Tag Archives: Lee New Town

Brightfield Road – the Street with Two Names, Part 2

In the first part of this post, we explored the 19th century history of Brightfield Road from its building as Robertson Street to its extension and renaming in the 1880s. We turn now to the 20th century and beyond, looking in particular at how the street fared in the World Wars.

We pick up the story with the 1901 census; the street had changed in the late Victorian period from homes for the building trades employed by John Pound, and other local builders, as well as for servants for the large houses in Lee, to a wider mixture of working class occupations.  Looking at the lower numbers at the eastern end of the street, little had changed by 1901 with a mixture of working class jobs such as road mender, carpenter, horse keeper and coachman (this excludes the shops which we will return to in a later post).

The average size of households had reduced to 5.3 (from 5.8 a decade before) mainly as a result of slightly fewer households taking in lodgers and/or houses being split between households. This was much smaller than the numbers in the not dissimilar homes in Ardmere Road in Hither Green which were built at around the same time.

There was little change by 1911, although the average household size dropped again to 4.5.  The nature of the jobs was little different though – manual trades and still lots relating to horse based transport.

The street fared badly in World War One, many of the sons, brothers and husbands of the households were either volunteers or conscripts to fight on the battlefields of France and Belgium – eight of them never returned home to Lee all were buried in cemeteries or remembered on memorials close to where they died.

  • William Upton of number 42 was a Driver in the Royal Engineers and died on 13 March 1918. He was a labourer in civvy street and was around 25 when he died; he was buried at Sailly-Labourse Cemetery in France.
  • Sidney George Munday lived five doors up from William Upton at 52, he was a Private with The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). He was 21 when he died on 14 April 1918 and is remembered at the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium.
  • William Henry Church had lived just over the road at 33, he was just 20 when he died serving as a Private in the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) on 18 September 1916.  He was buried at Etaples Military Cemetery in northern France.
  • Willie J Church was just 18 when he died on 6 June 1918, serving as a  Private in the London Regiment.  He is buried at Bienvillers Military Cemetery in France.  He lived at number 85, it isn’t clear whether he was related to William Henry Church.
  • Arthur John Cobb will have known Willie, as he lived  two doors away at 89 with his wife Gertie.  They served in the same Regiment too.  Arthur died on 18 February 1917 and was buried in France at  Merville Communal Cemetery Extension.
  • Alfred William Meggs lived seven doors down at 75, he was 20 and serving as a Corporal with the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) when he died on 3 October 1916.  He is remembered at the Thiepval Memorial, pictured above.
  • William George Bickle had lived five doors away at 65, he died two days after Christmas in 1915 aged just 16, the youngest on the street to perish. He shouldn’t have been there but, probably like Willie Church he will have lied about his age – soldiers needed to be 18 to sign up and 19 to be sent abroad as we saw with Herbert Burden from Catford who was shot for desertion aged just 17.

As World War Two broke out, the numbers living in the smaller houses at the eastern end of Brightfield Road were probably the lowest that there had ever been in the street’s existence – an average of just 2.9 people per home.  A large chunk of this related to the evacuation of children in September 1939, just before the ‘census’ for rationing purposes was taken, the 1939 Register.  However, even taking this into account household size had reduced with very few lodgers and a lot more houses just inhabited by couples and single people.  This will probably be at least in part as a result of limited non-contributory pensions being paid from 1909.

Since 1911 all the horse related trades had disappeared and the eastern end of the street was home to several involved in train, lorry and tram related transport.  There were several working at the Royal Arsenal making armaments.  Very few had the ‘Heavy Work’ suffix to their role which would have allowed them to have larger rations though.  The difference with Ardmere Road here is significant.   A slightly smaller proportion of women worked to 28 years before in 1911, but the trades were little more diverse – still mainly shop, laundry and work and dressmaking though.

There were a couple of nights heavy bombing in early December 1940, on the nights of the 8th and 9th of December.  Given the significance of these nights in the area we’ll return at some point but several houses had incendiary bombs hit them – 19, 20, 22, 43, 46, 52, 60, 113 and 123.  All seemed to have been put out and the houses remain.   There was a high explosive bomb that seems to have landed in the rear garden of 95 without causing too much damage.

