Tag Archives: Eastdown Park

The 1878 Lewisham and Lee Floods

There were serious floods in Lewisham in September 1968 which Running Past covered on their 50th anniversary. Previous floodings of the Ravensbourne, Quaggy and Pool were mentioned in passing at that stage, including a reference to some very serious ones 90 years earlier in 1878. It is to these that we now turn our attention. In syndicated press reports it was reported that in Lewisham the ‘whole of the village (was) 3 or 4 feet deep in water’ (1).

The 19th century had seen several inundations of Lee and Lewisham –  Victorian historian FH Hart noted very serious floods in 1814 as the ice melted following one of the last big freezes of the Little Ice Age – the last time there was a frost fair on the Thames.  There had also been really bad ones in 1853 and another flooding following a period of heavy rain on Christmas Eve 1876 – but the 1878 ones were described as being ‘the worst in living memory’ (2). 

The spring of 1878 seems to have been a very dry warm one with surfaces left hardened.  From the early hours of Thursday 11 April 1868, 3¼ inches (83 mm) of rain fell in 12 hours while this was the highest for 64 years, it was substantially less that the rainfall that led to the 1968 floods.

Unlike the floods 90 years later in 1968, where the devastation was similar in the three catchments of the Ravensbourne, Pool and Quaggy; in 1878 it was mainly in the Quaggy and the Ravensbourne below the confluence with the Quaggy near Plough Bridge – named after the pub of the same name (pictured just before its demolition around 2007).

This is not to say the other parts of the catchment escaped – there was flooding higher up the Ravensbourne with Shortlands impassable; the local landowners at Southend, the Forster’s, home was flooded and the nearby bridge on Beckenham Lane (now Hill Road) was washed away – the bridge that replaced is pictured in the background of the postcard below. The cricket pitches by Catford stations were flooded up to sills of pavilion windows. Similarly, Bell Green was impassable on the River Pool (5).

The local press though focussed on the Quaggy and lower Ravensbourne – we’ll follow the trail of destruction and damage downstream from Lee Green. 

At Lee Green the basement of the shops at what was then called Eastbourne Terrace on Eltham Road (to the left of the photo, a couple of decades later) were completely flooded out with seemingly some flooding at ground level too. 

Further downstream where the Quaggy is bridged by Manor Lane, the road was impassable.  The area was in a period of transition from its rural past to suburbia, having been opened up by the railways through (but not stopping at) Hither Green, Lee and Blackheath.  There were still some larger houses from the exclusive village past – all situated in the higher ground around Old Road and on the hill between Lee High Road and Belmont Hill.   The lower lying fields were under water as was any housing built on the flood plain.  The same continued downstream through what is now Manor Park – the course of the Quaggy was a little different at that stage though. 

The houses that had been completed on what is now Leahurst Road (then a dog leg of Ennersdale Road) which backed onto the Quaggy were badly flooded.  As a result of the 1876 floods, the local Board of Works had built a large concrete wall, an early use of the material, to try to reduce the impact of future floods.  It was described as ‘perfectly useless’ as water bypassed it and inundated the houses in Eastdown Park.  The wall is still there – extended upwards a little after the 1878 floods.

There was a small dairy on Weardale Road, probably next door to the Rose of Lee.  Unsurprisingly it became flooded and the cowherd turned out the 30 cows who were found wandering in the water on Manor Park. The were taken to the higher ground of Lee Manor Farm.  Elsewhere in Lee, pigs were drowned.   

Beyond the Rose of Lee the relatively newly built Eastdown Park bridge ‘blown up by the force of the water.’ The bridge between Weardale Road and Eastdown Park also seems to have been destroyed.

The food waters became deeper as they went down Lee High Road, up to 1.2 metres (4’) deep in the houses of Elm Place, just before Clarendon Rise (then Road).  The Sultan on the other side Clarendon Rise was badly flooded too – the third time that this had happened in a decade as the publican, Robert Janes, explained in the press. The pub is pictured below from the next century.

Beyond the Sultan, flood waters flowed both over and under the road – at one point it was expected that the culvert  from the bottom of Belmont Hill to St Stephens church might be destroyed but in the end it was just the road surface that was wrecked – this is the high pavement that now stands in front of the police station. 

