Tag Archives: Hither Green Cemetery

The Bombing of Sandhurst Road School

Perhaps the most depressing and bleak of Lewisham’s World War Two memorials can be found in Hither Green Cemetery on Verdant Lane – it is to the 38 children and 6 teachers who perished in a daytime bombing of Sandhurst Road School on 20 January 1943.

The school between Minard and Ardgowan Roads had been opened in 1904 – midway through the development of the Corbett Estate – it was not that dissimilar to many of the era, including the one on Eltham’s equivalent Corbett Estate.  The opening ceremony was performed by the Chairman of the London County Council (LCC), J Williams Benn – grandfather of the late Labour politician Tony Benn. The LCC had just taken over responsibility for London’s Schools including those in Lewisham, from the London School Board.

While many children had been evacuated from London during the Blitz of 1940 and 1941 most had returned to the capital.  It was to be another 18 months before V-1 rockets started hitting south London.  There were though a few sporadic attacks designed to terrorise the civilian population in the intervening period – often in relation for Allied bombing raids on German cities – these became more organised towards the end of 1943 with Operation Steinbock.

The facts as to what happened are quite simple; it was lunchtime at Sandhurst Road School on 20 January 1943.  A group of 28 Focke-Wulf 190 Fighter-Bombers, escorted by Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters (totalling about 60 planes), had taken off at around noon in occupied northern France and had evaded air defences and one of them was able to fly low over Catford and Downham. One of the  Focke-Wulfs was seen over Downham Way spraying bullets towards those on the ground; soon after it flew over Ardogowan Road, just above the roofs of the Corbett Estate, it was carrying a single 500 kg bomb.

At just before 12:30 the plane flew over Sandhurst Road School, there were reports that the plane looped around the school with the pilot waving to children in the playground.  On the ground the bell for lunch had just gone – a few children heard a distant air raid warning siren.  Some pupils made their way to the air raid shelter – oddly a bricked up classroom on the second floor.  The sound of the plane was heard and a few outside realised that it had black crosses of the Luftwaffe.

The bomb was dropped and the children in the air raid shelter were

transformed from neatly dressed school girls into ghastly frightening creatures, covered all over in dust which was choking us too and some of us bleeding from cuts …somehow, there was no panic — just bewilderment. Choking, bleeding and with tears streaming down our faces, we made our way out of the shelter, over girders, plaster, bricks, wood, glass ….. through the debris … there was a huge smouldering gap below us were the bodies of those children (who had been queuing up for lunch), some dead, some dying, some in terrible pain.

Initially even some of the children started to try to help with the rescue effort before emergency services arrived on the scene, but by the evening

it seemed that every available man in the locality was there, digging, some with their bare hands, as was my brother, frantically searching for loved ones, hearts and hands torn. Boys in the services home on leave, digging, searching, all through the night. The Red Cross, the women in the church hall just across the road making tea, tending those brought into the hut, even the vicar in his shirt sleeves had been there since the search had begun. All with one motive, even if it meant constant danger from falling rubble — to get those little mites out.

Sandhurst School1

© IWM. Original Source– Non-commercial reproduction allowed

Despite the claims of the pilot waving at children there is some debate as to whether the pilot realised that it was a school – his report on the raid noted that the large building destroyed was block of flats.  However, other local schools though seem to have been attacked by machine gun in the raid, not necessarily by the same plane though, including at the nearby Catford Boys School and at Prendergast (then on Rushey Green) and a little further away on Ilderton Road, off the Old Kent Road.

Sandhurst School 2

Source News Shopper

In addition to the attack on Sandhurst Road School and the indiscriminate machine-gunning of civilians, which killed six and injured fourteen, there were several other local bombings in the same raid – the recorded ones are serious damage to several houses in Woodlands Street, off Hither Green Lane; Woodham’s Yard on Sangley Road (covered in happier times in Running Past in 2017) took a direct hit with six perishing and 14 injured; and four houses were demolished in Glenfarg Road (1).