Just after Christmas incendiary bombs rained down on 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.

Early in 1941 there was a high explosive bomb that hit the roadway close to the bridge over the Quaggy, several houses were destroyed or had to be demolished due to the resulting major gas explosion (1). The damage is the darker colours is shown on the bottom left hand corner of the map below (2). No one died with only two requiring optional treatment but there was widespread damage in terms of broken windows and major structural damage to houses up to 100 metres away (3).

On the odd side, 103 – 107 were never replaced and the gap was used to form an entrance to Manor House Gardens.  Over the road, whilst the last house, 92 (at the left of the photograph) survived, 84 to 90 didn’t and they were replaced by private sector housing after the war.

Over the bridge, 75 to 79 were lost too at some stage in the Blitz.  They too weren’t replaced – the playground to what was then Hedgley Street School (now Holy Trinity School) was extended.

Several civilians on the street died;

  • Annie Taylor from 121 Brightfield  died in an attack on 110 Springbank Road as we saw in a post on that street;
  • Alfred Dibley of 56 died on 5 July 1944 at St John’s Hospital on Morden Hill presumably as a result of a V-1 attack;
  • Elizabeth Grant of 70 died at Albion Way Shelter early in the Blitz and
  • Eliza Jenner was injured at an attack on number 4 on 11 May 1941 and died at Lewisham Hospital the same day.  

There was a VE Day party there, a bit later than most on 2 June 1945.  The street scene is now markedly different – the attractive bank buildings (once a temperance coffee house) and the three storey shops at the end of the street were lost after the war either to Penfold’s or Sainsbury’s expansion.  We’ll return to the shops in a later post.

So who lives there now?  While it isn’t possible to use census data from 2011 just for the street there is a Output Area that relates to most of the street, along with Lampmead Road.  The employment categories are very different to the census data that we have looked at before.  The main employment types of the 196 residents in employment were shops (7%), finance, insurance and banking (10%), professional and scientific (13%), education (19%) and health (7%).  It will be interesting to see what changes there are when the 2021 Census results are collated.

Most of the homes seem to be owner occupied homes – although there are eight or nine owned by property companies letting the homes and three are let by social landlords.  The change is massive compared with when the homes were built as Robertson Street when virtually all will have been privately rented.

Certainly rising house prices will make affordability nigh on impossible for the sort of people that lived there before World War Two. One of the bigger houses was sold for £842,500 in 2020 – now single-family dwellings, when built they had been ‘conveniently arranged for two families. Let to very respectable tenants at 12/- a week’ in 1892 (4). 

One of the smaller houses sold for just under £500,000 just before the first lockdown.

We will return to Brightfield Road at some point in the future to look at the shops that used to be on the street.

Notes

  1. Phyllis Willmott (1988) Coming of Age in Wartime London, Peter Owen p51
  2. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 p116
  3. Willmott op cit p51
  4. Kentish Mercury 25 July 1892

Credits

  • Permission has been given by the copyright owners of the Bomb Damage Maps, the London Metropolitan Archives to use the image here, it reamins their copyright
  • All the census and related data came via Find My Past (subscription required)
  • The photographs of the VE Day party is part of the collection of the Lewisham Archives, it is used with their permission and remains their copyright;
  • The photograph of the Theipval Memorial is on a creative commons via Wikipedia

Brightfield Road – the Street with Two Names (Part 1)

Streets having their names changed is nothing unusual – we’ve covered it a couple of times before with Dermody Road (formerly Hocum Pocum Lane), Waite Davies Road (formerly (Butterfield Street). Similarly, on the other side of Lee High Road the bottom of Dacre Park was previously known as Turner Road. Like the second two examples, there is fading evidence of a painted street sign bearing the earlier name. However, it isn’t as easy to decipher the former name, Robertson Street, due to multiple layers of faint paint, re-pointing and a burglar alarm. In a pair of blog posts we’ll tell the history of the street – from its building to the present day.

