Tag Archives: Fairy Hall Flow

Following the Quaggy – Chinbrook Meadows to Eltham Bridge

In previous posts, Running Past has followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom and then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley and through the golf courses of Sundridge Park and on to Chinbrook Meadows.

We left the Quaggy in a concrete channel coming out of Chinbrook Meadows.  A small weir lowers the level of the river bed as it exits the park, it is not to provide a more natural bed though, the notched river bed gives way to a flat one but it is still concrete – attempting to quickly move the water on, as was de-rigour in the 1960s.  The river isn’t completely barren at this point – some small plants are clinging onto an existence but struggling to put down any roots.

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It is in a clear valley as it crosses Chinbrook Road, with climbs up to both Grove Park Station and the Grove Park and Chinbrook housing estates (both covered by the excellent Municipal Dreams blog).  But that is about as natural as it gets – while the shape of the banks and the bed change the concrete seems to remain as the Green Chain Path follows its eastern bank, it is a path that it marked on early Ordnance Survey maps (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland)

 

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The path emerges out onto what used to be called Claypit Lane but is now called Marvels Lane.  The road is bridged and heads towards the entrance to some playing fields – this isn’t how it has always been though.  As the Ordnance Survey map above from the 1890s shows, there used to be a small pool and a distinct meander at this point – taking  the Quaggy in front of the former agricultural workers cottages – Sydenham Cottages (below) – presumably for Claypit Farm (just off map, although no longer marked by the 1890s).

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There was serious flooding there – notably in 1968 – which seems to have led the channelisation and straightening of the river.  The Quaggy encased in concrete is now more or less devoid of life at this point.  Its former meander is now the Sydenham Cottages nature reserve which despite its river bank location has almost no trace of wetland habitat remaining.

The straight channel is slightly disturbed opposite the nature reserve with a concrete access ramp (see above left photograph) – this has led to some fluvial deposits in the slowest moving bits of the river.  Plants have colonised the sediments, but it is a precarious existence, without deep roots, they could be lost to the next high flow.

Opposite the nature reserve, and clearly visible from it is the outflow, just above the river level, one of the tributary streams joins the Quaggy, Grove Park Ditch – which rises in Marvels Wood and has an attractive 400 metres through woodland and park edge before being forcibly submerged around the edge of the Chinbrook Estate and then the playing fields of the former Fairy Hall – which gave its name to another stream in the Quaggy catchment, Fairy Hall Flow.

The river is followed by the Green Chain Path for another hundred metres or so before the path veers off to the right towards Mottingham Lane and the last home of WG Grace.  For those following the river as a walk this is the way to head and then re-join the Quaggy near at the junction with Winns Avenue.

For most of the 20th Century the former over spill Greenwich Union Workhouse, Grove Park Hospital, dominated the area – its land went up to the banks of the Quaggy – the slight valley is clear from the postcard below (source eBay November 2016).

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The location both as a workhouse and in its early days as a hospital, led to its under use as it away from the urban area.  It spent time as a military barracks and hospital during World War 1 ( see post card below – eBay May 2016) but was a TB and chest hospital for most of its ‘life’, although latterly became a mental health institution – the development of care in the community and associated hospital closure programme meant that its days were numbered.  It closed in 1994 and is now a mixture of a private health club and housing.

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There used to be a second meander, in what were the grounds of Grove Park Hospital but that too was removed presumably at the same time as that of Sydenham Cottages.  The meander is easy to see on the ground, next to the former hospital is a private leisure centre through whose ground there is access to a scrubby field that gently slopes down to the river, the path to it, which traverses a broken down bit of chain link fencing, is easy to miss though.  The former meander is a jungle of brambles which proved something of an obstacle to the bare-legged urban explorer.  A little further along the path that loops around the unkempt grass, the Quaggy is reachable and seems almost back to its semi-rural state last seen on Tong Farm, several miles back upstream.  It is but a brief interlude though – the Wates developed houses on the former Melrose Farm soon appear on the western bank and the river is left to flow behind the gardens of Westdene Avenue and Jevington Way.