The roadway in front of St Stephens several feet underwater – with the Roebuck, Plough and other pubs such as the Albion all flooded.  Boats used to ferry people through Lewisham.  There was a real bottle neck around Plough Bridge, the ‘utter insufficiency’ of the narrow Plough Bridge to carry off ordinary storm water was regarded as one of the causes too. The whole area around Lewisham Bridge (pictured below from a few decades later) badly flooded, particularly Molesworth and Rennell Streets and unsurprisingly Esplanade Cottages in the middle of the Ravensbourne, along with the pub the Maid in Mill and rest of Mill Lane.

An iron girder bridge at Stonebridge Villas was washed down along with a wall by the railway, built to try to reduce flooding a year before was washed away – hundreds of houses on the lower lying parts of what became the Orchard estate to the east of the Ravensbourne were inundated. It was the same with the market gardens on the western side, along with large swathes of Deptford. Virtually all the area around the Ravensbourne on the map below from 15 years later was left underwater.

In addition to the high rainfall there was a clear underlying cause which was summed up well by a local man, Frederick Barff, who had grown up in Lee when it was still rural but was living in Eastdown Park in 1871 and if still there in 1878 would have been flooded out. He observed that prior to the development of Lee from the mid-1850s while there had been flooding, it initially stood in large areas of fields which absorbed the runoff without major consequences. The growth of Victorian suburbia had led to increased run off and more water ending up in rivers and stream and at a quicker pace (6).

In the immediate aftermath a temporary wooden bridge over the Quaggy between Weardale Road and Eastdown Park was approved the following day by the Metropolitan Board of Works (7).

There was a public meeting at the Plough on the Friday (next day) to ‘consider the best means of alleviating the distress amongst the poor of Lewisham, Lee, Blackheath and Catford. Crowded by the clergymen, parish officials and leading tradesmen of the district.’ In days before the state intervened in disasters like this it was left to charity to provide ‘coal and relief to those poor people in the district’ whose homes had been flooded. Over £200 was collected or promised for the Lewisham and Lee Inundation Relief Fund – with £120 going to the parishes of St Mark and St Stephen in central Lewisham that had been worst affected; £50 for Ladywell; with £50 for Lee and Blackheath.

So, what happened afterwards?  The approach that was used was one that continued towards the end of the 20th century and the 1968 floods – straightening and deepening rivers to try to move water on more rapidly.  This happened on the Quaggy behind what is now Brightfield Road – as the maps from 1863 and 1893 show. The Quaggy was also moved and straightened between Manor Park and Longhurst Roads – this happened a little later once the land was developed for housing.

Several bridges were replaced – the partially destroyed Eastdown Park bridge was rebuilt and replaced with a girder one (see below from the river), the river level is lower there now too, although whether this happened post 1878 or 1968 isn’t immediately clear (8). 

Plough Bridge was replaced in 1881 by the Metropolitan Board of Works (9) having been preceded by ‘general dredging and clearing the channels of the river’ (10).  Later a new sewer between Lee Bridge and Deptford Creek was constructed to try to take some pressure off the rivers from run off (11).

Another bridge replaced by the Board of Works was the one on Lee Road.  Previously this had been a ford and footbridge, but a large single span bridge replaced it following the floods, presumably with a lowering of the river bed (12). 

The underlying problems remained though, making flows quicker may alleviate problems in one location but without storage and a whole catchment solution, including the ability to control flows on the Thames it wasn’t much better than a sticker plaster. The fields that had acted as sponges continued to be developed and increased run off. In reality, not much had changed by the 1968 floods and it took the development of flood storage in Sutcliffe Park (pictured below) in the early 2000s to really make much difference. Without it Lewisham would regularly flood – it is pictured from late 2020.

Notes

Most of the information for this post comes from the Kentish Mercury of 27 April 1878 which covered the flooding and its aftermath in depth.  Readers can assume that contemporary information comes from there unless otherwise referenced.

  1. Dundee Courier 12 April 1878
  2. Kentish Mercury 20 April 1878
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. ibid
  7. Kentish Independent – 13 April 1878
  8. Woolwich Gazette 31 July 1880
  9. Woolwich Gazette 1 October 1881
  10. Kentish Mercury 16 October 1880
  11. Woolwich Gazette 17 June 1882
  12. Woolwich Gazette 31 July 1880

Credits

  • Census and related data comes via Find My Past, subscription required
  • The Ordnance Survey maps are on a non-commercial licence via the National Library of Scotland
  • Postcards of Lewisham Bridge and what was then Beckenham Lane are via eBay from 2016
  • The photograph of the Sultan is used with the permission of Robert Crawford, the great grandson of the Craddocks, licensees there in the 1920s, it remains his family’s copyright
  • The photograph of the destroyed bridge in Eastdown Park is from the collection of Lewisham Archives and remains their copyright, but is used with their permission

