interesting groups of flats to be built immediately after the Second World War in London…..Curved five-storeyed range, a shorter projecting wing again ‘breaking’ at right angles and returning with the former direction.  To the SW three-storeyed blocks….. Extremely good minor details, such as light fittings and lamp standards.

Like all the council homes in this part of Lewisham it was transferred to the community gateway, resident controlled, housing association, Phoenix in 2007.  Phoenix obtained Planning Permission for refurbishment work to the estate in 2011 which was completed a few years later. Most of the homes remain in social ownership – Land Registry data suggests that around a quarter of the homes had been sold under Right to Buy by the end of March 2019.

 

Notes

  1. Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner (1983) The Buildings of England – London 2: South p428

Land Registry data on the sales comes via Nimbus Maps

Picture Credit

The Ordnance Survey map is on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland

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

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.