The builder of the original part was someone we’ve covered several times before, John Pound, mainly in relation to his house building but also shops on Burnt Ash Road, pubs and Lee Public Halls. The street was built by Pound around 1862 (1), with applications made to the Board of Works that March for drainage connections. The land was owned by Lord Northbrook, although it doesn’t seem to have been farmed as part of Lee Manor Farm – it isn’t in the farm map of 1846 – and the estate seems to have retained the freehold post development (2) as permission was sought from Lord Northbrook’s agent for some work.

The homes were unlike most of those in the rest of the area at the time. The arrival of the railway in Blackheath had seen substantial homes with space for servants built to the north of Lee High Road. The function of these smaller houses was similar to those in Lee New Town – providing homes for the servants who didn’t ‘live-in’ and working classes of mid-Victorian Lee. There was another function too, large-scale housing development in what was then suburbia needed somewhere for the building labourers and trades to live in an era without cheap public transport. Pound seems to have done the same around Waite Davies Road and Summerfield Street for his brickworks in South Lee. It was a pattern followed by Cameron Corbett with houses in Sandhurst Road a few decades later.

Pound also seems to have built the neighbouring Hedgely Street – he made an application for sewer connections in 1868 (3).  The street was adopted and paved in 1871 at a cost of 4/6d on the rates for occupiers – not the landlord (4).

So, who were the early occupants?  We’ll look at the first 20 houses in the 1871 census, the first census they appeared in; while the numbers appeared as consecutive in the census reports it isn’t clear whether this was the case on the ground.  The numbering is now odds and evens. The shops have been ignored for now, but may be returned to in a later post.

The majority (52%) of heads of household were working in the building trade, mainly skilled trades with the remainder split between various forms of domestic service and other trades.  Relatively few of the women worked, but those who did, tended to be listed in the census as charwoman or laundress.  While not in in the houses reviewed in detail, elsewhere in the street there were farm labourers housed – presumably still working at either Burnt Ash, Lee Manor or Horn Park which were all still working at that stage.

Almost half of the houses were either home to two households or took in a lodger, there were some very overcrowded homes as a result – 13 lived at no 17 for example. Almost all the households had children.

A decade later the average number in each house was 6.7 (it had been 5.5 in 1871), mainly due to an increase in lodgers and shared houses.  More women were working, although the trades were mainly around washing, ironing and cleaning.  Male employment had changed little too, the majority working in the building trades.

Unsurprisingly, there was some crime relating to the street, a fair amount of it alcohol related. John Mahoney had to be removed by heavies from the Tiger’s Head for being drunk and aggressive. He then went over the road to what is now referred to as the New Tiger’s Head, but press reports called the Little Tiger, where he was arrested after falling asleep drunk. He then violently assaulted the arresting officer for which he spent 6 weeks in prison (5).

Robert Stow was found guilty of assaulting a police officer after being arrested for being drunk and disorderly outside the nearby Duke of Edinburgh – his defence was that he didn’t know it was a policeman and that he’d had too much rum to drink cut no ice with the magistrates.  He was fined 20/- or 2 weeks in prison (6).

Theft wasn’t completely absent though – Thomas Upton (23) a labourer from 19 Robertson Street charged with stealing 25 hens from Blackheath Park and then selling them in Greenwich.  He was sent to prison for 14 days (7).

The western side of the terrace backed not onto the Quaggy, as it does now, but onto a path from that broadly followed what is now Aislibie Road.  After the floods in 1878 and probably also to allow better development of the land that was to form Lampmead Road, the Quaggy was deepened, straightened and took the route of the path. The differences are clear between the 1863 (top map below) and 1893 visits of the Ordnance Survey Cartographers.

The extension of the street to the northern side of the Quaggy seems to have happened around 1885 following the piecemeal sale of the Lee House estate. The builder may well have been George Mitchell; he made the application for connecting the new homes Brightfield Road to the existing sewers in what was still referred to as Robertson Street. John Pound asked for money for the connection (8). It is assumed that these would be the homes that are now numbered 109 to 127 Brightfield Road (some of which are pictured below), but could have been those to the south over the Quaggy.

