Tag Archives: james elroy flecker

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.

James Elroy Flecker & the College Park Estate

There are several poets with a link to Lewisham – Running Past has already covered Thomas Dermody and Robert Browning, and will no doubt return to Ernest Dowson and, perhaps David Jones and Spike Milligan.  Another on that illustrious list is James Elroy Flecker, like Dermody, his link with the Borough was a fleeting one, although unlike Dermody it was at the beginning rather than end of his life.

Flecker was born at 9 Gilmore Road (above) on 5 November 1884.  His family’s time in Lewisham was limited though, in the spring of 1881 when the census enumerators called, his father, William Herman Flecker, was teaching at New College in Eastbourne.  However by the summer of the same year he married Sarah Ducat, a musician who was daughter of Polish emigres and lived in New Cross.  By 1888, at the latest, the Fleckers had moved on – James’ sister was born in Cheltenham in 1888 – William was teaching at Dean’s Close School.

His father may have continued teaching whilst in Lewisham; although there seems to be no record of where he taught.  It is certain though that he entered the church by the time James was born.  William was a curate, not at the church that they would have been able to see from the front of the house, St Mark’s on Clarendon Road, but at Holy Trinity on Glenton Road, where James was baptised.  It was a church was lost in World War Two and was covered a while ago in Running Past – see below (source Wikipedia Commons – originally from Illustrated London News)

Before looking at the life and career of James Elroy Flecker, it is worth pausing in Gilmore Road. The house had been developed in the late 1860s or early 1870s as part of the College Park estate on the land of a farm, College Farm, owned by the Mercer’s Company.  This should not be confused with the eponymous farm in Lee, although the land for that was also owned by the Mercers Company, which was covered by Running Past earlier in 2017.

 

The College Farm house, above (on a creative commons), was roughly at the corner of Lewisham High Street and Albion Way – it is probably one of the buildings set back from the road marked on the map on the opposite side of the road to Avenue Road (lost to the Shopping Centre).  The fields (all numbered on the map – on a creative commons via the National Library of Scotland) are now covered by Clarendon Rise (formerly Road), Bonfield Road, Albion Way (formerly Road) and, of course, the road with the elegant villa that was briefly home to the Fleckers – Gilmore Road. The development was ‘one of the most significant additions to the number of middle class houses in Lewisham during that building boom.’

Returning to James Elroy Flecker ….While he was born Herman Elroy, he became known as James Elroy; he was the eldest of four children born to William and Sarah Flecker, he had a well to do education, initially attending his father’s school before moving to Uppingham and then Trinity College, Oxford. After teaching for a while he entered the Consular service – being sent to Constantinople in 1910.  He became ill there from consumption which was to blight the rest of his life.  He had met Helle Skiadaressi on his first posting and they married in what is now Izmir in Turkey.  He had a series of postings around the Middle East interspersed by illness before moving to Switzerland for the final 18 months of his life on the advice of doctors. He died there in January 1915.

220px-james_elroy_flecker_at_cambridgeFlecker (left, via Creative Commons) He had begun to write poetry whilst at Uppingham , the rhythm and language have been described as ‘Tennysonian’ although much of his early work was adaptions of Greek and Roman poets.  His first book of poems, ‘Bridge of Fire’, was published around the time he left Oxford in 1907.  He continued to adapt the work of Parnassian School – including work by Goethe and Baudelaire – it was a reaction to the sentimentality of their Romantic predecessors. His death was described in the 1920s as “unquestionably the greatest premature loss that English literature has suffered since the death of Keats”.

Any post on a poet, needs some poetry – while most of his work to a 21st century audience is, perhaps, not that accessible, there are a several poems with a London theme that still seem to resonate, even if the trams he wrote about are long gone.  The first a tale of cross river love, the second the first few stanzas of a poem seemingly about nights out in the city:

Ballad Of The Londoner

Evening falls on the smoky walls,

And the railings drip with rain,

And I will cross the old river

To see my girl again.

 

The great and solemn-gliding tram,

Love’s still-mysterious car,

Has many a light of gold and white,

And a single dark red star.

 

I know a garden in a street

Which no one ever knew;

I know a rose beyond the Thames,

Where flowers are pale and few.

 

The Ballad of Hampstead Heath

From Heaven’s Gate to Hampstead Heath

Young Bacchus and his crew

Came tumbling down, and o’er the town

Their bursting trumpets blew.

 

The silver night was wildly bright,

And madly shone the Moon

To hear a song so clear and strong,

With such a lovely tune

 

From London’s houses, huts and flats,

Came busmen, snobs, and Earls,

And ugly men in bowler hats

With charming little girls…..

Beyond the poetry, Flecker had, from his Oxford days, the reputation of the being a good speaker, a raconteur and was capable of what might now be referred to as ‘sound bites’ – two of which include

“What is life without jam?”

“The poet’s business is not to save the soul of man but to make it worth saving.”

Note

Census and related data comes via Find My Past