Most of the victims, 31 children and one of the teachers, Harriet Langdon, were buried together at Hither Green Cemetery in a civilian war dead plot a week later after a memorial service at St Andrew’s Church on Torridon Road.   The photograph of the crowded cemetery from the Illustrated London News, below (2), with the small coffins is perhaps the most poignant one relating to the bombing, much more so than those of the destruction to the school.

Equally moving was a description within one of the press reports from the Daily Herald (3) of one brief encounter with a 14 year old at the cemetery

“Children walked past the grave – snowdrops narcissi, anemones drifted over the silver name plates.

A girl twitched my coat.  She said “Can you see Rodney’s names down there?  I’ve brought violets for him. They’re the first from the garden.

She was June Jarrett.

When the school at Lewisham was hit, she spent hours searching in the debris for Rodney, her six-year-old brother.

Now with violets in her hand she sought him again.”

Unsurprisingly, most of the victims lived relatively close by, within a mile and a half or so of the school; there were still some who lived some distance away – their parents perhaps moving after the child had been admitted to the school. As has been noted in other posts on World War 2 bomb and rocket damage, despite the war there was still a lot of movement between homes in an area where the private rented sector was large and security of tenure limited, but obviously too because of damage to homes in the Blitz.  The biggest concentration was around  South Park Crescent where 5 of the victims lived.

The orange ‘pin’ marks the school, blue pins children, purple the homes of two siblings and red, the homes of the teachers who died (one is off map in Surrey).  The data came from the CWGC website.

There don’t seem to be any equivalent daytime attacks on Berlin schools by the RAF, although attacks tended to be at night time to avoid the German air defences.  There were in total just over 67,000 British civilian deaths during the war – a figure dwarfed by the numbers of ordinary Germans who died – estimates vary from 1.5 to 3 million, including thousands in the Charlottenburg area that Lewisham is now twinned with.  But it seems that this Terrorangriff, terror-raid, may have been a reprisal, demanded by Hitler, for a RAF bombing of Berlin on 17 January 1943.

That so many bombers got through the air defences without adequate warning and allowing such a catastrophic loss of young life to occur seems like an abject failure.  The Air Minister’s explanation was it was initially thought that the raid was heading for the south coast and it was policy not to send warnings to London unless it was certain that the raid was heading that way. Otherwise the Germans could have easily sent Londoners scurrying into shelters every few hours by sending planes over Kent.  It appears that of the 60 planes, it was a smaller group of around 12 that peeled off towards London which was initially missed and as a result warnings were late (4).

The school was rebuilt after the war and remains – there is a memorial garden of remembrance to the victims and a stained glass window.

There are several contemporary videos that include footage showing the devastation of the school, including this one.

There are some memories of a survivors of the attack in a documentary made to mark the anniversary of the start on World War 2.

Finally, it is worth remembering the names of those who died at the school

The children

  • Malcolm Britton Alexander (11)
  • Brenda Jean Allford (5)
  • Lorina Elizabeth Allford (7)
  • Olive Hilda Asbury (12)
  • Joan Elizabeth Baker (12)
  • Betty Ellen Barley (15)
  • Dennis Handford Barnard (10)
  • Ronald Edward Barnard (9)
  • Anne Rosemary Biddle (5)
  • Judith Maud Biddle (5)
  • Kathleen Myrtle Brazier (13)
  • Donald Victor Brewer (10)
  • Joyce Agnes Brocklebank (11)
  • Pauline Feo Carpenter (4)
  • Margaret Kathleen Grace Chivrall (12)
  • Pamela Mary Joyce Cooper (15)
  • Winifred Mary Cornell (13)
  • Eunice Joan Davies (9)
  • Pauline Mary Davies (7)
  • Joan Margaret Day (12)
  • Olive Annie Margaret Deavin (15)
  • Anthony Drummond (9)
  • Janet Mary Dutnall (5)
  • Richard George Fagan (9)
  • Cyril Arthur Glennon (6)
  • Norman Frederick Greenstreet (8)
  • Norah Marie Harrison (9)
  • Sylvia May Ellen Head (12)
  • Iris May Hobbs (15)
  • Rodney Charles Ash Jarrett (6)
  • John Edward Jones (10)
  • Doreen Alice Lay (6)
  • Mary Rosina O’rourke (15)
  • Evelyn Joyce Scholes (11)
  • Pamela Eileen Silmon (10)
  • Clive Derek Tennant (8)
  • Doreen Thorne (12)
  • Edna Towers (12)