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On the eastern bank is Hadlow College, which was once the site of a large Victorian house, Mottingham Hall.  For a while, the site was the Macintyre Nature Reserve – part of an organisation that provided support for people with mental health disabilities, it then became an outpost of Phoebes Garden Centre, before being taking on by Hadlow College.  Contours would suggest that there may have been at least one stream joining the Quaggy in this area.

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The Quaggy emerges into the public gaze by the side of the entrance to the College, still with natural banks, although one is lost as it hugs the side of Mottingham Lane before flowing through a shiny new screen to prevent blockages in a section under the Lane.  The opposite side of the road is then meandered against, with the fields of Mottingham Riding School on the other side, before a confluence with one of the Quaggy’s larger tributaries, the Little Quaggy close to the Sidcup by-pass (below, right.)

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In several Facebook threads there are memories of playing in the river in this area, catching sticklebacks and taking them home in jam jars, going through the underground sections of the river both under Mottingham Lane and the braver ones under the A20. Others used to play ‘Quaggy jumping’ in this area near the now closed Dutch House pub. ‘It was always a triumph when you reached the other side without getting wet shoes, good days.’

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Any feelings of ‘rus in urbe’ are soon lost after crossing the A20, while edged by grass and trees on initially scrubland and then a series of sports grounds, the concrete bed and banks return in their bleakest form anywhere on the river, any remaining sticklebacks would be hard pressed to find food.  The concrete course is almost as straight as a Roman road as it bypasses playing fields including the new home of Greenwich Borough FC, whose previous permanent ground, Harrow Meadow, adjacent to the Quaggy in Sutcliffe Park was lost to developers in 2009 – and they had a nomadic existence for a few years.  On the opposite bank, until the early 1930s, would have been the Middle Park Farm – like Horn Park Farm it was originally site one of the Eltham Palace’s hunting parks.

The river then squeezes between back gardens and is bridged the South Circular – on the south side it is shielded by a wall of a height that makes visibility of the flow impossible; on the northern side while the parapet was lower the overhanging shrub on both sides of the river meant that the flow was still invisible. It emerges back into the open at Eltham Bridge.  This is an area that is still subject to flooding – over 20 houses were flooded around Christmas 2013.  Before leaving the Quaggy there for another day a stop at the Bridge is worth making; it has an old London County Council sign with a wide variety of rules relating to bridges it controlled up until 1965.  Mooring a vessel at Eltham Bridge would be quite challenging though …..

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Grove Park Ditch – A Quaggy Tributary

As Running Past has noted before, little imagination went into the naming of most of the Quaggy’s tributaries, the notable exception being Mottingham’s Fairy Hall Flow.  Grove Park Ditch is one of those appellations that is lacking in allure, purely functional, mundanely descriptive – although, as we will find, it is in places much more than that.

Grove Park Ditch is a near neighbour of the seemingly no longer flowing Fairy Hall Flow, its source in Lower Marvels Wood is a couple of hundred metres away from where the Flow once babbled through farmland on what is now Beaconsfield Road.

The ‘source’ is in the lovely Lower Marvels Wood, presumably a remnant of the past woods that covered the area now part of the Green Chain Walk.

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The amount of water at the source is impressive, and has eroded a relatively deep channel which was quite a slippery scramble to get down see.  It presumably isn’t the real source; there is a concrete construction around the ‘source’ with a just visible pipe curving off to the east – presumably water is culverted from somewhere else.  There are one or two small ponds marked on Victorian OS maps a little higher up the gently sloping hillside in Marvels Wood – they aren’t marked on modern maps and my limited exploration on a very soggy Sunday morning failed to find any sign of them.