Beating the Bounds of Lee, Part 6 – Following the Quaggy

During the 2020 Coronavirus lockdown Running Past followed the long, thin boundary of Victorian Lee before it was subsumed into Lewisham in 1900, aided only by a 1893 Second Edition Ordnance Survey map. This has been in stages, from Lee Green to Winn Road, appropriately passing Corona Road en route; the second part took us through Grove Park, crossing the never built Ringway; we then passed through Marvels and Elmstead Woods and a Borough of Deptford Cemetery; the fourth part took us through Chinbrook Meadows appropriately following Border Ditch; and the last part followed the hidden stream Hither Green Ditch more or less parallel to Verdant Lane and Manor Lane.

We left the boundary at the confluence of Hither Green Ditch with the Quaggy to which we will return, following the red dots on the map.

The confluence has actually moved – in 1893 it was more or less where 49 Longhurst Road is now located; it is now around 40 metres away on a sharp corner between between Manor Park and Leahurst Road (pictured below).

In 1893 this was still, just, the land of Lee Manor Farm, although this would change dramatically over the next decade. As was the case when we followed the boundary along Hither Green Ditch, the Quaggy not only was the Lee – Lewisham boundary it was one between two farms. On the west was North Park Farm (the top of the map below) and on the east Lee Manor Farm – the sale of the former to Cameron Corbett who created what is known as the Corbett Estate and the latter by the Northbrooks in a more piecemeal fashion was to shape the urban landscape.

The boundary was within the flood plain, with the Quaggy meandering along the boundary of the farm, the Lee – Lewisham boundary of 1893. While this was acceptable in farmland it wasn’t in relation to the smaller suburban housing about to be developed the east of the railway. Memories of the devastating floods of 1878 will still have been prominent – the theory about dealing with such floods, which prevailed until the end of the following century, was to deepen and straighten the river, moving the water on as quickly as possible – this is clear from the photograph below. This approach also made development easier as had been seen with the development of Lampmead Road following the sale of Lee House in the 1880s.

Like the previous sections, the boundary is being followed on foot, the footwear of choice has changed though because while the rest of the route has been run, this section, apart from a 300 metre covered section in central Lewisham, is by walking along the river bed so waders became the footwear of choice.

The river and boundary continue to diverge for a little, the 1893 flow of the Quaggy and consequently the boundary meandered along what is now broadly Longhurst Road. It was never any more than 50 metres away from the river’s current, very straight, deep, engineered course. The convergence of the 19th boundary and the Quaggy more or less where the 21st century bridge from the the entrance from Longhurst Road into Manor Park is now situated – just above the start line for the annual (in non-COVID-19 years) Quaggy Duck Race.

While the Quaggy and Lee – Lewisham boundary are now coterminous and the meanders are broadly similar in 2020 to 1893, much changed in the intervening period. The Quaggy was straightened and channelised through what until the 1960s was the last bit of farming in Lee – a piggery. The open space, Manor Park, was created in the mid-1960s with meanders restored to something very close to those that existed in 1893 in 2007.

At the exit of the Park, there is a bridge, it is a long-standing crossing of the Quaggy, part of an ancient path known as Hocum Pocum Lane which ran from St Mary’s Church in Lewisham to Lee High Road. Despite the work done further upstream to deepen and straighten the course it flooded badly here in 1968.

Beyond Manor Park, the river and 1893 boundary squeezes between the Victorian housing of Weardale Road and Eastdown Park. The land for the latter land had already been developed by 1893, Eastdown Park on land that had been cultivated by the market gardens of Lewisham Nursery, run by Messrs Willmott and Chaundy, until 1860.

Beyond the river’s first meander is the garden of 45 Eastdown Park, possibly very briefly home to the Ginger Baker, his father was there just before the Cream drummer was born in 1939.  A hundred metres or so further on another there is another building with a musical history – the Rose of Lee, now Dirty South, which saw the first public performance by Kate Bush.

We have already mentioned serious flooding that occurred in the spring of 1878 in relation to straightening the Quaggy upstream.  However, while the meanders and boundary of Lewisham and Lee hadn’t changed since then, the depth of the watercourse had.  It is at least half a metre lower than in the prictue showing the partial destruction of the bridge in Eastdown Park.  So whilst it is a pleasant wander down the river there is little to see beyond boundary walls and banks for much of this stretch.

In 1893 on the opposite side of the Eastdown Park bridge was a Baptist Chapel, this was largely destroyed during World War 2 and the site is a vacant garage, last home to Penfold’s.

