Tag Archives: Leahurst Road

VE Day in Lee and Hither Green

Friday 8 May 2020 sees the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe, VE, Day and would have been celebrated both locally and nationally if these were normal times – it was to be one of the themes of the 2020 Hither Green Festival – maybe this will be re-visited later in the year.  We’ll look at what happened that day in 1945 with a local perspective.

After Berlin was surrounded by Allied forces and Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, the end of the war was quite rapid.  A week later, on 7 May 1945 Germany accepted an unconditional surrender of German Forces in most of the areas that they still occupied in the Netherlands and northwest Germany and the surrender came into effect the following day.  A further surrender document was signed with the Russians on 8 May.

Running Past has covered many of the areas of the Home Front in recent months (for the 70th anniversary of war breaking out); the winding down of the Home Front was rapid in early May – public air raid shelters were closed down, as was the air raid warning system and plans were made for the return of evacuee children and mothers by the end of May (1).

Over a million people took to the streets on 8 May in celebration throughout Great Britain to mark the end of the European part of the war.  Many massed in central London, particularly in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace as featured in the video footage (the sound levels are a bit variable, so beware!)

Many celebrated locally though; South Park Crescent (above and below) had been built as part of the Verdant Lane estate in the early 1930s and was the scene of a large party.  No doubt the celebrations were tempered there though by memories of 5 children from there and neighbouring streets who were amongst 38 children and 5 teachers who died at Sandhurst Road School.  There had also been a V-1 flying bomb that hit the junction of South Park and Further Green Road less than a year before at 16:48 on 12 July 1944 which injured 15 (3) –  several houses were destroyed and lots damaged – perhaps including the roofs of those pictured below).

In and around Hither Green, there were several other street parties including ones in The Woodlands and neighbouring Blashford Street.

Lee too saw several street parties, mainly in the working class streets.  Taunton Road had seen a lot of damage in the Blitz with several lives lost.  There was a posed picture probably taken close to the park entrance, the road in the background is Wantage Road.

Just around the corner in Brightfield Road (below) there was another street party in the part of the street that was built by John Pound and had originally been called Robertson Street.  As can be seen from the photograph, the party wasn’t  held there until early June 1945. 

Brightfield Road had seen some damage from the V-1 flying bomb that hit the junction of Lenham and Lampmead Roads.  In addition, there was Blitz damage to houses close to the bridge over the Quaggy, with several destroyed and several seriously damaged; along with three houses on the southern side of the bend which were damaged beyond repair (3).  The houses destroyed in Brightfield Road were never rebuilt, a new entrance to Manor House Gardens was created in their stead and those damaged beyond repair suffered a similar fate – they were to become an entrance to, what became after the war, Northbrook School and is now Holy Trinity

The street scene is now markedly different – the attractive bank buildings at the end of the street were lost after the war either to Penfold’s or Sainsbury’s expansion – more on the building another day, as there is an interesting story behind it.

While there were dozens of parties, as Lewis Blake noted, ‘for all the public display, it may be assumed that a majority of people stayed quietly at home.’ (4)

In addition to the celebration of the end of hostilities, there will have been a relief that bombing and rocket attacks were over – roads like Springbank, Taunton and Aislibie Roads had been badly affected by the Blitz, with V-1s hitting lots of local streets – including Nightingale Grove, (pictured below) Fernbrook Road, between Springbank and Wellmeadow Roads along with Leahurst Road, and as we’ve mentioned the Lenham/Lampmead junction.

A couple of days after VE Day, Lewisham was visited by the King and Queen who stopped in a packed town centre to survey the damage caused by the V-1 flying bomb from 10 months before (it’s at about 4:10 into the film, which is sadly silent).

Other than the rebuilding which was to continue for the best part of 20 years, the other element of wartime privations that was to linger on for almost another decade was rationing, which didn’t officially end for meat until 1954.

If you have personal or family local VE Day memories, please do post them either in the Facebook thread you reached this post from or in the comments below, if you haven’t commented here before, it may take a few hours for your comment to be approved.  I will hopefully add some of the comments into the main post.

In early May 2020 we don’t have the potential for street parties, but oddly, despite the lock down, we are probably contacting and seeing more of our neighbours than any of the generations since the end of World War Two. Every Thursday evening with the #ClapforCareWorkers most of our small street come out to clap and bang pots and pans; if we are typical, people often stay out in the street to chat, keeping social distancing, of course.  Neighbours are checking in with each other by phone with shopping bought for those having to stay at home.  Perhaps, for now at least, this is the World War Two type spirit we should embrace and celebrate, the parties will have to wait.