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After the initial erosion from the force of the water from the source, the ‘valley’ soon becomes imperceptible with the Ditch clinging to the southern edge of Lower Marvels Wood, almost hidden from the playing fields it borders.  For a small stream flowing through woodland and a park edge, it seems to ‘attract’ a vast quantity of urban debris, if the large pile by the plastics and glass by the traps close to Lambscroft Avenue is anything to go by – this is just before the Ditch is lost to view,

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The ‘Ditch,’ once encased in concrete, heads down the gentle slope, under houses towards the playing fields of Eltham College.  The exact route is unclear; it isn’t marked on old OS maps as a stream.  However, as historical boundaries often followed natural features such as streams, it is quite likely that the original course marked the local government boundary from the highlighted boundary stone (on the map below) until it reached the Quaggy.  During my reconnoitre I didn’t hear the sounds of rushing water emanating from below manhole covers, however, this may have related more to the cacophony of the above ground torrential rain, with one or two thunderous rumbles, drowning out any subterranean sounds.

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Any access to the playing fields of Eltham College (Running Past  has ‘visited’ the former Fairy Hall before) and those of the City of London School is limited, the gates are locked and the borders are patrolled. So it wasn’t possible to see whether there was any above ground evidence of the Ditch, maps suggest there might be, although the satellite view of Google suggests that it is submerged, hidden just beyond the boundaries of cricket pitches.  The maps appear to show another small stream or drainage ditch too.

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The outflow of Grove Park Ditch is a pipe from the wall of the horribly channelised Quaggy – the walls and river bed are concrete and presumably devoid of much life as a result.  As the Quaggy Action Group suggested a decade ago, it is a ‘suitable case of treatment’ of the kind that has enhanced both Chinbrook Meadows and Sutcliffe Park, both visually and in their ability to hold storm flows.  The outflow was easier to see than to photograph from the Green Chain Walk path, although this was largely because of the siling rain when I ‘explored’ for this post.

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While not part of the ‘Ditch’, on the western side of the Quaggy there is modern cartographic evidence of a couple of streams joining the Quaggy from the area around what is now Hadlow College, the Victorian OS map showing just the ponds, however, this too is private land and not accessible to the fluvial flâneur.

 

Going with the Flow – In Search of Fairy Hall Flow

When it comes to the naming of the tributaries of the Quaggy there seems to have been a decided lack of imagination – of those the blog has already visited we have seen Upper, Middle and Lower Kid Brooks, the Hither Green Quaggy and the Little Quaggy.  Those to come, at the time of writing in July 2015, include Border Ditch, Milk Ditch and Grove Park Ditch – none are that inspiring, even the Quaggy itself, probably derives from ‘quagmire.’

However, the small stream Fairy Hall Flow more than makes up for this – its delightful title coming from an earlier appellation of Eltham College, but as that is mid-way down-stream we’ll return to that later.

The exact source isn’t entirely clear although it is possible to track the Flow to Elmstead Wood on the 1907 surveyed 25” OS map, beyond that it is a little unclear.  On the ground though there are what look like intermittent streams in that area of the Wood, one with a small plank bridge – but after the long dry spell prior to my run along the course of the stream they were distinctly water free – I do remember more water in some of these ditches before when running past on Green Chain Walk.

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This is old oak woodland, although the name suggests otherwise – Elmstead, ‘the place where elm trees grow’ was first recorded in 1320 and the woods were part of the Bishop of Rochester’s estate and used to provide timber for shipbuilding.

For the most part, the Flow follows Beaconsfield Road northwards, although it diverts from the road in various places – such as at the northern end of Framlingham Crescent where there is a tell-tale dip 40 metres from Beaconsfield Road.  Until the 1930s this was farmland, and the Flow ran free.