Both sides of the river and boundary into Lewisham were lined with housing in 1893; on the Lee (High Road) side a few remain, 152 was once home to William Sidery (pictured top) part of a multi generational Lee building firm.  Grove Cottage next to the Ambulance Station dates back to 1835 and 96 is the last remaining section of Lee Place (not to be confused with the eponymous mansion off Old Road) which was built in 1813 (lower picture) (1).

The remaining houses were largely lost to Fry’s garage and showrooms, which themsleves were replaced by a large Lidl and topped by an even larger block of flats this century.

On the opposite side of the river in Lewisham in 1893 was the well established College Park estate, briefly home to the poet James Elroy Flecker.

Behind the housing the river retains a pleasant almost rural feeling idlyll – it has probably changed very little in the 127 years since the Ordnance survey map being followed was surveyed.  

Beyond Clarendon Rise bridge, on the Lee side, was the Sultan in 1893 (pictured from early in the 20th century below), replaced in the last decade by Nandos; on the Lewisham side of the bridge is now the beautiful Hindu temple although that was a yard in 1893. Penfold’s moved into the site adjacent to both, known as Clarendon Yard around 1904.

The river disappears under what was referred to as Lee Bridge in 1893 for around 300 metres.  Alas, dear reader, this part was done at street level. 

The raised area above the river was an established shopping parade in 1896 with a tea dealer (83), a pair of boot makers (75 & 81), a wool shop (79), a confectioners with an architect and auctioneers above (77), Singer’s sewing machines (73), a stationers (71), a series of household goods shopsunder George Stroud’s ownership (65-69), a chemist (63), a florist (61) and the mainstay of that part of Lewisham high Street for generations – Chiesman’s Department Store (pictured a few years into the 20th century). 

Much has changed now, rather than Chiesmans dominating the street scene it is a massive and not particularly attractive police station. 

On the side of the police station is memorial that celebrates the contribution of Asquith Gibbes to Lewisham and, in the context of of the Black Lives Matter protests of earlier in lockdown, seems an important place to pause. Such memorials to members of London’s Black community remain a rarity, although just inside the Lee border is the Desmond Tutu Peace Garden, Tutu was a curate in Grove Park.

Asquith Gibbes was born in Grenada, and arrived in Britain in the late 1950s, working in Lewisham for 40 years fighting racial inequalities in education, policing and housing. There is a fuller biography of him as part of the brief for the memorial – two examples of his work have national significance. He chaired Millwall Anti-Racist Trust and instigated the ‘Kick it Out’ programme at Millwall Football Club in 1993, a campaign that was adopted nationally. Asquith was also part of very significant work with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office on reforming ‘stop and search’ rules.

Returning to the Lee – Lewisham boundary of 1893, the Quaggy re-emerges just beyond the shops of 1893 and the police station. The boundary though takes a sharp turn to the east (right) by St Stephen’s church, at what is/was the confluence of the Quaggy and Upper Kid Brook, following the latter towards Blackheath. We’ll cover that part of the boundary at our next visit.

Picture Credits

  • The picture of Chiesmans shop in Lewisham is via e Bay in June 2016
  • The photographs of 1968 floods, the destroyed bridge in Eastdown Park and the map of Lee Manor Farm are from the collection of Lewisham Archives and remain their copyright, but are used with their permission
  • The Ordnance Survey map of 1893 is via the National Library of Scotland on a non-commercial licence
  • The photograph of the Sultan is used with the permission of Robert Crawford, the great grandson of the Craddocks, licensees there in the 1920s, it remains his family’s copyright.

Note

1 Lewisham Leisure (1990) ‘From the Tiger to the Clocktower’

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

Lee High Road’s Lost Baptist Chapel

Over the years Running Past has covered many of the places of worship around Lee, Hither Green and Blackheath that have been lost, mostly due to World War Two damage.  These include Christ Church on Lee Park, Holy Trinity on Glenton Road, the Methodist Chapel on Hither Green Lane, the original Church of the Good Shepherd on Handen Road, as well as the Methodist Chapel in Blackheath Village and St Andrew’s in Vanburgh Park. We turn our attention to another of these, a Baptist Chapel that stood on the corner of Lee High Road and Eastdown Park

It was probably the first building on the site, while the Chapel predated the first Ordnance Survey maps by a decade, it was fields when John Rocque surveyed the 10 miles around London for his 1746 published map.