And the teachers

  • Ethel Jessie Betts (53)
  • Virginia Mary Carr (38)
  • Mary Frances Jukes (38)
  • Gladys Maud Knowelden (51)
  • Harriet Irene Langdon (40)
  • Constance May Taylor (58)



  1. Godfrey Smith (1997) Hither Green – The Forgotten Hamlet pp63-64
  2. Illustrated London News (London, England), Saturday, February 06, 1943; pg. 159; Issue 5416
  3. Daily Herald 28 January 1943
  4. Hull Daily Mail 27 January 1943




William Webster – A Victorian Building & Civil Engineering Contractor

One of the larger houses on Lee Terrace is Wyberton House, it was home to one of a major building and civil engineering contractors of late Victorian London, William Webster whose firm was one of the main ones used by Joseph Bazalgette.  He lived close to St Margaret’s Church, for the last couple of decades of his life.  Amongst the firm’s work were three of my favourite south east London buildings – all of which have some exquisite detail:

  • Crossness Pumping Station
  • Hither Green Cemetery’s Non-Conformist chapel
  • Blackheath Concert Halls


William Webster was born at Wyberton, a small village near Boston in Lincolnshire, probably in 1822 based on census and birth record data.  After an apprenticeship with a local builder, he set up his own business restoring churches – amongst his early work was restoring the partially 9th Century church of St Peter & St Paul, Algakirk (pictured below via Wikipedia Creative Commons) with the renowned architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott, work which was completed in 1851.



He gradually took on larger work further south, including asylums in Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire in the latter part of the 1850s.  He moved to 1 Grove Place in Lee (now Belmont Grove) around 1860 – he, his wife, mother, three children and two servants were there in the 1861 census.


He won several contracts for projects led by Sir Joseph Bazalgette including several of the northern Thames Embankments to allow for the construction of the Circle Line and sewer system, and several sewage pumping stations – notably Crossness in Thamesmead.   Opened in 1865, the building is impressive from the outside, built in a Romanesque style, but once inside it becomes clear why it is often referred to as ‘Cathedral on the Marshes’  – it has magnificent cast iron work, that has been painstakingly restored and is well worth a visit.  Webster’s name is cast into some of this.



The Dissenters Chapel at Hither Green Cemetery dates from a decade later, opening in 1873, when it was referred to as Lee Cemetery.  The Gothic building has some stunning detail – including some wonderful gargoyles in the small spire.  It suffered from World War 2 bomb damage and has been boarded up and allowed to decay since.  Its neglect gives it a slightly eerie feel, and, perhaps, adds to its beauty.


The large amount of work that the firm was obtaining allowed Webster to build a home to match his, presumably very large income.  He bought two adjacent smaller houses, 7 and 9 Lee Terrace, part of what are sometimes referred to as the Lee Grove Group which he then demolished and replaced with the massive 15 bedroom Wyberton House which was completed in 1869.  An estate agent’s description is in a cutting below, but its listing text describes it as

Stone fronted with polished granite decorations, other sides stock brick. Slate roof concealed by parapet. Slightly irregular building of 3 storeys ; 7 windows. Panelled parapet.  Cornice of alternate paterae and brackets. End windows set back. End quoins. Windows have cambered architraves with keystones and stops. First floor windows have cornices and brackets and window over porch has pediment on brackets. Porch has granite columns, fretted balcony and 4 steps. Three-light canted bays either side, the right side window with glass removed for chapel use.