Notes

  1. Lewis Blake (1995) How We Went To War – Deptford & Lewisham 1939 -1945 p62
  2. From ARP Logs held at Lewisham Archives
  3. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 p119
  4. Blake, op cit p66

Credits and Thanks

  • Thank you to Andy Wakeman and Clive Andrews for allowing the use of their family photographs of the South Park Road party – the photographs remain their families’ copyright;
  • The photgrpahs of Brightfield Road and Taunton Road are part of the collection of the Lewisham Archives, they are used with their permission and remain their copyright;
  • The photograph of the destruction on Nightingale Grove is from the collection of the Imperial War Museum – it is used here on a Non-Commercial Licence

The Leahurst Road Murder

The northern end of Leahurst Road these days is a relatively quiet street – a mixture of Victorian terraces, council flats and houses that replaced the large segments of the street destroyed in the Blitz and by a V-1 rocket in June 1944; it is dominated by the imposing façade of Holy Trinity (formerly Ennersdale) School.  Running Past has been here before with the story of the 1920s Channel swimmer Hilda Sharp; but during the Second World War it was the setting for a notorious murder of an eleven year old girl, Sheila Margaret Wilson, despite being in the middle of the War it received a lot of publicity both locally and nationally.

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Sheila had been evacuated like many London children during the Blitz but had returned to Leahurst Road in May 1942.  She was allowed to play in the street and run errands. On July 15 1942 she had gone out to buy sweets with her brother, presumably from the confectioners at 33 Staplehurst Road run by Elizabeth Furlong (1).  When she returned it seems that she had been given 2d to buy a newspaper and that she went out again on her own (2).

Sheila didn’t return, but it took several hours to raise the alarm, as her mother thought she was playing with friends.  The police, neighbours and ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Wardens searched the bombed remains of houses in the street but found nothing.

The police started door to door enquiries, but appear to have been quite slow doing it – it took them five days to knock on a house about 25 doors along Leahurst Road. They were told that one of the lodgers had moved out just after Sheila had disappeared.  They searched under the floorboards of his room and found the body of Sheila, who had been raped and then strangled.

The lodger was Patrick Kingston – the police issued a statement which was covered in numerous newspapers, including  in The Times (see below – 3), that they wanted to ‘interview’ him – they mentioned his missing finger and a limp caused by injuries as an ARP Warden.

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While there was no doubt as big a manhunt as wartime police resources could muster, it wasn’t this that found the fugitive.  Oddly, he returned Leahurst Road, eight days after the crime, in the early hours of 23 July and was arrested there; he was reported as having admitted to the murder to a Police Inspector – ‘I strangled her, and then I got scared and ran away.’ (4)

Patrick Kingston appeared at Woolwich Magistrates Court the same day – limping into court on a thick walking stick (5).  He was remanded in custody to a further hearing which was held at Greenwich Police Court in early August 1942, where he was committed for trial (6).

The case was heard at the Old Bailey on Monday 14 September and all over within a few minutes as Kingston pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death (7); a sentence that was carried out three weeks later.

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What of the murderer?  By a strange con-incidence the Kingstons are a family that has already been covered before in Running Past – they were decimated in the First World War by the Zeppelin attack on Glenview Road (now part of Nightingale Grove).

Patrick Kingston was born in Greenwich in 1904, he was one of at least 11 children – the family had moved to Lewisham around 1908 and by co-incidence they were living in Leahurst Road at the time of the 1911 census.   Kingston’s father, also Patrick, was killed in the Lee sewer tragedy on 15 July 1914 – drowned when attempting to clear a blocked drain in Eastdown Park and seven of his siblings died in the Zeppelin attack in October 1917.

Kingston had probably only survived the attack because he was effectively in care at the time, residing at an industrial school that cared for ‘neglected, orphaned and abandoned children’ – due to ‘being out of control’ (8).  This came out in a court hearing in 1922 when he was charged theft from church offertory boxes and sacrilege (9). He was again living in Leahurst Road at the time of that hearing. He was still living there, close to Hither Green Station, with his mother later that year when he signed up for the army (10).

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A Patrick William Kingston of roughly the right age was found guilty of theft in 1926 and described by the police as having ‘a depraved mind,’ he was then working as a hotel porter in Southend (11) – this may, of course, be a different Patrick Kingston, but could have co-incided with his discharge from the army.

Kingston was 35 at the outbreak of war and would have been liable to conscription, as were all men up to the age of 41, so presumably had been exempted due to his health, perhaps the missing finger pre-dated the war.  He was an ARP Warden – but injured in the course of his ARP duties, leading to his limp.

Whether any of this had any bearing on the murder is unclear.  There appears not to have been much in the way of checking on his mental state – it was left to his lawyer to state that he had ’twice seen Kingston and was satisfied that he knew the meaning of pleading guilty, which he preferred to do rather than having the case formally proved.’(12)

As for Sheila’s mother, after seemingly being scammed by a low-brow Sunday newspaper into ‘talking’ to Sheila through a medium , she seems to have stayed on in Lewisham, someone with the same name and of the right age died there in 1984 (13).

Notes

  1. From 1939 Register – via Find My Past
  2. Yorkshire Evening Post 24 July 1942
  3. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Jul 21, 1942; pg. 2; Issue 49293
  4. Dundee Courier 24 July 1942
  5. ibid
  6. “News in Brief.”Times [London, England] 6 Aug. 1942: 2
  7. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 15, 1942; pg. 2; Issue 49341.
  8. Portsmouth Evening News 30 July 1924
  9. ibid
  10. From military record via Find My Past
  11. The Scotsman 20 May 1926
  12. Manchester Evening News 14 September 1942
  13. From death records via Find My Past