Tag Archives: Lee Place

The Thomson Brothers – Slave Traders & Owners of Lee

One of the underlying threads in the growth of Lee and the underpinning source of its wealth from the 17th century onwards was slavery – Running Past has covered this before in relation to the Manor House with the links of both Thomas Lucas and the Barings to it as well as to the last resident of Lee PlaceBenjamin Aislabie, who kept his ties to the awful trade in misery beyond the time it was outlawed in the Empire.

While what these Lee residents trading links were despicable, two of their predecessors on what is now the borders of SE12 and SE13 were considerably worse and helped paved the way for what was to come later – George and, more particularly, Maurice Thomson (they are sometimes referred to by the alternate spelling Thompson).  Maurice Thomson lived at Lee Farm, sometimes referred to as Lee House (1), his brother George was one of the early inhabitants of Lee Place (covered in Running Past in 2014) it may even have been built for him (2).

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Maurice Thompson was described “England’s greatest colonial merchant of his day.”  He was born into a wealthy family in Watton-at-Stone in Hertfordshire  around 1600 and moved to Virginia around 1617, initially being involved in the supply of indentured servants (who were obligated to work only for a set period of time) and became involved in tobacco production directly himself – exporting 25% of Virginian output by the mid 1630s.

His involvement in slavery began in 1626 – supplying 60 slaves for the Leeward Island of St Kitts.  Over the next couple of decades along with a  few other families, like the Noells, the Thomsons turned the English colonies in the West Indies into sugar producing islands totally dependent on slavery – there were around 12,800 slaves in Barbados by 1650. The number doubled again within a decade.

The trade was effectively a three cornered one – taking slaves from Guinea and elsewhere on the coast of West Africa to the West Indies, bringing sugar back to Europe and then returning with provisions to West Africa.  Thomson was also involved in a wide variety of other trade – including privateering in the Caribbean – essentially a legalised form of piracy, which has been covered in Running Past before, in relation to the name of the Antigallican Hotel in Charlton.

Maurice Thomson’s first definite on-line links to Lee came when he took a 21 lease out on Lee Farm in 1662 from Francis Sherman, who had bought the farm in 1633.  It wasn’t his primary residence for much of the rest of his life, this was in Haversham which is now part of Milton Keynes where he bought the Manor House in 1664.

As discussed previously in a post , Slavery and the Manor House, there isn’t complete certainty where Lee Farm (sometimes known as Lee House) actually was in this period.  It may have been where the Manor House is currently sited or could have been close to the junction of Old Road and Aislibie Road.

It seems likely that Maurice Thomson  was living in Lee before 1662 – there was a Maurice Thomson in Lee in 1641, who had a son, also Maurice, christened at St Margaret’s Lee in May – it is known that Maurice Thomson’s first son who died in infancy was also called Maurice. He was also on hearth tax records from 1641 (3).

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Maurice Thomson used Lee Farm it as his close to London base until his death in 1676.  In his will he left most of his land interests, including the slaves, to his son John

I give bequeath and devise unto my said dearely beloved sonn Sir John Thomson Baronett All my ffreehold mannors Lands Tenements and hereditaments in England Ireland Barbadoes, Cureco St Christophers (now known as St Kitts), Virginia , the Caribie Islands and elsewhere …

John Thomson stayed in Lee until 1680 when the remainder of the lease was transferred to Elias Aston.

John Thomson, married Frances Annesley, while she has the same family name as Brian who had been Lord of the Manor of Lee and an early 17th century  court case seems to have at least partially inspired King Lear (covered in Running Past in 2014),  she would have been no more than a distant relative – it has not been possible to find any direct link through The Peerage.  Her part of family came from Anglesey.

As merchants the Thomsons were very much in the Parliamentary camp during the English Civil War, which Christopher Hill notes was

… a class war, in which the despotism of Charles I was defended by the reactionary forces of the established Church and conservative landlords, and on the other side stood the trading and industrial classes in town and countryside . . . the yeomen and progressive gentry…’

Of the Thomson brothers, George was much less involved in the slave trade, although his name crops up; it is with much less frequently than Maurice his brother.  He settled in Virginia in 1623 before returning to London as a merchant trading with Virginia and the Caribbean – trade with these areas always indirectly involved slavery in this period.  He is much better known for his political and military activity.  George Thomson became actively involved in the Parliamentary cause as a soldier, losing a leg in battle. After the end of the Civil War he was elected to Parliament for Southwark, although fell out with Cromwell for a while.  After the Restoration in 1660, George Thomson (picture below – source) seems to have laid low in Lee, but he was mentioned in hearth tax records in 1664 – he had the most chimneys in the parish, 21, six more than his brother at Lee Farm.