The wealth also allowed a large number of servants – this grew from  two in the 1861 census to six in the subsequent  three – it wasn’t a house where servants would get any long service awards though, none of them appeared in more than one set of enumerator records.

William Webster died in 1888 and was despite his building the dissenters’ chapel at Hither Green Cemetery, he was interred at St. Margaret’s, Lee just over the road from where he lived.


Oddly for what was such a large company, it seemed to have disappeared almost without a trace – it certainly traded after William’s death, seemingly taken over by his eldest son, also William, who was listed as a contractor in the 1891 census.  Blackheath Concert Halls built in 1896, was constructed his stewardship.  However, it seems that the firm was sold up or folded soon after – by the 1901 census William was listed as a ‘Scientist, Living on Own Means’  – William was to die during the next decade, probably in 1904.


As for Wyberton House – after William Webster’s (senior) death, several attempts were made to sell the property during 1890 but to no avail (1), and William (junior) was living there with his family when the census enumerators called in 1891. William moved on to slightly less grand surroundings, in 1901 he was at the now demolished 50 Lee Park (a few doors up from the bombed Christ Church) add link.  It seems that there were few takers for the mansion his father had built as it was often empty.


The House eventually found a long term use in 1906 when Knightsville College for Girls, moved from their previous home in what is now called Lewisham Way.  The College, run by Alton (or Altro) Knight had around 75 boarders in its previous location.  After the First Word War, the building was taken over by St Joseph’s Academy and it remained in their use until the early 1990s – amongst the pupils that would have passed through its doors were the author David Lodge, the sprinter John Regis and the footballer Jlloyd Samuel.  The house was converted into substantial flats after its use by St Joseph’s finished.


  1. The Times (London, England), Saturday, Jan 18, 1890; pg. 16; Issue 32912

Census and related information comes from Find My Past.


The Lewisham High Street V-1 Explosion

July 28th is the anniversary of the explosion of a V-1 rocket in Lewisham High Street in 1944, it landed on top of a street level air raid shelter outside Marks and Spencer’s but seriously damaged neighbouring shops including Woolworth’s and Sainsbury’s. It was 9:41 am on a busy Friday market day, so there was of little surprise that it was one of the worst single V-1 incidents with 51 deaths and 124 serious injuries in the shops, market and passing buses.

As would be the case now, those who died were from a relatively narrow radius – most had lived within 2 or 3 miles of Lewisham town centre. Frederick Bridges from Wisteria Road and Ethel Clark from Taunton Road both lived on roads I often pass.

There is a maroon plaque memorial at the site – still a Marks and Spencer shop – which was unveiled in 2011, and replaced an earlier footpath memorial which had become somewhat eroded.

The victims are also remembered in a memorial at Hither Green Cemetery.

The physical impact on the town centre was considerable too as the photograph on the Lewisham War Memorials wiki shows. There was damage for up to 600 metres from the site which led to the post war redevelopment of the town centre.

The first V-1, that became known as doodlebugs, was launched at London on 13 June 1944 a week after the D Day landings. At its peak, more than one hundred V-1s a day were fired at south-east England from sites in Northern France decreasing in number as launch sites were overrun until October 1944, when the last V-1 site in range of Britain was captured, although there were a small number of later air launched attacks.

There were some attempts to use double agents to persuade the Germans that the V-1s were over-shooting their targets and landing to the north west of London, this may explain the reasons for the volume of V-1s that hit South London. The old boroughs of Croydon (171), Wandsworth (122), Lewisham (114) and Woolwich (77) were the 4 locations hit the most. The City of London and Westminster only received 17 and 29 attacks respectively.

Over 6,000 were killed in the V-1 attacks and 18,000 seriously injured. It is worth remembering though that there were much higher death levels of ordinary Germans in the Allied bombing campaigns. In Berlin, almost half of the city’s homes were destroyed, and a further third uninhabitable by the end of the war, with over 20,000 deaths. Lewisham is twinned with the Berlin suburb of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, where a bombed church remains as a memorial – the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was still being being repaired in 2013 when photographed but now re-opened.


