Tag Archives: Lee Green Fire Station

The Post Christmas Blitz on Lee Part 2 – 29 December 1940

In the first part of this post we looked at the post-Christmas Luftwaffe attacks on 27 December 1940 on Lee which saw numerous bombs dropped and homes destroyed on Aislibie Road, the misspelled road, named after Benjamin Aislabie – slave owner, awful cricketer and tenant of Lee Place.

While there was a lull the following evening, it seems that the Luftwaffe were just gearing up for an even bigger raid on 29 December, the aim of which seems to have been to put the fire services under a level of pressure that they would be unable to cope with and see London burning.

The attacks were much more concentrated in a small number of streets between Lee High Road and and Manor House Gardens. Most were incendiaries, and along with a few high explosive bombs, were dropped in a few minutes around 8:15 pm.

As we found with the post on the first night of the Blitz, it is worth remembering that not every incident was reported to the Air Raid Precautions (ARP), some being just reported to the Fire Brigade but others never going through official channels. One of the pages of incidents for the night of 29/30 December 1940 is show below.

The first attacks of the night in Lee started at around 7:25 pm in Blessingham Road, when a high explosive bomb hit the back garden of number 38. Elsewhere on the street another high explosive bomb injured two people. The street was to be decimated by a series of V-1 flying bombs later in the war and was developed, initially as prefabs, and in the early 1960s, as the Mercator Estate.

Fifty minutes later, Lee was on fire, the ARP logs note several dozen incendiaries being dropped at the same time, so we’ll look at the attack on a street by street basis. Aislibie Road (pictured below) which had suffered badly two nights before, was again hit. It was different houses this evening with 5, 13, 26, 30 and 39 all being bombed with roofs and upper floors damaged by the incendiary bombs, none were destroyed though.

Parallel to Aislibie Road, and the location of a devastating V-1 flying bomb three and a half years later, is Lenham Road which saw 5, 7, 10 and 28 all hit by incendiaries. The fires were successfully dealt with by local ARP and Fire Wardens.

Incendiary bombs rained down on neighbouring Brightfield Road with 32, 34, 42, 43, 49, 63 and 83 all hit by them (some are pictured below) – the fires were put out by wardens and the inhabitants, but many of the roofs were damaged.

Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, the roof and upper floors of 24 Lampmead Road were damaged, as was 4 Hedgley Street. Taunton Road saw at least two attacks – number 60 was slightly damaged and 2 Thornhill Cottages saw its roof damamged. Thornhill Cottages was a terrace at the eastern end of Taunton Road between Burnt Ash Road and Hedgley Street seemingly on the present Sainsbury’s site.

At the opposite end of Manor House Gardens, 2, 44 and 61 Old Road plus Pentland House (pictured below) were all hit but Fire Wardens managed to deal with all four fires.

A little further along Lee High Road, number 345 was hit by another incendiary; ironically it had been a fire station up until 1906 when the one on Eltham Road opened, it is now a solicitors. The roof seems to have been damaged, and assuming that there was no damage on other occasions during the war, a central turret there was destroyed (there is a pre-damage photograph in the post on the fire station).

There was an explosive and incendiary combination dropped on Dacre Park at the same time and there were ‘several .. casualties in the road’ as a result.

Around fifteen minutes later at 8:30, a high explosive bomb hit Lee High Road between Old Road and Lochaber Road – there 5 casualties, including an ARP warden, with shrapnel damage to almshouses’ boundary wall that is still visible (along with a fading direction sign to an air raid shelter). The ARP warden was Henry Cottell of 41 Manor Lane Terrace who was to die later that evening in Lewisham Hospital – it was a house that seems to have been lost to the construction of Wolfram Close. Henry left behind two adult daughters and his wife Ann, who were there when the 1939 Register was collected.

Also at 8:30, Chiesman’s store repository at 87 Old Road was hit by a high explosive and incendiary combination – the ARP log noted that the repository was on fire. We’ll return to this incident later in the post.

One of the ARP Fire wardens for that part of Lee that night was Phyllis Noble (later Willmott), who lived at 49 Lampmead Road with her parents and grandparents. In the aftermath of the incendiaries being dropped, she and her brothers, who were also ARP Wardens, grabbed stirrup pumps, buckets and sandbags. ‘Incendiaries seemed to be everywhere, but so too were numerous fire watchers like ourselves.’ (1)

The first fire they dealt with was at the almshouses that stood at the corner Lampmead and Lee High Roads (pictured above) where a room had caught fire. They put out that and another in the neighbouring Methodist church, now the New Testament Church of God. Phyllis and her brothers spent the next few hours putting out fires in locations that didn’t even get a mention in the ARP log chasing ‘up and down stairs in the tall Victorian houses in the High Road.’ They reached Old Road and Chiesman’s Store depository by around midnight (2)

“As the red glow in the sky told us, there were still plenty of fires raging, including one in the furniture depository nearby. We went along to see if there was anything we could do there; giant tongues of red and gold flames were shooting skywards from the glowing building and clearly this was not work for us, in any case the firemen had already arrived.”

Had the Fire Brigade arrived earlier they may have been able to save 87 Old Road but it was largely destroyed.

Lee was probably only a stopping off place for the Luftwaffe as they headed towards the centre of the city. Later in the evening incendiaries rained down on central London in what was described as the Second Great Fire of London, the iconic picture of St Paul’s Cathedral amidst the smoke was from that night as 160 died and hundreds of buildings were destroyed in the capital.