Three years later a decision was made by the Metropolitan Board of Works in March 1888 to change street names in the area.  It seems that Lampmead Road was created, it had originally been a dog-leg of Lenham Road going towards Lee High Road.  The biggest change was in relation to Brightfield Road – from 1883 it had run from Old Road and then dog-legged around to the new homes built by George Mitchell.  The section from Old Road now became Aislibie Road and Brightfield Road, while shortened to the north took expanded over the river and Robertson Street was no more (9). In addition to the remains of the painted sign, a stone one remains and is now part of a garden wall.

The new Brightfield Road had changed a lot by 1891 compared with the last census for Robertson Street. John Pound’s building work had finished in the area and only 8% of the heads of household at the eastern end of the street were working in the building industry, just over a third were servants – mainly jobs relating to horses with the remainder a wide variety of manual jobs. As was the case a decade earlier a lot of the women worked – mainly as dressmakers and laundresses. Most households had children and most of the houses were either shared or homes to lodgers too – overcrowding remained, although it was less bad than in 1881 – the average was 5.8 rather than 6.7 a decade earlier.

There were a few sales of the houses which seemed to be all tenanted over the next few years. In 1892, 111 -125 (odds) were up for sale at auction. These are the larger houses backing on to Manor House Gardens, then let as a military crammer school before the House and Gardens were sold to the London County Council in 1898. The particulars of the sale of the houses in Brightfield Road noted the proximity to Lee and Blackheath stations. Each house was ‘conveniently arranged for two families. Let to very respectable tenants at 12/- a week.’ There were unexpired leases of 92 years (10).

Three years later some more of the later houses, 75-79 which were adjacent to the original houses were sold – they were advertised as being on long leases, having a weekly rent of 12/- and an annual ground rent of £5 (11).

The change in name didn’t stop crime relating to the street in 1897, Emma Agate was arrested for theft of a large number of garments from Lee Public Halls Steam Laundry (in early 2021 home to Travis Perkins off Holme Lacey Road) where she worked as an ironer, she was found with a number of pawn tickets. She denied the charges but was remanded in custody (12).

There were a couple of bigamy cases – William James was charged with bigamously marrying Mary Bator of number 61 in 1889 (13). Four years later, Walter Garland admitted to a bigamous marriage to Alexandra Taylor of 60 Brightfield Road (14).

We’ll leave Brightfield Road at the end of the 19th century, returning in the second part to cover the 20th century and beyond.

Notes

  1. Kentish Mercury 22 March1862
  2. Kentish Independent 01 June 1872
  3. Kentish Independent 10 October 1868
  4. Kentish Independent 16 December 1871
  5. Kentish Mercury 18 June 1870
  6. Kentish Mercury 30 October 1875
  7. Kentish Independent 10 April 1886
  8. Kentish Independent 02 May 1885
  9. Kentish Mercury 9 March 1888
  10. Kentish Mercury 25 July 1892
  11. Kentish Mercury 29 September 1895
  12. Woolwich Gazette 27 August 1897
  13. Kentish Mercury 13 June 1890
  14. Woolwich Gazette 27 April 1894

Credits

  • The maps are on a Non-Commercial Licence via the National Library of Scotland
  • All the census and related data came via Find My Past (subscription required)
  • The photo of the stone sign is courtesy of Frederic Heffer

Lee New Town – Victorian Servants’ Housing

When thinking of new towns, the likes of Stevenage, Cumbernauld, Telford or perhaps Peterlee may spring to mind, but early Victorian Lee on the then outskirts of London?  Lee New Town was much smaller than its Twentieth century counterparts – a few streets of homes mainly to house those working directly or indirectly for the wealthy residents in the existing large houses in Lee but also the new, substantial homes being developed in the area. 

Lee New Town was built from 1825 and was made possible by the break-up of the Boone estate and the demolition of Lee Place 1824, once its final tenant Benjamin Aislibie moved out , this was covered a few months ago in the blog.  