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The farmland was part of Court Farm (previously known as Crews Farm) and was one of two farms that were part of the Fairy Hall estate – the other Mottingham Farm, was on Mottingham Lane. The 244 acres of Court Farm were acquired by London County Council (LCC) in the early 1930s and around 2300 homes were planned for a projected 12,000 residents.  The first home was occupied in 1935. With an early, now replaced, school at Castlecombe Road finished in 1937 for the burgeoning population.

The homes will have presumably transferred to the London Borough of Bromley when the successor of the LCC, the Greater London Council (GLC), lost its housing powers in 1980, and those not sold under Right to Buy being subsequently transferred to Broomleigh Housing Association in 1992.

The farm itself was at a bend in the Flow, around the present location of Dorset Road Infants’ School.  Then it’s North along Court Farm Road to the place it takes its name from.

Fairy Hall was an early 18th century country mansion, initially called Fairy Hill (there is a park of this name about half a mile away, skirted by a buried Little Quaggy).  It was home to a variety of the wealthy of Georgian and Victorian England – including the Tory grandee Baron Aspley of Aspley who became 2nd Earl of Bathurst and James Hartley, a shipping magnate.  His widow, Jane, was the final private owner.

In 1889 it was taken over by the Royal Naval School, which had outgrown its original buildings in New Cross, now Goldsmiths College.  The School closed in 1910 but the building was bought by the London Missionary Society’s School for the Sons and Orphans of Missionaries in 1912. This had been based in an imposing building in Independents Road in Blackheath, their previous ‘home’ was in turn taken over by the Church Army, and more recently, by the private Blackheath Hospital.

Presumably as the number of missionaries reduced, the potential clientele needed to be changed and it has since become a fee paying school, Eltham College.

One of the school’s most famous pupils was Eric Liddell, a son of missionaries, he was one of the finest sprinters of his generation, winning the 400 metre gold in the Paris Olympics of 1924 in a World Record time of 47.6 seconds. Liddell had to pull out of the 100 metres as his religious beliefs prevented him running on a Sunday. His style was ungainly but effective – his obituary in the Guardian described him as ‘probably the ugliest runner who ever won an Olympic championship.’ His athletic career was portrayed in the film ‘Chariots of Fire.’

Like his parents, he moved to China as a missionary in 1925, remaining there until his death in a Japanese internment camp – probably from a brain tumour.  The sports centre that is at Eltham College, takes his name.

There is a fine façade to the former Fairy Hall, but it is hidden behind car parks, cricket nets, large shrubs and signage.  The picture below shows the Hall in its prime (source here).  It had a large lakes, fed by the Flow, including a boathouse – see map below which was surveyed during the 1860s.

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The lakes at Eltham College were filled in years ago – the course of the Flow thereafter is relatively easy to follow the gentle rise upward of  the contours of Mottingham Lane mean that there was only one escape for the water – along what is now King Johns Walk to join the Little Quaggy.  King John’s Walk (named after the son of Edward II) is an old lane linking the royal residence of Eltham Palace with hunting estates to the south.

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It seems likely that another small stream joined the Flow around here. Its source was around  to Chapel Farm and followed  Mottingham Road and behind Leysdown Road to stream junction around King John’s Walk. The stream was buried when the area was developed but still forms the boundary between Greenwich and Bromley.  As it seems nameless, and it runs close to the Porcupine pub – I would suggest Porcupine Brook. The Porcupine itself seems to have an uncertain future, bought by Lidl, although a planning permission was rejected and there were plans to set it up as a community run pub.

As with the rest of the route along the Flow there is no visual sign of the confluences – the streams are underground – the Little Quaggy emerges into meadows alongside the Sidcup bypass a hundred metres or so downstream.  Whether the Flow is actually flowing at the point it joins the Little Quaggy is a different matter, the waters of the Flow may well have been diverted elsewhere – with culverted streams there is sometimes a giveaway sound of water rushing under manholes even on a dry day.  Sadly there was none of this with the Fairy Hall Flow, it is seemingly consigned to the work of cartographers past and the Environment Agency flood planners – its name deserves more than that.