Thomson

While this is the first definitive on-line reference to him, like his brother, there are clear indications that he had been living in the area for a while – there are christening records from the 1645 with the correct names of children and wife.  So it may be that he had been the first resident of Lee Place.

He died in 1668, and the estate of Lee Place seems to have been sold to the Christopher Boone, who took up residence in 1670. Boone’s will makes reference to it having been bought from Thomson.

Notes

  1. Edwyn and Josephine Birchenough (1968) Two Old Lee Houses – Dacre House and Lee House p68
  2. Picture from information board opposite St Margaret’s Church
  3. Birchenough op cit p70

 

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Benjamin Aislabie – Lee Resident, Slave Owner & Possibly the Worst Ever First Class Cricketer

The blog has touched on Benjamin Aislabie a couple of times before, notably him being the last tenant of Lee Place – the first of the country houses of Lee, that was situated in the area bounded by the current Old Road, Lee High Road and Bankwell Road, although its estate extended much further.

The long-term owners of the house, the Boone family, had ceased living in the house around 1770, letting it initially to Thomas Lucas who was to build the Manor House.  Aislabie became its final occupant in 1809, taking on a 14 year lease.

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(Picture from information board opposite St Margaret’s Lee)

Benjamin Aislabie, son of Rawson and Frances Aislabie, was born in 1774 at Newington Green.  By the time he moved to Lee he was a wealthy man, he would have needed to be to afford to rent Lee Place; he had made much of his wealth from the wine trade and was widely reported as having Nelson as one of his customers.

Like a number of the former wealthy inhabitants of Lee, he had links to slavery in the West Indies and the southern states of the current USA, this is something that the blog will undoubtedly return to in the future in posts on Lee Farm, the Manor House and Dacre House.  Aislabie was more unusual in that his links with the slave trade continued after it had been abolished in the British Empire in 1807.  However, it still existed elsewhere and there was nothing to prevent British citizens having interests in it outside the Empire.

It is known that Aislabie had a mortgage interest from 1812 in an estate in Antigua, and in his will he was owner of two estates in Dominica, one of which had 111 slaves, leaving them to his son Rev. William John Aislabie along with an income to his wife from them of £100 a year.

Unsurprisingly, he was one of those in Lee who did not sign the Lee Petition in 1814 – calling on the government to insert a clause into a treaty with the defeated French to end slavery in their empire.

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Picture source – via creative commons

In addition to his interests in wine and slavery, Aislabie was actively involved with the affairs of the parish of St Margaret, both helping oversee the construction of the short-lived second incarnation of the church (which had to be replaced three decades later due to subsidence) and helping dispense the largesse of the parish in the bad winter of 1814.  The late 19th century Lee historian FW Hart notes that Aislabie

took a lively interest in distributing the charities that severe winter to the poor; he also placed to the use of the parish the buildings in the front yard of his mansion, for the storage of coals and potatoes, which were given to the poor during the thirteen weeks’ frost; bread was very dear at this time, and Lee had no poor-house.

Aislabie’s erstwhile landlord, Charles Boone, had died in 1819 and when the lease ended in 1823, it was not renewed, and Lee Place was sold.  While FW Hart suggests he may have moved to Sevenoaks, it certainly wasn’t his permanent residence; in his latter years this was Park Place, next to Regent’s Park and close to the new home of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), Lords.  He was buried in Marylebone church in 1842.

Aislabie had a passion for cricket and was heavily involved in the administration of the game through the MCC, becoming its President in 1823 and secretary from the year before until his death.  In cricketing terms he is remembered though as having one of the worst first-class cricket records of all time.  In part this was because he continued playing well into his later years – his final match was played against Cambridge University at Lord’s on 1 and 2 Jul 1841 when he was aged 67 years 169 days – the oldest ever English participant in a first class game.

His record suggests that he managed 100 first class innings, with a highest score of 15 and a batting average of a paltry 3.15; he didn’t bowl.  The cricket records website, Cricinfo, suggests that

His lack of skill was further hampered by his girth, and towards the end of his career he was so fat that he had a permanent runner who also used to field for him

His record as an administrator seems little better, the same source notes

Under his tenure the club lurched from crisis to crisis, and while not dishonest, he was certainly a dreadful financial controller. He was also, among other posts, Custodian of the MCC Snuffbox.