Notes

  1. Phyllis Willmott (1988) Coming of Age in Wartime p50
  2. ibid

Credits

  • Most of the information for this post comes from the Lewisham ARP Log – it is a fascinating document, which is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives. It isn’t a complete record – some incidents were reported to the Fire Brigade rather than the APR and some incendiaries were dealt with by residents or Fire Wardens without ever reaching the ARP service – this is particularly the case on busy nights such as this.
  • The photograph of St Paul’s is via a Wikipedia Commons
  • The photograph of the Boone’s Almshouses and the page of the ARP Log are both from the collection of Lewisham Archives, both are used with permission and remain their copyright.

The Three Fire Stations of Lee

Running Past has covered several of the current and past buildings around Lee Green, notably Lee Green Farm and the closed pubs, the Prince Arthur and the New Tigers Head as well as a little on its more ancient version, the Old Tiger’s Head, in connection with the Lee Races of the first half of the 19th century.

In the north eastern quadrant is one of the most impressive bits of municipal architecture in the area, the Grade II listed fire station. We will return to that building later; however, it seems to have been at least the third Fire Station in the area. There had been one in Weardale Road by the late 1870s (1), presumably close to the Rose of Lee based on what else had been built at that stage in the road.  Weardale Road had still been known as Hocum Pocum Lane little more than a decade before.

The next one opened by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1895 was on the Lewisham side of Lee Green in the same group of buildings as the Old Tigers Head (see above). It was in an attractive group of four storey properties which have very distinctive Dutch gables. There used to be a tower in the middle of them but this appears to have been damaged in World War 2.

The site had originally been the stables for the ‘old’ Old Tiger’s Head and these seem to have been used for a while by Thomas Tilling for stabling the horses for their buses (like at 36 Old Road) – that was certainly the case in the 1888 edition of Kelly’s Directory. The courtyard entrance to the pub and stables remain with an alley with a ‘garage’ ghost sign above it.

The terrace  predates the ‘new’ Old Tiger’s Head pub by a few years – whose rebuilding was completed around 1896 (the façade is dated). The earlier building of the terrace allowed the pub to temporarily move to what became the fire station. The pub had previously had an address of 345 Lee High Road, but while it kept its number after the temporary move; by 1895 it was flanked at 343 by a hosier Alfred Trusson and at 347 to 349, a long lost type of retail outlet – a mantle warehouse, run by Alexander Aitken.

The fire station opened by 1896 once the pub had moved back to its newly rebuilt old home. In the 1900 Kelly’s Directory its neighbours were the grocers and related shop, the London and Counties Stores (see photograph above). Alexander Aitken was still selling mantles and the pub was numbered 351. By 1905 the mantle trade had moved on, 347 was empty and 349 was a chemist. After the Fire Station’s move to what would have been described at the time as ‘more commodious premises’ 345 seems to have remained empty until the late 1920s (see note below). The former fire station (and pub) is now home to Mandy Peters Solicitors.

The new fire station was designed by the Fire Brigade Branch of the London County Council Architects Department and opened in 1906 and was Grade II listed in 1973. The architectural team within the LCC had originally worked in housing and included Owen Fleming, who was better known for his work on the Boundary Estate in Shoreditch.

The listing notes for Lee Green Fire Station remark that it is ‘notable for having two elevations of architectural quality in the Arts and Crafts-style to the south, with a cross-gable, and to the east.’

The Arts and Crafts style probably reflected that it was a Fire Station built in then suburbia and while Lee Green Farm had been lost as the Crown Estate sold off parcels of land for development from the 1860s, the neighbouring Horn Park Farm was to survive until the 1930s.

The materials used at the fire station are described as

Red brick with lower courses of russet glazed brick, steeply pitched slate roof and tall brick chimneys. Rendering to twin gables and glazed brick at ground floor on side elevation. Stone canted bay to front.

There was accommodation for firefighters included within the station itself, as was common at the time of building, and in a couple of houses behind the Fire Station in Meadowcourt Road (pictured above) as well as in an early to mid 19th century detached, yellow brick house, 7 Eltham Road (see main photograph of Fire Station). Royal Greenwich locally listed 7 Eltham Road in 2019, describing it as

Good quality and rare surviving domestic building of its date with a frontage which has largely remained in its original form

I& Eltham Road may have been acquired by the Fire Brigade after the station was built and it was noted in Kelly’s Directories of 1905 and 1911 as being home to a William Issott. Any earlier detail has proved difficult to unpick due to changes in names and numbering of the houses in the late 19th century.

The new station seems to have been one of the first to have been entirely motorised with two petrol engines and a steam powered one – the fire engines pictured outside at the time of the opening in December 1906.

While many of the local fire stations of the era have closed, such as Forest Hill in Perry Vale, and Lewisham’s, towards the southern end of the High Street, which was replaced 150 metres away, Lee Green has survived both rebuilding and closure programmes over the years; long may that continue!

Notes

  1. Kentish Mercury 17 January 1880
  2. The Graphic 15 December 1906

Picture & Other Credits

The photograph of the original fire station is from the collection of the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath, it is used with their permission.

The Kelly’s Directory information comes from Southwark Archives, I have copied data from every 5th year – so a few short term stays may be missed.