The break-up of the estate allowed the straightening of Lee High Road to its current route, it previously looped around Old Road, and provided easier access to the parts of the former estate north of Lee High Road.  The tithe map of 1839 (below – see note 2) shows how quickly the area developed, although Turner Road (later Dacre Park) was to come later, as was Boone’s Road (not to be confused with Boone Street.)



It is possible to build up something of a picture as to the people living in Lee New Town in the late Victorian period.   From 1881 census, data on 16 households a reasonable cross section of the around 200 homes was reviewed (1). 38% of the heads of household were in some form of service for the wealthy of the area – including trades such as gardener, housekeeper and coachmen, much of the rest that were reviewed tended to be either shopkeepers, there were two grocers, or more skilled manual workers such as bakers, a painters and a police constable – the only exception to this was a laundress was in Blows Place – see below.  The area reflected the growth and migration into London, only two of the heads of household originated in the local area, it also reflected high mortality levels – 56% having no surviving partners, with several men with very young families and relatives or lodgers, presumably, looking after children.

Little seems to have changed 13 years later when Charles Booth’s carried out his Poverty survey in Lee in August 1894.  Booth used the following classes



Boone’s Road – ‘small six roomed houses, 2 to  2½ storey houses.  Some of houses still pump their water.  Decorators, gardeners, police; all comfortable working people.  Pink’

Turners Road – much more of a mixture a few houses at the northern edge with servants (pink), much smaller to the southern end (near Lee High Road) where working people (pink to purple).

Dacre Road – ‘2 storey cottages flush with footpath.  Five rooms as a rule, some smaller at the east end (4 rooms). Labouring people with a few better off. Several with fine shows of chrysanthemums in their windows. Purple’

Dacre Square – ‘narrow paved court, two rows of six cottages.  Very small some broken windows stopped with paper.  Light blue’  Photo from a few years later (3).



Church Street – ‘small two storey shops on east side near High Road and also near Dacre Street, remainder two storey cottages; purple to light blue in character…. On west side is a small hall with inscription “soup kitchen 1856”.’

Blows Place – ‘one east side (of Church Street) and only reached by a long passage giving access to back gardens … two storey: four rooms and scullery, labouring people. Light blue.’

Boone Street – ‘2 storey private houses of various styles..some mechanics but people are mostly labourers.  Very little signs of poverty. Purple to pink.’

Some of the New Town was demolished by German WW2 bombs, there were Blitz strikes on Lee Church Street, Boone Street and Dacre Park/Turners Road, as well as one earlier in 1940 in Boone Street. Some of these sites were used for 25 pre-fab bungalows, although unlike others such as the Excalibur Estate and on Hillyfields they were relatively short lived.

By the early 1950s the rest of the New Town was in a poor state, much of the area was described as having 

substandard houses in disrepair, with sanitary defects and bad arrangement of staircases, passages or water-closets, rendering them unfit for human habitation or injurious to health, and for which the most satisfactory method of treatment is by the demolition of all the buildings.



Dacre Street around 1953 (see note 4).

In addition to the pre-fabs, around 135 homes, a couple of halls and 10 shops were demolished with plans to re provide around 183 new homes, all flats plus 8 shops.  In the end the ‘mix’ in the new development was slightly different with a small number of houses also built with slightly fewer shops.  



Lee Church of England School was also demolished sometime after 1959 (the date of the first photo (see note 5) with the new school opening in 1963.



There are two small terraces that remain,  on Dacre Park, and on Lee High Road, next to the former Swan. There also may be a solitary house from the New Town on Fludyer Street, formerly Dacre Street.



Other than this, all that now remains of Lee New Town are the four pubs, from the top right the Greyhound (now offices), the Royal Oak (now flats), the currently unoccupied Woodman, and the Swan (now Rambles Bar) – the reasons behind its name was covered in a post a few weeks ago. 



Notes

  1. Source for 1881 Census data – Family Search – film 1341170 but research for this blog.
  2. Photograph from the notice board adjacent to Kingswood Halls
  3. As note 2
  4. As note 2
  5. Source for black and white photograph http://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/collage/app Record number 189098 / Catalogue reference: SC_PHL_02_0327_59_2658 – permission give for use here, but no rights to elsewhere.