The MCC at the time though was a little kinder to his memory – it was noted in the Sporting Magazine that

Aislabie obit

Given his links to slavery it seems strange that a man of Aislabie’s ‘pedigree’ has been remembered with a street name (albeit incorrectly spelled) from the 1890s, although perhaps the late Victorians in Lee and Lewisham were only aware of his past via the rose tinted glasses of FW Hart.

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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.

Lee Place – A Stately Home of Lee

Lee is now was very different to how it was in the past, that doesn’t make it that dissimilar to any other place in the country. What is really different is that it has moved. What is now regarded as Lee, the area around the station, and Burnt Ash Road/Hill is a mile away from its historic centres – Lee was previously three small settlements – on Belmont Hill, around Old Road and around Lee Green. Old Lee was a place for the rich, with some of the wealth having its origins in the slave trade and Deptford. There were several very large houses stretching from The Cedars on Belmont Hill in the north to the Manor House in the south – over time I will probably touch on all of them, but I will start with one that is no longer there – Lee Place.

There is a logic to this in that its disappearance helped shape the current development of the area in that it allowed the straightening of Lee High Road. There had been a large medieval moated farm, latterly known as Annesley’s House, located some distance away, to the north of the High Road – roughly where St Margaret’s Lee CoE School is now. This estate was fragmented in the early 17th century following the death of Brian Annesley. The end of his life, and his at least partial inspiration for King Lear, was covered a few months ago in the blog.

This fragmentation of the old estate seemed to allow the development of a series of slightly smaller merchant’s houses in the area. Lee Place was one of the first of this new generation of houses and was built in the early 17th century. It was located just to the rear of the western side of the current Bankwell Road (named after Lords of the Manor of Lee in 13th and 14th Centuries). Its grounds included an area largely bounded by the current Old Road, which then formed the main road from Eltham westwards towards London but included an area to the north of it as well. There was a partial moat, probably originally Annersley’s, and small lake just north of the current Lee High Road, behind the petrol station and Rambles bar. There will be another post on this in the New Year.

IMG_0323.JPG (Picture from information board opposite St Margaret’s Lee)

Relatively early in its history it was home to Christopher Boone, a wool merchant in London. His name lives on with the estate chapel that bears his name and was a mausoleum which was built in 1683 – more that sometime in the future. The main entrance to the estate was adjacent to the recently refurbished Boone’s chapel.

P1040595.JPG Other than Boone’s Chapel, the remaining sign of Lee Place is part of its boundary wall facing onto Old Road, it was the external wall for a now unused council depot, while old, it isn’t brickwork of any great beauty.

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Lee Place almost certainly not built by the Boones, the 1664 Hearth Tax listed it as being owned by George Thomson and having the most chimneys in the parish – 21.  He seems likely to have been the brother of Maurice Thomson – who lived nearby and was heavily involved in slavery, Running Past will return to him in the future.  Assuming it is the same family, George Thomson had been a member of the Long Parliament and was also heavily involved with slavery.

The Boone family lived in the Place for most of its life, after Christopher’s death the house was inherited by his son Thomas. It then passed to Thomas’ daughter in 1749 to live in until her death when it passed to Thomas’ nephew, Charles Boone. Around this period, the house was let to Thomas Lucas who went on to build The Manor House – which was completed in 1772. Charles moved into Lee Place in 1777, although by 1797, possibly earlier, he was letting it out to Benjamin Harrison, and then to Benjamin Aislabie (the Victorian street at the south east corner of the estate is named after him, albeit spelled ‘Aislibie’) for 14 years from 1809.

Charles died in 1819 and the end of the lease to Aislabie the estate was sold. The site seems to have been sub-divided, which led to its piecemeal development. The area to the north of what is now Lee High Road seem to have been the first to have been re-developed with Lee New Town – small terraced houses mainly for the ‘staff’ for the large houses. By the end of the century Booth described in the notes books for his poverty maps purple – ‘Mixed – Some comfortable others poor’

IMG_0569.JPG Turner Road (now Dacre Park) on the edge of the ‘New Town’ – from information board by Kingswood Hall Lee High Road was straightened soon after the sub-division of the estate, but the immediate grounds of Lee Place remained as small fields. There were some Victorian shops built along the straightened Lee High Road with a depot for the Cheisman’s store in Lewisham behind them on Old Road. The terraces of Bankwell Road and part of Old Road were built around 1907, and the long gone cinema Lee Picture House, on the corner of Lee High Road and Bankwell Road first opened its doors in 1910. The remainder of the northern side of Old Road and Lee High Road (Market Terrace) to the west of the cinema weren’t developed until the mid to late 1930s.