Running Past has covered several of the farms of Lee that predated the gradual encroachment of the city – Lee Green Farm, Horn Park Farm, Woodman’s Farm and the slightly smaller operation of Butterfield Dairy. College Farm is a farm that the blog has mentioned a few times before in passing and was to be the final home of the large scale Lee farmer, William Morris (sometimes called Morriss) who ran both Lee Green and Horn Park Farms for many years. College Farm was a largely dairy farm which stood on the western side of Burnt Ash Hill, located roughly where Farmcote Road now meets Burnt Ash Hill.
Before continuing, College Farm should not be confused with a farm of the same name on Lewisham High Street which was farmed latterly by the Clarks who end up at the close by Butterfield Dairy..
The land for the farm has its roots in the early 17th century, it was bought by Henry Howard, the Earl of Northampton to help provide income for Trinity Hospital in Greenwich which was founded in 1613 (there was a post on the blog in 2015 on Trinity Hospital) (1). The land was initially woodland, but like most of the woodland in Lee it was probably felled for farmland during the 17th century. It was managed on behalf of Trinity Hospital by the Mercers Company (2).
In 1839, College Farm was being farmed at part of the large portfolio of land which William Morris leased in the area – Running Past has covered Morris in some detail in a post on Lee Green Farm. It was listed in the 1839 Lee Tithe schedule as being of 61 acres – it was mainly set to pasture as part of Morris’ extensive dairy operation. Some fields had some rather attractive names such as Little Climbrooks (see below – source).
In his latter years Morris was to make College Farm his home, passing away there in early 1851. His second wife, Susannah, continued to hold the farm for another 4 years – she surrendered the lease in 1855 to William Brown (4). It appears that by 1893 Brown was the freeholder, but it may have been much earlier than this.
There was an attempt to let the farm house separate to the farm, presumably by William Brown in 1862 (5). Whether this was successful or not is unclear, but by 1871 the Bowditchs were listed in the census as living at College Farm, Kerslake Terrace. The father of the family was away on business on census night and doesn’t appear in subsequent censuses. Charles Edward Bowditch was living there with his mother, Anne, his cousin and a Dutch visitor. The family seems to have been around Lee since at least the Morris’ time, as Charles was born there in 1851.
There were three other households in Kerslake Terrace in 1871 which appears to have been the name of the workers cottages on or adjacent to the farm, they were given the similar ‘Karslake’ name in 1881.
It seems that the farm was run for a while as a joint enterprise between Charles and, presumably, his brother Stephen (born 1852) but this was ended in 1879. Stephen carried on as a dairy farmer, based at 2, The Limes, Lee in 1881. Charles stayed on at College Farm, having married Caroline from Cambridgeshire in 1878.
Like many modern farms, College Farm tried to diversify – it offered ‘board and residence’ in The Standard a couple of times in October 1881 – interestingly Lee was still regarded as ‘very pretty country’ at that stage (6).
The Bowditches remained at the farm during the latter part of the 19th century – in 1891 there was Charles, Caroline, four daughters along with Ann(e). By the 1911 census Charles seems to have retired he and had moved to Wisteria Road in Lewisham, his occupation is listed both as ‘none’ and ‘dairy farmer’ so it is probably reasonable to assume that the 60 year old Charles had retired. He passed away in 1915.
The presumably shrinking farm was taken over by the Edwards Family – Public Health Reports listed them having 36 cows in 1913 along with 56 at Burnt Ash Farm – they were being farmed together, along with a few other local farms. It seems likely that by this stage that the College Farm was just being used for milking and storage (7) – there is a photo above of some rather dilapidated looking buildings on the farm from that era (see notes for source). The Edwards and Sons were a relatively large scale dairy enterprise with 60 shops around SE London – the family name continued to be used for a while after it was taken over by United Dairies (8) in 1927. The photo below is a field from the farm from around this time (see notes for source).
The numbers were the same in 1919 but reports after that don’t list the dwindling number of dairy operations – which halved between 1919 and 1924 to just six, it probably didn’t include College Farm though.
The encroachment of suburbanisation continued apace in Lee as the series of maps below from 1867, 1893 and 1914 show (all on a creative commons from the National Library of Scotland). By the next time the cartographers visited in the 1930s to update the maps the farm was gone – 1920s and 1930s terraces and semis were to sweep away most the remaining farmland in the area – as we saw with Wates development of the neighbouring Melrose/Woodman’s Farm. It is likely that the developer was a local builder that we have covered before, W J Scudamore and Sons, part of what was referred to as the Northbrook Estate – Farmcote Road began to be developed in 1925 (9) .
- Josephine Birchenough (1981) Some Farms and Fields in Lee p13
- ibid p13
- ibid p13
- Like much of the family detail on William Morris – this information comes via a comment to the blog on the post on William Morris and Lee Green Farm
- The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Apr 16, 1862; pg. 6
- The Standard (London, England), Thursday, October 13, 1881; pg. 8; Issue 17858.
- Birchenough op cit p13
- Ibid p 11
- Joan Read (1990) Lewisham Street Names and Their Origins p22
The last two photographs are produced courtesy of Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre. The census and related information generally comes from Find My Past although some relating to William Morris comes from a comment by Mike on the Lee Green Farm post.