The area was rapidly developing following the arrival of the railway in Lewisham in 1849, large houses had already been developed in the narrow band between the Quaggy and Lee High Road from the second decade of the century; roads such as Marlborough (now Mercator) and Blessington were developed in the 1850s with other developments to the north of Lee High Road closer to Blackheath station.

The burgeoning population needed places of worship, St Margaret’s at the Belmont Hill/Brandram Road junction had been rebuilt in the 1840s and Christ Church on Lee Park had been carved out of the St Margaret’s in 1854.  It is not surprising then that other denominations wanted to ensure that those who had moved to the new suburbia had churches and chapels that met their spiritual needs.

The Baptist chapel at the corner of Lee High Road and Eastdown Park was probably the first in the area, predating the one built on the College Park Estate on Clarendon Rise by over a decade and the ‘tin’ tabernacle on what is now Baring Road by over 20 years.  It was completed in November 1854 (1).

The most important name in its early history was Robert Humphrey Marten who was the Minister there for almost 30 years – not quite as long as the 44 years of James Waite Davies at Baring Road, but an impressive tenure nonetheless.  Marten was born in London but prior to his arrival in Lee had been a Minister in Abingdon in Oxfordshire, where he was in 1851.

Despite being based in Abingdon, it appears that Marten seems to have been involved in the initial setting up of the chapel, including the provision of a pulpit before being persuaded to become Minister, starting his ministry there in November 1855 (2).

For most of his time in what was then referred to as Lee, he lived with his family at 53 Blessington Road.  He is listed on the Electoral Register there from 1859.  In the 1881 census he was there with his wife Rachel, two adult daughters who were both described as being a ‘gentlewoman’, plus two servants.   The house was destroyed in one of the V-1 attacks on what is now the Mercator Estate.  He was to die there in October 1885, aged 65 (3), leaving an estate of £6055, which was substantial for the time.

His successor was probably Tom Foston, who was appointed minister by 1885 and lived at 41 Blessington Road when the census enumerators called in 1891; he didn’t stay as long as he predecessor, he resigned in August 1893 (4) and was conducting his ministry in Derbyshire by the 1901 census.  The chapel is pictured from this era from slightly higher up Lee High Road with the Rose of Lee (now Dirty South) on the left and Manor Park Parade on the right, from around that time.

There is nothing obvious on-line about the history of the chapel in the early part of the 20th century.  The chapel was hit in 1941 during the Blitz and while not completely destroyed, the London County Council bomb damage maps coloured it purple – ‘damaged beyond repair’ (5).  The Sunday School building behind, previously referred to as a lecture room, seems to have been left intact.

Brick shortages after World War Two meant that, in terms of priorities, the secular needs of housing came before religious buildings. The only one of the churches destroyed locally that was rebuilt was the Church of the Good Shepherd on Handen Road, but work there wasn’t completed until 1957, when the church was re-consecrated.

It isn’t clear what happened to the congregation, there was still the Sunday School at the rear that they could have used, but in all likelihood the congregation probably dissipated, perhaps some joined the Baptist Church on Clarendon Rise with others heading to the South Lee Tabernacle. In any case, non-conformist groups, such as Baptists, were suffering a steady decline in numbers nationally in the 20th century from 2 million to 1.7 million in 1949, so maybe some contraction in the number of chapels was inevitable anyway.

As for the site, it seems to have remained empty until the early 1960s when it was taken over (and numbered 152a) by Fry’s presumably as the garage and ‘shop front’ for servicing and parts.  Fry’s main showrooms were a little further down Lee High Road into Lewisham – we’ll cover Fry’s at some stage in the future.

Fry’s were to remain there until around 1985 when the site was bought by Penfold’s Vauxhall dealership for their servicing and parts operation.  They had been previously been based at what is now the Sainsbury’s site on Burnt Ash Road.

Penfold’s continued to trade there until around 2015 when the business closed and was wound up, it is pictured above from 2008 via Google Streetview.  A planning application was approved in 2018 for a 5 storey building with 17 flats and commercial space below.  However, the site currently remains boarded up with no progress having been made, and For Sale boards are up.

Notes

  1. Kentish Mercury 24 November 1855
  2. ibid
  3. Kentish Mercury 30 October 1885
  4. Kentish Mercury 25 August 1893
  5. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 p119

Credits

  • The postcard of the chapel is via eBay from April 2016 and the one including Manor Park Parade from the same source in October 2019;
  • The 2008 photograph is via Google Streetview;
  • The Kelly’s Directory data was accessed via Lewisham Archives; and
  • Census, electoral register and related data comes from Find My Past (subscription required).