Hither Green Ditch – A Tributary of the Quaggy

Hither Green Ditch or Hither Green Quaggy is a short tributary which flows, hidden, through parts of Downham, the borders of the Corbett Estate and Hither Green.  The nomenclature ‘Ditch’ is used quite a lot within the Quaggy catchment, it shouldn’t be seen as belittling of derogatory it is just the way smaller streams are described – there are Milk Street, Grove Park,  Border and Petts Wood further upstream.

Like the Quaggy itself, there are probably several sources to the stream.  There is certainly some evidence on a 1920s OS map of a thin blue line going back towards Grove Park across the railway.  Any evidence of contour lines that would have supported this as a source were obliterated with both the construction of the main line and the railway sidings. 20140718-184743-67663559.jpg

There is some support for an east of the railway source on the Environment Agency flood risk maps too.


To the west of the railway, there were ponds on Shroffold Farm  (now the location of a mosque at the junction of Verdant and Whitefoot Lanes and Northover, which Ken White  (1) had the source as – he is almost certainly right.  While the pond may have been fed by a small spring – there may also have been some run-off from the area around Whitefoot Lane, which is gently sloping down towards the former pond at this point. (See map below on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).


Another branch is clear too from the  tell-tell notches in contour lines of fluvial erosion on Ordnance Survey maps point further uphill, towards the top of the hill on the Downham Estate.  While the stream wasn’t marked on old Ordnance Survey maps – it may have been dry by then – its course is obvious on the ground with distinct dips on Tristram and Camlan Roads, similarly there is a depression where it would have crossed Northover at its junction with Durham Hill and Shroffold.  The north easterly course becomes slightly less distinct as land flattens out crossing Roundtable, Pendragon and Ballamore Roads.  There is a clearer depression in the north eastern end Reigate Road, where there is an attractive grassed square surrounded by houses.  These houses have problems with damp and there is local knowledge of an underground stream there (see comment from Brian below).


There is also a distinct dip Railway Children Walk (named after the Edith Nesbit book – Nesbit lived for a while in Tree Gables on the opposite side of the railway).  The ‘Ditch’ would them have continued into what is now the cemetery – although its current route would be blocked by a relatively recent mound of earth; the flood risk map (towards the top of the post) shows its likely route quite clearly too.  A 1961 OS Map shows both the branches still partially visible at that stage (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).


Once in the cemetery there is a perceptible dip suggesting a course.  The cemetery has two distinct elements – initially the course is through the bleaker twentieth century part with more regimented lines of graves, fewer mature trees and with a partial backdrop of the railway sidings and yards.


It has a slightly desolate feel to it when compared with the delightful, slightly overgrown Victorian northern quarter with a decaying dissenting chapel (built by William Webster, covered by Running Past in 2016) – partially destroyed by a World War 2 bomb.


Before leaving the cemetery, a detour of a hundred metres or so to the south of the chapel is worth making to the memorial to the Sandhurst School disaster, where 38 children and six teachers died in a day time bombing in 1943, perhaps more on that another day.20140718-185239-67959997.jpg
At the north of the cemetery there is what looks like a ditch, while the was no evidence of any water it seems likely that this was its course as a local resident remembers a stream at this point (see comment from Dean). He also recalls it being piped to follow a course behind South Park Crescent and then towards Oak Cottages. This is certainly the route that contour lines would suggest.

The stream would have joined the now not particularly Verdant Lane just beyond Pasture Road – there is a clear dip in the road, adjacent to the Verdant Lane Community Wildlife Garden. There is no waterway to see, although there is a speedboat that has been ‘moored’ in a front garden for as long as I can remember.


At around this point, close to the junction with Sandhurst Road, Hither Green Ditch would have been joined by another small stream, which can be traced through the Corbett Estate.  Going up stream, probably crossing Minard Road mid-way between Dowanhill and Hazelbank Roads and crossing Dowanhill Road around its junction with Broadfield Road – in quiet moments there is the sound of water beneath manhole covers at this point.  The contours are visible on the 1961 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map below, (on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland) with just perceptible dips in the roads. While I didn’t hear any sounds of subterranean water emerging from manhole covers – those who live there have heard them around these streets.


There is also evidence there of a water-filled ditch at the back of homes on Hazelbank Road and the Excalibur Estate, there is a thin-blue line on the 1961 map and seemed big enough for a swan to be able to use it (see comment from Diane on one of the posts on the Quaggy).  It seems to have had an issue behind 244 Bellingham Road and disappeared into a sink between 143 Hazelbank Road and 6 Wentland Close – see map below on Creative Commons via National Library of Scotland).  There are clear sounds of water rushing below the street from a couple of manhole covers at the northern end of Longhill Road, but the sounds peter out further south; it may be that the source is on the eastern side of Forster Memorial Park, but there isn’t any cartographical or on the ground evidence of it.


There seems to be a second source for the tributary – water below a pair of manhole covers can be clearly heard at the T junction of  Castillon Road and further north on Broadfield Road, close to the junction with Hazelbank Road.  Similar pairs of manhole covers and dips in roads can be seen on Gilton Road and on Waters Road, but, sadly given the street name no sound of water, nor was there any clear evidence  further south.

This tributary stream probably provided the water for South Park Farm, a small farm of around 70 acres centred around Dowanhill and Hazelbank Roads. After moving to somewhere around the Torridon and Brownhill Roads junction, the farm was renamed ‘Longmisery’ (2). It merged with North Park Farm (which we will ‘visit’ further downstream) in the mid-19th century.  Perhaps this small stream should be called South Park Ditch.

The main stream’s original course would have taken it across what is now the South Circular just to the west of the railway bridge before being bridged by the railway behind the junction of Springbank Road and Hither Green Lane. To the east of the railway it flowed through what are now the gardens of Milborough Crescent, just south of its junction with Newstead Road. The Crescent followed the long curve of the stream before it reached and was bridged by the railway on Manor Lane.  While it is not visible at this point, it is certainly still flowing – there was a serious diesel spillage in early 2016 in the yard which polluted Quaggy and lower reaches of the Ravensbourne.

The stream flowed alongside Manor Lane for another couple of hundred metres before turning west-north-west and meandering across the line of Longhurst Road, joining the Qauggy where it dog-legs to the north.  This is all now covered.

Around here the stream would have been joined by a small tributary that seems to have ‘risen’ just the other side of the railway on what was North Park Farm which was roughly in between where Duncrievie and Elthruda Roads are now. The sale of the 278 acre farm to Archibald Cameron Corbett in 1896 was to allow the development of the western side of the railway. Despite being a junction for around 30 years, Hither Green had only opened as a station in 1895. A new booking hall was built to the west of the station in Springbank Road as part of the development – its red brick gateposts are still visible as the entrance to a new housing association development. The original stationmaster’s house survives, adjacent to the gates, at 69 Springbank Road.

The tributary flows through the nature reserve of Hither Green Triangle between platforms 4 and 5 of the station; this offers the only above ground remnants of the tributary or indeed the main stream. From the far end of platform 5, the stream is just visible, way below the platform level – not surprisingly given the viaduct the railway is on. The water was glistening in the sunlight when I visited. While access to the nature reserve is rightly limited, its management plan, while confirming the stream’s presence gets its direction of flow wrong (although the original mistake seems to lie with the now defunct London Ecology Unit).

‘A small stream trickles from north to south across the east of the site’

The tributary would have originally emerged from the embankment from platform 6 somewhere between the house and the bus stop before trickling on towards Longhurst Road.

The final outflow of the substantive stream into the Quaggy would have been around where it is bridged by Fernbrook Road, although nothing is obviously emerging from the brickwork ‘bank’, presumably long since culverted away.


  1. Ken White (1999) “The Quaggy & Its Catchment Area”
  2. Godfrey Smith (1997) ‘Hither Green: The Forgotten Hamlet’ p12